CHAPTER XVI. CONTINUATION OF JOURNEY AND SOJOURN.
He allows his family to go about the house with freedom; but even there he cannot depart much from established custom, as he does not wish to separate entirely from his sect. His daughters are educated in the European method; the eldest plays a little on the piano, embroiders, and sews. She wrote a small paragraph in English in my album very well. Her father did not engage her as a child, but wished that her own inclinations might correspond with his selection of a husband. I was told that she would probably not meet with one, because she is educated too much in the European style; she is already fourteen years of age, and her father has not yet provided her with a bridegroom.
When I first visited this house, the mother and daughters were seated in a drawing-room, engaged with needlework. I remained during their meal-time, a liberty which an orthodox Parsee would not have afforded to me; I was not, however, allowed to join them at table. It was first laid for me, and I ate alone. Several dishes were placed before me, which, with slight deviations, were prepared in the European manner. Everyone, with the exception of the master of the house, watched with surprise the way in which I used a knife and fork; even the servants stared at this, to them, singular spectacle. When I had sufficiently appeased my appetite in this public manner, the table was as carefully brushed as if I had been infected with the plague. Flat cakes of bread were then brought and laid upon the uncovered table, instead of plates, and six or seven of the same dishes which had been served to me. The members of the family each washed their hands and faces, and the father said a short grace. All except the youngest child, who was only six years of age, sat at the table, and reached with their right hands into the different dishes. They tore the flesh from the bones, separated the fish into pieces, and then dipped the pieces into the various soups and sauces, and threw them with such dexterity into the mouth, that they did not touch their lips with their fingers. Whoever accidentally does, must immediately get up and wash his hand again, or else place before him the dish into which he has put his unwashed hand, and not touch any other one. The left hand is not used during the whole meal time.
This mode of eating appears, indeed, very uninviting; but it is, in fact, not at all so; the hand is washed, and does not touch anything but the food. It is the same in drinking; the vessel is not put to the lips, but the liquid is very cleverly poured into the open mouth. Before the children have acquired this dexterity in eating and drinking, they are not permitted, even when they wear the girdle, to come to the table of the adults.
The most common drink in Bombay is called sud or toddy, a kind of light spirituous beverage which is made from the cocoa and date- palm. The taxes upon these trees are very high; the latter are, as in Egypt, numbered and separately assessed. A tree which is only cultivated for fruit, pays from a quarter to half a rupee (6d. to 1s.); those from which toddy is extracted, from three-quarters to one rupee each. The people here do not climb the palm-trees by means of rope-ladders, but they cut notches in the tree, in which they set their feet.
During my stay here, an old Hindoo woman died near to Herr Wattenbach's house, which circumstance gave me an opportunity of witnessing an Indian funeral. As soon as she began to show signs of death, the women about her every now and then set up a horrible howling, which they continued at short intervals after her decease. Presently, small processions of six or eight women approached, who also commenced howling as soon as they discovered the house of the mourners. These women all entered the house. The men, of whom there were a great number present, seated themselves quietly in front of it. At the expiration of some hours, the dead body was enveloped in a white shroud, laid upon an open bier, and carried by the men to the place where it was to be burnt. One of them carried a vessel with charcoal and a piece of lighted wood, for the purpose of igniting the wood with the fire of the house.
The women remained behind, and collected in front of the house in a small circle, in the middle of which was placed a woman who was hired to assist in the lamentations. She commenced a wailing song of several stanzas, at the end of each of which the whole joined in chorus; they kept time also by beating their breasts with the right hand and bowing their heads to the ground. They executed this movement as quickly and regularly as if they had been dolls worked by a wire.
After this had been carried on for a quarter of an hour, there was a short pause, during which the women struck their breasts with both their fists so violently, that the blows could be heard at some considerable distance. After each blow, they stretched their hands up high and bowed their heads very low, all with great regularity and rapidity. This proceeding seemed even more comical than the first. After much exertion, they seated themselves round in a ring, drank toddy, and smoked tobacco.