Page:The Dial vol. 15 (July 1 - December 16, 1893).djvu/23

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

cal yet, and treats him too leniently. He will presume on any kindness that is shown him, until, at last, going too far, he is brought to reason by the thrashing he has long been asking for." In short, the inhabitant of the Happy Valley is a paradoxical creature, for he has, withal, certain rather feebly revealed good qualities, difficult to describe, and certainly not admirable, save, perhaps, to that school which affects to despise physical courage as a relic of savagery.
The qualities of the serpent are often coupled with those of the dove; and the Kashmiris, meekest of men, are uncommonly sly at a bargain, and are gifted, moreover, with a mercantile pertinacity not unworthy of the "book-agent" of less favored climes. Some of these Kashmir merchants will go to great lengths, stepping unbidden from the shore to the prow of the tourist's "doongah," crowding into his cabin, pressing their wares upon him, and declining to move until forcibly ejected. To enjoy even a modicum of peace, the sahib must be brutal, and actual privacy is only to be gained with a stick. Any hint short of this is lost upon hawkers of the lower sort. A beating he understands as a hint that he must take himself off. Then he departs, smiling; it is all in his day's work; and to cheat the sahib out of one anna will recompense him for many blows. Our author says of the merchants of Srinagur—an especially pestilent class:
"They were all adepts at blarney, and with a jovial persuasive volubility extolled their own wares and cried down those of their neighbors in more or less broken English. Their pertinacity was extraordinary. The sweetly-smiling, long-robed ruffians would not take no for an answer. ‘I do not want you to buy, sir,’ one would say in a gentle, deprecating way, after some emphatic refusal on my part to have any dealings with him. ‘Please to understand, sir, that I do not wish to sell. I only ask you to do me the honor of looking at some of this excellent workmanship. It will not fail to interest you.’ Then, if I should order him to be gone, and explain that I was busy, ‘In that case I would not on any account interrupt you,’ he would urge, ‘but I have nothing myself to do, sir, so I will sit down here and wait until you are quite unoccupied; then I will show you some beautiful things.’ And thereupon he would squat down on the grass in front of the boat, surrounded by his merchandise, to remain there silent and motionless, contemplating me with a smile of patient amiability."
These people employ all sorts of curious devices to attract the attention of the rich or powerful sahib a habit, however, by no means confined to the merchant class. Even learning forgets, on occasion, its dignity. Once, for instance, in Srinagur, Mr. Lawrence, the Settlement Officer for the State, on coming out of his bungalow, found a strange object in front of his door, surrounded by a deferential crowd. On walking up to it he discovered that it was nothing less than an ancient pundit, stark naked, standing on his head. The acrobatic sage was thus patiently balancing himself, meditating, doubtless, the while on Nirvana, while he awaited the coming out of the sahib. Mr. Lawrence ordered the learned man to be turned right side up, and the case was dealt with forthwith.
The following incident, of which Mr. Knight was an eye-witness, illustrates this curiously puerile side of the Kashmiri character. Mr. Lawrence was then holding court just outside Islamabad:
"Two suppliants came up, who, after the manner of Kashmiris, had carefully got themselves up in pitiable plight with a view of attracting sympathy for their cause. These two big men had stripped themselves naked, and had smeared their bodies all over with foul, wet, blue mud from the river bed. Even their hair and faces were thickly covered with the filth, through which their eyes glittered comically. . . . They came up and stood before the Settlement Officer, quietly salaamed, and then suddenly and of one accord commenced to weep, groan, and shriek most dismally, while they wrung their hands or clasped them imploringly, writhing their bodies as in agony, etc. . . . Their story was, that while they were working in their fields an official had taken from them by force some grass straw of the value of twopence. The said official had moreover plucked their beards; in evidence of which they produced two or three hairs, which they affirmed had been pulled out."
Mr. Lawrence refused to listen to men in so filthy a condition, and the court accordingly adjourned itself and went to breakfast while the plaintiffs washed themselves.
The Kashmiri, with all his rascality, always demands, on leaving his employer, a chit, or written testimonial. If convicted of theft or other offence he will endure without a murmur the mulcting of his pay; but a chit, good, bad, or indifferent, he must have. So insensible is he as to the purport of these talismans that he does not take the trouble to get them translated, but presents them all, good and bad, for your consideration. One official, encountered by Mr. Knight, was the proud possessor of many chits:
“He handed one to me, and gazed at me with a solemn expression of conscious merit as I read it. This chit was from a captain sahib, and ran thus: ‘This man is the greatest thief and scoundrel generally I have ever come across.’ ”
On reaching Ladak, really a part of Tibet, Mr. Knight found himself in a strange country,