THURSDAY, February 6.
We left Calcutta for the Hindoo Mecca, Benares, tonight, and had our first experience of Indian railway travel, which proved to be very comfortable. We had all to ourselves a first-class carriage compartment containing two sofas lengthwise of the car and one across; above these were three upper berths, to be let down, if necessary, and used as beds. A smaller compartment contained dressing-room, etc., for all of which there is no extra charge. Evidently there is no field here for my enterprising friend Mr. Pullman. Our route lay through the opium-growing district, and the white poppies were just beginning to bloom. I did not know before that only the white variety is grown, but, curiously enough, the red flower is not nearly so productive. This set us to thinking that there may, after all, be something in the Chinaman's preference for a black dog to one of another color. By all means let us have the two kinds analyzed and see whether the blood be just the same. The opium question has given rise to much angry discussion upon which we do not propose to pass an opinion. My readers may safely assume, I think, that the difficulties we encounter in restraining or abolishing the use of liquor among ourselves, also surround the opium question in the East. It is their liquor. China grows most of what she consumes, and I believe would grow it all if the Indian drug was not admitted. Its exclusion by the Chinese would not therefore seriously lessen its use. Still it places England in a false position before the world to enforce its admission by treaty stipulations. The sum involved to the Indian revenue exceeds seven millions sterling per annum ($35,000,000); that is the net yearly profit made out of the growth of the poppy. It would not all be lost, and perhaps not be seriously reduced, were China free to exclude it, for large quantities would be smuggled in, and the people would have it. I wish England's hands were entirely free from all stain in connection with this business. China should not be compelled by England to admit a drug which is considered pernicious.
The total exports this year were ninety-one thousand chests, valued at thirteen millions sterling, most of it to China. The growing of the poppy is a government monopoly in the Bengal province (Calcutta). Each year government enters into contracts with cultivators to devote so many acres to its cultivation - an advance upon the expected crops is made and final settlements at the end of the season according to amount and quality produced. The drug is extracted at two government factories. In the other district, the produce of which passes through the Bombay presidency, the cultivation of the plant is free, but a duty is collected upon the opium.
We are in the dry season, and where not irrigated the vast plains of India are parched. The soil is a light brown clay, and turns readily to fine dust, which seems to blow over everything and make all of one hue. Even the scanty muslin clothing of the people becomes of this dusty color. The houses are only mud huts one story high and roofed with coarse straw; an opening in one side serves as a door, but with this exception the hovel is closed; neither window nor chimney appears, and when fires are made the smoke escapes through all parts of the roof, and when the roof is closer than usual, through the door. This dusty, dirty mud color of soil, streets, houses, dress, and people gives one an impression of a more squalid poverty even than that of the overcrowded Chinese in Shanghai. These latter have more clothing and no dust, and their dirtiness seems a less objectionable form of dirt.
One remarkable difference between these people and the Chinese is that we never see the former eating, while the latter eat frequently. I am told that the Indians have but two meals a day - at noon and at eight in the evening, with a bite early in the morning. As is well known, the Hindoos are strict vegetarians, neither meat, fish, poultry, nor even eggs being allowed. The result of a vegetable diet, if they are to be taken as a fair example, is not such as to favor its general adoption. The Mohammedans, on the other hand, eat everything but pork; like the Jews, they forbid this one article, and I am informed that the Mohammedans are a far sturdier race than their neighbors the Hindoos; but they should be superior, as the advance from Hindooism, with its numerous gods and idolatrous worship, to Mohammedanism with its one god is an immense one. The claims which Mohammed has upon the gratitude of mankind rest upon a solid basis, for he it was who proclaimed to the East that there is but one God, and announced himself as his prophet only, instead of demanding that he himself should be worshipped as divine; but he performed another great service, for he abolished the abominable system of caste, and thus it comes that the most popular religion in existence hails all its disciples, from the peasant to the Sultan, as of one brotherhood, as Christianity does with hers. There are nearly fifty millions of Mohammedans among the two hundred and fifty millions of India's population, and it is to them we must chiefly look for the regeneration of the native races.