XX. THE TILAK RIOTS.
(Written August. 1908)
Affairs in the City may now be regarded as having resumed their normal course, and the chance of further disorder seems for the present to have been obviated. One of the most curious features of the disturbances was the difference of feeling exhibited by the two classes of mill-operatives, namely the Ghatis and the Malwanis. Of the whole mill-population one would have assumed that the Kunbis from the Deccan, where Tilak is stated to have so great a following, would have shown a greater disposition to riot in consequence of his arrest and conviction than the men from Ratnagiri. And yet so far as I could judge the Ghatis were far less interested in the trial and were much less disposed to express their resentment than the latter class, which comprises one or two extremely hot-headed and uncompromising individuals. The Ghatis of Sewri indeed at the very height of the riots, informed an Englishman with whom they are familiar, that they would sooner die for him than do him any harm, and their words carried home the conviction that they felt no personal sorrow at Tilak's well-deserved fate and that they would be ready in an emergency, as they have often been in past history, to stand staunchly by the side of any individual whom they know and who has been kind to them. The attitude of the Ratnagiri hands must in my opinion have been engendered by continuous and careful tuition; and this was particularly the case in the Currey Road and Delisle Road areas where agents, belonging to their own native district, had been suborned by the seditionary party to stir up trouble.
No less remarkable was the quaint juxtaposition during the height of the riots of seething disorder and the quiet prosecution of their daily avocations by the bulk of the people. An officer of one of the regiments quartered on the City during the trial in the High Court gave expression to this fact in the following words: - "Warfare I understand; but this sort of business beats me altogether. At the top of the street there is a native 'tamasha' with people singing and beating tom-toms; half-way down the street there are stone-throwing and firing, and at the bottom of the street there are people, Europeans and Natives, shopping!" He was struck, as I was, by the incongruity of the whole business. At Jacob's Circle there was a great display of military and magisterial strength. Tommy Atkins had taken up a strong position at the corner of Clerk Road; sentries paced up and down by day and night; machine guns gaped upon the fountain erected to the memory of Le Grand Jacob. At intervals a squadron of cavalry dashed into the open, halted for a space, and then as suddenly disappeared; and they were followed by motor cars and carriages containing Commissioners, Deputy Commissioners, Police Subordinates, Special Magistrates and miscellaneous European sightseers. All the pomp and circumstance of Law and Order were represented there, and there could scarcely have been a greater display of armed force, more secret consultations, more wild dashes hither and thither, more troubled parleying, if the entire City north of Jacob's Circle had been in flames. And yet behind it and around it the daily life of the people moved forward in its accustomed channel, The Bhandari's liquor-shop at the corner had its full complement of patrons, and the Bhandari himself might be seen pulling out handfuls of thirst-producing parched grain for those of his customers who desired a relish with their liquor; members of that degraded class which follows one of the immemorial vices of the East wandered round the Marwaris' shops, begging and clapping their hands in the manner peculiar to them; and across the diameter of the Circle strayed a group of Barots - those strange semi-gipsy looking men from Kathiawar who act as priests and magicians to the Bhangi population. Seeing the military and police they halted for a moment and gave one time to have, a word with them: - "Whither go ye?" we asked, and they replied that they were bound to the big Bhangi settlement that lies not far from the Circle.
One of them carried a "bina," a second an ordinary school-slate covered with crude cabalistic signs and a third a rude book, something like a Vani's "chopda," filled with Marathi characters, which doubtless plays a part in the fortune-telling and spirit-scaring that form the stock-in-trade of these wandering hierophants. Hardly had they disappeared than four Sadhus hove in sight. One of them, who was smeared with ashes from head to foot, the lobes of whose ears had been pierced and dragged down till they nearly touched his shoulders, and who wore an enormous rosary of Rudraksha berries, acted as the spokesman of the party and stated that they were on their way to Nasik. They had come from Benares, he said, and had spent a week in the shady compound of the Mahalaksmi temple, where all the Bairagis, Gosavis and Fakirs of the Indian continent from time to time congregate. "Do you walk to Nasik or go by rail" we asked. "By rail" replied the silver-man. "But surely the true Sadhu should walk, taking no heed of horse-vehicle or fire-carriage," whereat the little fat ascetic with the gourd smiled pleasantly and made some remark to the effect that all methods of conveyance are permitted to the truly devout.