The New York Times, January 29, 1882, p.8:|
STREET SCENES IN BOMBAY.LANDING EXPERIENCE AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS IN TOWN.
CURIOUS CONTRASTS IN CIVILIZATION--
HOW STUDIES AT MIDDAY AND AFTER NIGHTFALL DIFFER--
NO MAN GOING UPON HIS OWN FEET--
SOME BOMBAY HISTORY RECALLED.
BOMBAY, Dec. 1.--India at last...
The historical reknown of Bombay [Mumbai], and the prominent place it holds in the annals of England's eastern empire, are apt to raise expectations which its first appearance does not by any means satisfy. Ceded to Britain by Portugal in 1662 as part of the dowry of Charles II.'s Queen, Katerina da Braganza, it gave promise at the very outset of the sharp bargaining of which it was one day to be the centre. The two parties to the contract quarreled over its exact import, the English attempting to maintain that the cession included the adjacent islands of Galsette and Elephanta, while the Portuguese insisted that it referred only to the actual island of Bombay itself.
Six years later the new colony was handed over to the East India Company, (then just beginning its wonderful career,) which, in 1687, transferred the seat of its trade thither from the adjacent port of Surat, and encircled the new factory with a wall, of which some traces are still left. When that wall was built the only other spot of ground possessed by the English in all India was the equally insignificant factory which lay within the ramparts of Madras [Chennai]. The sceptre of the East had not yet departed from the Moguls, and all the splendor that gilded the closing years of that wonderful dynasty seemed to have concentrated itself in the mighty figure of Aurengzebe.
Little could the haughty and magnificent despot have imagined that the "huckstering unbelievers" to whom, with his luxurious palace at Delhi, he flung a permission to trade in his dominions as one would fling a bone to a stray dog, were one day to trample the Mogul empire itself in the dust, to make his own descendant the lowest of their vassals, and to reign supreme from the coral reefs of Cape Comorin to the eternal snows of the Himalaya.
These grand associations harmonize but ill with the first glimpse of the famous spot itself. Owing to the flatness of the island, Bombay does not become visible for more than an hour after the huge shadowy outline of the "Western Ghauts" (which are to the Bombayan what the Catskills are to the New-Yorker) have come plainly into view along the horizon. And when the great city at length appears in the from of a few white houses shrinking away into a mass of trees, as if ashamed of themselves, or anxious to escape from the thick black smoke poured forth unceasingly by several tall factory chimneys, you are reminded of Manchester or Pittsburgh much more than of
Thy Towers, Bombay, gleam bright, they say,|
Beside the western sea.
But at this moment a seasonable diversion is effected by the sudden up-rush of a double jet of water from the sea just in front of our bows. In another instant the smooth surface of is shouldered into circling waves, in the midst of which rise the fluked tail and huge clumsy head and vast, black, unwieldy bulk of an enormous whale. While we are watching his awkward gambols, the town and the surrounding islets come out plainer and plainer every moment, and at length, just as the western sea is all ablaze with slanting sunlight, we drop our anchor just astern of a huge four-masted clipper, and are, as the Captain remarks with a complacent chuckle, "All snug for the night."
And now, is not this a matchless panorama? To the west the white villas and wooded slopes of Malabar Hill, the fashionable quarter of Bombay, seem floating in a sea of golden glory; but behind us the dark ridge of Elephanta Islet, and the steep, tower-like hills of the mainland beyond it, have already waned from purple to gray, and are just about to vanish altogether amid the fast-falling shadows of night.
Within a cable's length of us lie three or four big, clumsy buggalows (native coasting vessels,) painted and decorated queerly as a toy Noah's ark, and with such low prows and such enormously high sterns that they always seem to be sinking bow foremost. To and fro across the glittering surface the native boats shoot like fire-flies, showing at times a glimpse of dark faces and white robes and gay-colored turbans and scarlet sashes from beneath the huge lateen sail, which is so immeasurably bigger than the boat that carries it as to suggest a table-cloth hoisted over a spoon.
But what is this burst of discordant yells and this frantic rush of dusky figures along the deck of the stately mail steamer on our port bow? Is she being attacked by pirates, or are a gang of Thugs exemplifying their peculiar theory of man's duty to man at the expense of crew and passengers?
Not so; it is only a gang of native longshoremen "knocking off" for the day, with the inevitable accompaniment of screeching and chattering... But all sounds die away little by litte, and the deep, dreamy stillness of an Eastern night settles down upon sea and shore.
The moon comes creeping up over the dark mountains, giving to the great city that shadowy, unsubstantial look which haunts one in the mirage towns of Gustave Doré; and you lie back on your cane lounge on deck to be lulled by the lapping waves into a confused dream of Aladdin, Nadir Shah, Baber, Selim the World-holder, and Sinbad the Sailor.
But who can describe Bombay itself, seen for the first time in the stillness of early morning, beneath the splendor of the tropical sunrise? Now that Hawthorne and Dickens are gone, there is no man living who could do full justice to that mingling of ancient and modern, European and Asiatic, high class civilization and quaint, primeval barbarism. Even before you set foot on shore, the strange contrast begins to make itself felt.
From the side of the big, black-hulled English steamer, with its red smoke-stack and sturdy blue-jacketed crew, you drop into a kind of trough of wattled bamboos with a ribbed cotton sail--the perfect likeness of those which swarmed around Vasco de Gama's "high-pooped caravels" when he neared this coast four centuries ago--manned by three or four gaunt, black spectres in white shrouds, thin and supple enough to be used for cording a parcel...
You step ashore at a flight of stone steps which would just suit the Thames or the Hudson; but a tall cocoa palm casts its shadow upon them, and the turbaned Custom-house officer who rummages your valise has such a keen, narrow-muzzled profile, such sharp white teeth, and small cunning eyes, that you are tempted to adopt the Buddhist doctrine of transmigration, and to suppose that he is being slowly promoted into a wolf for diligence in the discharge of his Custom-house duties.
Up comes a regular four-wheel hack carriage, whose white-robed, black faced driver wheels it round so sharply as almost to overturn one of those queer wheelbarrow-like native carts, drawn by hunch-backed Brahmin oxen, which were in fashion here when Abraham was still and unknown Sheikh on the steppes of Chaldea.
In the shade of a post-pillar of the most approved modern pattern, a gaunt, sinewy, half-clad Hindoo cheestie (water-carrier) has coiled up his bare, brown limbs to sleep, with his swollen water-skin, which looks very much like a dead dog bloated by drowning, under his head by way of a pillow.
The further you go the more striking does this curious contrast become. Looking up at the shop fronts as you pass along you see "Thomas Smith & Co., Shipping Agents," figuring side by side with "Framjee Cowrojee, Mat-maker." A tram car, blazing with advertisements, comes jingling and rattling past a gang of blue-frocked native women, who are plodding along with their children slung at their hips, and huge burdens dexterously poised on their heads, as their forerunners did before the first Mogul Emperor had crossed the Himalaya.
A sturdy British non-commissioned officer, striding past with measured tread and shoulders thrown well back, almost brushes his jaunty scarlet jacket against a swarthy fierce-eyed native policeman in dark blue, with a genuine New-York "locust" in his lean dusky hand and a kind of flat red tea-cake on his head.
But the character of studies from life in Bombay depends very much upon the hour at which they are taken.
In the middle of the day the population is represented chiefly by dogs, oxen, and native policemen, with here and there a Hindu beggar attired chiefly in a pair of braces, and so meagre as to recall the story of the band-master who was so thin that when he stood up with his baton in his hand no one could tell which of the two was going to beat time with the other. A few gray-headed Parsee tradesmen may be seen peering from their narrow doorways like old rats in a trap, with their thin brown faces and piercing black eyes surmounted by those queer-shaped caps which look exactly like glazed sponge-bags; while the spacious verandas of the hotels are crowded with ladies in piquant morning toilet, and white-coated gentlemen lazily imbibing iced consolation through well-applied straws.
You seek shelter from the heat in the shade of a clump of tropical foliage which encircles the portico of a magnificent building whose pillared front and far-extending colonnades suggest some famous Hindu palace or temple. But alas! the supposed palace is nothing more romantic than the general Post Office...
But with sunset the slumbering town starts into life... Vehicles of every kind--carriages, buggies, "gharries," and those queer overgrown coffins known as palanquins--disturb the powdery dust in every direction. Rotten Row (for the sea-fronting caplanade has copied the name as well as the appearance of the famous London promenade) swarms with smart young subalterns and jaunty civil service clerks, making their horses prance and caracole to attract the attention of passing ladies. Stalwart, red-whiskered British Colonels, omelet-complexioned District Judges, bilious, heavy-eyed Commissioners, newly arrived tourists in plaid or gray tweed, pretty girls imported from English boarding schools to become "fishers of men" in the Bombay marriage market, and corpulent Parsee merchants, attended by red-turbaned native servants, follow each other in endless procession. But one and all are either on horseback or on wheels, for in this country no European would ever think of affronting public opinion with the scandalous spectacle of a man going upon his own two feet.
Close to the edge of the "sea wall" of piled-up stones which separates the shore road and the railway from the beach below, half a dozen loungers, spy-glass in hand, are guessing at the character and destination of a distant steamer; and just below them a score of natives are working, as gingerly as if the stones burned their fingers, at the new "Back Bay Public Swimming Bath," the subscriptions to which come in so slowly that a patriotic resident has just proposed to defray the cost by a lottery of 8,000 tickets at 2 rupees ($1) each.
But by this time darkness has fairly set in, and it is time to go back to dinner in the hotel saloon, which, with vast height and extent, its picturesque mingling of many-colored Eastern costumes, and its huge punkahs (swing-fans) swaying to and fro overhead, looks quite like an operatic banquet on the stage. The dinner itself, too, is an exciting lottery, for you never can tell whether you will get what you have ordered or something utterly different instead. Indeed, there is sometimes room to doubt whether you will get anything at all, for it often happens that a native waiter will take to his heels the moment he has offered you the bill of fare, as if apprehensive of the consequences, not coming near you again till his rash act has been forgotten.
[unsigned, but written by DAVID KER.]
The New York Times, July 8, 1888, p.10:|
CALCUTTA AND ON THE WAY.PLACES THAT RECALL EVENTFUL DAYS OF OLD.
THE MIGHTY BANYAN TREE--TRAVEL NOW AND IN THE PAST--
WHEN SEEN AT BEST ADVANTAGE.
SPENCE'S HOTEL, CALCUTTA, May 18--Our homeward journey has fairly begun at last. We have left Burmah far behind, and in India we have only one more thing to do, viz., to run up into the Eastern Himalaya by train, as Lord Dufferin did a week ago, and see the three highest mountains in the world melt into the cold splendor of the tropical moonlight or kindle into living fire beneath the glory of the tropical sunrise.
Meanwhile we are making excursions through all parts of the "City of Palaces" in a carriage kindly furnished to us by our friend the Maharajah of Vizianagram, whose voyage with us from Madras [Chennai] to Calcutta [Kolkata] was described in my letter of Feb. 4. When he came here yesterday afternoon to offer us tickets for the Theatre Royal he certainly looked "every inch a King," and presented a very edifying contrast to the crouching Bengalis around the hotel door, although he wore only the plain white native dress in which we had first seen him on the Madras steamer, and displayed no jewelry of any kind.
Calcutta cannot fairly be classed among those places which attract one at first sight. The Hooghly River, upon which it stands, might more justly be called the Ugly River, and the city itself is merely a big, showy, flat, dusty, thoroughly modern town, which, being neither so ancient nor so conveniently situated as its two great rivals, Madras and Bombay, might well seem to have become the metropolis of India by mistake. But if there is not much romance in its outward appearance, there is more than enough in the associations connected with it.
Not ten minutes walk from this hotel in which I write lies beneath the shadow of the shining dome and jaunty pink columns of the new Post Office that fatal spot where 123 English prisoners died of suffocation in one night, cursing with their last breath the savage despot whose cruelty has handed down to remotest ages the terrible name of the Black Hole of Calcutta.
In the very centre of the bustling and populous business quarter once stood, if native tradition may be trusted, the gloomy temple of the demon who presides over secret murder, whence the future capital took its name of "Kali Kuttah," (Kali's shrine.)
Some local antiquary might even now point out the spot where, early one fine morning, a covered litter was seen passing which contained Sir Philip Francis (the supposed author of "The Letters of Junius,") who was returning with a bullet through his body from an interview with the Governor-General. His misfortune, however, was his country's salvation, for had that famous duel resulted in the fall of the Governor-General himself, (a pale-faced little man whose name was Warren Hastings,) that of England's Eastern empire would probably have followed it forthwith.
Just below the city, where the brown slimy stream of the Hooghly widens into the beautiful bend of Garden Reach, Lord Clive, standing on the deck of a homeward-bound Indiaman more than a century ago, looked his last with those stern gray eyes of his upon the great empire which he had created, and turned his face homeward for the last time, to die by his own hand in the height of his greatness, amid the taunts and curses of the men whose honor he had saved and whose dominions he had enlarged.
Near the same spot, not many years ago, ended in even deeper and more shameful downfall another life which had for a moment seemed destined to become almost equally memorable. Below Fort William on the left bank of the Hooghly, where the broad banner-like leaves of the palm groves stand massed together like an army in battle array, there rises high above the clustering tree tops a huge, flat-roofed, many-windowed building, fantastically ornamented, and surrounded by a massive white battlemented wall. During the years that immediately followed the great Sepoy mutiny of 1857, this building was at once the palace and the prison of the nominal leader of that tremendous outburst, the miserable old debauched idiot with whom ended the terrible race of Timour, and from whose palsied hand dropped at once and forever the sceptre of the Kings of Oude.
By a strange and terrible retribution, the appointed jailer of this man in whose name the worst horrors of the great rebellions were perpetrated was one of the most famous of those whom it had marked for its victims -- Mowbray Thomson of Cawnpore, one of the four survivors of the massacre, whose bronzed and bearded visage, as I saw it years later in a quiet little French seaport, still wore that indescribable look wherewith death stamps those who have beheld him face to face in his worst form.
It must be owned, however, that Calcutta is seen to the least advantage by those who, like ourselves, have just returned from Burmah, where the wonderful mingling of bright colors in the native dress, whether male or female, makes the most ordinary street scene as brilliant and striking as an operatic tableau. This splendid variety is wholly wanting in lower Bengal, where the most indulgent spectator must soon grow weary of the unchanging white of cap, dress, or turban, more especially when (as often happens) the "spotless robe of the picturesque Oriental" has become so grimed with soot and dust as to look very much like a collier's tablecloth.
Nor does the panorama through which you come up to Calcutta from the sea do much to atone for the great city's own intrinsic shortcomings. Like most great rivers, the Ganges in its dotage is a miserable sight when, instead of rolling on as heretofore in one giant stream, deep and swift and mighty, it frets its glorious life away in a thousand puny and pitiable struggles. The transformation of the rushing Rhine into the creeping Vaal, or the noble Niger into the seven muddy ditches of the Delta, is not a more deplorable spectacle than the degeneration of this grand Asiatic river, which begins by leaping down like a flash of heaven's lightning from the unknown solitudes of the Himalaya, only to end at last as a shallow, slimy gutter amid the swamps of lower Bengal. Even West Africa in its sternest mood can produce nothing more dreary and hideous than these low, flat mudbanks bristling with dark, leathery leaves, these endless marshes, whose rank, unwholesome green betrays the unfathomable depths of foul oozy mire below, and these matted thickets, whose black, snaky tangle of intertwined boughs seems knotted into one horrid, unending coil.
These are the famous "Sunderbunds," which are to Bengal what the great Lincolnshire fens are to England, the marshes of Minsk to Russia, or the Bog of Allen and its sister morasses to Ireland. But in this strange amphibious region, where the water has mixed itself up with the land, the land has retaliated by intruding upon the domain of the water.
Yonder, where the discolored stream and the swirling eddies mark the whereabouts of the formidable "James and Mary Shoal," stand gauntly up out of the thick brown stream the topmasts of a sunken vessel--the sole remaining trace of the British India steamer Arcot. Out of the same spot--a fatal one indeed for Anglo-Indian packets--our own steamer, the Almora, went aground two months ago, only a few days after we had landed from her in Ceylon.
Even in these dismal wilds, however, there are not a few traces of man's presence, which grow more and more frequent as we ascend the stream. Every here and there, through a narrow gap in the great wall of clustering leaves, we catch a momentary glimpse of a tiny thatched hut, with two or three queer little brown "pickaninnies" grouped around its low doorway, half a dozen meagre fowl strolling listlessly over the clearing in front of it, and a small green square of rice plantation in the background.
As we advance these patches of civilization become thicker and thicker, showy houses of stone or brick are seen peeping through the trees--a telegraph station makes its appearance--the whistle of an unseen train is heard behind the bamboo thickets--several bullock carts are seen plodding along in a well-made road which runs parallel with the river, and at length the vanguard of Calcutta itself comes in sight, in the form of the tall smoky chimneys and big red brick factories of Budge-Budge, a place as busy in its way and very nearly as ugly (though that is a bold word) as any manufacturing town in England.
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