William Eleroy Curtis

by William Eleroy Curtis

This volume contains a series of letters written for The Chicago Record-Herald during the winter of 1903-04, and are published in permanent form through the courtesy of Mr. Frank B. Noyes, Editor and publisher of that paper.

Wherever the viceroy may hold court, wherever the government may sit, Delhi always has been and always will be the capital of India, for have not the prophets foretold that the gilded marble palaces of the Moguls will stand forever? Although Benares and Lucknow have a larger population, Delhi is regarded as the metropolis of Northern India, and in commerce and manufactures stands fourth in the list of cities, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras only surpassing it in wealth, industry and trade.

A voyage to India nowadays is a continuous social event. The passengers compose a house party, being guests of the Steamship company for the time. The decks of the steamer are like broad verandas and are covered with comfortable chairs, in which the owners lounge about all day. Some of the more industrious women knit and embroider, and I saw one good mother with a basket full of mending, at which she was busily engaged at least three mornings.

Seven ancient ruined cities, representing successive periods and dynasties from 2500 B. C. to 1600 A. D., encumber the plains immediately surrounding the city of Delhi, within a radius of eighteen or twenty miles; and you cannot go in any direction without passing through the ruins of stupendous walls, ancient fortifications and crumbling palaces, temples, mosques and tombs.

There are two cities in Bombay, the native city and the foreign city. The foreign city spreads out over a large area, and, although the population is only a small per cent of that of the native city, it occupies a much larger space, which is devoted to groves, gardens, lawns, and other breathing places and pleasure grounds, while, as is the custom in the Orient, the natives are packed away several hundred to the acre in tall houses, which, with over-hanging balconies and tile roofs, line the crooked and narrow streets on both sides.

The most interesting classes among the many kinds of priests, monks and other people, who make religion a profession in India, are the thugs, fakirs and nautch girls, who are supposed to devote their lives and talents to the service of the gods. There are several kinds of fakirs and other religious mendicants in India, about five thousand in number, most of them being nomads, wandering from city to city and temple to temple, dependent entirely upon the charity of the faithful.

Everybody who comes to India must have a personal servant, a native who performs the duty of valet, waiter and errand boy and does other things that he is told. It is said to be impossible to do without one and I am inclined to think that is true, for it is a fixed custom of the country, and when a stranger attempts to resist, or avoid or reform the customs of a country his trouble begins.

At Delhi the railway forks. One branch runs on to the frontier of Afghanistan via Lahore and Peshawur, and the other via Umballa, an important military post, to Simla, the summer capital and sanitarium of India. Because of the climate there must be two capitals.

India is a great triangle, 1,900 miles across its greatest length and an equal distance across its greatest breadth. It extends from a region of perpetual snow in the Himalayas, almost to the equator. The superficial area is 1,766,642 square miles, and you can understand better what that means when I tell you that the United States has an area of 2,970,230 square miles, without counting Alaska or Hawaii. India is about as large as that portion of the United States lying east of a line drawn southward along the western boundary of the Dakotas, Kansas and Texas.

Famine is chronic in India. It has occurred at intervals for centuries past, as long as records have been kept, as long as man remembers, and undoubtedly will recur for centuries to come, although the authorities who are responsible for the well-being of the empire are gradually organizing to counteract forces of nature which they cannot control, by increasing the food supply and providing means for its distribution. But there must be hunger and starvation in India so long as the population remains as dense as it is. The reason is not because the earth refuses to support so many people.

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