INDIA REVISITED : XI. THE NORTH
By F. YEATS-BROWN [This is the eleventh article in the series which Mr. Yeats-Brown has been commissioned by " The Spectator " to write on contemporary India. The twelfth and final article, which will appear next week, is entitled" Final Impressions," and sums up the author's reflections on his journey through India.] Mrs. Shrimati Lekhwati, a high-caste Jain lady, answered him in an incisive and rather strident voice. She was very sure of herself. Every now and then she adjusted her red and gold sari about her head, but otherwise her gestures were few. She never paused for a word or metaphor, and hammered home her points by banging the desk. Six unveiled ladies sat in the spectators' gallery. When Mrs. Lekhwati sat down there was applause from all sides of the House. Twenty years ago anyone who had prophesied this scene would have been thought mad.
Leaving these cheerful legislators, I drove out past the Museum and Kim's gun, to the Cantonment, five miles away, where Mr. H. W. Hogg has established the Head- quarters of the fifty thousand Boy Scouts of the Punjab. About forty thousand of them are village boys, and more than four thousand of them are Rovers, over 18 years old, who are already exercising a good influence on the countryside, under the vivid supervision of Mr. F. L. Brayne.
Three years ago the Presbyterian minister of Martinpur, a Christian village near Lahore, started a friendly competi- tion in tidiness with another Christian village in the neighbourhood. They enlisted the help of Scouts, and between then they carried away from their homes and streets over a thousand cart-loads of rubbish. This year sixty-five villages, Sikh, Moslem, Hindu and Christian, took part in the same competition. The peasant proprietors of the Punjab are setting their houses in order in right earnest. One has a feeling that whatever may happen in the rest of India the Punjab will prosper under the Reforms, provided, of course, that there is a truce among the hot-heads of the Moslem and Sikh factions. Fortunately, there are signs that the leaders of both communities are exercising a good influence on their followers. But how long this will last it is impossible to say : the summer heat frays tempers. Although Punjabis are no plaster saints—they commit ten times more murders per annum, per head of popula- tion, than the English do—they are angels compared to the Pathans, who are eight times worse than they are. One out of every thirty Pathan adults comes to a violent end.
Even the best friends of these . charming people, who are perhaps the best conversationalists and story-tellers in the world, cannot deny that they have an unfortunate habit of settling some quite minor difficulty with lethal weapons. We hear of killings and kidnappings in the United States, but in North India kidnapping has been in vogue for centuries, and to carry on a blood feud is an hereditary duty. On the other hand, Pathans give an unflinching loyalty to those whom they trust. Many of them are employed as guardians of banks and business premises throughout India.
It was curious to think, as I walked through Peshawar City with Naim Shah, friend of days when we were both young, of how many murderers and their victims must have passed through Kissa Kahani since we two had been there last, twenty years ago ; and how many were in the city at that moment, unknown to us, or even to themselves ! We saw the pottery factory, the wax-cloth workers, the coppersmith's bazaar, and the crowds, the fascinating crowds where Central Asia meets Central India, where Bokhari and Madrassi, city boy and Buddhist priest, merchant and hemp-smoker, story-tellers and spies, soldiers on leave, peasants shopping, visiting Afghans, meet and mingle, chaffer and stare at the well- stocked shops. There is no place in the world quite like Peshawar, yet its bazaars are not as good as those of Istanbul or Damascus or Baghdad, and there is not a single distinguished building. But looking out from the Ghor Kkatri, over the huddled roofs of the city, I realised why men love this North-West. It is not for its gorgeous spring and autumn climate, nor because the land can be turned from a desert into a garden, not for its circle of grand gaunt mountains, with their subtle shades of green and blue, nor even because the Pathan is more English than other Indians. (He is not, really : he is Semitic.) It is because this is a real frontier : because you are at the top of a teeming peninsula and at the mouth of the main pass to Kabul, Samarkand and Khiva. You feel that you are at the edge of big possibilities.
Scarcely a week ago I had been listening to a debate in the Legislative Assembly at Delhi, when a speaker had said that the threat of violence on the Frontier was "all moonshine, a ramp to justify an Army whose real purpose was to serve British Imperialist interests." Mr. Satyamurti, the eloquent Congressman from Madras, blamed the Government for " showing no guts in the interests of Indians overseas," and almost in the same breath suggested that military expenditure should be reduced by fifty per cent. in the course of the next five years. Mr. Bulabhai Desai, the Congress leader, looking like Warren Hastings, sat nodding his fine head approv- ingly : he is a Bombay advocate who has given up a fortune to serve his party. Next him sat Pundit Pant, his tall deputy, wearing a Gandhi cap. Mr. Asaf Ali, the Congress whip, a brilliant and bitter Bengali Moslem, moved the closure of the debate, but the motion was disallowed by the President. (Dr. Khan Sahib, brother of Abdul Ghaffur Khan, the " frontier Gandhi," a clean- shaven, grey-haired Pathan in European clothes, with spectacles upon his rugged forehead, and kind old Maulana Shaukat Ali, in his flowing beard and robes, could have told the Assembly some home truths, but they refrained.) Elegant Mr. Jinnah, from Bombay, made his usual clever speech. Finally Sir N. N. Sircar, the Law Member, rose to reply for the Government. He casti- gated a previous speaker who had said that India bad no enemies. " Perhaps Alexander the Great came to investigate the caste system, and Mahmoud of Ghazni to contemplate South Indian temples and architecture ! " (Loud laughter.) A voice : " Be serious now ! " Yes, be serious : talks to us of the things we understand : the Frontier is a thousand miles away : reality is here, in this darkened room, under whirling fans, where we legislate for the voiceless multitudes of India. Hirrrah !
Congress has refused supplies to the Army by 68 votes to 62. The Viceroy must certify another Bill. Surely the world will take note of our triumph ?
" What the politicians want," a Pathan told me, " is bayonets in Peshawar, and dhoties in Delhi."* He went on to speak of the Pakistan plan. Pakistan means " land of the clean " : the idea is to unite all the Moslems of North India, from Kabul to Delhi, into one kingdom, worshipping one God, under the suzerainty of Great Britain. This idea has been discussed for a quarter of a century, and has lately come to the fore again, not, perhaps, as practical politics, but as an earnest of what might happen in certain circumstances.
Nowadays, however, the Pathan is determined to meet the babus on their own ground. He has discovered, or at any rate he has been induced to prove upon his children that education is of practical value in the struggle for existence. (Even the modern rifle-sight demands a literate manipulator.) Islamia College is three miles out of Peshawar, on the Jamrud road. Seventeen centuries ago, the site was occupied by Buddhist monks. Today their buildings and stupas stand in ruins, and the casket containing the ashes of Lord Buddha is in Peshawar Museum, where the Legis- lative Council sits; but a new centre of Islamic culture has arisen hard by. I lunched with Mr. R. L. Holdsworth, the famous mountaineer, who is Principal of Islamia, and he kindly asked six of the undergraduates to meet me.
One of them was President of the Khyber Union, the College Debating Society, another the son of an old friend, with faintly embarrassing reminiscences of my boyhood.
We walked and talked together far into the afternoon. 1 cannot exactly describe the difference between these lads and others I have met at other Universities, but it was roughly a certain je m'en fichisme about them, a manliness, an air of good fellowship and fortitude . . . It was the climate, I suppose, and the influence of the Frontier . . . Islamia is only six miles from the entrance to the Khyber. Peshawar is an armed camp surrounded by blockhouses and barbed wire, but there stands the College entirely without material defences—two hundred and fifty acres of playing-fields and halls and hostels— with the bloodthirsty tide of the Frontier lapping always round its boundaries. In twenty years no year has passed —and few months—without raids and alarms. The students have worked amidst the chatter of Lewis guns, the rumble of armoured cars, the glare of burning villages, yet never once has their alma mater been touched by the hand of war. " It is protected by an invisible wall, the wall of sentiment. The Khyber Afridis look upon it as their College, and hold it sacrosanct."
One of these days, I am sure the Frontier tribes will use Islamia as their base for new and better operations.
Pathans have the congenital ability to be the Scots of India : their brains have not been befogged by a too- ardent sun, nor their bodies sapped by hot humidity : given mental discipline, they will make intellectual and industrial raids into British India, benefiting both them- selves and the people of the lowlands. Romance need not come by camel caravan : it may, come down the Grand Trunk Road in cars, with typewriters and slide-rules. The founder of Islamia College was that great man Sir George Roos-Keppel ; and his colleague in the venture, and constant friend, Nawab Sahibzada Sir Abdul Quayyum Khan, is fortunately still living, and is at present the Minister for the North-West Frontier Province. He does not look a day older than he did when he examined • * Dhoties, a Hindu nether garment draped about the legs. My friend meant that the Frontier was to be guarded by •Pathans, while Hindus goyerned in Delhi. . me for the Higher Standard Pushtu nearly thirty years ago !
" It is the method rather than the principles of the `.frontier Gandhi' and his Servants of God which I hate and despise," he told me. " I want freedom for my country as much as anyone, but I know that it can only come• through the British. But if I thought otherwise, I Still would not recommend our boys to lie down before the threat of force. Fancy lying down in front of your soldiers I By teaching our youth such unmitigated nonsense Abdul Ghaffur Khan might have lowered the vitality and self-confidence of the Pathan. Luckily he didn't succeed. Well, he's paid the penalty. Let us hope that he will be a wiser man when he comes out of prison this summer. . . . The Reforms will work well enough here. We are accustomed to debate in this country. Our problem is to give employment to tribes who used to live by loot. At present smile of them are earning a good living by building roads* which will open up their country for them. We have started a marble quarry in the Mullaghori Hills near the Khyber, and already we have orders for £3,500 worth of marble. We are exploring other possibilities.. The radio ? Yes, it is doing excellent work. All round Peshawar the people flock in to listen."
I went out one evening to see this broadcasting for myself. The fruit trees were in bloom. Every bungalow in cantonments was gay with daffodils, sweet peas, antirrhinums, phlox, cannas. Beyond Islamia College we turned left and made a wide circle, west and south, visiting village after village, where sat groups of armed men, and boys, and greybeards, listening to this new invention installed by a benevolent and sometimes surprising Government. A famous nautch-girl of Peshawar was singing : presently there would be the news and fat stock prices. Already they were critical radio fans. In one place we heard the old complaint : " Too much talk : we want more light music." In another the time was wrong. " Six o'clock is too late to begin : our houses are scattered : how can our women go home in the dark ? " And again : " They have a programme lasting all day in England : why can't we have the same ? "
" I wish I could give them better programmes," said Mahomed Aslam Khan Khuttuck, the capable young publicity officer, " but I've no money to pay the artists. You can imagine, it isn't easy to provide even one hour's news and amusement. . . . Now the trans- border border tribes are wanting radio : we've had an application from Tirah, and we hope to put a set there."
" What about Russian propaganda ? "
" You known us, Sahib. Tashkent can talk all day and night : we can hold our own at that game with any people in the world."
Our last stop was Pabbi. One night last year a talk against murder was given by that popular and much- respected officer, Sir George Cunningham. The lads of Pabbi sat listening, with their rifles between their knees, profoundly impressed. But one of the audience was talkative, and inclined to argue. " How can you avoid killing if you have a blood-feud ? "—" Shut up I " said his neighbour.—" But if a man shoots my brother ? " —" You should call the police."—" Then my face would be, blackened."—" Nonsense, the Sahib says there is no reason why we should go on killing each other. It is against religion and common sense."—" But if a man shoots my brother ? . . Will you shut up ?
—" I won't "—" You will I " • • There was a sudden, loud explosion, and one listener the less to Sir George's good advice.
* They cost £3,000 a mile.