Edwin Lester Linden Arnold.

On the Indian hills : or, Coffee-planting in southern India (Volume 2) online

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Online LibraryEdwin Lester Linden ArnoldOn the Indian hills : or, Coffee-planting in southern India (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 20)
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I. AT WORK ... ... ... ... 1

IT. JUNGLE DAYS ... ... ... 34

III. "UNDER THE SUN " ... ... ... 07

IV. A FEEBLE FOLK ... ... ... 86



VII. JUNGLE SOCIETY ... ... ... 154

VIII. HARD AT WORK ... ... ... 179


X. THE FEVER-FIEND ... ... 218

XI. JUNGLE FESTIVITIES ... ... ... 238

XII. A HOLIDAY RUN ... ... ... 253

XIII. BOMBAY AND POONAH ... ... ... 274


XV. ROAD-MAKING ... ... ... 319




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AFTER a very pleasant stroll round D 's

clearings, and imbibing much useful information,
we finally got back to the bungalow ; and I
shook hands with my courteous host, and set
out for my own estate, under the guidance of
a swarthy, short, curly-headed native, looking
like an aboriginal Australian, who had been
sent to show me the way to Pardagherry. We
wound along by the side of a shallow stream
for three or four miles; the road, well made and
broad, running under continual avenues of trees,
and crossing the bed of the stream once or twice
by very solidly built bridges ; until we came out
into the open again, and a wide expanse of
mature coffee lay before, with a clean white



bungalow standing on a knoll nearly in the
centre of the clearing, shadowed by two grace-
ful palm trees the only ones on these hills.
As the road ran close by, I dropped in to make
the acquaintance of the superintendent, and
found him and his assistant hard at work over
accounts. They were naturally astonished at
the sudden appearance of a new " pale face,"
and it was necessary to explain who I was,

when 0. H , the chik-doree, and W- , the

superintendent, welcomed me cordially to the
jungles. The assistant assured me that the
vilest of Irish mud hovels was a paradise com-
pared to the place I was going to, and painted
the discomforts of jungle life in glowing terms,
ending up with the ironical hope that I should
be comfortable ; so, with a promise to drop in
at his bungalow some day and let him know
what my quarters proved like, I marched for-
ward again.

Another estate was passed, which at first I
took to be my own, but my guide led the way
through it along the top of a ridge of moun-
tain planted on both sides with coffee, and
again we descended into a valley and left the
cleared ground behind us. Here the vegetation


appeared more dense and matted than farther
to the north, great creepers swinging from tree
to tree, while long rattan canes a hundred
springing from one root climbed hither and
thither, and overhung the road in festoons.
Here, too, the pathway for it was no longer
a made road ran along the top of a ridge, and
although the valleys on either side were not
discernible, the trees had clearly felt the in-
fluence of the wind ; for there were many dead
trunks lying about in all stages of decay, with
green moss spreading a pall over them, and
pale, scentless white orchids shooting up, fresh
and beautiful, from the rotten wood.

After we had done a couple of miles along
this road, a strange figure was seen coming
down the path, and I was soon after confronted
by Mr. B, , the superintendent of the com-
pany's estate where I was going to work. A
very old hand himself at coffee planting, and
a dweller all his life in wild regions, he had
become a regular backwoodsman, and had dis-
carded as superfluous many of the refinements
of civilization. Imagine an old grey-headed
man, his chin and cheeks, long unacquainted with
the razor, sharp black eyes long accustomed to


look on nothing but obsequious natives, and a
form bent with fever and hill-climbing, equipped
in a loose and not particularly new suit of dark
green cloth, white leather leggings, a broad-
brimmed hat of coarse rice straw, and a heavy
stick to lean upon. Such was my associate
when he first presented himself to my sight,.
and after making each other's acquaintance, he
retraced his steps, and together we proceeded
to the settlement. This we were not long in
reaching, and the ideas I had formed of an
encampment in embryo were rudely shaken.
Dim notions had floated through my head of
shady fig trees, with wide-spreading branches,
and white tents under their shelter, with rows
of neat native huts down by a neighbouring-
stream half hidden in verdant cool foliage, with
horses and cattle grazing ad libitum, and laugh-
ing children and noisy dogs to welcome the
traveller; but the reality was sadly otherwise.
The ridge along which we had been passing
grew rapidly narrower, and began to slope down-
wards, while daylight and patches of blue sjsy
showing through the trees on either side, indi-
cated that we were passing along the centre of
a narrow strip or belt of forest, which had been


left when the clearings were made upon either
.side. As the pathway sloped more and more
downwards, the soil had been washed off by the
heavy rains rushing to the nearest watercourse,
leaving the matted roots of the tall trees above
ground everywhere exposed, and making a wild
entanglement which in places formed rude steps,
of which we took advantage, and in others
arches and lacework of timber which it required
care to thread without tripping. At the bottom
of the hill we came suddenly in view of the
" settlement." Totally different from what I
had expected, it looked like nothing so much
as a wild African village, such as that noble
explorer, Stanley, has described and figured
many times in his " Travels in the Da.rk Con-
tinent." The underwood had been cut down,
together with a few of the most inconveniently
placed trees, and in the rough clearing thus
formed (all bristling with stumps and remains
of bushes) half a dozen low reed-thatched
hovels had grown up a little below an isolated
residence, which, though of exactly the same
construction as the others, seemed a trifle more
carefully finished. This latter was our temporary
home, and arriving in the rudely built verandah,


R bade me " welcome to the greenwood,'*

and told me we should have to make ourselves
as comfortable as circumstances would permit,
until a slack time in the coffee planting gave us
an opportunity to build pucka bungalows.

Certainly there was not very much to boast

of in my new quarters. R 's hut was about

thirty feet long by twelve broad, and was
divided in two by a chinky partition of Pal-
ghaut mats. One half which abutted on the
path by which we had approached was the
dining-room, and for its sole furniture boasted
a round table, a meat-safe with shelves and
wire gauze to keep out flies and slugs, and a
strong lock and key to keep out the " boys."
The available space which these left was further
diminished by a heavy iron safe, a stove with
an exceedingly obtrusive chimney, and two or
three chairs. The owner pointed out with
great pride that the floor was not the actual
surface of the soil, which had been smoothed
and covered with rough-sawn boards laid side
by side on it. He also begged me to notice
that we had entered by glass folding-doors
which, though they would not close tightly,
had been fixed up as a temporary arrangement,


and he considered them extremely luxurious.
The construction of the hut itself was very
primitive, as I took in at a glance. Four
strong forked poles had been driven in at the
corners, and young saplings, roughly lopped and
trimmed, had been placed on them. Upon these
the roof had been constructed with a very steep
pitch to throw off the heavy monsoon rainfall,
and had been thickly thatched with pale yellow
lemon-grass from the neighbouring hillside.
But though the roof was substantial enough,
the sides of the hut were fragility itself. A
few stout stakes had been driven in at equal
distances, and to these Palghaut mats were
fastened with split rattan creepers ; but, as there
was only a single thickness of matting, daylight
came in at a hundred places, and the green and
yellow stains down the inside showed that they
made no pretence of being watertight. Besides
this, some one seemed to have been in a fidgety
mood with the stove, which had been moved
round and round the room perhaps according
to the changes of the wind but wherever it
went a hole had had to be cut in the side of
the hut that the chimney might reach the outer
air, and as the stove moved on these holes had


been filled up with any material at hand straw,
sacking, or even brown paper. I asked E,
how it was he had not managed to make him-
self more comfortable, but he said it had been
impossible up to the present time. The company
at home were anxious to get as much coffee
planted as possible, and labour being scarce and
hard to get so deep as this in the jungles, all
hands needed to be kept constantly employed in
out-of-door work, leaving no time for building
operations. Our sleeping quarters were even
more cramped, there being three beds side by
side across the division, and a washing-stand
made out of an old box taking up all the
remaining space. By way of decoration, the
walls of the hut were hung with a wonderful
collection of articles, guns, sword-bayonets, tin
buckets, a side of bacon, several squirrel and
monkey skins, dried fish, a few young coffee
plants strung up by their roots, old clothes,
hats, etc. Altogether, this sample of a coffee
planter's hut (the sort of thing every one who
opens up a new estate for himself must put up
with for a time) was most Eobinson Crusoe-like
and romantic to those who could look at it in
such a light. Having somewhat shaken down


and despatched a fair breakfast, at which curry
made of goat's flesh was the chief dish, we were

joined by Mr. E 's son "Charlie," a pleasant

English-looking boy of about sixteen, who had
been out to shoot a pigeon with a long, heavy
Snider smooth-bore, which, though rusty, has
killed a fine bison lately.

"We subsequently made a tour of inspection of
that division of the property on which the settle-
ment stands. The whole estate is divided into
two portions, separated by a narrow stream.
The most southerly is the " Mary Anne Forest,"
consisting of 1118 acres of virgin jungle, the
home of the bison and elephant, untouched and
unexplored since the world began, except by
aboriginal tribes, to whom it is a veritable happy
hunting ground. The more northerly division
consists of a thousand acres, and goes by the
name of Pardagherry, meaning in Tamil the
" New Rock," from some patches of bare stone
which crop up in conspicuous places. There
are thus in our charge over two thousand acres
of the finest coffee land in the south of India,
and being a new district, we hope it will prove
free from the disease and "bug," those fatal
bars to the prosperity of many an estate in


Ceylon. Of course, to open all this extent of
land at once would not be possible, but as the
cultivated area grows gradually in size, the
owners should possess a very valuable property,,
the more so as they obtained a grant of it, only
a short time ago, at a nominal price from the
Raja of Cochin. But that time has passed
away, and the arrival of several fresh English-
men up here, carrying with them, as they
always do, a tide of energy and prosperity, has
awakened the Raja to the value of his un-
explored dominions ; so now any one who
wishes to start an estate must purchase the soil
and have it surveyed by a Government official.
Still, I think the Cochin authorities would do
well to encourage the settling of Europeans in
the jungles, and should be careful not to fix the
price of land too high, nor to dispose of huge
slices of the best soils to any one individual or
company. English energy, backed up by gold,
can do anything. On all the Government maps
of a few years ago, the site of our clearings was
put down as " impenetrable jungle," and yet the
soil was no sooner found suitable to coffee, than
the "Britishers" broke through all barriers,
laughed to scorn the "impenetrableness " of these


unknown wilds, and made roads through the
densest parts, establishing themselves firmly ; so
that probably, before many years, what was
once the lonely home of the wild elephant may
become a flourishing settled district.

Thus far, our part towards this end consists in
having traced the " Top Entrance Road," as our
survey names it, though it is more properly a
bridle path, but at present our only link with
the other states and civilization. Besides this,
during the two years he has been at work here,

R. has felled, cleared, and planted the best

part of one hundred and thirty acres of land,
and made and established two " nurseries " for
rearing the young plants from the seeds. The
ground already planted is, roughly speaking,
in the shape of a parallelogram, its greatest
length being from north to south. Through
the centre runs a ridge with a belt of forest still
standing along the top, and down this leads our
main thoroughfare. The ground sloping away
on the westward of the ridge is divided in two
parts by another broad belt, which sweeps right
down the slope to the margin of a mountain
stream, about twenty feet wide, which we
flatter with the name of the Manalora river.


This stream curiously rises on the very brink of
the precipices which overlook the great Pal-
ghaut plain, but instead of descending to the
northward, a chance fall in the hillside leads
its course to the southward, so that it winds
its way through the jungle and passes our
estate, and, after receiving many mountain
torrents, grows into a veritable river, and finally
reaches the sea far to the southward in the
neighbourhood of Cochin. On the other side of
the rising ground which forms the backbone
of the land already planted, the land trends down
to the bed of a small nullah, and is cleared for
a little distance up the opposite slope, when it
is again bounded by primitive jungle and rises
rapidly to a high ridge, called the " Poothapara
Thund," on the far slope of which all is grass
and an excellent place for bison and elephants.
This side is also divided into two parts by a
belt of about two chains in breadth. There are
thus four separate clearings : No. 1 of fifty-six
acres, No. 2 of twenty -two acres, both on the
western side; No. 3 of thirty-six acres, and
No. 4 of fourteen acres, on the eastern half.
This arrangement will be found a very con-
venient one as a beginning on new estates.


With regard to the best size for clearings,
there are many different opinions. One set of
planters hold that large fields are much superior
for many reasons. They maintain that if you
have nothing less than fifty acres in extent,
you enjoy freedom from the hosts of weeds
which grow in the jungle, you are less troubled
by harmful insects which love the shade and
shelter of trees and undergrowth, and they think
such clearings are more convenient and better
managed. But the other side say that by
making small plantations and leaving plenty
of timber, you gain great shelter from high
winds a thing of considerable importance to
coffee, especially in its young state you have
great stores of leaf mould within easy distance
for using as manure, and they argue that, not-
withstanding insects and weeds, the coffee
thrives better than in the open. Probably the
best size of clearing will vary with the con-
ditions and aspect of the estate. On windy
ridges such as this, where the young plants are
liable to feel the full force of either monsoon,
protection of some sort seems imperative, and
none is so convenient and lasting as leaving
" belts " or strips of jungle unfelled when the


clearings are first made. These wind-shields
should not be less than two chains through, or
they will not answer their purpose ; nor more,
or they will take up too much valuable land.
As it is, the strip along the top of our ridge
and the two others running at right angles to
it occupy thirty acres of our ground which
might be bearing coffee, but it has been wisely
devoted to its present purpose.

During our walk round the estate, undertaken
after breakfast to show me the boundaries, we
came upon a gang of forty coolies making a
way through the north-easterly clearing for
the greater convenience of weeding operations,
which are in full swing about this time, and
it was astonishing to see how quickly the work
was done when there was some one by to keep
the men up to the mark. When we scrambled
down to them, the road had just got clear of the
fallen timber of the enclosure, and was to take
a slant upwards (the course having been pre-
viously set out with pegs by R ) until it

penetrated through the jungle and ran into the
" Top Entrance Road." Apparently the coolies
had been taking it easily while the superin-
tendent was away at his hut breakfasting, for


he went down amongst them and began abusing
them right and left in Tamil, supplementing
his abuse by an occasional prod or two with
his stick in the ribs of the most sleepy. There
were about forty men present, and certainly
under his eyes they progressed at a wonderful
rate. In front of us was a dense clump of
tall bamboos, the growth of many a year, and
as this blocked up our way it had to come
down. First, ten coolies with axes set to work
on it, and one after another the green reed-like
stems were cut through and brought low.
Four minutes sufficed for this, and then the
billhook and mamooty men, i.e. coolies with
instruments like spades having the blade bent at
right angles to the shaft, marched to the attack.
In a couple of minutes the roots and stumps
were hacked into bits and thrown aside, and
another minute sufficed for the spademen to
smooth the earth ; and then the road went
triumphantly forward across the place where
but a short time before the bamboos had been
masters. Next we came to a couple of small
trees and a tangle of rattan creepers, which
all followed the bamboos the axe and bill men
going first, slashing and hacking frantically,


and the rest coming after. This is what we
call a dug-out road ; that is to say, the hillside
being very steep, soil is shovelled away from
the upper part and placed on the lower side
till the road comes level. Thus there is a
perpendicular wall on one hand and a steep
scarp on the other, and being smoothed, the
fresh red soil looks neat and nice, but re-
quires some time to settle down. At first,
owing to half the breadth being cut out of the
solid, and half composed of loose soil, it is apt
to sink on the outer side and has to be repaired.
A little further on we came to a thicket of
kewra bushes, where the hillside was so steep
it was difficult to keep one's footing. These
plants, which are a variety of those which grow
in the lowlands, have a bare brown stem five
and six feet long, and a crown of sabre-like
leaves with edges sharp as knives and indented
by numerous sawlike teeth. A thicket of such
is practically impenetrable, and the coolies
came to a stop on the outskirts, but the road
had to go forward in spite of difficulties. So

R took a bill and I took an axe, and led

the attack. Being clothed, we got on better
than our men, who were not ; but my hands


were considerably cut and full of thorns and
prickles by the time we reached the other
extremity of the barrier, while the poor coolies
with bare legs and feet must have had a bad

In this way we made rapid progress all
the afternoon, until our watches told us it was
past five o'clock, the usual hour for striking
work, when we retraced our steps to the huts,
and a great bell was rung, suspended from two
trees directly in front of our verandah, as the
signal for the coolies to cease work all over
the estate.

Presently they came trooping in, men,
women, and children, in long lines from various
points of the estate, with their tools across their
shoulders, and their thin brown forms wrapped
close in cumblies or the native shawls of the
district ; and as they arrived took up a position
two deep on a patch of cleared ground just
below the bungalow. Here they formed a
great hollow square, and after allowing time

for stragglers to come in, R put a great

day-book under his arm and marched into their
midst, like the recording angel, to set down the
day's work before the darkness fell. He pro-



ceeded to call over names, and each one who
had been working all day was expected to
answer " Here ! " and, after depositing the tools
he had been using, would be free to depart to
the lines. The appellatives, Tamil, Canarese,
Hindustani, and Malayalim, all mixed up and
following each other in rapid succession, were
wonderfully puzzling to pronounce, and I felt
misgivings as to my success when this duty
devolved upon my shoulders. R - seemed
perfectly at home amongst these outlandish
designations, and rattled them off in a rapid
manner, " Here ! " " Here ! " " Here ! " follow-
ing in rapid succession, and the circle getting
thinner and thinner every moment. As each
name in the book was called and answered to,
a pencil mark was put down opposite it in
another column, if the man or woman had
worked a whole day ; and by adding these up
at the end of the week we could tell exactly
how much was due to each person. Occasion-
ally, however, the superintendent, who seemed
to know every coolie on the place by sight,
came to one who had been lazy during the day,
and either refused to put him down at all,
thereby depriving him of a day's pay, or only


entered him as having done six hours' work.
Against this decision of the Englishman there
was, of course, no appeal ; so the responsibility
was considerable, and all depended on the
justice and accurate remembrance of the sahib.
In one or two cases of poor creatures who got
nothing, I fancied their fault was more owing
to inability to toil than simply idleness ; but
it is always very hard to tell, and they must be
kept up to the mark somehow or they would do
no work. One or two of these latter hung
about until roll call was over, and then tried
hard to move the decision of the superin-
tendent, or get him to put them down for at
least half a day, saying that in an unfortunate
moment they had laid aside their mamooty or
axe, and just then the sahib, " whose generosity
was boundless," had come up and fancied they
had done nothing all day. But in most of
these cases our generosity was limited by the
stern necessity of making an example of some
one occasionally, and the coolies had to go
away without attaining their ends.

By this time the sun was going down, and its
beams, which before had been so powerful, now
came wandering through the forest, and tinged


all the tree trunks rosy red, throwing a strange,
unnatural glow on everything. But the day's
work was not yet done, for we had to count
a couple of hundred dirty axes and tools, and
lay aside those that needed repairing, after-
wards locking up the storehouse which made
one side of the square in which the coolies had
mustered ; and then returning to the bungalow
to find half a dozen coolies squatting on their
heels in the verandah. These were " medicine
coolies," i.e. had come up to be doctored by
E, , and in this very unpleasant work
I assisted him. Half their maladies were
directly due to want of cleanliness, and the
remainder were owing to bad food or none at

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Online LibraryEdwin Lester Linden ArnoldOn the Indian hills : or, Coffee-planting in southern India (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 20)