The Blue Mutiny

Peary Chand Mitra's The Spoilt Child, Chapter 25

Ramakrishna Bhattacharya

The structure of Tek Chand Thakoor (Peary Chand Mittra)'s The Spoilt Child required both characters and events that are not always centrally linked to the protagonist and the chief characters but related only tangentially to them. Such characters and events not only help broaden the scope of the novel but also throw side lights on the time of the novel. These incidents make Alaler Gharer Dulal (translated by G D Oswell as The Spoilt Child) a work of realism. One such episode is to be found in chapter XXV which, among other things, provides a graphic portrayal of the oppression practised by the British indigo planters in Jessore, a district in East Bengal (now Bangladesh).They forced the ryots, subjects of other zemindars to grow indigo instead of paddy. Tek Chand's narration of the background, steadily from the authorial point of view, hits the bull's-eye by pointing out how the system of paying advance (known as dadan) ruined the ryots:
'The high-handedness of the indigo planters of Jessore had greatly increased at that time. The ryots had no mind to sow indigo, as more profit was to be got out of rice and other crops, and besides, any of them who chanced to go to an indigo factory to get an advance, was ruined once for all. True, the ryots cultivating indigo at their own risk might clear off the advances made to them, but their accounts would go hanging on and increase, yearly and the maw of the planter's gomashtha, and the other people about the factory, was never satisfied with a little. Any ryot therefore who had once drunk of the sweet waters of an advance from the factory, never, to the end of his life, got out of its power'. (p.142)

The planter too, in his turn, was under pressure. Peary Chand explains:
'But it would be a heavy calamity to the planter if his indigo were not ready: the working expenses of the factory were annually advanced by one or other of the merchant farms in Calcutta, and if his wares were not forthcoming, his expenses would be very largely increased: the factory might even have to be closed, and the planter be compelled to retire from the concern. (p.142)

Peary Chand's satire is at its best when he mocks the English managers of the indigo factories:               
'These English managers might be very ordinary sort of people in their own country, but at their factories they lorded it like kings. Their great fear was lest obstacles should be put in the way of the working of their concerns, and they, in consequence, should become as mean as mice again: naturally, therefore, they exerted themselves to the utmost, by all the means in their power and at all seasons, to have their indigo ready in time'. (p.142).

The allusion to the proverbial expression, punarmushikobhava ('be a mouse again'), is unmistakable.

Against this backdrop of indigo planting and the oppression accompanying it (for a bird's- eye view, see S. Bhattacharya 1975, 1977, 1977-78) Peary Chand sets the next event of the novel:
'One day Matilall was amusing himself with his companions. The naib, with spectacles on his nose, had just opened his office, and was busily engaged in writing, drying the ink on his papers with line, when suddenly some ryots came running up, shouting: "Sir! those brutes from the factory have ruined us entirely! the manager has come on our land in person, and is now ploughing over some of our sown lands, and he has taken off our draught cattle. Oh sir! the brute is not content with destroying all our seed, he must needs to have his barrows drawn over our ripe paddy". (pp. 142-143)

Now it was the turn of the naib (local deputy of the zemindar) to protect the subjects of his master. Peary Chand narrates the event that follows ending in an anti-climax: The naib at once 'slipped off, and concealed himself in a hedge of wild cotton' (p. 143). Like master, like servant.

The ryots were exclaiming, amid their tears: "We are ruined; we are utterly undone." The planter, however, was undaunted, for 'he knew that it was hard to control him; the magistrate and the judge constantly dined at his house, and the police and people about the courts held him in great awe because of his associating so much with them!' (p. 143)

This reference to the dinner parties at the planter's residence brings out in bold relief the close nexus between the planter, the Executive and the Judiciary in Bengal under the East India Company. But this is not all. Peary Chand adds:
'Besides even if there was any investigation made, in a case of homicide, his trial could not take place in the Mofussil courts. Any black people accused of homicide or any other great offence, would always be tried and sentenced in the local courts; whereas any white man accused of such offences would be sent up to the Supreme Court; in which case the witnesses or complainants in the case being quite helpless owing to the expense, trouble, and loss in their business that would be entailed, would fail to put to in an appearance; and naturally, when the cases against such person came on for trial at the High Court, they would be dismissed'. (p 143).

Things then took the course as expected:
'It happened just as the indigo planter had anticipated. Early next morning the police inspector came and surrounded the Zemindar's offices. Witness is a great calamity; in the presence of a man of might, the poor man is powerless. When Matilall saw the state of affairs, he withdrew inside his house, and secured the doors. The naib then approached the inspector, and having arranged matters by a heavy bribe, got most of the prisoners set free. The Inspector had been blustering loudly, but as soon as he received the money, it was as though water had fallen on fire; having completed his investigation, he made a report to the magistrate, exonerating both parties—actuated on the one hand by avarice, on the other by fear'. (pp. 143-144).

The planter, too, was not sitting idle; he arranged the affairs so that things would not go awry. However, he need not have bothered so much. The magistrate, Peary Chand writes, '…for his part was firmly convinced that the indigo planter, being an Englishman, and a Christian to boot, would never do what was wrong; it was only the black folk who did all the mischief'. (p. 144)

Here we have a double bond: one of race and the other, religion. The outcome was a foregone conclusion. The sheristadar and the peshkar, two employees of the court, 'did not neglect [the opportunity]: they took a heavy bribe from the indigo planter, and suppressing the depositions of the opposite party, read only the depositions of the party they favoured themselves: thus by very delicate and skilful manoeuvring, they succeeded in their object'. (p. 144)

The indigo planter too came out with a speech:
'Ever since I came to this place, I have been conferring endless benefits on the Bengalis. I have spent a great deal upon their education and upon medical treatment for them; how can such an accusation be brought against me? The Bengalis are very ungrateful, and very troublesome'. (p. 144)

Things as expected came full circle: racism makes its mark in a case in which the planter was guilty of forcing subjects of a zemindar, over whom he had no legal authority, to follow his orders. The magistrate, having drunk a good deal of wine after tiffin, came back to the court. He never bothered to look at the papers of the case. On the contrary, he directed the sheristadar, "Dismiss this case". (p. 144)

Peary Chand, however, does not draw the curtain after describing the mockery of justice. In a brilliant move, he makes the naib, 'his head bent low, and his whole frame trembling,' exclaim as he went:
'Ah, it has become very difficult for Bengalis to retain their zemindaries! the country has been ruined by the violence of the brutal planter: the ryots are all calling out in fear for protection: the magistrates are entirely under the influence of their own countrymen, and the laws are so administered as to provide the indigo planter with many paths of escape'. (pp. 144-145)

Instead of presenting it as an authorial comment, Peary Chand preferred to make a member of the aggrieved party draw the picture, or rather a thumbnail sketch, of colonial exploitation. The law, instead of being impartial, was very much partial to the white people. The planters, though not a part of the new ruling class, thrived on merchant capital and, in this sense, were an ally of the colonial rulers.

Peary Chand gives the master stroke when he makes the same naib compare and contrast the oppression of the zemindars with that of the planters. The very brief, concise but to-the-point remark of the naib is worth quoting in full:
'People say that it is the oppression of the zemindars that has ruined the ryot: that is a very great error. The zemindars may oppress the ryot, but they do keep him alive after their fashion: his ryots are to the zemindar his field of beguns (aubergines). Very different is the action of the indigo planter; it does not much matter to him whether the ryots live or die: all he cares about is to extend the cultivation of indigo: to him the ryots are but a common field of roots'. (p.145)

The field of beguns and that of roots call for some explanation. This is a proverbial expression which Peary Chand uses on other occasions in this novel: the unscrupulous teacher Bakreswar Babu used to think 'that he ought not to let boys like Matilall slip out of his hands, for when they reached man's estate, they might become as a "field of beguns" to him,—a perpetual source of profit' (chapter IV p.21. The last explanatory phrase was added by the translator). On another occasion, the Brahmans are found discussing what would happen in the case of BaburamBabu's death, for his sons may not entertain them. One Brahman assured others that 'even if the master be no more, there will have to be a gorgeous shraddha [funeral service].' A fellow Brahman remarked, 'Ah, my friend, that may be all very true, but in case of his death our gains will become very precarious: I prefer the supply to be as constant as the Vasudhara; let us be ever getting, ever eating, say I: one shower will not suffice a long-continued thirst' (chapter VIII p. 49. Oswell here does not refer to the proverb relating the fields of beguns and of roots, although it is there in the original).

The way Peary Chand distinguishes between the oppression of the Indigo planters from that of the zemindars reveals his acuteness of perception. Not every novelist possesses this kind of acumen.

Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay has a novel, Ichhamati (1950, serialised earlier in the journal, Abhyuday) named after a river. There are several focuses in this novel, one of which is the indigo revolt. He describes the pernicious activities of the British indigo planters, the magistrate who is biased to the planter, the employees of the concern, and finally the spontaneous outburst of the ryots who had been forced to plant indigo instead of paddy. Bibhuti Bhushan also portrays the state of things after the revolt: how the synthetic indigo invented in Germany knelled the death bell of indigo planting in Bengal. Like Peary Chand, BibhutiBhushan too was a master of details; he could narrate all kinds of events vividly. What, however, is lacking, in Ichhamati is the kind of insight that is found in half a chapter in The Spoilt Child. One might venture to remark that while Bibhuti Bhushan was a naturalist in his approach the events he narrates, Peary Chand was a true realist. He could choose typical characters and describe their activities under typical circumstances. It is not enough to provide a true representation of events and characters; the representation in a realist work aspires at typicality rather than individuality. BibhutiBhushan, it appears, was more interested in depicting the individual (in the sense of non-typical) aspects of the dewan and the amin of the indigo concern. The dewan is a loving paterfamilias when he is at home but a ruthless oppressor in his course of duty. The amin, too, is an unscrupulous lackey and yet he is described as a hopeless lover, quite pathetic in his attempts to have his love reciprocated.

More importantly, the role of the zemindar is conspicuously absent in Ichhamati. The peculiar relationship of the local zemindar to the indigo planter, an outsider, is an important factor in the course of events. The clash of interest between these two oppressors is reflected in Lal Behari Day's The Bengal Peasant Life (Govinda Samanta). First published in 1874, it, however, shows how a benevolent zemindar could stand by the ryots and help them in their struggle for survival.

Peary Chand, by bringing Matilall to Jessore, links the story of the highhandedness of the indigo planters to the insignificance of an absentee landlord. Baburam Babu's taluk (holding) in Jessore was known to be profitable, and that is why his son Matilall, then a broke, decided to visit this zemindari. He hoped for getting ready cash there. Peary Chand, however, narrates at the beginning of chapter XXV the precarious state of the taluk thus providing an opportunity to exhibit Matilall's ignorance of the actual state of affairs. When the British indigo planter encroaches on his land, Matilall is unable to do anything: his nayeb has to face the situation, both at the time of the conflict between the two parties of lathials (stick-wielders) and at the time of court trial. Thus all the parties involved in the affair—the ryots, the zemindar, his employees, the British planter and the British magistrate—are presented in their true colours within a very brief compass. This is the triumph of realism, achieved by Peary Chand almost effortlessly.

The Spoilt Child is seldom studied as a novel, a work of stark realism. It is generally viewed as a didactic work concerned with the upbringing of children. Peary Chand, however, was out to depict more than 'the condition of Hindu Society, customs &c' (as stated in the English Preface to the original). He adds that the novel is also illustrative of 'partly of the state of things in the Moffussil'. This is borne out amply by Ch. XXV. The whole narrative, within the brief compass of only a few pages (pp.142-145) contains a digest of the circumstances that led to the indigo revolt which continued for more than two years (1859-1862). The revolt was widely publicised; it had its echoes in England, and culminated in a famous trial of the Reverend James Long and his imprisonment for a month. All this is almost anticipated in Peary Chand's novel. It is to be regretted that the historians of the Blue Mutiny, with the sole exception of Pramod Sengupta (1960 pp. 119-21), have not paid any attention to the literary evidence in general and to The Spoilt Child in particular.

Works Cited
Bandyopadhyay, Bibhutibhusahan. Ichhamati. Kolikata: Mitralaya, 1950; Rachanabali 12, Kolikata: Mitra o Ghosh, n.d.
Bhattacharya, Chitralekha. Nil Bidroha: Ekti Mulyayan. Kolkata: K.P. Bagchi, 2010.
Bhattacharya, Subhas. Indigo Planters, Ram Mohan Roy and the 1833 Charter Act. Social Scientist 39, October 1975.
Bhattacharya, Subhas. Rent Disturbances of 1860-62 and the Indigo Revolt, The Quarterly Review of Historical Studies, vol. 17 no. 4, 1977-78.
Bhattacharya, Subhas. The Indigo Revolt in Bengal, Social Scientist 60, July 1977.
Day, Rev. Lal Behari, Bengal Peasant Life/Gobinda Samanta. London: Macmillan, 1916 (first published 1872).
Kling, Blair B. The Blue Mutiny: The Indigo Disturbances in Bengal 1859-1862. Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1977 (first published in 1966).
Mitra, Pyarichand. Alaler Gharer Dulal. Edited by Brajendranath Bandyopa-dhyay and Sajanikanta Das. Kalikata: Bangiya-Sahitya-Parishat, 1422 BS (first published 1347 BS).
Mitter, Peary Chand. The Spoilt Child: A Tale of Hindu Domestic Life (English translation of Tek Chand Thakoor's Alaler Gharer Dulal by G D Oswell). Kolkata: Radiance, 2015 (first published in 1893 by Thacker, Spink and Co., Calcutta).
Ray, Suprakash. Bharater Krishak Bidroha O Ganatrantik Sangram. Kolikata: DNBA Publications, 1977.
Sengupta, Pramod. Nil Bidroha O Bangali Samaj. Kolkata: National Book Agency, 1960.

Acknowledgements: Amitava Bhattacharyya, Chayan Samaddar, Tarun Basu.

Autumn Number 2018
Vol. 51, No.14 - 17, Oct 7 - Nov 3, 2018