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BY A MADRAS OFFICER.
A VISIT TO BHOPAL. A séjour of a few weeks in Malwa, which I made some three or four years ago with an officer attached to the Bhopal Contingent, afforded me the opportunity of seeing something of that tiger in sheep's clothing, the Bengal Sepoy. I must confess I was at once struck with the showy appearance of the animal. In point of stature he would have overtopped the majority of our European soldiers, and he was out and out their superior in elegance of form and ease of carriage. Broad shouldered, slender waisted, and beautifully erect, he might, with the addition of a little more fulness of muscle about the fore-arm and lower extremities, have furnished an admirable model for the sculptor.
Appearance will go far everywhere, but with the Bengal commanding officer it has reached such extravagant lengths, that the “ fighting Brahmin,” with all his conceits, has been permitted to monopolise the native army: and I need scarcely ask, What has been the result ?
Put one of these rascals on parade beside an ugly Jack," as our Madras Sepoys are sometimes called, and who would not fail, at first sight, to be prejudiced in favour of the former ? A sporting man might well exclaim, " It is a horse to a hen!" But Ramasawmy, in spite of his ugly face and inferiority of bulk, is the more enduring soldier, as well as the gamer man of the two. He never allows his caste, if he has one, to run away with his common sense ; he eats meat like a true Christian (when he can get it), and uses his fists “same as master;" he hates the Bengalee, and boasts he can lick him, notwithstanding Pandy's ponderosity. Some few years ago, chance brought a Bengal and a Madras regiment together. The Sepoys of the “benighted presidency” lost no time in picking a quarrel with the “big men' of Bengal, whom they attacked with fists and sticks, and soon succeeded in driving them off the ground. This animosity of feeling proved of good service to us the other day, when the Madras column gallantly routed the mutineers of the 52nd Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry near Jubbulpore.
To return, however, to the Sepoys of the Bhopal Contingent. Noble looking fellows, and " numak hallal” (true to their salt), did I consider them in those days: they were treated like gentlemen, and I gave them credit for being aware of the fact. They had their “ taalim khana” (gymnasium), where they were frequently visited by their officers, while they wrestled, turned the “ mugdas" (clubs), played the long stick, and went through several simple and excellent athletic exercises, not unworthy of our own adoption. Their wrestling is perhaps the most peculiar of all their exercises, and very dangerous, even to a European, totally unacquainted with their method of closing with an opponent, breaking his arm or leg, or even dislocating his neck, by a sudden jerk, at which they are remarkably au fait. They wrestle almost naked, and lubricated with oil.
There were a few Sikhs in the cavalry branch of the Contingent, men
of a very different stamp from the Brahmins, rather smaller, but more warlike in appearance, possessing better knit and more sinewy frames, and exhibiting in their profusely-whiskered countenances a frankness of expression which contrasts strongly with the reserved and gentle mien of the latter.
It was about the time of year when the British Resident at Indore usually makes his political tour, visiting the different native states, rajahs, and petty chiefs of this part of the empire, in his capacity of agent for the Governor-General for Central India. Sir R. H -, after inspecting and reviewing the troops at S, proceeded with his retinue to the Mussulman court of Bhopal, and I very gladly availed myself of a kind invitation which I received to form one of his party upon that occasion. I had long desired such an opportunity of acquiring a little knowledge of the manners and habits of the Indian nobility, as well as of the forms of etiquette observed in their communication with ourselves.
On the evening of the 23rd of November, I rode out from the cantonment at S-to Ph
in company with my friend T- and in time for dinner at the Resident's camp, where every one retired early to rest, as the coming day was to be a busy one, when we were to make our formal entry into the Bhopal territory.
The little state or kingdom of Bhopal is situated about the centre of British India, and not very distant from the ancient city of Oojein, once the seat of the Hindoo government. The reigning family is of Affghan extraction, and has maintained its ground in the country for upwards of two hundred and fifty years, though not without severe and sanguinary struggles. The present “Begum,” or queen, who is regent for her daughter, is a person of shrewd intellect and great firmness of will; she sits unveiled in " durbar" (council), and in the presence of strangers, thereby despising a custom most scrupulously adhered to by the Moslem woman. Her majesty has remained friendly to the English during this terrible crisis in our Indian affairs. The females of this family are reputed to have been remarkable for ability and decision, while the males, on the other hand, have been weak almost to imbecility for the last three generations.
Long before daybreak on the following morning, the striking of tents, neighing of steeds, and voices of servants and Lascars, broke in upon the stillness of repose, and we were upon the march ere the first streaks of light began to colour the horizon; the dew still fell heavily, saturating our coats and the manes of our horses. During this season of the year the climate of Malwa is cool and bracing; for the space of two months the mercury seldom rises above 75 deg. in the shade, while it falls at night as low as 53 deg. The “ sahib log” (gentlemen) accomplished a distance of twelve miles on horseback in little more than an hour, while the ladies of the party were jolted along a miserable road in a strongly constructed carriage, with curtains in lieu of glass windows, and drawn by four powerful Cape-bred horses. We found elephants prepared for us at a small village three miles from the city of Bhopal. The Resident mounted one of these animals, which was richly caparisoned and set apart for his especial use; Captain E— the Political Agent at s-, appropriated another one ; and the rest of us were soon seated, two in every bowdah, with a couple of servants behind.
Upon gaining the summit of a steep hill we were met by a very large procession, headed by the heir-apparent to the throne of Bhopal, the Princess Shah Jehan, who was seated upon an immense elephant beside her mistress of the robes. After greeting us with a grave salaam, the two ladies led the way to the city, the Resident and Captain Eriding alongside of them, “ doing the polite" in Hindostanee.
The princess was at this period "a young lady in her teens, smelling" not "of bread-and-butter,” but of beetle-nut. Her soft brown cheek was sadly disfigured by a huge “pawn" (a little packet of beetle-nut and other spices, which the natives keep in the mouth), and her eyes were scarcely visible under the magnificent spangled shawls which covered her head and shoulders, and which glittered in the sun like the lizard's coat. In her retinue were several of her relatives, native officers of rank, and wealthy citizens of Bhopal. Our united numbers formed a numerous cortége, boasting not less than seventy noble elephants, which bore us along with stately tramp through clouds of dust. Surrounded by gorgeously attired and armed Mussulmans, sitting or standing in silver or in gilded howdahs, and shaded by banners and parasols of cloth of gold, it were almost difficult to dispel the idea that we had been suddenly transported a couple of centuries into the past; but the ludicrous effect produced by the encroachment of certain modern European inventions and appliances soon recalled us to the recollection that we were still living in the unromantic nineteenth century, and not amidst the pomp and splendour of Akbar or Aurungzebe. Let any one picture to hinself the effect of a veritable “Joe Manton,” and another weapon which, from its dimensions and antiquated appearance might appropriately have been designated the grandmother of the English blunderbuss, conspicuous in the howdah of a turbaned and hirsute son of Timour ! A fierce Mahratta who rode near me had evidently deemed his equipment incomplete without the addition of a pair of common English pistols yclept bull-dogs, which he had thrust into his belt cheek by jowl with a jewelled Oriental dagger! As we neared the city, we passed through the ranks of the Bhopal army, drawn up on both sides of the road. Their “sawars (horsemen) appeared to be tolerably well mounted and equipped, although considerably inferior to our irregular cavalry. The flower of their infantry was represented by two or three hundred Hindostanees dressed, armed, and drilled in imitation of our regular army; the remainder consisted of matchlock and spearmen, a medley mass of Affghans, Sikhs, Rajpoots, and Rohillas. A salute was fired from two field-pieces, and a few nervous drums and fifes struck up “God save the Queen” and “Rule Britannia.” We then separated from the princess and her retinue, to make the best of our way to the encamping-ground selected for us, some three miles west of the city, where we arrived hungry and tired. We soon assembled at the “chotee hazree” (small or first breakfast), a merry party of fourteen officers and ladies. Among the former were two who, I regret to say,
now no more. One was killed at Lucknow; the other, a married man, fell gallantly while fighting against the rebels of Mehidpore.
Sir R. H 's marching establishment was upon a very large scale, and the attendant expenses consequently great. I was informed that the Resident paid nearly 6001. per annum for camels alone, which he made use of during three months in the year, and he had not less than two hundred and forty of these useful animals employed in the carriage of his
tents, furniture, and provisions. With such items of expenditure, a salary of even 60001. a year does not appear out of the way. As the natives couple power with ostentation, and importance with display, it has been considered necessary policy that our most important political agents in India, as well as the Governor-General himself, should support a style of hospitality and establishments hardly inferior to that maintained by princes.
Our camp at Bhopal presented an imposing appearance. The tents of the different officers and their families were pitched so as to form one broad street, about the centre of which stood the lofty durbar, or audience tent, and behind it a suite of private apartments, enclosed by high screens, for the Resident's particular use, and for the entertainment of his guests.
In rear of all were the Sepoys and sawars of our escort, the camp.followers, attendants, and horses. Between us and the city walls were some very extensive native gardens, with their large umbrageous trees, mouldering tombs, handsome old tanks, and flights of green pigeons. Talk of the Alhambra and the Moors ! let the lovers of dark romance visit India, and there view the crumbling monuments of that once glorious Mussulman dynasty, which has rotted away in luxury and crime, leaving behind it little more than the dregs of pollution, which are now being swept away in torrents of blood. Turning the eye in the opposite direction, scarcely a shrub was visible; miles of waste and rocky ground, strewn with the bones of different animals, and tenanted by the vulture and jackal ; isolated little domes perched upon rocky eminences, and shrines of long-forgotten saints.
The business of the day commenced after “burree hazree” (second breakfast or luncheon), when we received a deputation from the Begum, consisting of her ministers, her principal officers, and a few persons of rank. No ladies were admitted to this interview, nor was anything omitted in the strict observance of etiquette and regular order of precedence. The Resident was seated at the upper end of the durbar tent, which was forty yards long and fifteen or sixteen feet high; he wore a uniform not unlike that of a lord-lieutenant in our own country. Next to him, on his left, sat Captain E, and then the other British officers. The right side was reserved for the visitors. As soon as the latter were announced, Captain E- walked to the door to receive them, and formally conducted the principal personages to Sir R. H—, who rose, advanced three paces towards them, and motioned them to be seated. Little is said upon these occasions. Such visits are not, indeed, calculated to give the stranger a very exalted opinion of the intelligence of the natives, who say little, and who do not appear to think of anything, Many of them loll drowsily on their seats, chewing beetle-nut, and seemingly insensible to everything that passes. Among the latter was the “Foujdar” (commander-in-chief) of the Bhopal forces, a big, handsome Mussulman, attired in full Oriental costume, with the addition, however, of a pair of new Wellington boots, into which he had managed to squeeze his legs, linen pantaloons and all; and although the feet of the boots were too small to admit his heels, the poor fellow strutted in and out the tent with the most soldier-like indifference to pain and blisters.
We were afterwards honoured by a visit from the queen's uncles, along
with their suite. This was very similar to the preceding one, and was altogether a stupid affair. The next day, the Princess Shah Jehan came to pay her respects to the English ladies, attended by musicians playing upon drums and cymbals. Etiquette required that Captain Eshould go half way to the city upon an elephant to meet the princess, and accompany her to our camp. The English children were delighted with their royal visitor, who brought them toys and sweetmeats, and made herself otherwise popular with them.
On the day appointed for presenting ourselves to the queen regent, as soon as the heat of the sun had begun to decline we set out upon elephants, in company with the ladies of our party, and were transported to the city, which is nearly four miles in circumference, and is surrounded by an irregular stone wall, with massive and projecting gateways. Passing through one of these, which had its guard and sentry, we were borne through narrow streets and thinly-populated bazaars (for, notwithstanding the extent of Bhopal, its population is somewhat under twenty thousand souls); the buildings are here and there interspersed with trees. The most remarkable edifice is the Jumal Musjid (beautiful mosque), recently finished, and conspicuous at a great distance on account of its two lofty minarets. The character of the dwelling-houses differs little from that which is met with in most native towns—twostoried buildings with wooden fronts and latticed windows, many of them having small verandahs and rudely-carved balconies. The mansions of the nabobs are neither beautiful in their architecture nor cheerful in appearance, and seldom possess even the charm of cleanliness ; they are commonly entered through a court-yard shut in with high walls, and not unfrequently shaded by the huge branches of a peepul-tree growing in the centre of it. Upon our arrival at the palace of the Begum, we were ushered through one of these gloomy courts into the presence of her majesty, who was seated, with her daughter Shah Jehan, in a long, low-roofed apartment, without other furniture or decoration than a handsome Persian carpet and a long row of cane-bottomed chairs, upon
which we were requested to seat ourselves. The Queen of Bhopal was at this period probably about thirty-six years of age. She never could have been beautiful : her raven hair was drawn tightly back from off her temples, and fastened in a simple knot at the back of her head ; her face was long and thin, with high cheek-bones, the complexion deep olive, the forehead high and narrow, the eyes sunken and penetrating, and the general expression harsh and cunning. The upper part of her light active figure was wrapped in shawls, while the limbs were enveloped in tight yellow silk trousers, and the naked feet thrust into a pair of brown leather slippers turned up at the toes. Her manner was lively and unrestrained, her conversation intelligent and full of pertinent observations. She addressed several of our party in turn, and alluded, now and then, to some of the leading politicians in England.
There was at this time at the court of Bhopal a Moonshee of the name of Sh A who had visited Great Britain. He spoke English fluently, and was engaged in writing a history of India in that language. From this man the Begum had doubtless gained much of her European information, of which she appeared very proud, and very ambitious of extending. One of the most important ceremonies connected with visits of this kind is the sprinkling " the ottar" over the visitors. In the present