Life in India/Mount Road

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Mount Road.

Mount Road is the favourite evening drive of the foreign residents of Madras. It leads from the city to Mount St. Thomé, a few miles to the south, the reputed burial-place of the apostle Thomas, and a holy place of the Roman Catholics of India. The road is hard, level, and smooth, and has been made with great labour by the English government. Leaving the fort on your left, you pass between rows of tulip-trees, dotted with yellow flowers, which have been planted for shade to foot-passengers. The first object of interest is a colossal bronze equestrian statue of Sir Thomas Munro, a distinguished governor of this presidency. It stands upon a lofty stone pedestal, and is an admirable work of art. The natives of the land, both human and brute, however, seem somewhat to have mistaken the object of its erection; for the simple countrymen from the interior may often be seen stopping to lift their hands in reverential worship before the noble statue, certainly more godlike than their gods; while the crows, imagining that the gallant general and great governor has been placed there for their accommodation, use his head as a look-out station, and build their nests in his ample lap.

Leaving Sir Thomas, and crossing a bridge over the Coom, a small river passing through the city, we have a fine view of the sea across the open green; and reaching the Chintadrepettah bridge, have the government-house upon our left. This is one of the dwellings provided for the governor of Madras. It is a large, half-oriental, half-European palace, with verandahs and Venetian blinds protecting each story from the glaring sun of India, and is surrounded by a spacious park, with sentries at the gates, and herds of antelopes grazing under the trees.

After passing the government-house, the sides of the road are occupied for a short distance by the shops of jewellers, milliners, confectioners, and tradesmen, often extensive and standing in large compounds; they are kept by Englishmen or by East Indians, (as persons of mixed blood are commonly called,) and are filled with goods of every description.

But, as new-comers, we found far more to interest us in the crowds walking, riding, and driving over the hard red surface of the road. Single coolies, with boxes on their heads, or baskets heaped with fruits and greens for the markets, or three in company pulling, like horses, a heavy, awkward, two-wheeled cart, meet you, with the perspiration streaming down their black bodies and limbs. Foot-passengers walk in groups, joking, laughing, gossiping, or puffing their segars. Countrymen and travellers from neighbouring towns go gazing at every new sight; their wives, with bundles on their heads, following after, with little boys holding to their skirts. The poor women and girls of the city are gathering dung from the road into baskets, to be mixed with straw and dried for fuel. The grass-cutters (usually women) are coming in from the country, each with a bundle of grass on her head, one day's labour giving one day's food to the horse she tends. The letter-carrier next trots by, with his mailbag hung over his shoulder on a staff jingling with pieces of iron to frighten beasts of prey from his lonely path at night. Apart from all, as far as may be in such a crowd, walks the old Brahmin, followed by his two gray-haired wives.

With this varied stream of foot-passengers comes as varied a crowd of vehicles. English officers of rank roll along in their barouches, with coachman and footman, and a groom running beside each horse. Ladies loll back in their phætons, while their horsekeepers, running before, clear the road with loud cries of “Poh! poh! Appaley poh!” (go! go! away! away!) or help out of the way those who are too careless or too surly to give place soon enough to the splendid English trotters of their mistress. People of less pretension drive past in buggies and palankeen coaches with a single horse, and its constant attendant, the syce, or running groom. Here comes a strange pyramidal affair drawn by two white bullocks; it is a native bandy, with its Hindu occupant sitting crosslegged upon the floor, and the driver at his feet urging on the bullocks by cries and kicks and pokes of his whip-handle, ever and anon bestowing an excruciating twist of the tail upon the more stubborn of the pair. After it comes another bandy, closely covered, with the eyes, and jewelled noses of Hindu wives and mothers peering through the curtains. Next you will see a fat goldsmith seated on a little affair, the size of a wheelbarrow, drawn by a single red bullock no bigger than a Newfoundland dog; and then a wagon crowded with five or six lank bearded Musselmans, and a driver in front urging on a miserable starved pony with merciless blows.

Nor is the variety of riders much less: army officers and gentlemen on blooded horses from England, Australia, or the Cape of Good Hope; Mohammedans, on ambling ponies; Arabs, on spirited steeds from their native land; Hindu body-guardsmen, in their splendid uniform; young cadets, with the fresh blood of England blooming red in their cheeks,–pass in quick succession; while now and then a camel, with its long, swinging gait, or an elephant loaded with camp equipage, add to the novelty of the scene.

As you get farther from the city, the throng diminishes, and you have leisure to turn your eyes from the wayfarers to the many handsome dwellings that skirt the road. They commonly stand in large parks, surrounded by a wall or a cactus hedge, and planted with palms, mango-trees, margosas, and tamarinds, or with the sacred and far-famed banyan, sending down from its branches long fibrous roots, to become in their turn trunks supporting the parent branch. The houses are many of them magnificent dwellings, combining the height and comfort of English homes with the porticos, Venetians, terraces, and balustrades of the East; nor do they give a false idea of the mode of life of the Englishman in India, combining, as it does, the luxuries of two hemispheres, and grafting the furniture, equipage, meats, and wines of Old England, upon the stock of Oriental ease and elegance.