"Binishin bar sari juyo guzari umr bibin
   kin isharat zi jahani guzeran mara bas."

So wrote the great poet of Persia: "Sit thou on the bank of a stream and in the flow of its waters watch the passing of thy life. Than this a vain and fleeting world can grant thee no higher lesson." Of the human tides which roll through the streets of the cities of the world, none are brighter or more varied than that which fills the streets of Bombay. Here are Memon and Khoja women in shirt and trousers ("kurta" and "izzar") of green and gold or pink or yellow, with dark blue sheets used as veils, wandering along with their children dressed in all the hues of the rainbow. Here are sleek Hindus from northern India in soft muslin and neat coloured turbans: Gujarathis in red head-gear and close-fitting white garments; Cutchi sea-farers, descendants of the pirates of dead centuries, with clear-cut bronzed features that show a lingering strain of Med or Jat, clad in white turbans, tight jackets, and waist cloths girded tightly over trousers that button at the ankle. There, mark you, are many Bombay Mahomedans of the lower class with their long white shirts, white trousers and skull-caps of silk or brocade: there too is every type of European from the almost albino Finn to the swarthy Italian, - sailors most of them, accompanied by a few Bombay roughs as land-pilots; petty officers of merchant ships, in black or blue dress, making up a small private cargo of Indian goods with the help of a Native broker; English sailors of the Royal Navy; English soldiers in khaki; Arabs from Syria and the valley of the Euphrates; half-Arab, half-Persian traders from the Gulf, in Arab or old Persian costumes and black turbans with a red border. Here again comes a Persian of the old school with arched embroidered turban of white silk, white "aba" or undercoat reaching to the ankles, open grey "shaya," and soft yellow leather shoes; and he is followed by Persians of the modern school in small stiff black hats, dark coats drawn in at the waist, and English trousers and boots. After them come tall Afghans, their hair well-oiled, in the baggiest of trousers; Makranis dressed like Afghans but distinguished by their sharper nose and more closely-set eyes; Sindis in many-buttoned waistcoats; Negroes from Africa clad in striped waist cloths, creeping slowly through the streets and pausing in wonder at every new sight; Negroes in the Bombay Mahomedan dress and red fez; Chinese with pig-tails: Japanese in the latest European attire; Malays in English jackets and loose turbans; Bukharans in tall sheep skin caps and woollen gabardines, begging their way from Mecca to to their Central Asian homes, singing hymns in honour of the Prophet, or showing plans of the Ka'aba or of the shrine of the saint of saints, Maulana Abdul Kadir Gilani, at Baghdad.



The ebb and flow of life remains much the same from day to day. The earliest street sound, before the dawn breaks, is the rattle of the trams, the meat-carts on their way to the markets, the dust-carts and the watering-carts; and then, just as the grey thread of the dawn fringes the horizon, the hymn of the Fakir rings forth, praising the open-handed Ali and imploring the charity of the early-riser who knows full well that a copper bestowed unseen during the morning watch is worth far more than silver bestowed in the sight of men. On a sudden while the penurious widows and broken respectables are yet prosecuting their rounds of begging, the great cry "Allaho Akbar" breaks from the mosques and the Faithful troop forth from their homes to prayer - prayer which is better than sleep. More commonplace sounds now fill the air, the hoarse "Batasaa, Batasaa" of the fat Marwari with the cakes, the "Lo phote, lo phote" (Buy my cocoa-cakes) of a little old Malabari woman, dressed in a red "lungi" and white cotton jacket, and the cry of the "bajri" and "chaval" seller, clad simply in a coarse "dhoti" and second-hand skull-cap, purchased at the nearest rag-shop. And as he passes, bending under the weight of his sacks, you catch the chink of the little empty coffee-cups without handles, which the itinerant Arab is soon to fill for his patrons from the portable coffee-pot in his left hand, or the tremulous "malpurwa jaleibi" of the lean Hindu from Kathiawar who caters for the early breakfast of the millhand. Mark him as he pauses to oblige a customer; mark his oil-stained shirt, and loose turban, once white but now deep-brown from continual contact with the bottom of his tray of oil-fried sweetmeats: watch him as he worships with clasped hands the first coin that has fallen to his share this morning, calling it his "Boni" or lucky handsel and striking it twice or thrice against the edge of his tray to ward off the fiend of "No Custom." But hark! the children have heard of his arrival; a shrill cry of "Come in, jaleibiwala" forces him to drop the first coin into his empty pocket; and with silent steps he disappears down the dark passage of the neighbouring chal.


Now, as the Faithful wend their way homewards, bands of cheerful millhands hasten past you to the mills, and are followed by files of Koli fisherfolk, - the men unclad and red-hatted, with heavy creels, the women tight-girt and flower-decked, bearing their headloads of shining fish at a trot towards the markets. The houses disgorge a continuous stream of people, bound upon their daily visit to the market, both men and women carrying baskets of palm-leaf matting for their purchases; and a little later the verandahs, "otlas," and the streets are crowded with Arabs, Persians, and north-country Indians, seated in groups to sip their coffee or sherbet and smoke the Persian or Indian pipe. Baluchis and Makranis wander into the ghi and flour shops and purchase sufficient to hand over to the baker, who daily prepares their bread for them; the "panseller" sings the virtue of his wares in front of the cook-shop; the hawkers - the Daudi Bohra of "zari purana" fame, the Kathiawar Memon, the Persian "pashmak- seller" crying "Phul mitai" (flower sweets), start forth upon their daily pilgrimage; while in the centre of the thoroughfare the "reckla," the landau, the victoria and the shigram bear their owners towards the business quarters of the city. "Mera churan mazedar uso khate hain, sirdar," and past you move a couple of drug-sellers, offering a word of morning welcome to their friend the Attar (perfumer) from the Deccan; while above your head the balconies are gradually filling with the mothers and children of the city, playing, working, talking and watching the human panorama unfold before their eyes.


So the morning passes into mid-day, amid a hundred sounds symbolical of the various phases of life in the Western capital, - the shout of the driver, the twang of the cotton-cleaner, the warning call of the anxious mother, the rattle of the showman's drum, the yell of the devotee, the curse of the cartman, the clang of the coppersmith, the chaffering of buyer and seller and the wail of the mourner. And above all the roar of life broods the echo of the call to prayer in honour of Allah, the All-Powerful and All-Pitiful, the Giver of Life and Giver of Death.

       * * * * *



As the sun sinks low in the west, a stream of worshippers flows through the mosque-gates - rich black-coated Persian merchants, picturesque full-bearded Moulvis, smart sepoys from Hindustan, gold-turbaned shrewd-eyed Memon traders, ruddy Jats from Multan, high-cheeked Sidis, heavily dressed Bukharans, Arabs, Afghans and pallid embroiderers from Surat, who grudge the half-hour stolen from the daylight. At the main entrance of the mosques gather groups of men and women with sick children in their arms, waiting until the prayers are over and the worshippers file out; for the prayer-laden breath of the truly devout is powerful to exorcise the demons of disease, and the child over whom the breath of the worshipper has passed has fairer surety of recovery than can be gained from all the nostrums and charms of the Syed and Hakim. Just before and after sunset the streets wear their busiest air. Here are millhands and other labourers returning from their daily labours, merchants faring home from their offices, beggars, hawkers, fruit-sellers and sweetmeat-vendors, while crowds enter the cookshops and sherbet shops, and groups of Arabs and others settle themselves for recreation on the threshold of the coffee-sellers' domain.

There in a quiet backwater of traffic a small crowd gathers round a shabbily-dressed Panjabi, who, producing a roll of pink papers and waving them before his audience, describes them as the Prayer-treasure of the Heavenly Throne ("Duai Ganjul Arsh"), Allah's greatest gift to the Prophet. "The Prophet and his children," he continues, "treasured this prayer; for before it fled the evil spirits of possession, disease and difficulty. Nor hath its virtue faded in these later days. In Saharanpur, hark ye, dwelt a woman, rich, prosperous and childless, and unto her I gave this prayer telling her to soak it in water once a month and drink thereafter. And lo! in two months by the favour of Allah she conceived, and my fame was spread abroad among men. The troubles of others also have I lightened with this prayer, - even a woman possessed by a Jinn, under whose face I burned the prayer, so that the evil spirit fled." He asks from two to four annas for the prayer sheet and finds many a purchaser in the crowd; and now and again he rolls the sheet into a thin tube and ties it round the neck of a sick child or round the arm of a sick woman, whom faith in Allah urges into the presence of the peripathetic healer. "Oh, ye lovers of the beauties of the Prophet," he cries, "Faith is the greatest of cures. Have faith and ye have all! Know ye not that Allah bade the Prophet never pray for them that lacked faith nor pray over the graves of those of little faith!"

Hark, through the hum of the crowd, above the rumble of wheels and the jangle of bullock-bells, rises the plaintive chant of the Arab hymn-singers, leading the corpse of a brother to the last "mukam" or resting-place; while but a short distance away, - only a narrow street's length, - the drum and flageolets escort the stalwart young Memon bridegroom unto the house of the bride. Thus is it ever in this city of strange contrasts. Life and Death in closest juxtaposition, the hymn in honour of the Prophet's birth blending with the elegy to the dead. Bag-pipes are not unknown in the Musalman quarters of Bombay; and not infrequently you may watch a crescent of ten or twelve wild Arab sailors in flowing brown gowns and parti-coloured head-scarves treading a measure to the rhythm of the bagpipes blown by a younger member of their crew. The words of the tune are the old words "La illaha illallah," set to an air endeared from centuries past to the desert-roving Bedawin, and long after distance has dulled the tread of the dancing feet the plaintive notes of the refrain reach you upon the night breeze. About midnight the silent streets are filled with the long-drawn cry of the shampooer or barber, who by kneading and patting the muscles induces sleep for the modest sum of 4 annas; and barely has his voice died away than the Muezzin's call to prayer falls on the ear of the sleeper, arouses in his heart thoughts of the past glory of his Faith, and forces him from his couch to wash and bend in prayer before Him "Who fainteth not, Whom neither sleep nor fatigue overtaketh."

During the hot months of the year the closeness of the rooms and the attacks of mosquitoes force many a respectable householder to shoulder his bedding and join the great army of street-sleepers, who crowd the footpaths and open spaces like shrouded corpses. All sorts and conditions of men thus take their night's rest beneath the moon, - Rangaris, Kasais, bakers, beggars, wanderers, and artisans, - the householder taking up a small position on the flags near his house, the younger and unmarried men wandering further afield to the nearest open space, but all lying with their head towards the north for fear of the anger of the Kutb or Pole star.

    "Kibla muaf karta hai, par Kutb hargiz nahin!"
    The Kibla forgives, but the Kutb never!

The sights and sounds vary somewhat at different seasons of the year. During Ramazan, for example, the streets are lined with booths and stalls for the sale of the rice-gruel or "Faludah" which is so grateful a posset to the famishing Faithful, hurrying dinnerless to the nearest mosque. When the evening prayer is over and the first meal has been taken, the coffee-shops are filled with smokers, the verandahs with men playing 'chausar' or drafts, while the air is filled with the cries of iced drink sellers and of beggars longing to break their fast also. Then about 8 p.m., as the hour of the special Ramazan or "Tarawih" prayer draws nigh, the mosque beadle, followed by a body of shrill-voiced boys, makes his round of the streets, crying "Namaz tayar hai, cha-lo-o," and all the dwellers in the Musalman quarter hie them to the house of prayer.

It is in the comparative quiet of the streets by night that one hears more distinctly the sounds in the houses. Here rises the bright note of the "shadi" or luck songs with which during the livelong night the women of the house dispel the evil influences that gather around a birth, a circumcision or a "bismillah" ceremony. There one catches the passionate outcry of the husband vainly trying to pierce the deaf ear of death. For life in the city has hardened the hearts of the Faithful, and has led them to forget the kindly injunction of the Prophet, still observed in small towns or villages up-country: - "Neither shall the merry songs of birth or of marriage deepen the sorrow of a bereaved brother." The last sound that reaches you as you turn homewards, is the appeal of the "Sawale" or begging Fakir for a hundred rupees to help him on his pilgrimage. All night long he tramps through the darkness, stopping every twenty or thirty paces to deliver his sonorous prayer for help, nor ceases until the Muezzin voices the summons to morning prayer. He is the last person you see, this strange and portionless Darwesh of the Shadows, and long after he has passed from your sight, you hear his monotonous cry: - "Hazrat Shah Ali, Kalandar Hazrat Zar Zari zar Baksh, Hazrat Shah Gisu Daroz Khwajah Bande Nawaz Hazrat Lal Shahbaz ke nam sau rupai Hajjul Beit ka kharch dilwao!" He has elevated begging to a fine art, and the Twelve Imams guard him from disappointment.