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Book No. 93

To first story in the book press: 4031

To last story in the book press: 4054

Old Deccan Days or Hindoo Fairy Legends Current in Southern India

Frere M.

Frere M., Old Deccan Days or Hindoo Fairy Legends Current in Southern India, Philadelphia, 1870


Deccan Days















A Few words seem necessary regarding the origin of these stories, in addition to what the Narrator says for herself in her Narrative, and what is stated in the Collector’s “Apology.”

With the exception of two or three, which will be recognized as substantially identical with stories of Pilpay or other well-known Hindoo fabulists, I never before heard any of these tales among the Mahrattas, in that part of the Deccan where the Narrator and her family have lived for the last two generations; and it is probable that most of the stories were brought from among the Lingaets of Southern India, the tribe, or rather sect, to which Anna de Souza tells us her family belonged before their conversion to Christianity.

The Lingaets form one of the most strongly marked divisions of the Hindoo races south of the river Kistna. They are generally a well-favored, well-to-do people, noticeable for their superior frugality, intelligence and industry, and for the way in which they combine and act together as a separate body apart from other Hindoos. They have many peculiarities of costume, of social ceremony and of religion, which strike even a casual observer; and though clearly not aboriginal, they seem to have much ground for their claim to belong to a more ancient race and an earlier wave of immigration than most of the Hindoo nations with which they are now intermingled.

The country they inhabit is tolerably familiar to most English readers on Indian subjects, for it is the theatre of many of the events described in the great Duke’s earlier despatches, and in the writings of Munro, of Wilkes, and of Buchanan. The extraordinary beauty of some of the natural features of the coast scenery, and the abundance of the architectural and other remains of powerful and highly civilized Hindoo dynasties, have attracted the attention of tourists and antiquaries, though not to the extent their intrinsic merit deserves. Some knowledge of the land tenures and agriculture of the country is accessible to readers of Indian blue-books.

But of all that relates to the ancient history and politics of the former Hindoo sovereigns of these regions very little is known to the general reader, though from their power, and riches and long-sustained civilization, as proved by the monuments these rulers have left behind them there are few parts of India better worth the attention of the historian and antiquary.

Of the inner life of the people, past or present, of their social peculiarities and popular beliefs, even less is known or procurable in any published form. With the exception of a few graphic and characteristic notices of shrewd observers like Munro, little regarding them is to be found in the writings of any author likely to come in the way of ordinary readers.

But this is not from want of materials: a good deal has been published in India, though, with the common fate of Indian publications, the books containing the information are often rare in English collections, and difficult to meet with in England, except in a few public libraries. Of unpublished material there must be a vast amount, collected not only by the government servants, but by missionaries, and others residing in the country, who have peculiar opportunities for observation, and for collecting information not readily to be obtained by a stranger or an official. Collections of this kind are specially desirable as regards the popular non-Brahminical superstitions of the lower orders.

Few, even of those who have lived many years in India and made some inquiry regarding the external religion of its inhabitants, are aware how little the popular belief of the lower classes has in common with the Hindooism of the Brahmins, and how much it differs in different provinces, and in different races and classes in the same province.

In the immediate vicinity of Poona, where Brahminism seems so orthodox and powerful, a very little observation will satisfy the inquirer that the favorite objects of popular worship do not always belong to the regular Hindoo Pantheon. No orthodox Hindoo deity is so popular in the Poona Deccan as the deified sage Vithoba and his earlier expounders, both sage and followers being purely local divinities. Wherever a few of the pastoral tribes are settled, there Byroba, the god of the herdsmen, or Kundoba, the deified hero of the shepherds, supersedes all other popular idols. Byroba the Terrible, and other remnants of Fetish or of Snake-worship, everywhere divide the homage of the lower castes with the recognized Hindoo divinities, while outside almost every village the circle of large stones sacred to Vetal, the demon-god of the outcast helot races, which reminds the traveler of the Druid circles of the northern nations, has for ages held, and still holds, its ground against all Brahminical innovations.

Some of these local or tribal divinities, when their worshipers are very numerous or powerful, have been adopted into the Hindoo Olympus as incarnations or manifestations of this or that orthodox divinity, and one or two have been provided with elaborate written legends connecting them with some known Puranic character or event; but, in general, the true history of the local deity, if it survives at all, is to be found only in popular tradition; and it thus becomes a matter of some ethnological and historical importance to secure all such fleeting remnants of ancient superstition before they are forgotten as civilization advances.

Some information of this kind is to be gleaned even from the present series of legends, though the object of the collector being simply amusement, and not antiquarian research, any light which is thrown on the popular superstitions of the country is only incidental.

Of the superhuman personages who appear in them, the “Rakshas” is the most prominent. This being has many features in common with the demoniacal Ogre of other lands. The giant bulk and terrible teeth of his usual form are the universal attributes of his congener. His habit of feasting on dead bodies will remind the reader of the Arabian Ghoul, while the simplicity and stupidity which qualify the supernatural powers of the Rakshas, and usually enable the quick-witted mortal to gain the victory over him, will recall many humorous passages in which giants figure in our own Norse and Teutonic legends.

The English reader must bear in mind that in India beings of this or of very similar nature are not mere traditions of the past, but that they form an important part of the existing practical belief of the lower orders. Grown men will sometimes refuse every inducement to pass at night near the supposed haunt of a Rakshas, and I have heard the cries of a belated traveler calling for help attributed to a Rakshas luring his prey.

Nor is darkness always an element in this superstition: I have known a bold and experienced tracker of game gravely assert that some figures which he had been for some time keenly scanning on the bare summit of a distant hill were beings of this order, and he was very indignant at the laugh which his observation provoked from his less-experienced European disciple. “If your telescope could see as far as my old eyes,” the veteran said, “or if you knew the movements of all the animals of this hunting-ground as well as I do, you would see that those must be demons and nothing else. No men nor animals at this time of day would collect on an open space and move about in that way. Besides, that large rock close by them is a noted place for demons; every child in the village knows that.”

I have heard another man of the same class, when asked why he looked so intently at a human footstep in the forest pathway, gravely observed that the footmark looked as if the foot which made it had been walking heel-foremost, and must therefore have been made by a Rakshas, “for they always walked so when in human form.”

Another expressed particular dread of a human face, the eyes of which were placed at an exaggerated angle to each other, like those of a Chinese or Malay, “because that position of the eyes was the only way in which you could recognize a Rakshas in human shape.”

In the more advanced and populous parts of the country the Rakshas seems giving way to the “Bhoot,” which more nearly resembles the mere ghost of modern European superstition; but even in this diluted form such beings have an influence over Indian imaginations to which it is difficult in these days to find any parallel in Europe.

I found, quite lately, a traditionary order in existence at Government House, Dapoorie, near Poona, which directed the native sentry on guard “to present arms if a cat or dog, jackal or goat, entered or left the house or crossed near his beat” during certain hours of the night, “because it was the ghost” of a former governor, who was still remembered as one of the best and kindest of men.

How or when the custom originated I could not learn, but the order had been verbally handed on from one native sergeant of the guard to another for many years, without any doubts as to its propriety or authority, till it was accidentally overheard by an European officer of the governor’s staff.

In the hills and deserts of Sind the belief in beings of this order, as might be expected in a wild and desolate country, is found strong and universal; there, however, the Rakshas has changed his name to that of our old friend the “Gin” of the Arabian Nights, and he has somewhat approximated in character to the Pwcca or Puck of our own country. The Gin of the Beelooch hills is wayward and often morose, but not necessarily malignant. His usual form is that of a dwarfish human being, with large eyes and covered with long hair, and apt to breathe with a heavy snoring kind of noise. From the circumstantial accounts I have heard of such “Gins” being seen seated on rocks at the side of lonely passes, I suspect that the great horned eagle-owl, which is not uncommon in the hill-country of Sind, has to answer for many well-vouched cases of Gin apparition.

The Gin does not, however, always retain his own shape; he frequently changes to the form of a camel, goat or other animal. If a Gin be accidentally met, it is recommended that the traveler should show no sign of fear, and, above all, keep a civil tongue in his head, for the demon has a special aversion to bad language. Every Beelooch has heard of instances in which such chance acquaintanceships with Gins have not only led to no mischief, but been the source of much benefit to the fortunate mortal who had the courage and prudence to turn them to account; for a Gin once attached to a man will work hard and faithfully for him, and sometimes show him the entrance to those great subterranean caverns under the hills, where there is perpetual spring, and trees laden with fruits of gold and precious stones; but the mortal once admitted to such a paradise is never allowed to leave it. There are few neighborhoods in the Beelooch hills which cannot show huge stones, apparently intended for building, which have been, “as all the country-side knows,” moved by such agency, and the entrance to the magic cavern is never very far off, though the boldest Beelooch is seldom very willing to show or to seek for the exact spot.

Superstitions nearly identical were still current within the last forty years, when I was a boy, on the borders of Wales. In Cwm Pwcca (the Fairies’ Glen), in the valley of the Clydach, between Abergavenny and Merthyr, the cave used to be shown into which a belated miner was decoyed by the Pwccas, and kept dancing for ten years; and a farm-house on the banks of the Usk, not far off, was, in the last generation, the abode of a farmer who had a friendly Pwcca in his service. The goblin was called Pwcca Trwyn, as I was assured from his occasionally being visible as a huge human nose. He would help the mortal by carrying loads and mending hedges, but usually worked only while the farmer slept at noon, and always expected as his guerdon a portion of the toast and ale which his friend had for dinner in the field. If none was left for him, he would cease to work; and he once roused the farmer from his noontide slumbers by thrashing him soundly with his own hedging-stake.

The Peris or Fairies of these stories have nothing distinctive about them. Like the fairies of other lands, they often fall in love with mortal men, and are visible to the pure eyes of childhood when hidden from the grosser vision of maturer years.

Next to the Rakshas, the Cobra, or deadly hooded snake, plays the most important part in these legends as a supernatural personage. This is one only of the many traces still extant of that serpent-worship formerly so general in Western India. I have no doubt that Mr. Ferguson, in his forthcoming work on Bhuddhist antiquities, will throw much light on this curious subject. I will, therefore, only now observe that this serpent-worship as it still exists is something more active than a mere popular superstition. The Cobra, unless disturbed, rarely goes far from home, and is supposed to watch jealously over a hidden treasure. He is always, in the estimation of the lower classes, invested with supernatural powers, and according to the treatment he receives he builds up or destroys the fortunes of the house to which he belongs. No native will willingly kill him if he can get rid of him in any other way; and the poorer classes always, after he is killed, give him all the honors of a regular cremation, assuring him, with many protestations, as the pile burns, “that they are guiltless of his blood; that they slew him by order of their master,” or “that they had no other way to prevent his biting the children or the chickens.”

A very interesting discussion on the subject of the Snake Race of Ancient India, between Mr. Bayley and Baboo Rajendralal Mitr, will be found in the Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, for February, 1867.


Tje collection of these legends was commenced with the object of amusing a favorite young friend of mine. It was continued, as they appeared in themselves curious illustrations of Indian popular tradition, and in the hope that something might thus be done to rescue them from the danger of oral transmission.

Though varied in their imagery, the changes between the different legends are rung upon very few themes, as if purposely confined to what was most familiar to the people. The similarity between the incidents in some of these and in favorite European stories, particularly modern German ones, is curious; and the leading characteristics peculiar to all orthodox fairy tales are here preserved intact. Step-mothers are always cruel, and step-sisters, their willing instruments; giants and ogres always stupid; youngest daughters more clever than their elder sisters; and the Jackal (like his European cousin the Fox) usually overcomes every difficulty, and proves a bright moral example of the success of wit against brute force – the triumph of mind over matter.

It is remarkable that in the romances of a country where women are generally supposed by us to be regarded as mere slaves or intriguers, their influence (albeit most frequently put to proof behind the scenes) should be made to appear so great, and, as a rule, exerted wholly for good; and that, in a land where despotism has such a firm hold on the hearts of the people, the liberties of the subject should be so boldly asserted as by the old Milkwoman to the Rajah in “Little Surya Bai,” or the old Malee [1] to the Rajah in “Truth’s Triumph;” and few, probably would have expected to find the Hindoos owning such a romance as “Brave Seventee Bai;” [2] or to meet with such stories as “The Valiant Chattee-maker,” and “The Blind Man, the Deaf Man and the Donkey,” among a nation which, it has been constantly asserted, possesses no humor, no sense of the ridiculous, and cannot understand a joke.

In “The Narrator’s Narrative” Anna Liberata de Souza’s own story is related, as much as possible, in her own words of expressive but broken English. She did not, however, tell it in one continuous narrative: it is the sum of many conversations I had with her during the eighteen months that she was with us.

The legends themselves are altered as little as possible: half their charm, however, consisted in the Narrator’s eager, flexible voice and graphic gestures.

I often asked her if there were no stories of elephants having done wonderful deeds (as from their strength and sagacity one would have imagined them to possess all the qualifications requisite to heroes of romance); but, strange to say, she knew of none in which elephants played any part whatsoever.

As regards the Oriental names, they have generally been written as Anna pronounced them. It was frequently not possible to give the true orthography, and the correctly spelt name does not always give a clue to the popular pronunciation. So with the interpretations and geography. Where it is possible to identify what is described, an attempt has been made to do so; but for other explanations Anna’s is the sole authority: she was quite sure that “Seventee Bai” meant the “Daisy Lady,” though no botanist would acknowledge the plant under that name; and she was satisfied that all gentlemen who have traveled know where “Agra Brum” is, though she had never been there, and no such province appears in any ordinary Gazeteer or description of the city of Akbar.

These few legends, told by one old woman to her grandchildren, can only be considered as representatives of a class. “That world,” to use her own words, “is gone;” and those who can tell us about it in this critical and unimaginative age are fast disappearing too before the onward march of civilization; yet there must be in the country many a rich gold mine unexplored. Will no one go to the diggings?

M. F.


My grandfather’s family were of the Lingaet caste, and lived in Calicut; but they went and settled near Goa at the time the English were there. It was there my grandfather became a Christian. He and his wife, and all the family, became Christians at once, and when his father heard it he was very angry, and turned them all out of the house. There were very few Christians in those days. Now you see Christians everywhere, but then we were very proud to see one anywhere. My grandfather was Havildar [3] in the English army, and when the English fought against Tippo Sahib, my grandmother followed him all through the war. She was a very tall, fine, handsome woman, and very strong; wherever the regiment marched she went, on, on, on, on (great deal hard work that old woman done). Plenty stories my granny used to tell about Tippo and how Tippo was killed, and about Wellesley Sahib, and Monro Sahib, and Malcolm Sahib, and Elphinstone Sahib. [4] Plenty things had that old woman heard and seen. Ah, he was a good man, Elphinstone Sahib! My granny used often to tell us how he would go down and say to the soldiers, “Baba, [5] Baba, fight well. Win the battles, and each man shall have his cap full of money; and after the war is over I’ll send every one of you to his own home.” (And he did do it.) Then we children plenty proud, when we heard what Elphinstone Sahib had said. In those days the soldiers were not low-caste people like they are now. Many, very high-caste 16] men, and come from very far, from Goa, and Calicut, and Malabar to join the English.

My father was a tent lascar, [6] and when the war was over my grandfather had won five medals for all the good he had done, and my father had three; and my father was given charge of the Kirkee stores. [7] My grandmother and mother, and all the family, were in those woods behind Poona at time of the battle at Kirkee. [8] I’ve often heard my father say how full the river was after the battle – baggage and bundles floating down, and men trying to swim across – and horses and all such a bustle. Many people got good things on that day. My father got a large chattee, [9] and two good ponies that were in the river, and he took them home to camp; but when he got there the guard took them away. So all his trouble did him no good.

We were poor people, but living was cheap, and we had plenty comfort.

In those days house rent did not cost more than half a rupee [10] a month, and you could build a very comfortable house for a hundred rupees. Not such good houses as people now live in, but well enough for people like us. Then a whole family could live as comfortably on six or seven rupees a month as they can now on thirty. Grain, now a rupee a pound, was then two annas a pound. Common sugar, then one anna a pound, is now worth four annas a pound. Oil which then sold for six pice a bottle, now costs four annas. Four annas’ worth of salt, chillies, tamarinds, onions and garlic, would then last a family a whole month; now the same money would not buy a week’s supply. Such dungeree [11] as you now pay half rupee a yard for, you could then buy from twenty to forty yards of, for the rupee. You could not get such good calico then as now, but the dungeree did very well. Beef then was a pice a pound, and the vegetables cost a pie a day. For half a rupee you could fill the house with wood. Water also was much cheaper. You could then get a man to bring you two large skins full, morning and evening, for a pie; now he would not do it under half a rupee or more. If the children came crying for fruit, a pie would get them as many guavas as they liked in the bazaar. Now you’d have to pay that for each guava. This shows how much more money people need now than they did then. [12]

The English fixed the rupee to the value of sixteen annas, in those days there were some big annas, and some little ones, and you could sometimes get twenty-two annas for a rupee.

I had seven brothers and one sister. Things were very different in those days to what they are now. There were no schools then to send the children to; it was only the great people who could read and write. If a man was known to be able to write he was plenty proud, and hundreds and hundreds of people would come to him to write their letters. Now you find a pen and ink in every house! I don’t know what good all this reading and writing does. My grandfather couldn’t write, and my father couldn’t write, and they did very well; but all’s changed now.

My father used to be out all day at his work, and my mother often went to do coolie-work, [13] and she had to take my father his dinner (my mother did plenty work in the world); and when my granny was strong enough she used sometimes to go into the bazaar, if we wanted money, and grind rice for the shop-keepers, and they gave her half a rupee for her day’s work, and used to let her have the bran and chaff besides. But afterward she got too old to do that, and besides there were so many of us children. So she used to stay at home and look after us while my mother was at work. Plenty bother ’tis to look after a lot of children. No sooner my granny’s back turned than we all run out in the sun, and play with the dust and stones on the road.

Then my granny would call out to us, “Come here, children, out of the sun, and I’ll tell you a story. Come in; you’ll all get headaches.” So she used to get us together (there were nine of us, and great little fidgets, like all children), into the house; and there she’d sit on the floor, and tell us one of the stories I tell you. But then she used to make them last much longer, the different people telling their own stories from the beginning as often as possible; so that by the time she’d got to the end, she had told the beginning over five or six times. And so she went on, talk, talk, talk, Mera Bap reh! [14] Such a long time she’d go on for, till all the children got quite tired and fell asleep. Now there are plenty schools to which to send the children, but there were no schools when I was a young girl; and the old women, who could do nothing else, used to tell them stories to keep them out of mischief.

We used sometimes to ask my grandmother, “Are those stories you tell us really true? Were there ever such people in the world?”

She generally answered, “I don’t know, but maybe there are somewhere.”

I don’t believe there are any of those people living; I dare say, however, they did once live; but my granny believed more in those things than we do now. She was a Christian, she worshiped God and believed in our Saviour, but still she would always respect the Hindoo temples. If she saw a red stone, or an image of Gunputti [15] or any of the other Hindoo gods, she would kneel down and say her prayers there, for she used to say, “Maybe there’s something in it.”

About all things she would tell us pretty stories – about men, and animals, and trees, and flowers, and stars. There was nothing she did not know some tale about. On the bright cold-weather nights, when you can see more stars than at any other time of the year, we used to like to watch the sky, and she would show us the Hen and Chickens, [16] and the Key, [17] and the Scorpion, and the Snake, and the Three Thieves climbing up to rob the Ranee’s silver bedstead, with their mother (that twinkling star far away) watching for her sons’ return. Pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat, you can see how her heart beats, for she is always frightened, thinking, “Perhaps they will be caught and hanged!”

Then she would show us the Cross, [18] that reminds us of our Saviour’s, and the great pathway of light [19] on which He went up to heaven. It is what you call the Milky Way. My granny usen’t to call it that: she used to say that when our Lord returned up to heaven that was the way He went, and that ever since it has shone in memory of His ascension, so beautiful and bright.

She always said a star with a smoky tail (comet) meant war, and she never saw a falling star without saying, “There’s a great man died;” but the fixed stars she used to think were all really good people, burning like bright lamps before God.

As to the moon, my granny used to say she’s most useful to debtors who can’t pay their debts. Thus: A man who borrows money he knows he cannot pay, takes the full moon for witness and surety. Then, if any man so silly as to lend him money and go and ask him for it, he can say, “The moon’s my surety; go catch hold of the moon!” Now, you see, no man can do that; and what’s more, when the moon’s once full, it grows every night less and less, and at last goes out altogether.

All the Cobras in my grandmother’s stories were seven-headed. This puzzled us children, and we would say to her, “Granny, are there any seven-headed Cobras now? For all the Cobras we see that the conjurors bring round have only one head each.” To which she used to answer, “No, of course there are no seven-headed Cobras now. That world is gone, but you see each Cobra has a hood of skin; that is the remains of another head.” Then we would say, “Although none of those old seven-headed Cobras are alive now, maybe there are some of their children living somewhere.” But at this my granny used to get vexed, and say, “Nonsense! you are silly little chatter-boxes; get along with you!” And, though we often looked for the seven-headed Cobras, we never could find any of them.

My old granny lived till she was nearly a hundred; when she got very old she rather lost her memory, and often made mistakes in the stories she told us, telling a bit of one story and then joining on to it a bit of some other; for we children bothered her too much about them, and sometimes she used to get very tired of talking, and when we asked her for a story, would answer, “You must ask your mother about it; she can tell you.”

Ah! those were happy days, and we had plenty ways to amuse ourselves. I was very fond of pets; I had a little dog that followed me everywhere, and played all sorts of pretty tricks, and I and my youngest brother used to take the little sparrows out of their nests on the roof of our house and tame them. These little birds got so fond of me they would always fly after me; as I was sweeping the floor one would perch on my head, and two or three on my shoulders, and the rest come fluttering after. But my poor father and mother used to shake their heads at me when they saw this, and say, “Ah, naughty girl, to take the little birds out of their nests: that stealing will bring you no good.” All my family were very fond of music. You know that Rosie (my daughter) sings very nicely and plays upon the guitar, and my son-in-law plays on the pianoforte and the fiddle (we’ve got two fiddles in our house now), but Mera Bap reh! how well my grandfather sang! Sometimes of an evening he would drink a little toddy, [20] and be quite cheerful, and sing away; and all we children liked to hear him. I was very fond of singing. I had a good voice when I was young, and my father used to be so fond of making me sing, and I often sang to him that Calicut song about the ships sailing on the sea [21] and the little wife watching for her husband to come back, and plenty more that I forget now; and my father and brothers would be so pleased at my singing, and laugh and say, “That girl can do anything.” But now my voice is gone, and I didn’t care to sing any more since my son died, and my heart been so sad.

In those days there were much fewer houses in Poona than there are now, and many more wandering gipsies, and such like. They were very troublesome, doing nothing but begging and stealing, but people gave them all they wanted, as it was believed that to incur their ill-will was very dangerous. It was not safe even to speak harshly of them. I remember one day, when I was quite a little girl, running along by my mother’s side, when she was on her way to the bazaar: we happened to pass the huts of some of these people, and I said to her “See, mother, what nasty, dirty people those are; they live in such ugly little houses, and they look as if they never combed their hair nor washed.”

When I said this, my mother turned round quite sharply and boxed my ears, saying, “Because God has given you a comfortable home and good parents, is that any reason for you to laugh at others who are poorer and less happy?”

“I meant no harm,” I said; and when we got home I told my father what my mother had done, and he said to her, “Why did you slap the child?”

She answered, “If you want to know, ask your daughter why I punished her. You will then be able to judge whether I was right or not.”

So I told my father what I had said about the gipsies, and when I told him, instead of pitying me, he also boxed my ears very hard. So that was all I got for telling tales against my mother!

But they both did it, fearing if I spoke evil of the gipsies and were not instantly punished, some dreadful evil would befall me.

It was after my granny that I was named “Anna Liberata.” She died after my father, and when I was eleven years old. Her eyes were quite bright, her hair black, and her teeth good to the last. If I’d been older then, I should have been able to remember more of her stories. Such a number as she used to tell! I’m afraid my sister would not be able to remember any of them. She has had much trouble; that puts those sort of things out of people’s heads; besides, she is a goose. She is younger than I am, although you would think her so much older, for her hair turned gray when she was very young, while mine is quite black still. She is almost bald too, now, as she pulled out her hair because it was gray. I always said to her, “Don’t do so; for you can’t make yourself any younger, and it is better, when you are getting old, to look old. Then people will do whatever you ask them! But however old you may be, if you look young, they’ll say to you, ‘You are young enough and strong enough to do your own work yourself.’ ”

My mother used to tell us stories too; but not so many as my granny. A few years ago there might be found several old people who knew those sorts of stories; but now children go to school, and nobody thinks of remembering or telling them – they’ll soon be all forgotten. It is true there are books with some stories something like these, but they always put them down wrong. Sometimes when I cannot remember a bit of a story, I ask some one about it; then they say, “There is a story of that name in my book. I don’t know it, but I’ll read.” Then they read it to me, but it is all wrong, so that I get quite cross, and make them shut up the book. For in the books they cut the stories quite short, and leave out the prettiest part, and they jumble up the beginning of one story with the end of another – so that it is altogether wrong.

When I was young, old people used to be very fond of telling these stories; but instead of that, it seems to me that now the old people are fond of nothing but making money.

Then I was married. I was twelve years old then. Our native people have a very happy life till we marry. The girls live with their father and mother and brothers and sisters, and have got nothing to do but amuse themselves, and got father and mother to take care of them; but after they’re married they go to live at their husband’s house, and the husband’s mother and sisters are often very unkind to them.

You English people can’t understand that sort of thing. When an Englishman marries, he goes to a new house, and his wife is the mistress of it; but our native people are very different. If the father is dead, the mother and unmarried sisters live in the son’s house, and rule it; his wife is nothing in the house. And the mother and sisters say to the son’s wife, “This is not your house – you’ve not always lived in it; you cannot be mistress here.” And if the wife complains to her husband, and he speaks about it, they say, “Very well, if you are such an unnatural son, you’d better turn your mother and sisters out of doors; but while we live here, we’ll rule the house.” So there is always plenty fighting. It’s not unkind of the mother and sisters – it’s custom.

My husband was a servant in Government House – that was when Lord Clare was governor here. When I was twenty years old, my husband died of a bad fever, and left me with two children – the boy and the girl, Rosie.

I had no money to keep them with, so I said, “I’ll go to service,” and my mother-in-law said, “How can you go with two children, and so young, and knowing nothing?”

But I said, “I can learn, and I’ll go;” and a kind lady took me into her service.

When I went to my first place, I hardly knew a word of English (though I knew our Calicut language, and Portuguese, and Hindostani, and Mahratti well enough), and I could not hold a needle. I was so stupid, like a Coolie-woman; [22] but my mistress was very kind to me, and I soon learnt; she did not mind the trouble of teaching me. I often think, “Where find such good Christian people in these days?” To take a poor, stupid woman and her two children into the house – for I had them both with me, Rosie and the boy. I was a sharp girl in those days; I did my mistress’ work and I looked after the children too. I never left them to any one else. If she wanted me for a long time, I used to bring the children into the room and set them down on the floor, so as to have them under my own eye whilst I did her work. My mistress was very fond of Rosie, and used to teach her to work and read. After some time my mistress went home, and since then I have been in eight places.

My brother-in-law was valet at that time to Napier Sahib, up in Sind. All the people and servants were very fond of that Sahib. My brother-in-law was with him for ten years; and he wanted me to go up there to get place as ayah, and said, “You quick, sharp girl, and know English very well; you easily get good place and make plenty money.” But I such a foolish woman I would not go. I write and tell him, “No, I can’t come, for Sind such a long way off, and I cannot leave the children.” I plenty proud then. I give up all for the children. But now what good? I know your language. What use? To blow the fire? I only a miserable woman, fit to go to cook-room and cook the dinner. So go down in the world, a poor woman (not much good to have plenty in head and empty pocket!) but if I’d been a man I might now be a Fouzdar. [23]

I was at Kolapore [24] at the time of the mutiny, and we had to run away in the middle of the night; but I’ve told you before all about that. Then seven years ago my mother died (she was ninety when she died), and we came back to live at Poona, and my daughter was married, and I was so happy and pleased.

I gave a feast then to three hundred people, and we had music and dancing, and my son, he so proud he dancing from morning to night, and running here and there arranging everything; and on that day I said, “Throw the doors open, and any beggar, any poor person come here, give them what they like to eat, for whoever comes shall have enough, since there’s no more work for me in the world.” So, thinking I should be able to leave service, and give up work, I spent all the money I had left. That was not very much, for in sending my son to school I’d spent a great deal. He was such a beauty boy – tall, straight, handsome – and so clever. They used to say he looked more like my brother than my son, and he said to me, “Mammy, you’ve worked for us all your life; now I’m grown up, I’ll get a clerk’s place and work for you. You shall work no more, but live in my house.” But last year he was drowned in the river. That was my great sad. Since then I couldn’t lift up my head. I can’t remember things now as I used to do, and all is muddled in my head, six and seven. It makes me sad sometimes to hear you laughing and talking so happy with your father and mother and all your family, when I think of my father, and mother, and brothers, and husband, and son, all dead and gone! No more happy home like that for me. What should I care to live for? I would come to England with you, for I know you would be good to me and bury me when I die, but I cannot go so far from Rosie. My one eye put out, my other eye left. I could not lose it too. If it were not for Rosie and her children I should like to travel about and see the world. There are four places I have always wished to see – Calcutta, Madras, England and Jerusalem (my poor mother always wished to see Jerusalem, too – that her great hope); but I shall not see them now. Many ladies wanted to take me to England with them, and if I had gone I should have saved plenty money, but now it is too late to think of that. Besides, it would not be much use. What’s the good of my saving money? Can I take it away with me when I die? My father and grandfather did not do so, and they had enough to live on till they died. I have enough for what I want, and I’ve plenty poor relations. They all come to me, asking for money, and I give it them. I thank our Saviour there are enough good Christians here to give me a slice of bread and cup of water when I can’t work for it. I do not fear to come to want.

Government House,

Parell, Bombay, 1866.


[1] Gardener.

[2] Was this narrative of feminine sagacity invented by some old woman, who felt aggrieved at the general contempt entertained for her sex?

[3] Sergeant of native troops.

[4] The Duke of Wellington, Sir Thomas Monro, Sir John Malcolm and Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone.

[5] My children.

[6] Tent-pitcher.

[7] The Field Arsenal at Kirkee (near Poona).

[8] The battle which decided the fate of the Deccan, and led to the downfall of Bajee Row Peishwa, and extinction of Mahratta rule. Fought 13th November, 1817.

The battle of Kirkee was the turning-point in the last Mahratta war, which sealed the fate of the Peishwa’s dynasty and transferred the Deccan to British rule, and is naturally, in that part of India, still regarded, by all whose recollections go back to those days, as the one great event of modern history.

When the collector of these tales was in India, the house temporarily occupied by the Governor of Bombay overlooked the field of battle, and among those who came to see the Governor on business or pleasure were some – natives as well as Europeans – to whom the events of half a century ago were matters of living memory.

Old soldiers would tell how the fidelity of the native Sepoys resisted all the bribes and threats of Bajee Row Peishwa, the absolute Brahmin ruler of Poona, and thus, while the Peishwa hoped to effect his purpose by treachery, enabled Mr. Mountstuart Elphinstone to defer open hostilities – a matter of vital importance to the operations of Lord Hastings on the other side of India, in preparing for his great campaign against the Pindarees.

The veterans would recount all the romantic incidents of the struggle which followed – how the “old Toughs” (now H. M.’s 103d Regiment), the only European corps within reach, when at last slipped from the leash at Panwell, marched seventy-two miles straight up over the ghauts to Poona, with only a single three-hours’ halt en route; how they closed up their ranks of travel-soiled warriors and entered the British lines with band playing and colors [334] flying; and how not a straggler dropped behind, “for all knew that there must be a battle soon.” Their arrival was the signal for the Peishwa to throw off the mask, and, as the British Residency was untenable, the English troops moved out to take up a safer position at Kirkee, about three miles from the city of Poona; and as they marched they saw all the houses of the Resident and his suite fired by the enemy, who swarmed out of the city. As they formed in line of battle, they anxiously watched the native regiments coming up on their flank from Dapoorie, for that was the moment for successful treachery if the native soldiers were untrue! Not a Sepoy, however, in the British ranks wavered, though before the junction was complete a cloud of Mahratta cavalry poured down upon them, dashed through the opening left between the two lines, enveloped either flank of the little army, and attacked the European regiment in the rear. Then, as a last resource, the European regiment faced about their second rank, and kept up such a steady rolling fire to front and rear at the same time that but few of the eager horsemen ever came within spear’s length of the British bayonets.

One of the most touching recollections of those times attracted our notice almost the last day we spent at Kirkee. An old chief, Jadowrow of Malagaom, had come to take leave of the departing Governor. He was head of one of the oldest Mahratta families, for his ancestors were famous as a very ancient royal house before the Mohammedans invaded the Deccan. The old man had borne arms as a youthful commander of horse when the great Duke was at Poona in 1802, just before the battle of Assaye, had been greatly distinguished for his gallantry in the battle of Kirkee, so fatal to his race, and had followed the fortunes of the Peishwa to the last. Disdaining to make separate terms for himself with the English conqueror, he remained one of the few thoroughly faithful to his sovereign – not from love, for he loved not Bajee Row, but “because he had eaten his salt” – and only after the Peishwa’s surrender returned to his old castle near Poona. There for many years he lived, hunting and hawking over his diminished acres, and greatly respected as a model of a gallant and honorable old chief; but he could never be persuaded to revisit the capital of the Mahrattas after its occupation by the English. “He had no child,” he said, “and his race would die with him.” At last, as years rolled on, an only son was born to him; and then, touched by some unexpected act of liberality on the part of the British government which would secure his ancestral estate to this [335] child of his old age, he resolved to go to Poona, and visited the Governor, whose temporary residence happened to overlook the battle-field of Kirkee. He gazed long and wistfully from the drawing-room windows and said, “This place is much changed since I was here last, fifty years ago. It was here the battle was fought, and it was from near this very spot that we charged down that slope on the English line as it formed beyond that brook. I never thought to have seen this place again.”

Almost every hill, fort, and every large village round Poona, has some tradition, not only of the days of Alumgeer, Sivajee and of early Mahratta history, but of the campaigns of Wellesley in 1802 and of the last great struggle in 1817-18.

[9] A Jar.

[10] The following shows the Narrator’s calculation of currency:

1 Pie = ¼ of a cent.

3 Pie = 1 Pice.

4 Pice = 1 Anna.

16 Annas = 1 Rupee = about 50 cents.

[11] A coarse cotton cloth.

[12] See ANNA’S remarks on the contrast between the present dearth and the “good old times” of cheap bread, when the rupee went so much further than it does now, are very characteristic. The complaint, too, is very universal, and is to be heard in the household of public functionaries, the highest as well as the lowest, in every grade of native society, and more or less in all parts of India.

The Narrator’s notion, that “The English fixed the rupee at sixteen annas,” is another specimen of a very widespread Indian popular delusion. The rupee always consisted of sixteen annas, for the anna means only the sixteenth part of anything, but to the poor the great matter for consideration in all questions of currency is the quantity of small change they can get for the coin in which their wages are paid. Formerly this used to fluctuate with the price of copper, and the quantity of copper change which a silver rupee would fetch varied as copper was cheap or dear, and was always greatest when the copper currency was most debased. The English introduced all over India a uniform currency of copper as well as of silver, and none of course were greater gainers in the long run by this uniformity than the very poor.

[13] Such work as is done by the Coolie caste, chiefly fetching and carrying heavy loads.

[14] Oh, my Father!

[15] The Hindoo God of Wisdom.

[16] The Pleiades.

[17] The Great Bear.

[18] The Southern Cross.

[19] The Milky Way. This is an ancient Christian legend.

[20] An intoxicating drink made from the juice of the palm tree.

[21] I AM unable, at present, to give either the native words or music for this curious little Calicut song. The second part is probably of Portuguese origin, or it may have been derived from the Syrian Christians, who have been settled on that coast since the earliest ages.

The English translation of the words, as explained to me by Anna, is as follows:




(To be sung by one or more voices.)

1. Very far went the ship, in the dark, up and down, up and down. There was very little sky; the sailors couldn’t see anything; rain was coming.

2. Now darkness, lightning and very little rain; but big flashes, two yards long, that looked as if they fell into the sea.

3. On the third day the captain looks out for land, shading his eyes with his hand. There may be land.

The sailors say to him, “What do you see?”

He answers, “Far off is the jungle, and, swinging in a tree, is an old monkey, with two little monkeys in her arms. We must be nearing land.”

4. Again the captain looks out; the sailors say to him, “What do you see?”

He answers, “On the shore there walks a pretty little maiden, with a chattee on her head; she skips and runs, and dances as she goes. We must be nearing land.”

5. The storm begins to rage again, and hides the land: at last it clears a little. The sailors say to the captain, “What do you see?”

He answers, “I see a man ploughing; two bullocks draw the plough. We must be nearing land.”

It is all true; they have gained the shore.




(To be sung by one or more voices.)

1. The ship’s on the sea – Which way is it coming?

Right home to land.

What cargo has it?

The ship brings the sacrament and praying beads.

2. The ship’s on the sea – Which way is it coming?

Right home to land.

What cargo has it?

The ship brings white paper and the Twelve Apostles.

3. The ship comes home to land – What cargo does it bring?

Silver money, prophets and holy people.

4. The ship comes home to land – What does it bring?

All the saints and holy people, and Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

5. The ship comes to our doors – Who brings it home?

Our Saviour.Our Saviour bless the ship, and bring it safely home.


The second song, “The Little Wife Watching for her Husband’s Return,” Anna had almost entirely forgotten.

It was, she said, very pretty, being the song of the little wife as she decks herself in her jewels to please her husband when he comes home. She laments his absence, fears he has forgotten her and bemoans her loneliness.

M. F.


[22] A low caste – hewers of wood and drawers of water.

[23] Chief Constable.

[24] Capital of the Kolapore State, in the Southern Mahratta country.

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