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trade generally throughout India, is brisker in Ajmere, where the men are much more given to wearing boots than is the rule. Women here, as elsewhere, invariably go barefooted. Shoes used by a native must necessarily be a size too large, since their career is a constant alternation of slipping off and shuffling on. No native enters a room or shop with his shoes on.
Driving out to the gardens we came upon a gang of road-makers. The process of mending the Ajmere roads is peculiar. A strip about six feet wide is formed in the centre with a mixture of hard clay and gravel. When it is level it is beaten down, and makes an admirable road for light traffic. The outer edges get whatever may be left. A gang of ten men were beating the road with rammers. They stood in double line, five facing five, one line retiring and the other advancing. As they moved they chanted in quick time a refrain which, phonetically rendered, reads, “Sydly-hum, Sydly-hum,” the rammers being brought down altogether at the “hum." Women brought in baskets, carried on their heads, the road material, which they flung down as it was wanted. One woman, doing her full share under the hot sun, carried a lusty one-year-old boy on her hip. This is a
marked distinction between Japan and India. While in the former country babies are always carried on the back, in India they are invariably borne astride the hip.
Women work hard in Ajmere. By the dak bungalow I saw a file of a dozen, chiefly young girls, uplifted high on an unfinished house, busily engaged in bricklaying. The drawing and carrying of water is an important item in the day's work. In most towns water is supplied in frequent wells approachable from the street level. At Ajmere the daily store of water is found in a dip between two walls of rock approached by steep flights of steps. One rock rising sheer out of the water was almost literally hidden from view by a cloud of pigeons that clung to its rugged front.
It was a pretty sight, the constant stream of straight, lithe women in many-coloured kirtles coming and going with their red jars poised on their heads. Some had a small ring of plaited straw which they placed on their heads, and on this stood the water-jar, slimnecked, full-bodied, and rounding off at the base to a ring not larger than the palm of the hand. Far up at the top of the steps on the town side was a stalwart blind beggar, who had miraculously caught sight of us, and at short intervals broke forth into stentorian entreaty for backsheesh. The pigeons, alarmed at the reverberation, started off from the rock, darkening the air in their flight.
I don't know what becomes of the pigeons; evidently no one kills and eats them. In the peepul tree, under which a betel-nut man was getting shaved, there were trays suspended from the boughs on which passers-by threw a few grains of rice or millet. The tree was peopled with birds, which, when not overeating themselves, hopped about as if the place belonged to them; which indeed it does, for no Hindoo would disturb them.
All the life of an Indian bazaar dies out at sundown, as it begins at sunrise. There are no flaring gaslights, no crowd of promenaders. As darkness falls over the narrow streets the goods are taken in from the ever-open shop. The shopkeepers disappear, the shops become dark, empty caverns, and only here and there the glare of a miniature furnace with a man's face suddenly lighted up as he applies the blow-pipe, shows the late worker in silver or brass.
SOMETHING NEW ABOUT INDIA.
I WENT to India with the depressed feeling born of listening to innumerable debates on the subject in the House of Commons. From these I gathered that India is a hopeless incubus upon the Empire, a source of constant and increasing danger, which might any day, even to-morrow, reach its crisis. That India should “perish,” or that in some other quite conclusive way England should be rid of a legacy originally created by traders and fostered by military adventurers, seemed to be the best thing that could happen for this country. I left India full of amazement at the fertility of her resources, the steady growth of her prosperity, the docility and industry of her people, and full of hope for her future.
India is still one of the richest countries in the world, though in a different way from what it was when Clive extorted over two
millions and a half in jewels, plate, and specie as a fine for the revolt of Bengal. The jewels and precious stones are exhausted, and Golconda has become but a name. But, fostered and encouraged by wise and watchful government, the manifold natural gifts of India are being cultivated till its trade has reached colossal proportions, which increase with every year. Fifty years ago, after a quarter of a century of British rule, India exported goods of the value of ten millions, showing the country tenfold richer than it was before English influence prevailed. In 1880 India exported sixty-six millions worth of its natural products, making with its imports a total turnover of one hundred and twenty-two millions within twelve months. Not the least hopeful sign in the aspect of Indian trade is its adaptability and its readiness to take advantage of all the adverse circumstances of foreign nations.
Other people's adversity has ever been India's opportunity. The civil war in America gave an impetus to its cotton industry which has proved permanent. The failure of crops in the United States suggested to India that it might become the great wheat-growing country of the world, an expectation by no means beyond reasonable hope of fulfilment.