Impressions of India (1908)

"Impressions of India", by Sir H. Craik, Macmillan, London, 1908.

Made available by the Internet Archive.
Source: Library of the University of California, Los Angeles Selected and edited with comments by R Sivaramakrishnan. November 16, 2008.

Written just a year after W. Crane's "India Impressions", dealt with in my previous posting, this book too is eminently readable, but in marked contrast to the other in both style and outlook. The following extracts deal with the British M.P.'s experiences on the railways in India, mostly in the Northwest.

p. 16:

"......But the railway stations, with their extravagant decoration, their air of exaggerated splendour, and, above all, their inharmonious imitation of the Eastern style, strike one only as inept and misplaced. One wonders what the educated native must think of these caricatures of Indian palaces, built at lavish expense, to house the noise and bustle and confusion and discomfort of an Indian terminus. No stranger can be confident in criticism; but the thought inevitably obtrudes itself whether some of the millions of rupees spent upon the Victoria terminus might not have been better applied to increase the

p. 17:

comforts of the traveller on the G. I. P. Railway.

Because the traveller must be warned that he has not overcome the troubles of a trip to India when he has completed the 6000 miles of the outward voyage, with all its elaborate organisation and contrivances for comfort. He has still to face the railway journey on the G.I. P., and his experience there will not soon be forgotten. Crowded and ill - constructed carriages, the absence of corridors, inattentive and indifferent attendants, and a total lack of all the amenities which elsewhere have made us perhaps too fastidious these make the 1300 miles to Lahore a dolorous and toilsome journey. Government railway management has no doubt its own advantages; but an experience of the G.I. P. makes it not surprising that Indian travellers view with misgiving the future extension of Government control, and gives those of us who come from home reason to doubt its advantages if applied there. But, at least, a Government railway should have a fair start in modern rolling stock. In this respect the G.I. P. is thirty years behind Rhodesia, and twenty years

p. 18:

behind the Sudan. Nor are its hardships compensated by any large measure of security. I have been six days in India, and in that time there have been three serious accidents between Bombay and Lahore. My experience may, no doubt, have been unfortunate, and one must not generalise too quickly, I shall live in hope of better things elsewhere in India.

Forty-two hours of railway travelling, with such scant appliances, and with trying extremes of heat and cold, make one glad to glide at last into the ease and quiet of the residential quarter at Lahore. I had heard much of its plague of dust; I can only say that I have been able to bear with equanimity elsewhere much more overpowering visitations of that kind than I have yet experienced at Lahore, even after an abnormally dry season. In its quiet vistas of green foliage, in its cool and shady gardens, in its long avenues of rides and drives, one finds a perfect centre to gain a passing and perhaps only a superficial view of the realities of Indian life."

p. 41:

"The move northwards to Rawal Pindi from Lahore means another venture on what may be a trying ordeal - a journey on an Indian railway. So far - with all possible desire to avoid reckless criticism - I am bound to say that my experience has not been good. The responsible management is no doubt excellent; but letters which would receive a reply by return of post from any railway company at home, get into the hands of some native or Eurasian sub-official, and you are lucky if you get an answer in a week. At the stations the comfort of passengers is a negligible quantity. A train may start at its advertised time; but if some mails do not happen to

p. 42:

have arrived, it is not impossible that it may wait for two or three hours, and dawdle along the journey, so that you arrive at your destination some four hours after time, in a six hours' run. High officials may be treated with a consideration denied to the ordinary traveller; if not, they must have a store of patience which is beyond praise. The native fares immeasurably worse. Government may issue edifying ukases on the considerate treatment of the native, but such exhortations have something of an air of hypocrisy when one sees how native third-class passengers are treated on Government lines. I may be told that the native likes to be crowded and jostled. I shall believe as soon that the eels like to be skinned. Frankly, I have seen scenes in crowded trains in India of which I think it would be well that the Government should be spared the discredit. I speak now in the interests of the native, not of the European traveller.

But even an Indian railway journey must have an end, and we are now approaching Rawal Pindi, and are rising into the hills. It is an extraordinary country through which

p. 43:

we are passing. It is nothing but a series of gigantic sandhills, now dry and parched, but broken by rainstorms into a myriad of ravines, and crumbling into fragments in every direction. There are few signs of habitations, and nothing which, to the ordinary eye, seems likely to afford sustenance to a living creature, and one wonders where the scanty flocks of goats obtain a livelihood. Dry nullahs twist and intertwine on every side, and a more difficult or uninviting country to any advancing host it is difficult to conceive. Presently the rocks seem to become more solid; we pass through a few short tunnels, and emerge into more level country, parched and dry indeed, but with something of occasional greenness, and levelled into a plain that affords more extended views. Such is the approach to Rawal Pindi. We have left the Sikh behind, and are now amongst a more varied type. The Pathan blood is apparent, and every now and then the eye is arrested by the mountain breed......."

p. 47:

" ...... From Rawal Pindi we move on to Peshawar by a train which has the rare merit of keeping to its time, but does so by giving itself an ample latitude - seven hours for about a hundred miles. Arrival late at night at Peshawar would have its inconveniences, and the authorities prefer to receive a new trainful otherwise than in the obscurity of darkness. The line passes through a country that is barren enough under the present drought, and the barrenness is all the sadder because almost every scrap of land shows signs of the wasted labour of the plough. The spurs of the Himalayas begin to push themselves nearer, and about six miles off we see the point where the Black Mountain expedition penetrated into the hills in 1888. Our travelling companions are men who in

p. 48:

various ways are engaged in no business of their own, but whose work, either for a time or permanently, is the slow and grinding one, how to govern these rough tribes, and " by slow degrees subdue them to the useful and the good. ...... "

p. 49:

"...... We pass for a large part of our journey alongside the apparently endless Grand Trunk Road, which runs direct from Calcutta to Peshawar. It preserves along all its length the same stately appearance, with its wide and liberal tracks for wheeled traffic, and for the flocks and herds and strings of camels that pass in constant succession beneath the shade of its broad avenues of trees. It impresses one more than even the railways with the steadfast pertinacity of administrative energy, and recalls more than anything else some of Napoleon's great military roads. Travellers along its endless stretches must move slowly indeed, but with less of discomfort than sometimes attends those who are carried by the Indian railways. I speak not without experience of both. At Attock we come to the junction of the Cabul and the Indus. There are broad beds for these rivers and their tributaries; but now the bridges most often pass over dry nullahs or a few feet of dwindling water.

p. 50:

We pass one cantonment after another, stretching with low barrack buildings at intervals over the arid tracts, and buried beneath a low -lying haze of dust, glistening in the setting sun. These form the cantonment of Nowshera. As we approach Peshawar the country becomes more green. Irrigation is there far more complete than at Rawal Pindi or even at Lahore, where the canals are only filled at intervals, and where you pass on one morning a broad and brimful canal to find a week later its waters diverted elsewhere, and in their place a channel several feet deep, and as dry as the desert. At Peshawar irrigation is constant and abundant, and to this is due its restful expanses of shady avenues, its well -watered roads, its deep recesses of bungalow compounds, with their wealth of flowers. Because, without doubt, Peshawar is the fairest town that I have yet seen in India. It stands by itself. "Peshawar," remarked a high official to me, "is not India; it is Central Asia." Here we are fairly in the Frontier Province, which has a character all its own, marked at every turn by the new aspect which our rule

p. 51:

assumes, by the wild figures that meet us, by the self-evident proximity of the independent tribes, whose centuries of fighting have driven themselves into the fibre of their being. Hindu intrigue may work its wily way here, but were our rule absent this would be no land for the Hindu Babu. Mussulman fanaticism is only slumbering, and, once uncurbed, it would soon plunge its fangs deep into the throats of all who did not own its sway and did not draw their lineage from these independent tribes. ......"

Chapters X and XI deal with the then prevailing conditions of the Anglo-Indians and their interactions with the 'natives'.

The original source material used on this page is believed to be out of copyright, and/or these extracts are believed to be fall within the scope of fair use under copyright law. Material selection and editing by R Sivaramakrishnan, 2008.