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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : CHAPTER VI. THE FIRST YEAR--SOCIETY AND CLIMATE.

Life And Work In Benares And Kumaon 1839-1877 by James Kennedy


A very brief residence at Benares led me to see the great difference between the society to which I had come and that which I had left. The European community formed a mere handful of the population, and was almost exclusively formed of officials, with all the peculiarities of a class privileged by office. We had some two hundred European artillerymen with their officers, of a regiment paid and controlled by the East India Company; three native regiments officered by Europeans; three or four members of the Civil Service, charged with the administration of the city and district; one English merchant, and two or three English shopkeepers. I now learned for the first time the difference in rank between Queen's and Company's military officers. The Queen's officer regarded himself as of a higher grade. Members of the Civil Service and Company's officers met on terms of social equality; but the Civilians looked on themselves as of a higher order, as the aristocracy of the land, and the assumed superiority put a strain to some degree on social intercourse. The persons sent out from this country for the administration of India are called Covenanted Civilians, as they bear a commission from the Queen; while those engaged for administrative work by the Indian Government are called Uncovenanted. The former class continue to have a great official advantage over the latter; but forty years ago there was a great social inequality which has in a measure ceased, where these uncovenanted servants are English gentlemen, as they often are. English merchants were regarded as in society; but shopkeepers, however large their establishment, were deemed entirely outside the pale, except for strictly business purposes. This was partly accounted for by European shopkeepers having been previously stewards of ships, or soldiers who had received their discharge. Missionaries were looked on as sufficiently in society to be admissible everywhere, and were treated courteously by their European brethren when they met, though only a few desired their intercourse.


As to the people of the land, both Hindu and Muhammadan, I discerned at once, what I might have fully anticipated, that between them and us there was a national, social, and religious gulf. Some were in our houses as servants. We had to do with them in various ways; we could not go out without seeing them on every side. There was on the part of many a courteous bearing towards each other; there was in many cases a kindly feeling; but the barriers which separated us could not be for any length of time forgotten. I speedily saw that some Europeans looked with contempt on the natives, as essentially of a lower order in creation; but the better class of Europeans, the higher in position and education, as a rule, regarded them with respect, and treated them not only with justice but with kindness. Native servants received as kind treatment as servants do in well-conducted families in our own country, and in many cases repaid this kindness by devoted attachment and the efficient discharge of the work entrusted to them. When native gentlemen came in contact with Europeans of the higher class, all the honour was accorded to them to which by their position they were entitled. Even in this case there were national and religious differences, which effectually prevented the intimacy which is often maintained where such differences do not exist.

[Sidenote: EURASIANS.]

Within the first year I got an insight into a large and growing class, who were connected with both Europeans and natives, and yet did not belong to either. I refer to persons of mixed blood; some almost as dark, in many cases altogether as dark, as ordinary natives -- many of these being descendants of Portuguese; others, again, so fair that their Indian blood is scarcely observed; some in the lowest grade of society, very poor and very ignorant; and others, with many intermediate links, most respectable members of the community in character, knowledge, position, and means. All these, whatever may be their rank, are Christians by profession, and they dress so far as they can after the European fashion; but the poorer class, in food and accommodation live very much as natives do, and mainly speak the native language. The people of mixed blood are called by different names -- Eurasians, East Indians, and not infrequently by a name to which they most rightly object, Half-caste.

I was surprised and sorry to observe the feeling with which many Europeans regarded this class. They were looked down upon as of an inferior grade, who, whatever might be their character or position, were not entitled to rank with Europeans. In the dislike of natives shown by some Europeans there was something to remind one of the American feeling in regard to colour, though of a much milder type; but I was not prepared for the degree in which the feeling prevailed in reference to Eurasians, though I might have been had I remembered that the slightest tinge of African blood, a tinge to many eyes not perceptible, had been considered in America a fatal taint. I speedily observed the effect the feeling had on Eurasians in producing an unpleasant sensitiveness, and impairing the confidence and respect indispensable to social intercourse.

Since that time I have understood the causes of this feeling much better than I could have then done. The most candid and thoughtful of the class will allow that as a community they labour under great disadvantages. Though they have native blood in their veins they are entirely separate from natives in those things to which natives attach the highest value; and though by the profession of Christianity, by the adoption of European habits so far as circumstances allow, and by the use of the English language, they draw to Europeans, yet they are forced to feel they do not belong to them. They occupy an awkward middle position, and the knowledge that they do leads to unpleasant grating. Then they have not had the bracing which comes from residence in a Christian land. Though proud of their Christian name and profession, they have been injuriously affected by the moral atmosphere of their surroundings. The lower their social position, the closer has been their connection with the lower class of natives, and the more hurtful have been the influences under which they have come. Eurasians are noted for their excellent penmanship, and a great number from generation to generation have found employment in Government offices, the greater number as mere copyists, but a few as confidential clerks and accountants, whose services have been highly appreciated by their official superiors. A considerable number have risen to important offices in the administration of the country. An increasing number are able to take their place in every respect abreast of their European brethren. Individuals have gone to England, and have succeeded in getting by competition into the Covenanted Civil Service. The class has been steadily growing for years in intelligence and character; and as the members of their families are enjoying educational advantages to a greater extent than at any previous period, there is every reason to hope progress in the future will be still more rapid than in the past. The distinction between them and persons of pure European blood will thus become less and less a barrier to social intercourse; they will be delivered from the unpleasantness the barrier has often caused, their character will grow in strength, and they will become increasingly fitted for exerting a happy influence on the native community. In the case of individuals the distinction is now practically ignored. There are no more honoured and honourable persons in India than some who belong to this class. There have always been devoted Christians among them, and of late years an increasing number have come under the power of Divine grace.

It has been often remarked that one of the most pleasing traits of native society is reproduced among Eurasians -- the tie of kinship prompting those who are in better circumstances to help their needy relatives, often to the giving of large pecuniary aid, not unfrequently to the taking of them into their houses. In the humbler portions of the community there is often seen a patriarchal household like that so often seen in native society.


The new-comer's experience of climate prepares him for what he has to expect during his future residence. We have three marked seasons in the North-Western Provinces, the one melting gradually into the other -- the hot season beginning in March and ending in June, the rainy season beginning with July and ending in October, and the cold weather beginning with November and ending in February. The seasons may thus be described in a general way, but in fact every year differs somewhat from others, as they do in our own country. The hot weather is sensibly felt before March begins, and the heat of March is far less than that of the succeeding months. The first burst of the rains is often before the middle of June, but after that burst, called the |little rainy season,| it is not uncommon to have a spell of very hot sunny weather. In some years, indeed, there is so much weather of this kind during what is called the rainy season, that the heat is most intense, and the crops are burnt up. Towards the end of September there is commonly the last great outpour of rain, and as October advances there is the cooling freshness of the approaching cold weather, with enough of heat in the day-time to tell us it has not quite let go its grasp. December and January are our coldest months. In England, after an unpropitious summer, the remark is often made, |We have had no summer!| and in the same manner in India, when the temperature has been high in the cold season, and we have not had the expected bracing, we say, |We have had no winter!| Yet as in our own country, so in India; we have our marked seasons, though we cannot be sure of the weather at any particular period.

As India is an immense region, a great continent, with every variety of scenery, with plains extending hundreds of miles, and vast stretches of forests, with table-lands and lofty mountains, with land of every description from barren sand to the richest alluvial soil, the climate and products of its different countries are so different, that the statements made about one region, however correct, when applied to the whole are utterly misleading. I have been describing the seasons of the North-Western Provinces; and yet, as Benares is in the lower part of these provinces, its climate is considerably different from that of the country farther north and west. The farther north we travel the longer and colder is the cold season, and as a rule the hotter and briefer is the hot season. On one occasion the heat was so great in Benares in March that we found the night punkah pleasant; but on reaching Delhi, nearly six hundred miles distant, a few days afterwards, instead of seeking a night punkah we were thankful to have blankets to keep ourselves warm.

[Sidenote: THE HOT SEASON.]

I have a vivid recollection of my experiences of the climate during my first year. During our voyage on the Ganges the heat during the day was like that of a cloudless July in England, and at night it was pleasantly cool, the wood of the flat speedily giving off the heat it had taken in during the day, and the flow of the river contributing to our comfort. Reaching Benares as April was setting in, I speedily felt I was getting into the experience of an Indian hot season. The doors were opened before dawn to let in whatever coolness might come with the morning, and before eight they were shut to keep out the heat of the day. The lower part of the door was of wood, and the upper part of glass. Outside the doors were heavy wooden blinds, made after the fashion of Venetian blinds, the upper part of which were opened to let in from the verandah the degree of light absolutely necessary with the least possible degree of heat. No prisoner in his cell is more excluded from an outside view than we were in our rooms during the day in the hot season. There was a remarkable contrast between the outside glare and the inside dimness, so that a person coming from without could not on entering see anything. The prevailing wind is from the west. There is enough in the morning to show the direction from which it is coming. It rises as the day advances; by two or three it blows with great strength, raising clouds of dust, and lulls towards evening. This wind is cool and bracing in the cold weather, but as the season advances it becomes warm, and by May its heat resembles the blast of a furnace. It every now and then gives place to the east wind, which is not nearly so hot, but is so enervating that the hot wind is greatly preferred. During the day we sit under the punkah, a great wooden fan suspended from the roof with great flapping fringes. This is pulled by a coolie, sometimes in the adjoining room, but when it can be arranged in the verandah outside, who has in his hand a rope attached to the punkah, which is brought to him by a small aperture in the wall, through which a piece of thin bamboo is inserted to make the friction as little as possible. When the west wind is blowing freshly, it is brought with most pleasant coolness into the house through platted screens of scented grass, on which water is continually thrown outside. For years machines resembling the fanners so much used by farmers in former days, with scented grass on each side and a hut of scented grass over them, on which water is continually thrown, with wheels turned round by hand labour, have been brought largely into use. These machines are appropriately called |Thermantidotes.|

The night in the hot season is much more trying than the day. There is not a breath stirring, and the heat of the day, taken in by the walls, is radiated all the night long. I found the night punkah in almost universal use but I thought I would get on without it, and used it very seldom. When the next hot season came I was glad to conform to the custom of the country, for I found when I had not the punkah I got up in the morning so tired and weary that I was unfit for the work of the day.

The aspect of the country at that season is very dreary. Some trees retain their freshness in the hottest weather; but not a blade of green grass is to be seen, and the ground is scorched, scarred, and baked, as if it had been turned into a desert.


A marvellous change is produced by the first heavy fall of rain. After stifling heat for some days, the rays of the sun beating with a fierceness which threatens to burn up all nature, and which drives the birds for shelter to the thickest foliage of the trees, the clouds gather, the thunder rolls, peal quickly succeeding peal, the lightning flashes incessantly, and then, after some heavy showers, there comes down for two or three days, with very little intermission, such torrents that it looks as if we were to be visited with a deluge. Within a week all nature is transformed. The parched earth gives way to the richest green. We in our country say in very propitious weather that we see things grow; but in India vegetation takes such a bound as it never does in our temperate climate. Immediately after the downpour of rain, the sun comes out in all its strength; and, under the action of heat and moisture, vegetation progresses marvellously. The fields are quickly ploughed, the seed, for which moisture and great heat is required, is sown, and in the course of three or four weeks they are far above the ground. Within three months the harvest of the rainy season, furnishing the people with rice, maize, and other grains, which furnish the principal food of the people, is gathered in.

The rainy season is productive in another and less pleasant manner. It is as favourable to insect life as it is to vegetable life. Flying white ants, flying bugs, and other unwelcome visitors of the same order, come out in thousands. At night, if the doors be open the white ants make for the lamps in such numbers that they are extinguished by them, and the room is in the morning found strewed with their dead. It requires a torpid temperament to remain calm under this visitation. All dislike it, and some find it a grievous trial. As the rainy season advances, the trouble abates, and by the time the cold weather sets in the ordinary house-fly by day and the mosquito by night alone remain to buzz about us. The mosquito has rightly got the first place among insect tormentors. The house-fly is at all seasons, in some more than in others, and gives not a little annoyance by its pertinacity.

The change at the commencement of the rainy season is delightful. The doors are thrown open, and the dry, parching wind gives place to a refreshing coolness. When the rain ceases, the heat returns; the weather is very muggy, the skin is irritated by the excessive perspiration, and many suffer more than during the hot season. When the rain is abundant and frequent, the suffering is much less than when there is little rain and much sun. There is one comfort at that time: we know we are going on to the cold weather, which will make amends for all that went before.

I can hardly conceive any country to have a finer climate than that of the North-West Provinces of India in the cold months. Rain does sometimes fall during that season; it may fall at any time of the year. I remember a heavy fall on the first of May, and about Christmas and the New Year it is eagerly desired for the crops, but ordinarily from week to week there is an unclouded sky. There is a cool, pleasant breeze from the west. In the house it is not only cool but cold, so that a little sunning is pleasant, and at night in December and January, especially far up the country, fires are welcome. Then Europeans, so far as circumstances permit, get into the open air and move freely about, with everything in the climate to favour their travelling.

[Sidenote: THE COLD SEASON.]

The beginning of the cold weather is a very busy season with the agricultural class, to which the great body of the people belong. If the rainy season has been favourable, especially if heavy rain has fallen towards its close, the wells are full, and from these, after the land has been ploughed, and the seed sown for the rabee crop, the most valuable crop of the year, the fields are irrigated. Whatever grows in our land in summer grows in North-Western India at that season: wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, carrots, are grown in abundance. About March the harvest is reaped.

As I proceed with these reminiscences, I shall have frequent occasion to refer to our North Indian winter, its scenes, and employments, and I have thought it well to enter at some length into a description of its peculiarities.

One thing I observed my first year which I had abundant opportunity to observe afterwards. The weather so welcomed by Europeans is very trying to most natives, especially to those of the humbler classes, whose clothing is very scanty. They never try to get warm by taking exercise. They cower in the morning and evening round a fire, which has commonly for its fuel dried cow-manure, with a coarse blanket over their head and shoulders. As the sun gets above the horizon, they plant themselves against a wall to bask in its rays, and if they can, do not stir till they are well heated. As might be expected, many of them suffer from chronic rheumatism. The extreme heat is not liked by them, but from it they suffer far less than from cold.

While most Europeans get new life in the cold weather, the little ones showing by their rosy cheeks how much they are benefited, a few are in better health when the weather is warm, as then they are less subject to aguish attacks. The remark is often made by those who have much sedentary work that they like the cold season for enjoyment, but find it unfavourable for work, as they cannot keep so steadily at it as they can when the heat keeps them within doors.

While giving the reminiscences of my first year, my mind has been continually carried forward to the experience of after-years in reference to the vernacular languages, the various classes with whom residence in India brings one into contact, and the seasons of the country. In giving partial expression to this experience under the heading of my first year, I have gone far beyond it. Those who favour me with the perusal of my narrative may perhaps find it more intelligible by my having anticipated myself.

I must confess months of the first year passed before I ceased to feel myself an exile. The scenes around were so unlike those of my own country, the prevailing idolatry so repulsive, the society, associations, and climate so different, that I turned from them to my native land with many a fond longing look. This feeling of exile was no doubt deepened by the illness in the family with whom I was residing. We had an English service every Thursday evening, conducted by the missionaries in the hall of the mission-house, but I greatly missed the services on the Lord's-day to which I had been accustomed.


[Illustration: BATHING GHAT, BENARES.]

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