Letters as faithful sketches of the Manners, Customs, and Habits of a people but little known to the European reader. They were at first designed merely for the perusal of private friends; who, viewing them with interest, recommended my bringing them before the public, considering that the information they contained would be acceptable from its originality, as presenting a more familiar view of the opinions and the domestic habits of the Mussulmaun community of Hindoostaun than any hitherto presented through other channels.
I have found (and I believe many will coincide with me in the opinion) that it is far easier to think with propriety than to write our thoughts with perspicuity and correctness; but when the object in view is one which conscience dictates, the humblest effort of a female pen advances with courage; and thus influenced, I venture to present my work to the public, respectfully trusting they will extend their usual indulgence to a first attempt, from the pen of a very humble scribe, more solicitous for approbation than applause.
The orthography of Asiatic words may differ in some instances in my pages from those of other writers—this, however, is from error, not design, and may be justly attributed to my own faulty pronunciation.
I have inserted in these Letters many anecdotes and fables, which at the first view, may be considered as mere nursery tales. My object, however, will I trust plead my excuse: they are introduced in order to illustrate the people whom I have undertaken to describe; and, primarily strengthened by the moral tendency of each anecdote or fable selected for my pages, I cannot but consider them as well suited to the purpose.
Without farther apology, but with very great deference, I leave these imperfect attempts to the liberality of my readers, acknowledging with gratitude the condescending patronage I have been honoured with, and sincerely desiring wherever anticipations of amusement or information from my observations have been formed, that the following pages may fulfil those expectations, and thus gratify my wish to be in the smallest degree useful in my generation.
[B. MEER HASSAN ALI]
Introductory Remarks.—The characteristic simplicity of manners exhibited in Native families.—Their munificent charity.—The Syaads.—Their descent, and the veneration paid to them.—Their pride of birth.—Fast of Mahurrum.—Its origin.—The Sheahs and Soonies.—Memorandum of distances.—Mount Judee (Judea), the attributed burying-place of Adam and Noah.—Mausoleum of Ali.—The tomb of Eve.—Meer Hadjee Shaah.
I have promised to give you, my friends, occasional sketches of men and manners, comprising the society of the Mussulmauns in India. Aware of the difficulty of my task, I must entreat your kind indulgence to the weaknesses of a female pen, thus exercised for your amusement, during my twelve years' domicile in their immediate society.
Every one who sojourns in India for any lengthened period, will, I believe, agree with me, that in order to promote health of body, the mind must be employed in active pursuits. The constitutionally idle persons, of either sex, amongst Europeans, are invariably most subject to feel distressed by the prevailing annoyances of an Indian climate: from a listless life results discontent, apathy, and often disease. I have found, by experience, the salutary effects of employing time, as regards, generally, healthiness of body and of mind. The hours devoted to this occupation (tracing remarks for the perusal of far distant friends) have passed by without a murmur or a sigh, at the height of the thermometer, or the length of a day during the season of hot winds, or of that humid heat which prevails throughout the periodical rains. Time flies quickly with useful employment in all places; in this exhausting climate every one has to seek amusement in their own resources, from sunrise to sunset, during which period there is no moving from home for, at least, eight months out of the twelve. I have not found any occupation so pleasant as talking to my friends, on paper, upon such subjects as may admit of the transfer for their acceptance—and may I not hope, for their gratification also?
The patriarchal manners are so often pictured to me, in many of the every-day occurrences exhibited in the several families I have been most acquainted with in India, that I seem to have gone back to that ancient period with my new-sought home and new friends. Here I find the master and mistress of a family receiving the utmost veneration from their slaves and domestics, whilst the latter are permitted to converse and give their opinions with a freedom (always respectful), that at the first view would lead a stranger to imagine there could be no great inequality of station between the persons conversing. The undeviating kindness to aged servants, no longer capable of rendering their accustomed services; the remarkable attention paid to the convenience and comfort of poor relatives, even to the most remote in consanguinity; the beamings of universal charity; the tenderness of parents; and the implicit obedience of children, are a few of those amiable traits of character from whence my allusions are drawn, and I will add, by which my respect has been commanded. In their reverential homage towards parents, and in affectionate solicitude for the happiness of those venerated authors of their existence, I consider them the most praiseworthy people existing.
On the spirit of philanthropy exhibited in their general charity, I may here remark, that they possess an injunction from their Lawgiver, 'to be universally charitable'. This command is reverenced and obeyed by all who are his faithful followers. They are persuaded that almsgiving propitiates the favour of Heaven, consequently this belief is the inducing medium for clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, supporting the weak, consoling the afflicted, protecting the fatherless, sheltering the houseless traveller, and rendering the ear and the heart alive to the distresses of the poor in all situations. A good Mussulmaun never allows the voice to pass unheeded where the suppliant applies, 'In the name of God', or 'For the love of God'.
I have often been obliged to hear the Mussulmauns accused of an ostentatious display of their frequent acts of charity. It may be so in some instances; human nature has failings common to all complexions. Pride may sometimes open the purse of the affluent to the poor man's petition; but when the needy benefit by the rich, it is unjust to scrutinize the heart's motive, where the act itself alleviates the present sufferings of a fellow-creature.
Imposition is doubtless often practised with success by the indolent, who excite the good feelings of the wealthy by a tale of woe; the sin rests with him who begs unworthily, not with him who relieves the supposed distresses of his poorer neighbour. The very best of human beings will acknowledge they derive benefits from the bounty of their Maker, not because they are deserving, but that 'He is merciful'.
I shall have occasion to detail in my Letters some of the Mussulmaun observances, festivals, &c., which cannot be accomplished without feeding the poor; and, in justice to their general character, be it acknowledged, their liberality is not confined to those stated periods.
The Syaads (Meers) are descendants from Mahumud, the acknowledged Prophet and Lawgiver of the Mussulmauns; and, as might be expected, are peculiar objects of respect and favour amongst the true believers (as those who hold their faith are designated). 'The poor Syaad's family' are the first to be considered when the rich have