Life in India/Triplicane

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Not having yet visited Triplicane, a suburb quite near Chintadrepettah, I started on foot, in the evening after the sun had gone down, on a tour of exploration. Passing for a short distance over the dusty red road that leads to Mount St. Thomé, amid the crowd of conveyances that continually throng it, I turned to the right at the Tanna (police station) and entered the main street of Triplicane. There is one pleasant thing about these native policemen, and that is their love of flowers. Wherever, in Madras, you see a Tanna, you see a little flowerbed at the door, or a few pots with a rose-bush or two, or if nothing better can be had, a crop of holyhocks; and the peon will be twirling a flower in his hand. On either side of the Triplicane road stretches a continuous row of low houses, plastered with chunam, and roofed with tiles. The palace of the nabob of the Carnatic, a temple or two, and a few mosques give variety to the street, which is met by cross streets also closely built. The palace of the nabob has no beauty to boast, as it presents only a bare wall to passers-by, and a gate guarded by native soldiers of his own troop. They are dressed in an imitation English uniform, and have a very cheap and shabby appearance, far inferior to that of the native troops or sepoys of the East India Company. The nabob, though the descendant of the former rulers of the land, and always received by the governor with a royal salute, and honours given only to crowned heads, is a mere pensioner of the Company, without authority beyond his palace bounds. A previous nabob, then an infant, in 1802, transferred to the Company his rights, on condition of certain pensions being paid to himself and others. The present nabob is a contemptible creature, living only for senseless and sensual pleasures, having no ambition that goes beyond horses, wives, and dancing-girls; he is flattered by his parasites, but honoured by none. It is probable, as it is to be hoped, that he is to be the last of his race. India will be no loser when the whole of these debauched lines of rajahs and nabobs have passed from the scene of action.

For a long distance, the Triplicane road is a bazaar, each house having in front a stall-like shop, in which the owner sits with his goods before and around him. As the sun had set and night was drawing on, they were lit by earthen or brass lamps fed either with cocoanut or the cheaper castor oil. Here is an old woman with a stock of Indian substitutes for doughnuts and gingerbread; there one with betel-leaf, arecanut, and lime for chewers–a preparation universally used, and which stains the mouth to a blood-red colour. The next shop is devoted to
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Bazzar shop. p.92

the sale of crockery ware, and pots and pans are piled about the owner. Here is a man making and selling sweetmeats, of which the Hindus are very fond; and there a moneychanger with his bags of gold, silver, and copper. On the opposite side is a row of drygoods men, each with his stock of goods in the ten or twelve feet square before and behind him. Thus the street stretches on, and this is a bazaar.

In our illustration (from a painting by a Hindu artist) we have a representation of one of these little bazaar shops, which only needs to be continued by an indefinite number of similar structures, to give an idea of a bazaar. The salesman sits on a level with his goods, which are arranged before him to the best advantage, with his scales in hand, intent on a sale. The father is engaged in the arduous work of reducing the price to the lowest possible amount, while his son stands by in his starched linen cap and school dress, an interested spectator, as the purchase is of confectionary, a class of wares in great esteem with Hindu boys.

Farther on, you come to the Triplicane Mosque, one of the favourite places of worship of the Mohammedans, who live in great numbers in this district. It is a large building, standing some two hundred yards from the street, in a spacious enclosure. Beside it is a neat tank for ablution. The front of the mosque is entirely open, and the whole interior plastered with lustrous milk-white chunam; and being now illuminated with a multitude of lamps, its appearance was very beautiful. Yet, when the eye turns from the beauty of the edifice to the stream of men pouring in to worship in the name of Mohammed, the thought of a whitened sepulchre of souls was forced upon the mind. Though not idolaters, and less debased by superstition, they are, as a class, as deeply debauched, and as deceitful, and more bigoted than the idolatrous Hindus. The power has passed from their hands, or the Christian missionary would not now be preaching at his will in the towns and villages of Hindustan.

In my former views of Madras I had seen much that was new, and strange, and interesting, but it was in my walk through Triplicane that I was first astonished. Here I was astonished, and not astonished only, but astounded and oppressed; and that not so much by the novelty of the scene, as by the denseness of the mass of immortal men that thronged its streets. Never had I seen or imagined such a hive of human beings; it was an unbroken tide of souls. Greater crowds I had seen on gala-days in great cities, but this was no unusual gathering; it was a daily scene. When I reached a cross street, in which was a grain bazaar, the whole way was blocked up by men buying, selling, and conversing. Just at this moment a wedding procession was passing through the mass. First came musicians, furiously playing on tomtoms (the native drum) and horns, making the most horrible and ear-torturing discord with the greatest zeal. Then came a numerous train of friends, marching in no particular order; and after them the bridegroom on horseback, between two files of attendants. He was covered with gilt and finery, and supported by two men on the right, fanning him with silvered fans; and on the left, by another bearing a silvered umbrella over his head, though it was night. After him came the bride in a palankeen covered with red cloth, and again a train of attendants with baskets containing gifts and dowery on their heads. As they slowly pressed their way through the crowd, it closed behind them like water in the wake of a receding ship. Looking upon the multitudes, I asked myself, Whence do these people come? Whither do they go? Where do they sleep? How are they clothed? How do they live? Nay, more, how do they die? In all Triplicane I had not seen one white face, probably not one Christian. All wore the distinctive dress of the Mohammedan, or the mark in the forehead that proclaimed their adhesion to some one of the sects of Hindu idolatry. But this is only one of the suburbs of Madras. Upon another evening I was taken to another quarter, and again to another and another; and again and again did I see similar masses of heathen men, swarming like ants through the thoroughfares of this populous city. As a Christian missionary, my mind was overwhelmed with the power of this one thought of countless masses of men hurrying on unprepared for the awards of eternity.

And yet Christians, professing to believe the Scriptures which declare that no idolater can enter the kingdom of heaven, ask, “Why go abroad?” Would that such could see India or a mere fraction of India in its moral darkness and desolation! Could they do so, they would sympathize with the cry for labourers to enter this vast harvest-field. Reader! let the millions of India have a place within your heart ! Remember their darkness and their degradation! Remember that they have immortal souls ! Remember them at the mercy-seat; and when you thank God that you were not born in a heathen land, cry to him to send the gospel to them, and ask him what you can do to hasten the day when the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ.