Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/November 1892/Eurasia
FROM a back window of my tall house in Calcutta I see her nearly every day, the lady who may personify Eurasia. She is amply qualified to do it; Nature in molding her permitted her to lack no characteristic that could contribute to make her a generous racial type. She is cast upon the comfortable lines common to her people—lines that could not be indicated in avoirdupois under two hundred-weight. They are more evident to me than even this statement of fact can make them to the public, since Mrs. De Souza—her name is De Souza—is usually clad, when she comes under my observation, in a casual calico dressing-gown, which leaves little of her benevolent person to be invented. The dressing-gown is open at the throat on account of the temperature, but in compensation there is a great deal of it at the other end; it is en traine and has a flounce. Once, doubtless, it ministered to her vanity, for even at that age—she is turned fifty—and at that weight, Mrs. De Souza and vanity are not incompatible. There is Mrs. De Souza's complexion, for example—she has always been very properly vain of that. It is quite an exceptional complexion, oatmeal in tone. Eurasia, which verges from that to mahogany, considers Mrs. De Souza "fair," and her claims to social privileges rest very much upon this opinion. She and her family live in a small, flat-roofed, "cutcha"-built habitation, much stained and faded, standing flush with one of the many narrow streets that creep and wind among all Calcutta's tall houses, even to the skirts of the stately residence of the "Burra lord sahib" himself. It is very hot, stifling, in those crooked little streets; the pleasant south wind does not always blow through to sweeten them, and they bear much need of sweetening. They cause Calcutta's Municipal Council more anxious hours than is the province of thoroughfares, on account of the prosperity of bacilli in their midst; and though the Municipal Council conspired all day, and sat up all night, taking measures of reprisal, the bacilli would still be glad and the inhabitants would still decrease. Not appreciably, however; there are far too many of them. Such numbers of little open shops, uninviting little shops, where rice and dall and sticky brown sweetmeats are piled up in earthen bowls to catch all the uncleanness of the roads! Such numbers of proprietors to each little shop, who sit on their dusty thresholds, as often as not with their glistening bare backs turned to custom, gossiping about the monsoon, taking turns at the gurgling cocoanut of the hubble-bubble! And then the comers and the goers, turbaned and bareheaded, dressed in the flowing robes of the Prophet or the simple dhoty of the coolie-lok, all upon the various interminable little businesses by which they gain leave to live—to say nothing of Mrs. De Souza's own family, which is large, or of her social connection, which stretches, interspersed by the little shops, all the way down the street. But I must deny myself the pleasure of referring to Mrs. De Souza further in this personal strain. It is, after all, contrary to the ethics of good neighborhood that I should take any great advantage of an upper window, in spite of the generous publicity of my neighbor's domestic arrangements, which seem to invite both inspection and report. I must hurry unflinchingly on to say that Mrs. De Souza inhabits another world than the little Anglo-Indian one, a world with mysterious affinities and attractions, however, both for ours and for the great dusky tropical swinging sphere of the pure "native." Nobody knows it very well that I have heard of; indeed, it would require some courage to profess familiar acquaintance there; but it is quite within reach of astronomical observation, which is not compromising. Eurasia has no boundaries. It lies, a varying social fact, all over India, thick in the great cities, thickest in Calcutta, where the conditions of climate and bread-winning are most suitable; where, moreover, Eurasian charities are most numerous. Wherever Europeans have come and gone, these people have sprung up in weedy testimony of them—these people who do not go, who have received somewhat in the feeble inheritance of their blood that makes it possible for them to live and die in India. Nothing will ever exterminate Eurasia; it clings to the sun and the soil, and is marvelously propagative within its own borders. There is no remote chance of its ever being reabsorbed by either of its original elements; the prejudices of both Europeans and natives are far too vigorous to permit of much intermarriage with a jat of people who are neither one nor the other. Occasionally an up-country planter, predestined to a remote and "jungly" existence, comes down to Calcutta and draws his bride from the upper circles of Eurasia—this not so often now as formerly. Occasionally, too, a young shopman with the red of Scotland fresh in his cheeks is carried off by his landlady's daughter; while Tommy Atkins falls a comparatively easy prey. The sight of a native with a half-caste wife is much rarer, for there Eurasian as well as native antipathy comes into operation. The whole conscious inclination of Eurasian life, in habits, tastes, religion, and most of all in ambition, is toward the European and away from the native standards. On the whole, Eurasian prejudices against the natives are probably stronger than European ones, and more unreasoning. The claims of that cousinship must be more than ignored, they must be trampled upon. But, in the matter of marrying and giving in marriage, Eurasia is more than sufficient unto itself, and has been for so many generations that both the native and European characteristics of the type have become largely merged in its own.
There are twenty thousand Eurasians in Calcutta to one third that number of Europeans. Even that does not represent the proportion fairly, for the census-taker probably finds it easier to obtain the true age of unmarried ladies than the confession "East Indian" if "European" can be written with the least shadow of acceptance. They are not hermetically sealed up in offices and closed gharries and darkened drawing-rooms during the heat of the day, like the Europeans; they take their walks abroad careless of the sun, in straw hats and such other ephemeral millinery as pleases them. Always they wear belati-cut clothes; it is the dear privilege of the poorest and blackest. They share the tram-car with the natives and they walk to their business, distinguished in this way from the sahib, who does neither. Thus one meets them in crowds, but not always thus. Quite often it is in a luxurious landau behind a fair pair of horses, with a coachman on the box and two syces behind, that one has the opportunity of observing Eurasia, lying back among its cushions. For Eurasia has its nabobs, and the Red Road knows them as well as it knows the judges of the High Court of Calcutta, or the members of his Excellency's Council. Once a year, only once, at the state ball at Government House, it is possible, if one looks very carefully, to detect a slight Oriental darkness under the powder on some otherwise unimpeachable cheeks. It is the annual opportunity of rich East India to proclaim itself connected, however remotely, with "society." Society looks on and smiles and covertly inquires, "How many annas, do you suppose, to the rupee?" This is a euphuism expressive of proportion—of Aryan proportion. For the rest, the attitude of society may be expressed by an inveterate shrug. It is not invidious or actively contemptuous; it represents the acceptance of the inevitable, and the determination—if that is not too energetic a term—to have as little to do with it as possible. Society recognizes that Eurasia has certain claims—to charities and commissions of inquiry, to humane treatment, to commiseration, to good advice. It holds meetings, raises subscriptions, discusses the Eurasian problem in the newspapers, and supplies inquiry commissioners from among its most honorable and distinguished. But the claims of Eurasia upon society must be made distinctly in forma pauperis; it is only the lower classes who have any. For the well-to-do in the landaus society has only a somewhat amused and cynical toleration, and does not dream of bowing. The attitude is natural enough. For the claims of that cousinship also must be more than ignored—they must be trampled upon.
I have hinted at the amplitude of Mrs. De Souza—it is largely characteristic of Eurasia, more marked, perhaps, in the women than in the men. The dusky chin has a tendency to grow early double—the comfortable shoulder to shake prematurely in the plenitude of what one might call semi-tropical nature. This sometimes carries with it a perfunctory jollity of appearance, the look of well-being that goes inseparably with solid development, the cheerfulness of curves. The prevailing Eurasian expression, however, is not one of exhilaration, at least in Bengal. The Bengali is not merry, and his paler-faced connections have inherited his unsmiling look at life. The few whose color is of a Mongolian strain are gay by contrast, but East India generally is of a sad countenance—languor, lethargy, and depression being of tener written there than anything else. There are easy physical reasons for this. The Eurasian is a poor creature among men. The death-rate of the community is tabulated with that of the European element, so can not be ascertained accurately, but it is known to be high. He is an easy victim to all the diseases that follow poverty and crowded living. He has not such immunity as is enjoyed by the Bengali by virtue of simpler conditions of life; his habits and requirements are of the complex European order, that bring, inadequately gratified, swift consequences, which he lacks the strength of the European to combat. When he is not abnormally fat, the Eurasian is apt to be painfully thin, with high, narrow, Aryan shoulders, a contracted chest, and a stoop. He almost invariably inherits the straight black hair, soft dark eye, flat cheek-bones, and full curved lips of his Indian forebears, with varying shades of complexion, from what is distinguished with difficulty from the sahib's to what might easily pass for the pure native's. Occasionally, with one parent or even both of dark color, one sees the anomaly of a little fair-haired, blue-eyed child, a whimsical legacy from a bygone generation. Here the "tar-brush" is more painfully in evidence. There is a dinginess about the yellow curls and a dullness in the blue eyes, a smudginess in the general effect, as if Nature had finished her work with a dirty palette. And the brothers and sisters of the pitiful little freak may be as brown as shisham-wood.
It will be seen that it would be easy, if desirable, to convict Mrs. De Souza of her mixed origin in a variety of ways, however "fair" her comely visage. But there remains her East-Indian voice and "accent." It is so marked that if we met Mrs. De Souza in London or New York, more elaborately costumed perhaps than she appears from my window, it would throw about her speech the halo of amused interest which a foreigner's always evokes. We would guess at her nationality; though, unless we were retired Anglo-Indians, we would never hit it. To the rest of us she might have been originally French, or Spanish, or almost anything. It would be only the old "Qui hai" who could detect and pounce upon the dulcet "chi-chi," the language of Eurasia. It is English, of course—soft, rapid, nervous English. It is so quick, that the words seem to click against one another as they come; but they never run together; on the contrary they are extraordinarily distinct. There is little disagreeable twang, but there is a great deal of unlooked-for inflection; a rising and falling of tone where we would go monotonously on, which gives almost a picturesque effect to the words, until one tires of it. The sentences are apt to terminate with a certain abruptness; there is absolutely no drawl at the end of them. An odd importance, which is yet not emphasis, is given to the final syllables we tend to slur, and there is an almost invariable tendency to double final consonants. "Kindlee step thiss way," says the young woman behind the counter. "Thiss is verree prittee—and chip too onlee one rupee ae yard." The baboo speaks English in exactly the same way, and it is the common fear of the "countrybred," the pure European born and brought up in India among the hills, to acquire it. It is fatally easy to imitate, though extremely difficult to transfer to print, and makes one reason the more why Anglo-Indian children should be early sent home to be educated. Pleasant enough while it is novel, it soon becomes objectionable to European ears, doubtless as a matter of association, for in itself it is artless babble enough. Nor is there in it the remotest flavor of cockneyism. The dwellers in Eurasia, poor souls, are born much too far from the sound of Bow Bells. It abounds in odd words and phrases, some of them distinctly related to the native tongues, some of them pure English with a local application. To see a friend off is to "carry her to the station," whether walking or driving. When the syce is ordered to unharness his animal he is expressly told to "open out the horse"; while "of course" is to Eurasian what "indeed" is to Virginian, the common accompaniment of every yea and nay.
It is a hard saying, but it suffers little contradiction, that morally the Eurasians inherit defects more conspicuously than virtues from both the races from which they spring. Drunkenness is not common among them, nor is brutality. As boys they do not rob birds' nests or torment animals or fight, and they never grow up into sportsmen. The more aggressive vices do not flourish among them. But their indolence and unthrift are proverbial, as are their cupidity and instability of character. It is characteristic that the truth is not in them, and they have a marvelous ingenuity in manipulating the lie. In this their knowledge of the sahib's sympathies enables them to outdo the Bengali, though their methods are much the same. "With beggars a favorite instrument of extortion is a death-certificate—a mother, a daughter, a baby lies dead at home; the funeral is a cruel, pressing, immediate necessity; a little money to meet the emergency is but a small demand upon common humanity. If you are unbelieving, the notice is shown to you in the morning paper—"Suddenly, of cholera, Mabel, infant daughter of Charles and Mary De Rosario"—with convincing tears. It is probable, however, that the death-certificate is well-nigh worn out in the service of misfortune, and that the tearful applicant for means to bury her never saw the infant daughter of Charles and Mary De Rosario. The social evil among the lower classes is very hideous. They seem to have a code of their own, which is capable of infinite infraction, and they touch a level of degradation which is far lower than any reached by the pure heathen about them. This is apparently an ineradicable thing, for it has its root in physical inheritance and its reason is racial.
Life under however modest conditions is impossible to Europeans in Calcutta under a certain income. This is perfectly understood by all employers of European labor, which is used for this reason only in posts of superintendence and responsibility. The European's food and lodging must be of a certain quality; he must have a certain number of servants and certain opportunities for recreation and change to make existence tolerable. The Eurasian will support life, however, upon means of almost vanishing proportions. With anything between one and two hundred rupees a month—the rupee being equal to about one shilling and fivepence—he is fairly comfortable, and a person of respectable position. He can afford to occupy the whole of a small house in a back street, to feed and clothe his family tolerably well, and, with the assistance of one of the charitable educational institutions of Calcutta, to educate them. But the Eurasian is improvident to the core, and will marry, taking no thought for the morrow, upon from thirty to forty rupees a month. The young lady of his species is charming in her way, which the young gentleman naturally finds a very captivating way. She develops early all the arts of beguilement; her eyes are liquid brown, her cheeks soft and round, her figure slim and graceful. Her prettiness is weak and transitory, but she possesses it long enough to insure the reward of her desirability. The matter is submitted to her mother, not her father—in Eurasian households the sway is maternal—and the affair is arranged upon the basis of family community. The young man agrees to live with his mother-in-law, to hand over to her his entire monthly talub, and to be provided for, with his wife, much as she thinks fit. His earnings go into a general fund, controlled by the mother-in-law, who is not unfrequently blessed with several married sons and daughters in circumstances that keep them under her roof. She feeds them all and clothes them all, dispensing such luxuries as she may. They increase, but not in riches, and when the multiplication reaches a figure quite disproportionate with that which represents the collective income, the family go over in a body to swell the great piteous majority which forms the Eurasian problem. Their accession to it is often hastened by a peculiarity of temperament on the part of the wage-earner, who is apt upon the slightest provocation to throw up his situation, no matter with what difficulty it has been procured or can be duplicated. His vanity and love of display tempt him to curious extravagances. On the occasion of a wedding or a christening he will spend his last pice with a generous trust in Providence for the commonplaces of food and drink in the days that come after. His family affection is a marked characteristic. Parents cling to their children with a degree of sentiment apt to be common among people who have too many, and often this attachment stands with foolish obstinacy in the way of the welfare of its object.
Notwithstanding their lack of thrift and strength, the most obvious reason for the great poverty and distress among the Eurasians lies in the tremendous competition of the natives. There is almost no department of labor in which it is not felt. The East Indian is particularly fitted by nature and inclination for minor clerkships; and here he finds in the baboo, who also loves an office seat and a pen, a formidable rival. The baboo is cheaper, his attainments are quite as good, and it is to be feared that the sahib prefers his services also because he can be "jumped upon" with a better conscience. In small shopkeeping the native undersells the Eurasians because he can underlive them, and has almost the whole of the trade of Calcutta which is not controlled by larger European firms, in his hands. A few of the women are employed as nurses in European families, but a Eurasian nurse is an expensive luxury, as she must be fed as well as paid at a higher rate than an ayah, while she often demands a native servant to assist her. Here, however, she offers a quid pro quo—her services are more valuable than an ayah's. The Eurasian has no chance against the native, however, in any other department of domestic service. The native is fitted by nature and education to serve the sahib; the position is one of dignity, and rather enhances the respect he receives from his fellow, however high his caste. He does, as a rule, only one thing, whether it is the work of a bearer or a kit-mutgar, or a mussalchi, or a syce, and, as its performance leaves him ample leisure to attend to his private comfort, he does it well. His whole habit of mind, moreover, is one of deference to his superiors; his own self-respect is bound up with it; "Tum bai-adab hai!" is a keen reproach. No European would dream of employing a Eurasian servant in preference for reasons of pure comfort. But, curious as it may seem, Eurasia scorns household service, and declines to compete with the native on what is so obviously his own ground. In fact, however poor, the Eurasian reckons one or two servants among the necessities of his own existence. The beggar of this race will approach your gates in a palki borne by four of his muscular Bengali cousins. The Eurasian "lady" who implores a little pecuniary assistance often sends her appeal by a peon—and on scented paper. Poor Eurasian lady! she is denied even the resource of her sex the world over—her needle—for the durzie sews better and cheaper than she.
It goes without saying that the East Indian is unable to work all day in the sun with the scantily clad coolies at the roadside or the docks, even if a man with any strain of European blood in him would consent to give the strength of his arm under such conditions for fourpence a day. Behind "belati" counters he holds his own, and so does she, by reason of their superior knowledge of the wants and tastes of the sahib and the memsahib. The railways are an invaluable source of employment for them, and they are found more useful than the natives in positions of minor responsibility—in warehouses, docks, and the customs. A small and very respectable proportion of them also find employment as teachers; and some make their way to the upcountry tea and indigo plantations, where a certain number succeed, though the race has not the physical qualifications to make such a resource general. And, of course, there are the saving few, who make their business successful whatever it is, and rise to positions of moderate affluence and general respect. In spite of all this, however, the Eurasian element of the population of Calcutta has become so large, and the problem presented by its condition so pressing, that a special commission has recently been appointed by Government to inquire into its circumstances and devise some means to make them less distressing. Among other remedies it is proposed to utilize Eurasian youths for military purposes, and to make certain Government appointments more easily accessible to them. But the problem will doubtless always remain a problem, presented by the remorseless operation of natural and economic laws, and only tampered with, more or less futilely, for the sake of a common humanity by the efforts of philanthropy.
Now that I have finished my imperfect sketch, the ink in which I have drawn it seems too black. After all, there is a great deal of red blood in Eurasia; sometimes, indeed, the admixture of the other color is so slight as to completely impose upon society, knowing as society thinks itself. In the heart of Eurasia—a heart which has yet to be bared to us by the scalpel of modern fiction—surely may be found much that is worth adding to the grand total that makes humanity interesting. On the other side of a prejudice, well founded and well built, who knows what fruits may drop and what flowers grow? Nothing is more certain than that we can not see over it.
I met Mrs. De Souza only this morning, in the bazaar. She was buying fruit and vegetables, and she argued with great fluency and decision about their price. The brown Bengali vendors of these things quailed before her; she understood to a thread the construction of the web of their duplicity. In the end, she got all she wanted at about two thirds of the price I should have been obliged to pay—and I know the bazaar. It is the dustur, the impenetrable, unassailable dustur, for the kala mem to pay less for everything. She was accompanied by two Miss De Souzas, who did not pay much attention to the fruit and vegetables. Very smart were the Miss De Souzas, all in pink and blue, for it was Sunday morning, and on Sunday morning Eurasia is en promenade at the bazaar. Also I saw two very elegant young men, with dapper sticks and fresh ties, looking smilingly in their direction. And just outside, high in a swaying sago palm, three hoarse old crows told each other what would certainly happen.