Deb Nath's Dilema
Deb Nath's Dilema
DEB NATH'S DILEMMA
Deb Nath Maitra came from a known Brahmin family in the year 1836. His family belonged to a group known as zamindars, meaning landholders, a Persian word. His family owned half a dozen villages and several hundred thousand acres of agricultural land. The land of course incorporated lakes, palm, date and several hundred mango trees. They cultivated sugar canes and varieties of vegetables. They were not super-rich as people may think because they had the responsibility for all the manual workers and administrative staff they employed. They also had to adjudicate for civil disputes although it was against the law promulgated by the East India Company who now ruled India. There was always people who wished for a loan of money with little possibility for repayment. Nevertheless they were comfortable financially. Deb Nath's father, however, preferred his son to do something different. He himself wanted something more in life than just be a landed gentry. His father, Deb Nath's grandfather, agreed for his eldest son, he had two sons, to be his successor zaminder which was as it should be anyway according to the tradition of primogeniture. The younger son, Deb Nath's father, built up factories manufacturing jaggery from sugar-cane, palm and date-palm; ghee from milk and rice from paddy. He was a very successful businessman so that he organised vendors to sell the massive amount of vegetables his family land produced; marrows, beans, peas, chillies two varieties of cucumber, plums and of course mangoes, selling a large part of his merchandise to the sahibs of East India Company. He befriended one or two Britishers and someone among them must have persuaded him to direct his son's education towards an administrative career in the government as the East India Company now was as they began annexing territories in India.
Apart from himself, Deb Nath's father was the only one in the family who spoke English. Summer or winter, he wore knickerbockers and kept his head covered with something akin to a hunting cap. He went out shooting ducks, drank wine and ate roast beef. All this made his wife feel polluted and his father very angry. He was barred from the family home but allowed to carry out his business programmes and meet his favourite son whenever he wished. He was given a house in Barrackpur at the northern edge of the city where he lived with his cook and servants, all Muslims because to a Hindu he was an untouchable for eating beef. Being abandoned by his family he obstinately stuck to his decision of making his son a British Government officer. Deb Nath's salary will be low when he takes up his position as an officer of the government
but he will make sure that his son had enough money to maintain the opulent life style he was used to. His only regret was that grandfather refused to allow Deb Nath to live with him.
Metalled roads were non-existent in the India of 1836 but the streets of Calcutta were impassable at peak times. The peak times were probably the same as they were in England because the sahibs wished everything in India to follow the ways of the British as they did in North America, Australia and other areas which they colonised. For example, the sahibs dressed up in coats and hats and memsahibs wore gloves although the practice must have made the ladies very uncomfortable. A kala, black, sahib like Deb Nath emulated the white sahibs and looked down upon the dhoti- kurta clad natives with a greater degree of superiority complex than the actual sahibs did.
One morning Deb Nath Maitra aged 21 years took his horse-driven family landau as usual to report for work at what was called the Suddar Board Offices on Chowringhee Road in the white European part of Calcutta. Normally, the carriage should reach its destination in half an hour from his ancestral home but Deb Nath got stuck about a mile north from his office because his landau could go no further. The streets were jammed with horse-driven carriages, long carts called thela gadis pushed and pulled by two men one at either end, bullock carts, human beings, stray cows and dogs. It was impossible for carriages to move because vehicular traffic and people or animals converged on an important cross roads made by Bentinck Street running from north to south and Lalbazar Road at right angles to it. Telling the driver to turn around to go home and return at 5.00 pm to pick him up from the Suddar Board Offices, he started to walk.
As in modern times, Indians bought their vegetables, fish, eggs or meat everyday from the local market place in the 19th century. Vendors who supplied to the shopkeepers and owners of stalls left a mess on the sides of the streets. There was nobody left to move the rubbish and it was not necessary because appropriate animals roamed free and ate discarded parts of fish, meat or vegetables in which the humans were not interested. The rubbish generated by the day's activities in the market place and the vendors themselves disappeared by midday but it was only about a little before ten in the morning when Deb Nath started walking and because of the congestion it was not easy to look down while moving. Consequently Deb Nath slipped on a piece of vegetable and fell flat on his back. There were people around him who could grab Deb Nath before he hit the floor but, as tradition would have it, the men around the young man quickly and politely made room for him to fall without any cushioning obstruction. Someone even asked insincerely, 'Did you fall?' Not to be outdone a man in the crowd shouted, 'Did you hurt yourself?'
As was the custom Deb Nath ignored everybody and got up. He cursed as he took his jacket off, brushed the sticky rubbish by hand and proceeded to his office slowly through the mass of humans, animal and vehicles. To add to a pedestrian's problem the road was full of potholes and therefore not conducive to walking in the English shoes which added high status to Deb Nath's position in the office. Nevertheless he persevered with being jostled by people and being verbally abused by drivers of carriages. He was surprised by the audacity of them because he was dressed in the same manner as a Beelti sahib and he was light-skinned! He presumed those drivers to be driving lal chamra, red-skinned natives of Great Britain, in which case they were entitled to feel superior, being servants of the most superior persons in India. In that case one should expect and accept their haughty manners. It was their inalienable right to look down upon all Indians even the kala sahibs however grand their attire!
A big problem was the dust kicked up by vehicles and animals. It was quite difficult to see beyond a few yards so he continued to move slowly as did the other pedestrians. He managed to reach Chowringhee road eventually. Much to his relief the road was watered possibly being in the white town, that is that part of Calcutta where the white Europeans lived exclusively and maintained their offices, banks, shops, cinema halls and theatres or restaurants. The effect of watering was that Chowringhee road was quite free of dust although a little damp.
He looked to see what time it was but a pick-pocket had stolen his pocket watch and gold chain. As he walked into the large office and headed for his desk, the section leader, an Indian, with the designation of bara babu in the Bengali language, said to him, 'You are late'. Deb Nath looked at the wall clock and was surprised to see that it was only five minutes past ten in spite of all the problems he had. He must have left home earlier than he thought for some reason.
He frowned as he said, “Only about five minutes!”
Bara babu smiled superiorly. He said, “My dear Sir- not about.” He looked at his pocket watch. “It is exactly five minutes to the second. Our working day in this office is from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm with breaks for lunch plus morning and afternoon tea. The breaks are given free by the Suddar board so that we have seven hours in a working day for which we are paid. One fourteenth of your day's pay will be deducted.”
Deb Nath was not very good at mental arithmetic. “How?” he queried. “Why should I lose one fourteenth of my day's pay?”
The section leader wrote down a quick formula. One hour's pay is one seventh. Therefore one half hour's pay has to be one fourteenth. “I am only five minutes' late,” quipped Deb Nath. “How can I lose half an hour's pay!”
These college boys and particularly those who came from well-to-do families are not very intelligent. That was the view of bara babu. He himself had nine children and ageing parents, uncles and their wives. He had cousins. Some of them worked regular hours but others preferred to loaf about and become a drain on family resources. His grandparents moved from East Bengal because they heard about the red skins and their opulent city. They brought enough money with them to buy a plot of land in the black town and build a house; a very large house for their large family. Bara babu was educated in arithmetic and could read, write and converse in the English language so getting a job with the government was unexpectedly easy. He had no financial worries and he was very
happy with his family around him. He had worked for the government for nearly three decades, being the section leader for the last ten years. The big sahibs gave him authority.
He looked straight up at Deb Nath and said, “My dear Sir, the rule is that you lose half an hour's pay if you are late for up to half an hour. Note the rule- it says 'up to'. Then more than half an hour and up to one hour you forfeit one hour's pay. Then more than one hour but up to....”
Deb Nath Maitra interrupted. He said as if to chastise, “Don't go on and on. Deduct whatever you like. Deduct the whole day's pay.”
“Tut, tut,” bara babu produced the familiar sound with the aid of his tongue and the roof of his mouth. He continued, “I am directed to apply the rules strictly. The rules are made by the Suddar Board; not me. I am a mere servant of the sahibs obeying orders!”
He became apologetic in manner even though he was dealing with a person just out of his teens but the section leader was a shrewd man. It was his job to run the department and ensure the sanctity of rules or else he would bring upon himself the holy indignation of the red-skin in his big office, his superior. On the other hand, Deb Nath had a very exalted social status by virtue of his birth. Although junior to the section leader, he was in this office only temporarily. The young man would move into higher pastures whereas he will remain in his present position till he retires. He had the experience to know that it does not do any good to antagonise a future Head of a district with powers to administer justice which everyone knew the young man was training for. The position of the Head of a district needs explaining.
Colonel Clive won Bengal in the battle of Palashi in 1757. He presumed to act on behalf of the East India Company whose directors in London declared themselves as responsible for governing Bengal because the Indians were not capable of doing so. In typical British fashion they declared the commander-in-chief, who was bribed by Clive not to fight, as the new nabab, viceroy. The new nabab of course was a puppet and the governor of the East India Company was the de facto ruler of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The governor was careful not to act openly as the new ruler and the British declared that they were in India for trade only. They did not show racial superiority but as time went on they realised how complaisant the Indians were to the white man. In about 30 years from the battle of Palashi, one Lord Charles Cornwallis arrived as the Governor in Calcutta and in no time asserted, 'Every native of Hindustan, I verily believe, is corrupt.'.The zamindari system worked well because they knew their people like a family through many generations. Cornwallis, however reduced them to mere landowners entitled to monetary profit only like a businessman. The position of Collector was created whose function was merely to collect revenue for a district of which he was in charge. Although the Head of the district, a collector had no political or judicial power. The new Governor vested such powers in the District Judge or Magistrate who controlled the police and administered law. Lord Cornwallis took up his position in Calcutta in 1786 and started his reforms quickly. Deb Nath's family lost status and the people who depended on them lost heart and they refused to see the judge or magistrate for any grievances they had. They approached the zaminder as they always did over their disputes. The British, as in modern times, were not very competent in enforcing laws they enacted themselves.
About four decades later came Lord William Bentinck who ruled from 1828 to 1835. The British were annexing Indian territories so they realised that their small island could not provide enough manpower to administer the country or fight wars of expansion of their much coveted empire.
In Bentinck's time Indian education system was discarded to be replaced by English Education. Cornwallis' specification for a collector's role was modified so that in Bentinck's reform of 1831 executive and judicial powers became independent. In Bengal each district had to have a collector-magistrate with control of police and total jurisdiction over rent collection. District judges were to try cases which were committed for trial by the collector-magistrate. Power was also given to a collector-magistrate to hear appeals from courts of Indian subordinate judges.
The charter act of 1833 by the East India Company made Indians eligible for any appointment in the administration. In practice the Company selected its own senior personnel who had to be white. In typical British fashion a few Indians were given token positions provided they were students of Hindu college. Students of that college were thoroughly anglicised although it was founded by a few Bengalis in 1817 hoping to impart Sanskritic education to its students. Bengalis, however, were not against it being otherwise because the product of this Anglicist college became the new elite of India. Deb Nath's father was prescient; he enrolled his son at Hindu College and managed to wangle a place for him at the Saddar Board Office for him to become a native collector-magistrate; no mean feat!
That morning's altercation with bara babu kept nagging away at Deb Nath Maitra, an Indian aristocrat whose family home existed long before 1690 when Fort William and the British city of Calcutta came into being. Strangely he was pleased with bara babu for being so strict about implementing the rules of the Saddar Board. He was not at all concerned about his loss of pay. Just the same he decided to write a memo to the manager of his department, a Scot, explaining why he was five minutes' late but before that he went outside the office to brush his suit and have a little wash.
He felt depressed that evening as his landau headed for his home in an exclusive area north of the British white town and black town where bara babu lived. There were a number of reasons perhaps for the way he felt but, first of all, his cream coloured especially tailored cotton suit was covered with dust and stains of vegetables. He did not like looking like this in front of menials such as his family coach driver. Secondly, the haggling he did over the loss of a trifle amount of pay seemed to heap unwelcome indignity on him. He asked himself. “Why did I argue?” His salary from the Saddar Board was minuscule compared to the monthly allowance he got from his grandfather. There was always his father whom he could tap every sunday when he visited him for lunch of course secretly. He argued that it was the principle of the practice which gave him some consolation. The rule was grossly unfair. Nobody should lose an hour's pay if he was, say, thirty-five minutes' late. Everybody knows that the Saddar Board and hence the government will not offer half an hour's pay as extra emolument if an employee worked late which many did not so infrequently. At any rate it was beyond his control that he had to leave his vehicle and walk. He should really be rewarded for deciding to come to work on foot.
For reasons of his own he became Indian that evening. He bathed and dressed in ankle-length dhoti, a kurta plus a folded shawl on his left shoulder. He sat cross-legged on an asan, a piece of rug, on the floor and ate his afternoon tea, one half dozen luchi, unleavened Indian bread deep fried in ghee, spiced vegetables with potatoes and hot cups of Darjeeling tea. As he ate he pondered that his education at the Hindu college made him look down upon everything Indian. He knew that that was the wish of the ruling British who encouraged the college to survive and prosper. They were not in the least interested in Sanskritic education because it was their firm conclusion that there was nothing in India or indeed in the whole continent of Asia which was worth anything educationally. Deb Nath passed his final examination at the Hindu college with flying colours and his job at the Saddar Board Office was meant for him to prepare for the government post on which his father set his heart. His father was also very hopeful that his son would become a flawless member of what may be called Macaulay's westernised natives of India.
Macaulay was in India in 1833 and left after three years or so. Some sources maintain that he came in 1834 but they all agree that he was in India for three years only. He must have been vainglorious because within such a short time he felt he could assess everything about India and its peoples. He held high office with the East India Company and is still known in India by his notorious education act which became the foundation for the native education of today for India. To know of his mind-bending beliefs vis-a-vis India one needs to read his recorded pronouncements a few examples being as follows:
'A single self of a good European library is worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.'
'…... Whether, when we can teach European Science, we shall teach systems which, by universal confession, whenever they differ from Europe, differ for the worse; and whether, when we can patronise sound philosophy and true history, we shall countenance, at the public expense, medical doctrines which would disgrace an English farrier- Astronomy which would move laughter in girls at an English boarding school- History abounding with kings thirty feet high, and reigns thirty thousand years long- and Geography, made up of seas of treacle and seas of butter......'
Macaulay in his letter to his father wrote, '….if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal 30 years hence.'
The letter shows a little despondency in Macaulay because there were Englishmen in India who wanted to preserve all that was Indian and did not want western culture foisted on the natives of India, the Princep brothers being among them to quote a few.
Deb Nath read Macaulay's writings while at the Hindu college and he was embarrassed to realise the rubbish the Indians learnt about history and geography. The young man recalled that in the preamble of his education act of 1835 Macaulay stated: 'We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions in morals and intellect.'
Macaulay succeeded as far as Deb Nath was considered. He was convinced of the inferiority of his race and worked hard to learn about British history, geography and
philosophy. Science was beyond him but his father agreed with him that Indians must wear European clothes, communicate in English only and eat roast beef for dinner. Deb Nath practised what he preached and persuaded his friends from the Hindu college until grandfather got to know of the transformation of his grandson. He chastised him and pointed out that although he himself was proficient in the Bengali language and had a good working knowledge of Sanskrit, he was classified as illiterate by the British.
Grandfather said, “Some of your red skins must be fools. We Maitras are high class Brahmins but the red-skins have reduced us to monkeys, vanars. Culturally different races from different lands wish to retain their identity. Only the vanars mimic.”
Indians have grown accustomed to mimicking being occupied by conquerors from many lands for the last 1200 years. His grandson and his father should be given prizes for being very successful vanars of the land. This confused Deb Nath. He did not think of his father and himself in that manner.
Nevertheless, the grandson realised the wisdom of his grandfather's pronouncements. It occurred to him that the dharma, duty and code, of those belonging to the vanar varna was to destroy Indian culture and transplant on the people distorted versions of European habits and customs. However, he nevertheless became inexorably pulled to uproot himself from his own natural way of life as practised by all his family except his father. Although he felt diminished at trying hard to become a kala sahib, black Englishman, he generally continued to flow with the Macaulay tide. He followed
the same routine every week; carriage to work; friends of the same kind in the evening and wandering about in Calcutta and its suburbs on saturday afternoons and sundays.
A year passed. Mr Patton,the magistrate, sent for him. The magistrate questioned him in a relaxed manner. Deb Nath was surprised to see such an Englishman existed who treated him as a fellow human being. At that moment he felt proud that he was Macaulay's Indian; a faithful black Englishman. He let the magistrate know that he was dedicated to Macaulay's ideal; like all Hindu students of the Hindu college Deb Nath ate beef openly and ridiculed the age old idea that the cow had to be revered and not slaughtered to be eaten. He talked about the images of Visnu, Shiv and others as idols in the same derogatory manner as the white sahibs did in their clubs or through the English language daily newspapers published by the British for the British. As the Beelati sahibs did, this Brahmin kala sahib told Mr Patton that he abhored the dark age tradition of worshipping idols.
He like the sahibs or most of the English- speaking natives did not know that the use of image for puja was probably started in Bengal by Raja Krishna Chandra Rai(1710-1782). He like the others did not know that the word worship does not apply to the ritual of puja for the Hindus.
British historians themselves have written that the early missionaries showed respect but the evangelicals such as Charles Grant or William Wilberforce attacked Hinduism with venom as the Arabs and Turks did before them. They wanted Hindus to learn the English language with the conviction like that of Macaulay that Hinduism will then automatically disappear. Possibly because of this attack in the 1830s the word Hinduism found currency. Historians write that the evangelicals transformed Hinduism into a fully-fledged religion. It, however, failed to create a dogma and the book to be used as and when necessary.
Deb Nath in common with the majority of students at the Hindu college declared his faith in the one true God. Mr Patton did not seem impressed. He frowned and asked, “You have no plans to be a Christian, have you?”
Deb Nath looked at the sahib with vacant eyes. He was unable to assess what would please this magistrate who in the mean time, not getting an answer, spoke himself. He let the young kala sahib know in the strictest of confidence that the top brass of John company did not encourage Hindus converting to Christianity. Why the company even the governor generals of aristocratic background who came to India disapproved of it. Mr Patton went on talking for some time. He talked about Lord Auckland who succeeded Bentinck; he has already made it clear that he was against interference in the Hindu populations' way of life.
Deb Nath was not listening. He wondered that the high ranking British officials say one thing but the evangelicals never stop haranguing and debasing the Hindus. He knew as did his friends, relatives and even his father that the Beelati sahibs despaired about the plight of the natives as expressed in private discussions and the English newspapers. Not only the evangelicals but, only with a very few exceptions, the Beelati sahibs were extremely serious that they must fulfil their mission which was that light and knowledge must penetrate the native minds. Fortunately, Mr Patton did not notice the inattentiveness of Deb Nath. He said, “Do you know that the government has decreed that English must replace Persian in all official transactions?”
Deb Nath smiled as he said truthfully,“I am very pleased about that sir because I was not looking forward to learning another useless language.”
There was no reaction from Mr Patton. He was a strange sahib. One would have thought that he would be pleased to see a native so enthusiastic about the English language and so willing to denigrate his own heritage. He therefore refrained from telling the magistrate that his father had planned his son's life very carefully and expected Deb Nath to be installed as the Native Deputy Collector, a very high government position, after the son had spent the mandatory five years in the Saddar Board Office.
Unexpectedly but to the great delight of the young man, Mr Patton said, “You are in line for the post of Native Deputy Collector. However, it may mean that you will have to work away from the city. Have you any problem with it?”
“I would rather be in the city. I will of course go wherever I have to as a Native Deputy Collector. I do hope so much though that I would be responsible for the district of Bardhaman. We have agricultural land there. In fact we have a house in the town of Bardhaman. Our whole family gather there at least once a year or during special occasions. It is nice and open there; very clean compared to Calcutta.”
Mr Patton made a note of what Deb Nath said. He then stated, “Being a Bengali you must speak Bengali.”
“A little,” replied Deb Nath, somewhat apprehensive that perhaps he should have said no to prove his credentials as a pukka kala sahib of Macaulay. Mr Patton seemed to ignore his answer and asked without
looking at him, “Do you read and write the language?”
The young man smiled as if to say, 'what a question!' He replied without hesitation that he did not. Mr Patton leaned back in his chair, looked at him for a few seconds and said, “Is it not your preference to communicate in your own mother tongue? I myself will be very uncomfortable to struggle with a language which is totally alien to my land.”
Deb Nath became nervous and started to cough and perspire. He wondered rather than admiring him for his partiality to the English language the sahib was trying to trap him. People in authority wanted the Hindus to forget everything Indian. Why, even the other day there was gun salute from Fort William to honour the first Hindu student who defied orthodoxy by performing a dissection in the new Calcutta Medical College. Not a matter of joke! Probably, the newly arrived governor general, Lord Ackland ordered it himself although he wanted the natives to preserve their own culture.
Macaulay made it clear that the white man will rule the natives through a class of natives, the vanars, monkeys as his grandfather would call them. These vanars will be experts at copying the new masters so that they will read and write English and converse fluently in it. They would dress as Europeans and eat western food. In other words they will be black Englishmen of India and rule from Khyber pass to Burma and from Kashmir to Ceylon on behalf of and for the British. The laws would be British as formulated for the people of Britain and the local languages of India would be the preserve of the non-westernised dhoti and pyjama or sari-clad natives and hopefully would disappear in due course.
“Well?” demanded Mr Patton a little irritated.
“It does not apply to me sir,” replied Deb Nath Maitra quickly. “I have to use a little Bengali to converse with my family but I myself am more at home with English. The English language is my language really.”
“That's because of all the beef you eat, eh!”
The kala sahib smiled obsequiously sensing that Mr Patton was not being sincere in all probability. Was he being sarcastic? Was he ridiculing him? He did not have the scope to ponder further because Mr Patton soon became serious. He said that Persian would be replaced by English for the higher law courts only. Regional languages will continue to be the means of all communications in the lower courts. A thorough knowledge of Bengali, therefore, was sine qua non for Deb Nath if he wanted to become the Native Deputy Collector in a district in Bengal. He advised the young hopeful to learn the rules of land settlements and the regulations and practice of the civil courts.
“You are dressed in western clothes,” he said, “but a Native Deputy Collector is not equal in status to, for example, a European Deputy Collector. Always remember that a white man, even those uncouth seamen you see in town, are higher in social status than you.”
“Yes sir,” said the kala sahib respectfully.
Rumours must have circulated in town about a future Native Deputy Collector because a man as important as Dwarka Nath Thakur invited Deb Nath Maitra to one of his regular parties given mainly for Europeans in his palatial house. He arrived with a few young friends at the appointed time but was a little intimidated to see important Europeans and natives with their ladies numbering some 500 in all. Dwarka Nath Thakur, although not a product of the Macaulay machine, was subservient to the Europeans. He needed neither money nor position because he had both in his family for generations. He was, perhaps, like many of his compatriots, overwhelmed by the military prowess of the British. It could also be that these men and women from distant lands with the skin so rosy made the Indians humble at the realisation of their own undesirable colour. Even those Indians with colour of skin a shade or two lighter than others felt diminished.
To please them Dwarka Nath who liked to visit England organised ballroom dancing in his massive house quite often and the Europeans accepted his invitation quite readily. The British never gave up the opportunity of free-loading no matter which simpleton was happy to throw his money away. Deb Nath noticed that each time a red-skin appeared in the vicinity of Mr Thakur he made a deep bow. He spoke in strained English and did not even look at Deb Nath and his friends. Although there were alcoholic drinks and arrangements for the guests to dance, Deb Nath and his friends did not have the courage to drink at the beginning. They did not have female partners and they did not know how to dance anyway.
He sat it out with his young friends, all products of the Hindu college. He learnt that Mr Thakur had stopped paying attention to Visnu, Durga and others because lal-chamra found Hinduism generally and the images in particular very offensive. Being an influential man Mr Thakur was aware that many well known families in Calcutta organised dinner dances for the Beelati as well as the kala sahibs. It was a matter of great prestige if someone knew white sahibs from outside the city and asked them to attend his party. The problem with some Hindus of India was that they did not know the ways of the Europeans quite well and confused the occasion of dinner dance with an impromptu religious ritual. The dance and drinking therefore was always preceded by puja to devatas so that idols as the Europeans perceived them were involved. Although everything from alcohol to food was free, the sahibs took offence at the liberty taken by the blacks. The memsahibs were particularly distressed at the ignominy of having to observe pagan practices from such close proximity. Nearly all the men became morose at the possibility of giving up such golden opportunities for free-loading but they were adamant that they could not put these refined women through such degradation. Dwarka Nath Thakur always informed his potential European guests that there will be no Hindu religious rituals and no idols. Of course the sahibs could certainly do Christian things such as saying grace at the dinner tables. In fact it became compulsory for the blacks to eat at separate locations and dance at one end of the hall and the white sahibs at the other end.
As the night progressed, Deb Nath and his friends drank a little wine and smoked in front of their elders. It was regarded as disrespectful and vulgar if one smoked in front of their seniors such as fathers or uncles. Drinking alcohol diminished one's social status in Hindu societies although partaking of alcoholic drinks was not prohibited in the world of Hindus. The young men, however, by drinking and smoking in that manner, proved their closeness to European civilisation and separation from ridiculous taboos of Indian culture which was inferior all round any way. They ate their grand supper of roast beef, without relish, at one o'clock in the morning after which the party was over officially.
None of the young men lived very far from Mr Thakur's house so they all decided to walk home although horse drawn carriages were available for hire. As they walked out of the large iron gates they were accosted, not physically, by about a dozen Bengali youths. Their ankle length white dhotis, long kurtas and shawls around their upper bodies betrayed their bhadralok status in the Bengali community. A bhadralok can be paraphrased as a man of sophistication. He usually spoke softly in elegant Bengali without ever using expletives. Bhadraloks
were known to shun physical violence no matter how provocative the adversary. They were articulate and well known for their sense of fair play. For the same reason they considered the means employed by Clive to conquer India as unfair. Some of them even went against their strongly held principle of non-violence and wished to endorse force against the British because they felt humiliated at experiencing attacks on Hinduism by overt and covert means by these Feringees. To them there was not a single Britisher who could be trusted. The youths belonging to the bhadralok class were contemptuous of vanars like Deb Nath Maitra and the pathetic imitators of the European ways an example being Mr Thakur. In the 19th century India youths such as these were frustrated at their elders for so readily accepting an inferior status, at least politically, to an alien race who occupied India by defeating another alien ruler of long standing. Not only did the British conquer India by chicanery, they openly denigrated Indians as sub-standard in body and mind; the British had no hesitation in declaring that the natives of India must be educated and trained to be civilised generally. That could only be done by forcing them to acquire European
Deb Nath felt menaced. He asked aggressively, “What do you want?”
One of them said, “We are concerned about the emergence of Macaulay's slaves and their numbers increasing with alarming rapidity. We know your family. My father respects your grandfather as I do. Your grandfather is proud to be Indian. A very wealthy man and a high class Brahmin; yet so humble. His grandson became his opposite and joined the fifth varna!”
“Fifth varna?” quizzed one of the party-goers.
Deb Nath answered. “It is my grandfather's construction. He says that Macaulay has created a fifth varna in the Hindu hierarchy. People like us belong to the vanar varna.”
His friend tried to whistle unsuccessfully. He had seen the white sahibs doing so by blowing through contracted lips.
“How are we vanars?” asked another friend.
“Because you are,” answered another young bhadralok. “You wear western clothes. Apart from the fact that you look out of place such garments are unhygienic in the Indian climate. Dhotis and pyjamas are things which evolved over many centuries. You are idiots.”
“Unlike you we are getting civilised,” said another one of Deb Nath's friends.
The first young bhadralok laughed. “Of course you are,” he said. “I can smell alcohol in your breaths. You have eaten beef naturally and certainly tonight. No doubt you have turned your backs on Visnu, Durga and others?”
The wealthy zaminder's grandson became depressed right away. He regretted wasting a whole evening at Mr Thakur's house. It occurred to him now and again that there had to be a good reason for beef being forbidden for Hindus. There must be a reason why one should not drink alcohol or smoke in the presence of one's elders. He said politely to the first bhadralok “We are guilty of all you say. We have lost our sense of dignity.” His voice was slurred. He was swaying a little because he drank with his meal as well. He did so entirely because he could see, although a little distance away from them, the proper sahibs drinking wine while eating.
“I cannot touch you,” said the first bhadralok, “because you are not touchable with beef inside you and clothes of the barbarians outside. I must tell you this though.”
He first guided Deb Nath and his friends to sit on the low perimeter wall of Mr Dwarka Nath Thakur's house and rest their backs against the high iron bars which were embedded in the brickwork. He then said as he remained in a standing position facing them, “We are members of the dharma sabha. We know of you people of Hindu college. You are of no consequence at the moment but we are very concerned about Mr Thakur's contempt for Indians and Hinduism. He thinks he is an honorary European but he will know soon that he is going to be shunned by all in Calcutta and its vicinity.
Deb Neath stood up and said, “We are not responsible for Mr Thakur, are we?”
The first bhadralok showed his irritation. He said to Deb Nath now seated again, “We know of the influence of Hindu college on people like you. Why don't you become Christians or Mahammedans seeing that the flesh of our mother cow appeals to you so much?” The bhadralok added that they were going to confront Mr Dwarka Nath Thakur tonight. He must leave the Hindu fold. His family were ashamed of him. The Hindu community were embarrassed at his antics. Deb Nath said that as far as he knew one could not join the Hindu fold. One had to be born of Hindu parents although one could leave it by converting to some other faith. There was no reply from his interlocutor.
It was probably five or so in the morning because there were people about. The push carts were moving as were men loaded with baskets of vegetables on their heads. There were women carrying fish for the market where shoppers should arrive in a couple of hours. Deb Nath and his friends drank a few cups of hot tea each from the roadside stall which helped them to sober up. They all became thoughtful and discussed last evening's party and the encounter with the young bhadraloks. They met again later that morning and whether to defy the young strangers of the previous night or whether they thought that they belonged to the new elite of India, they dressed in western clothes and bought a week old copy of the Calcutta Courier. They took a horse carriage just for a drive and read an item as follows: The paper reported that a few Beelati sahibs decided to take their sunday morning drive in south Calcutta but thick fog made it impossible. So they proceeded to the strand which ran alongside the river Hoogly. 'But', wrote the Courier, 'the abominations which assailed us at every step induce us to bring the circumstance thus publicly to the notice of the Chief Magistrate and the Conservancy Department in the hope that they may take early steps to remove the nuisances which abound and render the road by the riverside which ought to be and which once was quite agreeable drive, quite disgusting.
In the first place, at every hundred yards or less are to be seen the wretched dens of all kinds of Fakeers, who in many instances are almost in a state of complete nakedness. Surely, there can be no reason for tolerating the intrusion of these obscene mendicants upon what would be, but for their presence and the other nuisance we shall mention, the most favourite resort of the European....early in the morning, a great portion of the population of the town are to be seen there performing the vilest offices of nature in the full view of all who pass along the road.'
Deb Nath shook his head. “There is something to learn from the sahibs,” he said. “They never commit nuisances in public.”
One of his friends said that his father brought a copy of the Reformer which had an article that engendered a deep sense of gratitude in him for the Beelati sahibs. The article ran like this:
'Of the various improvements lately made among the natives that in the dress of those who have received the benefit of an English education must be regarded as one of the chief. We are entitled to congratulate ourselves that the progress of education is rapidly effecting a salutary change in the natives' mode of dressing, as may be seen by the decent appearance of those who are termed the regenerated,'
Reading the current English language newspapers written by Beelati sahibs for their own community was a favourite pastime with the graduates of Hindu college. They took the criticism regarding the customs of the Indians seriously. It was also a warning to them in so far as the articles educated them to avoid doing things which would attenuate their anglicisation. Conversely, they tried to do such things which kept on adding to their progress towards westernisation. For example, they learnt not to hold the sides of their noses with their index finger, lean forward and blow them of any blockage in the air. Instead they used a handkerchief and performed the operation as the white sahibs did; they carried the handkerchiefs in their pockets. The same applied to spitting. They stopped washing their feet at the threshold of the house, put on the appropriate footwear before moving about inside the house. Instead, they kept their shoes on even when they wished to lie on the bed. Established customs were abandoned if the sahibs did not approve of them.
They finished reading the English language papers and decided to go to the racecourse. The Race Course Stand, as it was called, was two- storied with the Lottery room on the ground floor. Entertaining rooms were located on the first floor. There was additional space for spectators on the flat roof. As Deb Nath and his friends proceeded confidently to the first floor, the peons, the uniformed Indian attendants, refused them entry. The five young kala sahibs became extremely angry. They spoke in Hindi since these peons were not Bengalis. Whether Deb Nath sounded authoritative or not, the peons forsook their arrogant stance and became a little civil but only a little.
“We can't let you in,” said one of them.
“But,” said Deb Nath, “We will pay our way. We are entitled to go in.”
“You may be entitled,” replied the peon with a high degree of confidence, “but I don't know about that. Sahibs have ordered us that the natives must not be allowed to go to the first floor. This is because a large number of memsahibs had things stolen from them.”
“Do we look like thieves?”
“We have our orders. All natives are forbidden to come to this floor.”
“We are dressed as Europeans!” exclaimed one of Deb Nath's friends.
A peon laughed derisively. He said, “But you are only dressed as Europeans. You are still a native like us. You are black; not white sahibs!”
The young men felt aggrieved. To be called black is a big insult to most Indians. It is many times more so to people like Deb Nath Maitra and his friends because they constitute the modern upper class of India, albeit of lower social status than the proper sahibs. They decided, therefore, to force their way but no sooner they landed on the first floor than a European came over and told them harshly to leave immediately. When they held their ground stubbornly, the European summoned a few other Beelati sahibs. Each European got hold of one Indian and the young men were frogmarched out of the Race Course Stand. The peons found it hilarious and they laughed heartily clapping their hands once now and again as each kala sahib's posterior was kicked for good measure. The peons, however, did not enjoy themselves for long because they got pushed and kicked as well for allowing the coolies to go up in the first place.
Outside, the young men had to swallow their pride. They very much hoped that their families did not get to know of their plight. Fortunately, they did not and Deb Nath worked away at the Saddar Board Office but the years passed rather slowly for him. The only notable event in 1839 was the metalling of roads, beginning with Chitpur road since the British decided to include old areas north of Chowringhee road as part of Calcutta with old buildings built during Moghul rule by enterprising Indians. The menacing dust was tamed provided watering of roads were carried out regularly. The congestion, however, remained and he always had to walk to his office from the Bentinck street junction but he could see ahead of him and the chance of pickpockets succeeding in their task was much diminished.
The British in India had an opulent way of living of which they could not dream back home in Britain with the possible exception of a few. They were highly privileged but they hated India more and more if the time of their stay became extended. Employees in the commercial sector may have spent their whole working life in India but there was no question of settling down there as they did in parts of Africa. They went on castigating all things Hindu. Some in high places, however, felt convinced that God sent them to this uninhabitable country to bring salvation to these millions of benighted barbarians. They acted with certain degree of determination. Education in the English language was stepped up. The Hindus lined up to gain admission to the Hindu college. The Muslims stayed away. This non-participation did not concern the ruling class because, after all, Muslims had a monotheistic faith and they were great iconoclasts as India's history showed. The Anglo-Saxon and Celtic rulers of India were shrewd enough to know that forcible methods do not provide the scope for long term achievements. The most prudent method was to follow Macaulay's policy and certainly unobtrusively. The Bengalis were easily convinced when told by proper sahibs that their language was poor, meagre, wretched and totally inadequate. On the other hand, learning the English language will give them the opportunity to read English literature, philosophy, science and books on technological methods. That done, they would climb higher and higher on the ladder of civilisation. That is, the Hindus, now in a state of ignorance and superstition would be on their way to be enlightened and reformed. For the British, the final day of rejoicing would come when with European culture seeping through the body and soul of the natives of India, Hinduism will be swept away.
Deb Nath was systematically indoctrinated in this manner. Of his own free will he chose to be bombarded with such European ideas and policies through the English language newspapers designed and run by Beelati sahibs. Although of late he was distressed at the humiliation meted out to him and his close friends by the ruling class and even their native menial workers, he was pushed relentlessly by his father to his most magnificent ambition for his son, which was to see his progeny be installed as the Native Deputy Collector. The last month of the year 1840 was crucial for Deb Nath because the following January he was to start his high office for which he trained so hard for so long. For a year or two, however, Deb Nath and his friends had been pondering. Should they give up their Hindu culture and detach themselves from the Indus Valley civilisation and the ones that went before so that they could be accepted as the new elite, the vanars, of the land? Should they not join the bhadraloks of dharma sabha and assert their Indianness? Deb Neath himself felt disappointed that his father, against his own father's will, could only think of his son as novus homo of the British but nothing more substantial. How shallow his father was! A feeling of hatred towards the red-skins sprouted in the hearts of Deb Nath and his friends of long-standing.
Mr Patton sent for Deb Nath Maitra. He talked about the young Indian's impending
responsibility and promised the letter of appointment any time now. The letter was a formality. He then talked about December, the 27th. A function was scheduled for the students of the Hindu college to recite poems of their choice in the English language. The function was going to be held in the Government House
and he was invited to attend. Mr Patton urged him to attend particularly, as far as he knew, Lord Auckland, the Governor General was going to be there. He was welcome to bring his family and friends if he wished. Mr Patton handed out a dozen invitation cards. Deb Nath came out of the office with a feeling of pleasure. Mr Patton always had that effect on him. Who could hate the British whose land could produce someone like Mr Patton? He would have no serious objection to British rule if they sent more senior officials like Mr Patton to India.
On Chistmas day, he decided to celebrate the occasion with a younger friend who was a student at Hindu college not so long ago. Exactly a year from now he converted to Christianity. The consequence was disastrous for him. His family broke all connections and disowned him. To crown it all, as soon as the news became public, the Principal of the college, an Englishman, expelled him so that was the
end of his future career. It puzzled Deb Nath because the missionaries wanted all the Hindus to become Christians. Yet sahibs at high places punished the ones severely for embracing their faith voluntarily; strange people, these British!
His friend found employment in a restaurant and accommodation in the same building. Deb Nath stayed with his poor, young friend on the night of Christmas eve. They both got up early the following day which was a holiday for his friend. The bells of the Catholic churches pealed as they bathed and got ready. Ships appeared on the river Hoogly noisily with their ensigns flying. The gates of homes, the portals of churches and the public buildings became decorated with festoons of marigold and leaves from mango trees as the morning progressed. The Hindu servants had no idea as to what Christianity stood for. Therefore, in a few public buildings, they hung coconuts and other types of fruit as they normally did with Hindu festivals. Some of them even painted swastikas on cloths hanging with other decorations. The sahibs either did not notice them or turned a blind eye to such heathen customs contaminating their faith.
A group of young urchins surrounded them. “We are starving.”
As his friend dipped his hand in his pocket, Deb Nath said, “They look well fed to me. Don't part with your money.”
“I must give,” said his friend. “It is a day of giving for us.”
The word 'us' struck Deb Nath like a lash of a whip. It was an unfamiliar situation for him; just forsaking one's faith and embracing another made someone different from his past community!
There was no time to ponder however. The streets of the white town and the adjacent areas were crowded. Palkees, horse-carriages and bullock carts including the bulls were all decorated. Coolies entered the houses of the sahibs with gifts from Hindu employees and acquaintances; gifts of freshly caught fish, vegetables and Christmas cakes. Peons and other servants moved about with a superior attitude towards the natives who were just passing by or standing to observe the activities. They were dressed up in clean well pressed liveries. The women of the lower class Hindus and poor Christian converts started strolling the streets wearing new or at least clean gowns with a handkerchief in one hand and a marigold in the other.
As the day advanced the streets became empty of Christians as they began to celebrate the anniversary of the Nativity in the many churches of Calcutta. The streets became full again in the afternoon. Carriages of all sorts now thundered along the now metalled roads of Chowringhee and Dharmatala. Happy men and women clad gaily could be seen walking to 'eat the afternoon air' as the Bengalis would describe the purpose. Before the sunset, the waiters from Wilson and Spence and also those from Bomanjee ran along the high streets to various European houses carrying hot mince pies and cakes. Manual workers carried an abundance of oranges in baskets on their heads. Bands of music paraded the streets with their musical instruments in full blast.
Deb Nath ate dinner at his friend's flatlet. There was no turkey or Christmas pudding. Instead it was something more congenial for Indian palate; chicken masala, spiced vegetables and pilau brought up from the restaurant below with the compliments of the manager. They had Indian sweets for dessert. The celebration ended for them by attending Mass at night in one of the Calcutta churches.
On the 27th Deb Nath appeared at the Government House with his four friends. Each one of them dressed as a bhadralok in ankle length fine dhoti, white kameej and a folded shawl, as is the custom, on the left shoulder. This is how the true elite of India should dress but they were stopped at the gate by the Indian peons.
Producing the five invitation cards, Deb Nath said calmly, “We have invitations.”
“No natives allowed,” said the Head peon who was summoned by the first peon after he scrutinised the cards carefully.
“What about those?” asked Deb Nath
pointing to the Indians standing on the lawn near the gate with drinking glasses in their hands. They were chatting between themselves and wore excessive amount of European clothes considering the warm sunshine although it was winter.
“Kala sahibs they are,” replied the Head peon. “They are allowed.You are wearing loin cloths.”
“What is wrong with them?”
“You are half naked natives and hence uncivilised,” replied the Head peon without hesitation.
“So are you!” said Deb Nath pointing to his khaki shorts.
“But these are different,” replied the Head peon haughtily. “Proper sahibs wear them.”
The five young men decided to move forward. The peons resisted. Armed Gurkha guards, who were nearby, moved
in quickly, manhandled the young men and pushed them outside the gate with the butt ends of their guns. The kala sahibs on the lawn looked on with amusement.
Deb Nath Maitra kept his appointment in the afternoon with the magistrate dressed in western clothes. Mr Patton gave him a sealed envelope as he said, “You are well trained now in many aspects of government. We are pleased to offer you the post of Native Deputy Collector for the district of Burdwan from next month. You will have to read, write and speak in Bengali though.”
Deb Nath spoke Bengali at home and with his four friends. Reading and writing in the language, which was his mother tongue after all, was not a problem. Bardhaman town where his office will be was probably about 90 miles away from Calcutta. He could visit the city every week if he wanted to but as he headed for home in a family horse carriage, he cogitated about his dilemma which monopolised his thinking for some time.
Dressing up in western clothes and pretending English to be his first language had not made him acceptable as a true sahib. He could be kicked out by lowly native peons from the Race Course Stand.
The same class denied him entrance to the Government House because he was half naked to the Anglo-Celtic races in a dhoti but obviously not in a pair of scanty shorts covering less of the lower body. He felt silly. Why was he compelled to disobey his grandfather and be persuaded by his father to chase this ignis-fatuus, the Will-o'-the-wisp? Why should he grovel and ingratiate himself simply for acceptance as a near social equal by the red-skins? There were thousands of bhadraloks who always wore dhoti, ate with their fingers and communicated in Bengali. The proper sahibs never got a chance to belittle them. In fact the reverse was true. The Beelati sahibs were not allowed entry into the bhadralok society. Deb Nath Maitra, a high class brahmin, a member of an established wealthy family, wondered if he should take up a career with a trading company as the Native Deputy Collector of the district of Burdwan or recover his dignity by being Indian in blood and colour, taste, in opinions, in morals and intellectual pursuit which was the only natural thing to do for a true native of the land!
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