26 THE COUNTRY. towns and seaports; and what the arteries are to the human body, the rivers are to the plains of Bengal. The Rivers as Destroyers. — But the very vastness of their energy causes terrible calamities. Scarcely a year passes with- out floods, which sweep off cattle and grain stores, and the thatched cottages, with anxious families perched on their roofs. In the upper part of their courses, where their water is carried by canals to the fields, the rich irrigated lands sometimes breed fever, and are in places destroyed and rendered sterile by a saline crust called reh. Further down, the uncontrollable rivers wriggle across the face of the country, deserting their old beds, and searching out new channels for themselves, it may be at a distance of many miles. During these restless changes, they drown the lands and villages that lie in their path ; and a Bengal proprietor has sometimes to look on helplessly while his estate is being converted into the new bed of a broad, deep stream. Even in their quiet moods the rivers steadily steal land from the old owners, and give it capriciously to a fresh set. Each autumn the mighty currents undermine, and then rend away, the fields and hamlets on their margins. Their activity in land-making stops up their channels with newly formed islands, and has thus left high and dry in ruin many a once important city along their banks. The ancient harbours at their mouths have in like manner been land-locked and shut off from the sea, by islands and bars formed from the silt or sand jointly deposited by the rivers and the ocean-currents. Crops and Scenery of the Northern River Plains. — Throughout the river plains of Bengal, two harvests, and in some provinces three, are reaped each year. In many districts, indeed, the same fields have to yield two crops within the twelve months. Wheat and various grains, pease, pulses, oil-seeds, and green crops of many sorts are reaped in spring ; the early rice crops in September ; the great rice harvest of the year and other grains in November or December. Before these last have been gathered in, it is time to prepare the ground again for the spring crops; and the husbandman knows no rest except during the hot weeks of May, when he is anxiously waiting for the rains. The northern and drier regions, along the higher courses of the
Page:A Brief History of the Indian Peoples.djvu/30
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