CALCUTTA, THE CAPITAL OF INDIA
The most imposing building upon the Chowringhee, the principal street, is the Imperial Museum, which was founded nearly a hundred years ago by the Asiatic Society, and was taken over by the government in 1866. It is a splendid structure around a central quadrangle 300 feet square with colonnades, fountains, plants and flowers. Little effort has been made to obtain contributions from other countries, but no other collection of Indian antiquities, ethnology, archaeology, mineralogy and other natural sciences can compare with it. It is under the special patronage of the viceroy, who takes an active interest in extending its usefulness and increasing its treasures, while Lady Curzon is the patroness of the school of design connected with it. In this school about three hundred young men are studying the industrial arts. Comparatively little attention is given to the fine arts. There are a few native portrait painters, and I have seen some clever water colors from the brushes of natives. But in the industrial arts they excel, and this institute is maintained under government patronage for the purpose of training the eyes and the hands of designers and artisans. In the same group of buildings are the geological survey and other scientific bureaus of the government, which are quite as progressive and learned as our own. A little farther up the famous street are the headquarters of the Asiatic Society, one of the oldest and most enterprising learned societies in the world, whose journals and proceedings for the last century are a library in themselves and contain about all that anybody would ever want to know concerning the history, literature, antiquities, resources and people of India. Here also is a collection of nearly twenty thousand manuscripts in Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Hindustani and other oriental languages.
There is comparatively little poverty in Calcutta, considering the enormous population and the conditions in which they live. There are, however, several hundred thousand people who would starve to death upon their present incomes if they lived in the United States or in any of the European countries, but there it costs so little to sustain life and a penny goes so far that what an American working man would call abject destitution is an abundance. Give a Hindu a few farthings for food and a sheet of white cotton for clothing and he will be comfortable and contented.
The streets of Calcutta, except in a limited portion of the native section of the city, are wide, well paved, watered and swept. There is an electric tramway system with about twenty miles of track, reaching the principal suburbs, railway stations and business sections, and whether Moline (Ill.) got it from Calcutta or Calcutta borrowed the idea from Moline, both cities use the same method of laying the dust. The tramway company runs an electric tank car up and down its tracks several times a day, throwing water far enough to cover nearly the entire street. Other streets, where there are no tracks, are sprinkled by coolies, who carry upon their backs pig skins and goat skins filled with water and squirt it upon the ground through one of the legs with a twist of the wrist as ingenious and effective as the method used by Chinese laundrymen in sprinkling clothes. No white man can do either. The Hindu sprinkler is an artist in his line, and therefore to be admired, because everybody who excels is worthy of admiration, no matter what he is doing. The street sprinklers belong to the very lowest caste; the same caste as the garbage collectors and the coolies that mend the roads and sweep the sidewalks, but they are stalwart fellows, much superior to the higher class physically, and as they wear very little clothing everybody can see their perfect anatomy and shapely outlines.
Much of the road mending in India is done by women. They seem to be assigned to all the heavy and laborious jobs. They carry mortar, and bricks and stone where new buildings are being erected; they lay stone blocks in the pavements, hammer the concrete with heavy iron pestles, and you can frequently see them walking along the wayside with loads of lumber or timber carefully balanced on their heads that would be heavy for a mule or an ox. Frequently they carry babies at the same time; never in their arms, but swung over their backs or astride their hips. The infant population of India spend the first two or three years of their lives astride somebody's hips. It may be their mother's, or their sister's, or their brother's, but they are always carried that way, and abound so plentifully that there is no danger of race suicide in that empire.
Next to the Sikh soldier, the nattiest native in India is the postman, who is dressed in a blue uniform with a blue turban of cotton or silk cloth to match, and wears a nickel number over his forehead with the insignia of the postal service, and a girdle with a highly ornamental buckle. The deliveries and collections are much more frequent than with us. It is a mortification to every American who travels abroad to see the superiority of the postal service in other countries. That is about the only feature of civil administration in which the federal government of the United States is inferior, but, compared with India, as well as the European countries, our Postoffice Department is not up to date. You can mail a letter to any part of Calcutta in the morning and, if your correspondent takes the trouble, he can reach you with a reply before dinner. The rates of postage on local matter and on parcels are much lower than with us. I can send a package of books or merchandise or anything else weighing less than four pounds from Calcutta to Chicago for less than half the charge that would be required on a similar package from Evanston or Oak Park.