« PreviousContinue »
mental, and easily cultivated, they are frequently introduced, in India, into gardens and shrubberies, for their beauty alone. The expressed oil, which is very fluid in warm climates, is burnt in the lamps of the natives, producing a fine clear light, and not much smoke or smell.
Sauntering one evening in this district, I thought I would pay a visit to some of the bundarries, or toddy drawers, and inspect the process of collecting the palm-wine. Having tied my tattoo under a spreading tree by the road-side, I got over a low fence, and made my way into a vast tope, or plantation of palms ; being preceded by a small party of drawers, bearing upon their shoulders three or four large red burnt chatties to contain the toddy. The fierce sun was sinking low in the west, and shot its glorious rays under the leafy canopy above us, which was so close and thick as scarcely to permit us to see the least patch of sky overhead. The land breeze whispered through the forest as we walked along, noiselessly, over the withered accumulation of centuries of fallen leaves and bark, and surveyed the long aisles formed by the mighty monarchs of the Eastern vegetable world. There was a strange solitude about the place, broken in upon, occasionally, by some heavy bird that flapped down upon the crowned top of a palm, where it soon hid its head under its wing, and was at rest. We soon reached the scene of action; and casting my eyes up to the tops of the trees, I saw that each of them had a vessel tied under its leaves. To empty
these vessels of the exuded juice that had collected since the morning, was the purpose of my companion's present visit. One of the men squatted down on the ground, to fasten his kummerband securely about him, (for they can do nothing in India standing up,) and after taking off his turban, and twisting the lock of hair on the top of his head into a knot, and cracking all the joints of his fingers, he placed a strap around his own body, and the tree which he was about to ascend, and then threw it with much dexterity over the first step cut in the bark; and thus, by a series of movements, throwing the strap successively over each step above him, he was not long in reaching the chattie at the top; the height being some ninety or a hundred feet from the ground. Having first made a secure seat of the strap, he untied the cord that fastened the vessel to that part of the tree whence the bruised flower-stem, from which the juice flows, could hang into it; and tying a long coir rope round its rim, cautiously lowered it down, with its contents, to the bundarries below, to be emptied by them into one of the vessels which they had brought with them. This being done ; at a given signal he hauled it up again, and after probing the wound afresh with a knife, and securing the chattie once more in its place, he descended cautiously, and at a slower pace than that at which he went up. He appeared to be a little fatigued by his exertions, and gave the strap to another, who proceeded to collect the toddy from the next tree; and so they each ascended in their turn.
Some of the old palm-trees, that have been sixty or seventy years under the knife-operation, groan and bend fearfully, as the climbers approach the top; but they say there is no danger, as the south-west monsoon generally blows down all the palms which, in consequence of age, will not bear the weight of a man ; and I believe it is very rarely that an accident occurs. I was very anxious to taste some of the fresh-drawn toddy, but, from my poor knowledge of the language, had some difficulty in making my wishes understood. One of the elder men, however, as soon as he comprehended my signs, shook his head, saying, at the same time, “ Chattie na saib, chattie na saib;" and it struck me at once that I should defile the vessel if I drank out of it, and that he had no other to give me ; so I made a cup of my hand, and presented to him this ancient drinking-vessel, which he immediately filled with toddy, and repeated the draught until I was satisfied. The palm-wine is the same grateful beverage which, in India, they hawk through the streets for sale, every morning before sunrise ; for it is only fit to drink for an hour or two after being collected, fermentation rapidly taking place, and converting it into an intoxicating fluid, which, by distillation, yields the well-known spirit called arrack. As a return for the old man's kindness, I put into his hands an anna, with which he was wonderfully delighted-making me several profound salaams, and grinning after each bow, to evince the pleasure he felt.
In some districts, where the palm-trees are very
close together, they are connected together by ropes, so as to enable the toddy-drawers to go from one to another, without the trouble of descending. I have often felt nervous and dizzy in seeing the drawers ascend some of the towering cocoa-nut trees that stand alone in the Fort, or on Colabah, for it really appears to be a very dangerous exploit. But they are accustomed to it from childhood, and their bare and flexible feet have a safe hold in each of the little steps that are notched into the bark, every three or four feet from the bottom to the top. It was quite dusk before I was again seated on my tattoo ; and as it was the first time I had strayed so far from home in this direction, I had not proceeded half a mile on my way back, before I discovered that I had lost my way, and that instead of advancing, as I thought, down to the shore, I was cantering just in a contrary direction across the island. At last I halted opposite some huts by the roadside ; and turning the tattoo's nose into the open door-way of one, in which I saw a party sitting cooking round a fire, inquired the road to the esplanade, or Fort George, in the best Hindostanee I could muster; but I might as well have addressed them in Welch or German, for anything they could understand. The grown-up people stared at me as if I were a robber, and some children who were asleep in a corner, hearing the chattering, put their heads up above the rags that covered them, and seeing the pony's nose inside the door, burst out into immoderate fits of laughter, in which the little black wretches
persisted, until my patience being exhausted, I turned the pony out into the road, not knowing which way to turn. I threw the reins over old Deesa's neck, and giving him a pretty smart cut, left him to take me whithersoever he listed. He put his nose down to the ground, snorted once or twice, and then set off, as hard as he could go down a long lane, where the trees hung over so thick that I had to take my hat off, and hold my head down upon his shoulders to prevent its being knocked off, and even with these precautions I got well lashed by the branches before I found my going down a long street in the new town. Deesa did not slacken his pace until he turned a corner, and came to a full stop opposite a Portuguese spirit-store and dancing room, from whence proceeded the sounds of vile music and boisterous merriment; crowds were going in sober, and coming out mad and furious with strong drink. I had fortunately not to wait long in this polluted atmosphere, before I detected the face of a boy whom I knew, and who was the servant of a gentleman in the Fort. He told me I was three miles yet from home, and if I would not tell his master where I had seen him, he would get me a guide. I was so tired, that I would have made him any promise, however absurd. A chokra, or errandrunner, was soon procured, as well as a palanquin, and giving him the pony to follow after me, in about an hour and a half I found myself at home, and just in time to save from the trouble of setting out in search of me, two servants, who had kindly armed