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Chapter 43

Hunger is the handmaid of genius
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

One day during our stay in Bombay there was a criminal trial of a most
interesting sort, a terribly realistic chapter out of the "Arabian
Nights," a strange mixture of simplicities and pieties and murderous
practicalities, which brought back the forgotten days of Thuggee and made
them live again; in fact, even made them believable. It was a case where
a young girl had been assassinated for the sake of her trifling
ornaments, things not worth a laborer's day's wages in America. This
thing could have been done in many other countries, but hardly with the
cold business-like depravity, absence of fear, absence of caution,
destitution of the sense of horror, repentance, remorse, exhibited in
this case. Elsewhere the murderer would have done his crime secretly, by
night, and without witnesses; his fears would have allowed him no peace
while the dead body was in his neighborhood; he would not have rested
until he had gotten it safe out of the way and hidden as effectually as
he could hide it. But this Indian murderer does his deed in the full
light of day, cares nothing for the society of witnesses, is in no way
incommoded by the presence of the corpse, takes his own time about
disposing of it, and the whole party are so indifferent, so phlegmatic,
that they take their regular sleep as if nothing was happening and no
halters hanging over them; and these five bland people close the episode
with a religious service. The thing reads like a Meadows-Taylor Thug-tale
of half a century ago, as may be seen by the official report of the
trial:

"At the Mazagon Police Court yesterday, Superintendent Nolan again
charged Tookaram Suntoo Savat Baya, woman, her daughter Krishni, and
Gopal Yithoo Bhanayker, before Mr. Phiroze Hoshang Dastur, Fourth
Presidency Magistrate, under sections 302 and 109 of the Code, with
having on the night of the 30th of December last murdered a Hindoo
girl named Cassi, aged 12, by strangulation, in the room of a chawl
at Jakaria Bunder, on the Sewriroad, and also with aiding and
abetting each other in the commission of the offense.

"Mr. F. A. Little, Public Prosecutor, conducted the case on behalf
of the Crown, the accused being undefended.

"Mr. Little applied under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure
Code to tender pardon to one of the accused, Krishni, woman, aged
22, on her undertaking to make a true and full statement of facts
under which the deceased girl Cassi was murdered.

"The Magistrate having granted the Public Prosecutor's application,
the accused Krishni went into the witness-box, and, on being
examined by Mr. Little, made the following confession:--I am a
mill-hand employed at the Jubilee Mill. I recollect the day
(Tuesday); on which the body of the deceased Cassi was found.
Previous to that I attended the mill for half a day, and then
returned home at 3 in the afternoon, when I saw five persons in the
house, viz.: the first accused Tookaram, who is my paramour, my
mother, the second accused Baya, the accused Gopal, and two guests
named Ramji Daji and Annaji Gungaram. Tookaram rented the room of
the chawl situated at Jakaria Bunder-road from its owner,
Girdharilal Radhakishan, and in that room I, my paramour, Tookaram,
and his younger brother, Yesso Mahadhoo, live. Since his arrival in
Bombay from his native country Yesso came and lived with us. When I
returned from the mill on the afternoon of that day, I saw the two
guests seated on a cot in the veranda, and a few minutes after the
accused Gopal came and took his seat by their side, while I and my
mother were seated inside the room. Tookaram, who had gone out to
fetch some 'pan' and betelnuts, on his return home had brought the
two guests with him. After returning home he gave them 'pan
supari'. While they were eating it my mother came out of the room
and inquired of one of the guests, Ramji, what had happened to his
foot, when he replied that he had tried many remedies, but they had
done him no good. My mother then took some rice in her hand and
prophesied that the disease which Ramji was suffering from would not
be cured until he returned to his native country. In the meantime
the deceased Casi came from the direction of an out-house, and stood
in front on the threshold of our room with a 'lota' in her hand.
Tookaram then told his two guests to leave the room, and they then
went up the steps towards the quarry. After the guests had gone
away, Tookaram seized the deceased, who had come into the room, and
he afterwards put a waistband around her, and tied her to a post
which supports a loft. After doing this, he pressed the girl's
throat, and, having tied her mouth with the 'dhotur' (now shown in
Court), fastened it to the post. Having killed the girl, Tookaram
removed her gold head ornament and a gold 'putlee', and also took
charge of her 'lota'. Besides these two ornaments Cassi had on her
person ear-studs a nose-ring, some silver toe-rings, two necklaces,
a pair of silver anklets and bracelets. Tookaram afterwards tried
to remove the silver amulets, the ear-studs, and the nose-ring; but
he failed in his attempt. While he was doing so, I, my mother, and
Gopal were present. After removing the two gold ornaments, he
handed them over to Gopal, who was at the time standing near me.
When he killed Cassi, Tookaram threatened to strangle me also if I
informed any one of this. Gopal and myself were then standing at
the door of our room, and we both were threatened by Tookaram. My
mother, Baya, had seized the legs of the deceased at the time she
was killed, and whilst she was being tied to the post. Cassi then
made a noise. Tookaram and my mother took part in killing the girl.
After the murder her body was wrapped up in a mattress and kept on
the loft over the door of our room. When Cassi was strangled, the
door of the room was fastened from the inside by Tookaram. This
deed was committed shortly after my return home from work in the
mill. Tookaram put the body of the deceased in the mattress, and,
after it was left on the loft, he went to have his head shaved by a
barber named Sambhoo Raghoo, who lives only one door away from me.
My mother and myself then remained in the possession of the
information. I was slapped and threatened by my paramour, Tookaram,
and that was the only reason why I did not inform any one at that
time. When I told Tookaram that I would give information of the
occurrence, he slapped me. The accused Gopal was asked by Tookaram
to go back to his room, and he did so, taking away with him the two
gold ornaments and the 'lota'. Yesso Mahadhoo, a brother-in-law of
Tookaram, came to the house and asked Taokaram why he was washing,
the water-pipe being just opposite. Tookaram replied that he was
washing his dhotur, as a fowl had polluted it. About 6 o'clock of
the evening of that day my mother gave me three pice and asked me to
buy a cocoanut, and I gave the money to Yessoo, who went and fetched
a cocoanut and some betel leaves. When Yessoo and others were in
the room I was bathing, and, after I finished my bath, my mother
took the cocoanut and the betel leaves from Yessoo, and we five went
to the sea. The party consisted of Tookaram, my mother, Yessoo,
Tookaram's younger brother, and myself. On reaching the seashore,
my mother made the offering to the sea, and prayed to be pardoned
for what we had done. Before we went to the sea, some one came to
inquire after the girl Cassi. The police and other people came to
make these inquiries both before and after we left the house for the
seashore. The police questioned my mother about the girl, and she
replied that Cassi had come to her door, but had left. The next day
the police questioned Tookaram, and he, too, gave a similar reply.
This was said the same night when the search was made for the girl.
After the offering was made to the sea, we partook of the cocoanut
and returned home, when my mother gave me some food; but Tookaram
did not partake of any food that night. After dinner I and my
mother slept inside the room, and Tookaram slept on a cot near his
brother-in-law, Yessoo Mahadhoo, just outside the door. That was
not the usual place where Tookaram slept. He usually slept inside
the room. The body of the deceased remained on the loft when I went
to sleep. The room in which we slept was locked, and I heard that
my paramour, Tookaram, was restless outside. About 3 o'clock the
following morning Tookaram knocked at the door, when both myself and
my mother opened it. He then told me to go to the steps leading to
the quarry, and see if any one was about. Those steps lead to a
stable, through which we go to the quarry at the back of the
compound. When I got to the steps I saw no one there. Tookaram
asked me if any one was there, and I replied that I could see no one
about. He then took the body of the deceased from the loft, and
having wrapped it up in his saree, asked me to accompany him to the
steps of the quarry, and I did so. The 'saree' now produced here
was the same. Besides the 'saree', there was also a 'cholee' on the
body. He then carried the body in his arms, and went up the steps,
through the stable, and then to the right hand towards a Sahib's
bungalow, where Tookaram placed the body near a wall. All the time
I and my mother were with him. When the body was taken down, Yessoo
was lying on the cot. After depositing the body under the wall, we
all returned home, and soon after 5 a.m. the police again came and
took Tookaram away. About an hour after they returned and took me
and my mother away. We were questioned about it, when I made a
statement. Two hours later I was taken to the room, and I pointed
out this waistband, the 'dhotur', the mattress, and the wooden post
to Superintendent Nolan and Inspectors Roberts and Rashanali, in the
presence of my mother and Tookaram. Tookaram killed the girl Cassi
for her ornaments, which he wanted for the girl to whom he was
shortly going to be married. The body was found in the same place
where it was deposited by Tookaram."

The criminal side of the native has always been picturesque, always
readable. The Thuggee and one or two other particularly outrageous
features of it have been suppressed by the English, but there is enough
of it left to keep it darkly interesting. One finds evidence of these
survivals in the newspapers. Macaulay has a light-throwing passage upon
this matter in his great historical sketch of Warren Hastings, where he
is describing some effects which followed the temporary paralysis of
Hastings' powerful government brought about by Sir Philip Francis and his
party:

"The natives considered Hastings as a fallen man; and they acted
after their kind. Some of our readers may have seen, in India, a
cloud of crows pecking a sick vulture to death--no bad type of what
happens in that country as often as fortune deserts one who has been
great and dreaded. In an instant all the sycophants, who had lately
been ready to lie for him, to forge for him, to pander for him, to
poison for him, hasten to purchase the favor of his victorious
enemies by accusing him. An Indian government has only to let it be
understood that it wishes a particular man to be ruined, and in
twenty-four hours it will be furnished with grave charges, supported
by depositions so full and circumstantial that any person
unaccustomed to Asiatic mendacity would regard them as decisive. It
is well if the signature of the destined victim is not counterfeited
at the foot of some illegal compact, and if some treasonable paper
is not slipped into a hiding-place in his house."

That was nearly a century and a quarter ago. An article in one of the
chief journals of India (the Pioneer) shows that in some respects the
native of to-day is just what his ancestor was then. Here are niceties
of so subtle and delicate a sort that they lift their breed of rascality
to a place among the fine arts, and almost entitle it to respect:

"The records of the Indian courts might certainly be relied upon to
prove that swindlers as a class in the East come very close to, if
they do not surpass, in brilliancy of execution and originality of
design the most expert of their fraternity in Europe and America.
India in especial is the home of forgery. There are some particular
districts which are noted as marts for the finest specimens of the
forger's handiwork. The business is carried on by firms who possess
stores of stamped papers to suit every emergency. They habitually
lay in a store of fresh stamped papers every year, and some of the
older and more thriving houses can supply documents for the past
forty years, bearing the proper water-mark and possessing the
genuine appearance of age. Other districts have earned notoriety
for skilled perjury, a pre-eminence that excites a respectful
admiration when one thinks of the universal prevalence of the art,
and persons desirous of succeeding in false suits are ready to pay
handsomely to avail themselves of the services of these local
experts as witnesses."

Various instances illustrative of the methods of these swindlers are
given. They exhibit deep cunning and total depravity on the part of the
swindler and his pals, and more obtuseness on the part of the victim than
one would expect to find in a country where suspicion of your neighbor
must surely be one of the earliest things learned. The favorite subject
is the young fool who has just come into a fortune and is trying to see
how poor a use he can put it to. I will quote one example:

"Sometimes another form of confidence trick is adopted, which is
invariably successful. The particular pigeon is spotted, and, his
acquaintance having been made, he is encouraged in every form of
vice. When the friendship is thoroughly established, the swindler
remarks to the young man that he has a brother who has asked him to
lend him Rs.10,000. The swindler says he has the money and would
lend it; but, as the borrower is his brother, he cannot charge
interest. So he proposes that he should hand the dupe the money,
and the latter should lend it to the swindler's brother, exacting a
heavy pre-payment of interest which, it is pointed out, they may
equally enjoy in dissipation. The dupe sees no objection, and on
the appointed day receives Rs.7,000 from the swindler, which he
hands over to the confederate. The latter is profuse in his thanks,
and executes a promissory note for Rs.10,000, payable to bearer.
The swindler allows the scheme to remain quiescent for a time, and
then suggests that, as the money has not been repaid and as it would
be unpleasant to sue his brother, it would be better to sell the
note in the bazaar. The dupe hands the note over, for the money he
advanced was not his, and, on being informed that it would be
necessary to have his signature on the back so as to render the
security negotiable, he signs without any hesitation. The swindler
passes it on to confederates, and the latter employ a respectable
firm of solicitors to ask the dupe if his signature is genuine. He
admits it at once, and his fate is sealed. A suit is filed by a
confederate against the dupe, two accomplices being made
co-defendants. They admit their Signatures as indorsers, and the
one swears he bought the note for value from the dupe. The latter
has no defense, for no court would believe the apparently idle
explanation of the manner in which he came to endorse the note."

There is only one India! It is the only country that has a monopoly of
grand and imposing specialties. When another country has a remarkable
thing, it cannot have it all to itself--some other country has a
duplicate. But India--that is different. Its marvels are its own; the
patents cannot be infringed; imitations are not possible. And think of
the size of them, the majesty of them, the weird and outlandish character
of the most of them!

There is the Plague, the Black Death: India invented it; India is the
cradle of that mighty birth.

The Car of Juggernaut was India's invention.

So was the Suttee; and within the time of men still living eight hundred
widows willingly, and, in fact, rejoicingly, burned themselves to death
on the bodies of their dead husbands in a single year. Eight hundred
would do it this year if the British government would let them.

Famine is India's specialty. Elsewhere famines are inconsequential
incidents--in India they are devastating cataclysms; in one case they
annihilate hundreds; in the other, millions.

India had 2,000,000 gods, and worships them all. In religion all other
countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.

With her everything is on a giant scale--even her poverty; no other
country can show anything to compare with it. And she has been used to
wealth on so vast a scale that she has to shorten to single words the
expressions describing great sums. She describes 100,000 with one word
--a 'lahk'; she describes ten millions with one word--a 'crore'.

In the bowels of the granite mountains she has patiently carved out
dozens of vast temples, and made them glorious with sculptured colonnades
and stately groups of statuary, and has adorned the eternal walls with
noble paintings. She has built fortresses of such magnitude that the
show-strongholds of the rest of the world are but modest little things by
comparison; palaces that are wonders for rarity of materials, delicacy
and beauty of workmanship, and for cost; and one tomb which men go around
the globe to see. It takes eighty nations, speaking eighty languages, to
people her, and they number three hundred millions.

On top of all this she is the mother and home of that wonder of wonders
caste--and of that mystery of mysteries, the satanic brotherhood of the
Thugs.

India had the start of the whole world in the beginning of things. She
had the first civilization; she had the first accumulation of material
wealth; she was populous with deep thinkers and subtle intellects; she
had mines, and woods, and a fruitful soil. It would seem as if she
should have kept the lead, and should be to-day not the meek dependent of
an alien master, but mistress of the world, and delivering law and
command to every tribe and nation in it. But, in truth, there was never
any possibility of such supremacy for her. If there had been but one
India and one language--but there were eighty of them! Where there are
eighty nations and several hundred governments, fighting and quarreling
must be the common business of life; unity of purpose and policy are
impossible; out of such elements supremacy in the world cannot come.
Even caste itself could have had the defeating effect of a multiplicity
of tongues, no doubt; for it separates a people into layers, and layers,
and still other layers, that have no community of feeling with each
other; and in such a condition of things as that, patriotism can have no
healthy growth.

It was the division of the country into so many States and nations that
made Thuggee possible and prosperous. It is difficult to realize the
situation. But perhaps one may approximate it by imagining the States of
our Union peopled by separate nations, speaking separate languages, with
guards and custom-houses strung along all frontiers, plenty of
interruptions for travelers and traders, interpreters able to handle all
the languages very rare or non-existent, and a few wars always going on
here and there and yonder as a further embarrassment to commerce and
excursioning. It would make intercommunication in a measure ungeneral.
India had eighty languages, and more custom-houses than cats. No clever
man with the instinct of a highway robber could fail to notice what a
chance for business was here offered. India was full of clever men with
the highwayman instinct, and so, quite naturally, the brotherhood of the
Thugs came into being to meet the long-felt want.

How long ago that was nobody knows-centuries, it is supposed. One of the
chiefest wonders connected with it was the success with which it kept its
secret. The English trader did business in India two hundred years and
more before he ever heard of it; and yet it was assassinating its
thousands all around him every year, the whole time.


Mark Twain