Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Public Spirit of the Hindoos—Tree Cultivation and Suggestions for extending it

I may here be permitted to introduce as something germane to the matter of the foregoing chapter a recollection of Jubbulpore, although we are now far past that locality.


My tents are pitched where they have often been before, on the verge of a very large and beautiful tank in a fine grove of mango- trees, and close to a handsome temple. There are more handsome temples and buildings for accommodation on the other side of the tank, but they are gone sadly out of repair. The bank all round this noble tank is beautifully ornamented by fine banyan and pīpal trees, between which and the water's edge intervene numerous clusters of the graceful bamboo.


These works were formed about eighty years ago by a respectable agricultural capitalist who resided at this place, and died about twenty years after they were completed. No relation of his can now be found in the district, and not one in a thousand of those who drink of the water or eat of the fruit knows to whom he is indebted. There are round the place some beautiful 'bāolīs', or large wells with flights of stone steps from the top to the water's edge, imbedded in clusters of beautiful trees.


They were formed about the same time for the use of the public by men whose grandchildren have descended to the grade of cultivators of the soil, or belted attendants upon the present native collectors, without the means of repairing any of the injury which time is inflicting upon these magnificent works. Three or four young pīpal-trees have begun to spread their delicate branches and pale green leaves rustling in the breeze from the dome of this fine temple; which these infant Herculeses hold in their deadly grasp and doom to inevitable destruction. Pigeons deposit the seeds of the pīpal-tree, on which they chiefly feed, in the crevices of buildings.


No Hindoo dares, and no Christian or Muhammadan will condescend, to lop off the heads of these young trees, and if they did, it would only put off the evil and inevitable day; for such are the vital powers of their roots, when they have once penetrated deeply into a building, that they will send out their branches again, cut them off as often as you may, and carry on their internal attack with undiminished vigour.[1]


No wonder that superstition should have consecrated this tree, delicate and beautiful as it is, to the gods. The palace, the castle, the temple, and the tomb, all those works which man is most proud to raise to spread and to perpetuate his name, crumble to dust beneath her withering grasp. She rises triumphant over them all in her lofty beauty, bearing high in air amidst her light green foliage fragments of the wreck she has made, to show the nothingness of man's greatest efforts.


While sitting at my tent-door looking out upon this beautiful sheet of water, and upon all the noble works around me, I thought of the charge, so often made against the people of this fine land, of the total want of public spirit among them, by those who have spent their Indian days in the busy courts of law, and still more busy commercial establishments of our great metropolis.


If by the term public spirit be meant a disposition on the part of individuals to sacrifice their own enjoyments, or their own means of enjoyment for the common good, there is perhaps no people in the world among whom it abounds so much as among the people of India. To live in the grateful recollections of their countrymen for benefits conferred upon them in great works of ornament and utility is the study of every Hindoo of rank and property.[2]


Such works tend, in his opinion, not only to spread and perpetuate his name in this world, but, through the good wishes and prayers of those who are benefited by them, to secure the favour of the Deity in the next.


According to their notions, every drop of rain-water or dew that falls to the ground from the green leaf of a fruit-tree, planted by them for the common good, proves a refreshing draught for their souls in the next [world]. When no descendant remains to pour the funeral libations in their name, the water from the trees they have planted for the public good is destined to supply its place. Everything judiciously laid out to promote the happiness of their fellow creatures will in the next world be repaid to them tenfold by the Deity.


In marching over the country in the hot season, we every morning find our tents pitched on the green sward amid beautiful groves of fruit-trees, with wells of 'pakkā' (brick or stone) masonry, built at great expense, and containing the most delicious water; but how few of us ever dream of asking at whose cost the trees that afford us and our followers such agreeable shade were planted, or the wells that afford us such copious streams of fine water in the midst of dry, arid plains were formed!


We go on enjoying all the advantages which arise from the noble public spirit that animates the people of India to benevolent exertions, without once calling in question the truth of the assertion of our metropolitan friends that 'the people of India have no public spirit'.


Mānmōr, a respectable merchant of Mirzapore, who traded chiefly in bringing cotton from the valley of the Nerbudda and Southern India through Jubbulpore to Mirzapore, and in carrying back sugar and spices in return, learning how much travellers on this great road suffered from the want of water near the Hiliyā pass, under the Vindhya range of hills, commenced a work to remedy the evil in 1822.


Not a drop of wholesome water was to be found within ten miles of the bottom of the pass, where the laden bullocks were obliged to rest during the hot months, when the greatest thoroughfare always took place. Mānmōr commenced a large tank and garden, and had laid out about twenty thousand rupees in the work, when he died. His son, Lalū Mānmōr, completed the work soon after his father's death, at a cost of eighty thousand rupees more, that travellers might enjoy all the advantages that his good old father had benevolently intended for them. The tank is very large, always full of fine water even in the driest part of the dry season, with flights of steps of cut freestone from the water's edge to the top all round. A fine garden and shrubbery, with temples and buildings for accommodations, are attached, with an establishment of people to attend and keep them in order.[3]


All the country around this magnificent work was a dreary solitude—there was not a human habitation within many miles on any side. Tens of thousands who passed this road every year were blessing the name of the man who had created it where it was so much wanted, when the new road from the Nerbudda to Mirzapore was made by the British Government to descend some ten miles to the north of it.


As many miles were saved in the distance by the new cut, and the passage down made comparatively easy at great cost, travellers forsook the Hiliyā road, and poor Mānmōr's work became comparatively useless. I brought the work to the notice of Lord William Bentinck, who, in passing Mirzapore some time after, sent for the son, and conferred upon him a rich dress of honour, of which he has ever since been extremely proud.[4]


Hundreds of works like this are undertaken every year for the benefit of the public by benevolent and unostentatious individuals, who look for their reward, not in the applause of newspapers and public meetings, but in the grateful prayers and good wishes of those who are benefited by them; and in the favour of the Deity in the next world, for benefits conferred upon his creatures in this.[5]


What the people of India want is not public spirit, for no men in the world have more of it than the Hindoos, but a disposition on the part of private individuals to combine their efforts and means in effecting great objects for the public good. With this disposition they will be, in time, inspired under our rule, when the enemies of all settled governments may permit us to divert a little of our intellect and our revenue from the duties of war to those of peace.[6]


In the year 1829, while I held the civil charge of the district of Jubbulpore, in this valley of the Nerbudda, I caused an estimate to be made of the public works of utility and ornament it contained. The population of the district at that time amounted to 500,000 souls, distributed among 4,053 occupied towns, villages, and hamlets. There were 1,000 villages more which had formerly been occupied, but were then deserted.


There were 2,288 tanks, 209 'bāolīs', or large wells with flights of steps extending from the top down to the water when in its lowest stage; 1,560 wells lined with brick and stone, cemented with lime, but without stairs; 860 Hindoo temples, and 22 Muhammadan mosques. The estimated cost of these works in grain at the present price, had the labour been paid in kind at the ordinary rate, was R86,66,043 (£866,604 sterling).[7]


The labourer was estimated to be paid at the rate of about two-thirds the quantity of corn he would get in England if paid in kind, and corn sells here at about one-third the price it fetches in average seasons in England. In Europe, therefore, these works, supposing the labour equally efficient, would have cost at least four times the sum here estimated; and such works formed by private individuals for the public good, without any view whatever to return in profits, indicate a very high degree of public spirit.


The whole annual rent of the lands of this district amounts to R650,000 (£65,000 sterling), that is, 500,000 demandable by the Government, and 150,000 by those who hold the lands at lease immediately under Government, over and above what may be considered as the profits of their stock as farmers. These works must, therefore, have cost about thirteen times the amount of the annual rent of the whole of the lands of the district, or the whole annual rent for above thirteen years.[8]


But I have not included the groves of mango and tamarind, and other fine trees with which the district abounds. Two-thirds of the towns and villages are imbedded in fine groves of these trees, mixed with the banyan (Ficus Indica) and the pīpal (Ficus religiosa). I am sorry they were not numbered; but I should estimate them at three thousand, and the outlay upon a mango grove is, on an average, about four hundred rupees.


The groves of fruit-trees planted by individuals for the use of the public, without any view to a return in profit, would in this district, according to this estimate, have cost twelve lākhs [12,00,000] more, or about twice the amount of the annual rent of the whole of the lands. It should be remarked that the whole of these works had been formed under former governments. Ours was established in the year 1817.[9]


The Upper Doāb and the Delhi Territories were denuded of their trees in the wars that attended the decline and fall of the Muhammadan empire, and the rise and progress of the Sikhs, Jāts, and Marāthās in that quarter. These lawless freebooters soon swept all the groves from the face of every country they occupied with their troops, and they never attempted to renew them or encourage the renewal.


We have not been much more sparing; and the finest groves of fruit-trees have everywhere been recklessly swept down by our barrack-masters to furnish fuel for their brick-kilns; and I am afraid little or no encouragement is given for planting others to supply their place in those parts of India where they are most wanted.


We have a regulation authorizing the lessee of a village to plant a grove in his grounds, but where the settlements of the land-revenue have been for short periods, as in all Upper and Central India, this authority is by no means sufficient to induce them to invest their property in such works. It gives no sufficient guarantee that the lessee for the next settlement shall respect a grant made by his predecessors; and every grove of mango-trees requires outlay and care for at least ten years.


Though a man destines the fruit, the shade, and the water for the use of the public, he requires to feel that it will be held for the public in his name, and by his children and descendants, and never be exclusively appropriated by any man in power for his own use.


If the lands were still to belong to the lessee of the estate under Government, and the trees only to the planter and his heirs, he to whom the land belonged might very soon render the property in the trees of no value to the planter or his heirs.[10]


If Government wishes the Upper Doāb, the Delhi, Mathurā, and Agra districts again enriched and embellished with mango groves, they will not delay to convey this feeling to the hundreds, nay, thousands, who would be willing to plant them upon a single guarantee that the lands upon which the trees stand shall be considered to belong to them and their heirs as long as these trees stand upon them.[11]


That the land, the shade, the fruit, and the water will be left to the free enjoyment of the public we may take for granted, since the good which the planter's soul is to derive from such a work in the next world must depend upon their being so; and all that is required to be stipulated in such grants is that mango tamarind, pīpal, or 'bar' (i.e. banyan) trees, at the rate of twenty-five the English acre, shall be planted and kept up in every piece of land granted for the purpose; and that a well of 'pakkā' masonry shall be made for the purpose of watering them, in the smallest, as well as in the largest, piece of ground granted, and kept always in repair.


If the grantee fulfil the conditions, he ought, in order to cover part of the expense, to be permitted to till the land under the trees till they grow to maturity and yield their fruit; if he fails, the lands, having been declared liable to resumption, should be resumed. The person soliciting such grants should be required to certify in his application that he had already obtained the sanction of the present lessee of the village in which he wishes to have his grove, and for this sanction he would, of course, have to pay the full value of the land for the period of his lease.


When his lease expires, the land in which the grove is planted would be excluded from the assessment; and when it is considered that every good grove must cost the planter more than fifty times the annual rent of the land, Government may be satisfied that they secure the advantage to their people at a very cheap rate.[12]


Over and above the advantage of fruit, water, and shade for the public, these groves tend much to secure the districts that are well studded with them from the dreadful calamities that in India always attend upon deficient falls of rain in due season.


They attract the clouds, and make them deposit their stores in districts that would not otherwise be blessed with them; and hot and dry countries denuded of their trees, and by that means deprived of a great portion of that moisture to which they had been accustomed, and which they require to support vegetation, soon become dreary and arid wastes. The lighter particles, which formed the richest portion of their soil, blow off, and leave only the heavy arenaceous portion; and hence, perhaps, those sandy deserts in which are often to be found the signs of a population once very dense.


In the Mauritius, the rivers were found to be diminishing under the rapid disappearance of the woods in the interior, when Government had recourse to the measure of preventing further depredations, and they soon recovered their size.


The clouds brought up from the southern ocean by the south-east trade wind are attracted, as they pass over the island, by the forests in the interior, and made to drop their stores in daily refreshing showers. In many other parts of the world governments have now become aware of this mysterious provision of nature; and have adopted measures to take advantage of it for the benefit of the people; and the dreadful sufferings to which the people of those of our districts, which have been the most denuded of their trees, have been of late years exposed from the want of rain in due season, may, perhaps, induce our Indian Government to turn its thoughts to the subject.[13]


The province of Mālwā, which is bordered by the Nerbudda on the south, Gujarāt on the west, Rājputāna on the north, and Allahabad on the east, is said never to have been visited by a famine; and this exemption from so great a calamity must arise chiefly from its being so well studded with hills and groves.


The natives have a couplet, which, like all good couplets on rural subjects, is attributed to Sahadēo, one of the five demigod brothers of the Mahābhārata, to this effect: 'If it does not thunder on such a night, you, father, must go to Mālwā, and I to Gujarāt', meaning, 'The rains will fail us here, and we must go to those quarters where they never fail'[14]


Notes:


1. The Archaeological Survey is engaged in unceasing battle with the pīpal seedlings.


2. This proposition is too general.


3. The Hiliyā, or Haliyā, Pass is near the town of the same name in the Mirzāpur district, thirty-one miles south- west of Mirzāpur. A bilingual inscription, in English and Hindī, on a large slab on the bank of the river, records the capture of the fort of Bhōpārī in 1811 by the 21st Regiment Native Infantry.


The tank described in the text is at Dibhōr, twelve miles south of Haliyā, and is 430 feet long by 352 broad. The full name of the builder is Srīmān Nāyak Mānmōr, who was the head of the Banjāra merchants of Mirzāpur. The inscription on his temple is dated 23 February, 1825, A.D.


'I suppose', remarks Cunningham, 'that the vagrant instinct of the old Banjār