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Marwarrees, go where they will, never lose their national peculiarities

Rao GumanSingh Rao Gumansingh

These, for the most part, are originally natives of Jondhpoor and Jeypoor, in Rajpootana, though they come from all parts of those provinces which bear the general title. They are Vaisya Bunneas, men of good caste, and, as a class, by far the most energetic and persevering of native merchants, whether as wholesale or retail dealers. They have been termed, not inaptly, the Scotchmen of India. Their country is naturally poor, producing little but what suffices for local consumption, and, indeed, hardly that in many respects; and this induces emigration to a great extent. Gradually but surely the Marwarrce Bunnea has penetrated to most parts of India. He is found in Bengal, though not perhaps very numerously, for the Bengali Bunnea is as sharp in business as himself, and, as a pithy Hindi proverb expresses it, "two swords cannot stay in one scabbard." The Marwarree, therefore, has gone south. He has spread all over Malwah and Bundekund; over Nagpoor, Berar, and the Deccan generally; and, if not to Mysore as yet, he is not far from it. At Hyderabad the fraternity is in immense strength. They count among them many, if not most, of the principal bankers, grain merchants, dealers in all sorts of produce, and importers of English manufactures, and sellers of them by wholesale and retail. By the Photograph it is evident they are at Delhi, and the group is employed checking off an invoice of English piece goods with the goods themselves. In Bombay the Mrwarree merchants are as great as at Hyderabad, if not greater, and perhaps the chief speculators in that immense place of trade. Marwarrees make time bargains for opium, for cotton, for grain, for oilseeds, and every possible product of the country; but their principal trade is in opium and in cotton. They have agents in Malwah, who expedite the opium to Bombay upon relays of camels, now most likely by the railway ; and it is shipped at once in clipper ships for China. It is a race, in tact, with opium, from the day it is packed till it reaches the China market; and the Marwarrees speculate for and against time, and gamble, as it were, in this stock with a boldness unknown to other merchants. It is the same with cotton and other staple articles of trade, whatever they may be, and with Government stocks and general securities : there are no speculators so bold, perhaps none so reckless, as the Marwarrees.
It is little to say there is a Marwarree Bunnea in every village of the Deccan, and of Berar, Khandeish, and Malwah. There may be two or three. Men who have nothing but a drinking vessel in their hands, possibly hardly more than a change of garments, and who may be begging their way from caste fellow to caste fellow from their own country, follow one another year after year, and settle somewhere. At first they may be menial servants or shopmen, travelling among villages to collect produce, and to make time bargains, or may serve in any other humble capacity ; but as soon as they can secure a few rupees, as much as mil stock a Bunnea's shop for a day, they begin life on their own account, and so persevere. It would be difficult to say what the Marwarree does not deal in—any thing by which he can make money. Scores of articles of produce, which were before neglected or almost unknown, the Marwarrees have turned into staples of commerce, not only to their own benefit, but to the benefit of thousands of the people. They put aside the hereditary local Bunneas of the country by bold dealing. The old steady Mahratta of the Deccan, or Komptee of Telingana, had few ideas beyond his occupation as a huckster. He went round and round in his daily mill, as his father did before him. Directly the Marwarree settled near him, he began to feel he was undersold, over-reached in business, and hustled aside; that the people, even his own constituents, preferred to deal with the sharp, shrewd foreigner, instead of in the dull plodding round of former traffic; and, in the end, the Manvarree had the best of the struggle, and held his own place triumphant. The Deccan and Berar people, the simple Mahratta farmers, at first thought the Manvarree a great change for the better; but, in the end, they grew to be mistaken. If the old Bunnea was, after his fashion, extortionate, the Marwarree had no scruples at all. If the Bunnea's compound interest was a sharp touch, the Marwarree's was illimitable. If the Marwarree could have calculated it day by day, he would have done so ; was it not in his bond ? If he calculated interest upon interest every month or fortnight, could any one object ? When he calculated it correctly, it was bad enough ; but when the amount was put down almost at hap-hazard, it became frightful. The whole country was, as it were, eaten up by these extortioners ; and a serious movement, which took place against them throughout the whole of the Bombay Presidency, not many years ago, might, nay would, have ended in local insurrection, like the Sontal war, if means had not been taken in time to check the spoliation which was going on.
Manvarrees now know exactly how far they can go without violation of the law, and they exact the uttermost farthing. They are the hardest creditors the people ever had, or ever will have. Woe to any unhappy farmer, who borrows to pay his rent, to marry his children, to dig a well, to pay off an old family mortgage, or to go a pilgrimage which he has vowed if a son were born, or his wife recovered from illness, and allows the Manvarree's "account" to run on. He will put down anything in that account. When the period of payment is up, he will take a new bond, wherein all old accumulations are reckoned as ready money. By-and-by the screw will be put on. The account may not be litigated in court, for the Mahratta farmer has a nice sense of honour, and he will voluntarily pay all he can. One thing is certain, he never ceases to pay, and becomes, in point of fact, little better than a serf.
If this exists under the English system, it is much enhanced under any native government. There the Marwarree is master of the situation, and drives a glorious trade. Village communes, distressed by some exaction, go to the Marwarree, tell their tale, and borrow. This leads to assignments upon individual farmers for shares of the general demand, and the Manvarree triumphs. He has not only the whole commune collectively, or perhaps severally, as constituents, but he has the individuals who compose it; and he takes produce, already under confiscation by the civil authority, at his own price. He bargains for more to cover unpaid portions and interest in advance, and his own terms are the hardest which he can extort. In such cases there is no court to appeal to ; there is no justice to be had ; the Marwarree and the civil authorities are one, and the people are ground accordingly. The Marwarree's only serious enemy in native states, except the Dacoits, is the civil authority. He knows he is watched, and in time comes the screw. It is useless to resist, and he makes the best bargain he can. His clients, perhaps, rejoice that he too has had his turn ; but to what purpose ? What has been screwed out of the Marwarree, must come back in some shape or other from the people, and does come back in time.
Once a Marwarree settles and opens a shop, he becomes a fixture. The only thing that can take him away is a great run of luck, and so much money that he can remove to a great city. In such a case he sells the goodwill of his shop to a new comer, and goes away, very probably, amidst the sincere regrets of the people. He may have become kind, and no doubt has been known to do many a good turn to his clients. He has not been always extortionate. He had grown into part of the community ; perhaps had sent for his wife, and Marwarree children had been born there. Now he is succeeded by another hungry, lean fellow, like what he was at first, and the same scenes are again enacted. The improvident people must and will borrow, and the usual results ensue. It is curious how these successive waves of Marwarree Bunneas have overspread whole districts and provinces, and how soon men who, in language and in manner, are utterly incomprehensible at first, in time grow together. To the last the original Marwanee splutters out his meaning in broken Mahratta, aided by his own rude patois, in a manner that is barely understood ; while in Teloogoo and Canarese districts, his very existence there, much less his association with any village community, is quite incomprehensible. Very frequently the Marwarree's national reputation prevents his settling in any village of a district. The local Bunnea element may be strong, and shuts up its shops by way of protest against the outsider. This scarcely signifies to the immigrant. He will surely find some place where he is not disturbed, and once he settles, he never gives up ; and, indeed, for the most part, the people have found out that it is better to encourage the Marwarree to become one of themselves, to share the fortunes of their community, than to keep him restless and striving. Thus, the Marwarree who can see the best way to permanent advantage, modifies the grinding, grasping, national spirit, and becomes the beneficial trader and local banker, greatly respected, especially when he brings his wife from his own land, and childen grow up about him. Now he is more than respected—he is honoured, nay, often beloved. His natural intelligence spreads among the people, and improvement ensues. His capital helps the whole community, and he is not, so to speak, more extortionate than the people can afford to allow him to be. He is charitable and industrious, ignorant, but liberal in his ideas and proceedings. In short, he occupies a very valuable position, and makes the most of it in a legitimate manner.
It is little known, perhaps, how much the settlement of Marwarree merchants has influenced the local progress of the provinces to which they have emigrated, and how much even their hard, griping proceedings have done to advance and accelerate progress, where they could be controlled, and where the people could be brought to a knowledge of then own right and the protection afforded by the law. Berar, one of the greatest cotton provinces of India, under the extortions of the native government, and the petty Marwarree traders and bankers, had been reduced to the lowest ebb. Under our own administration of the province, it is now a garden, and the Marwarrees have, in a very considerable degree, assisted by their capital in its development. They are now content with legitimate transactions, and extortion for the most part has become a thing of the past. And the same may be said of them in all purely British provinces. To them England is indebted—and this fact is little known—for an immense extension of its manufactures, which are carried by them into localities where they were previously scarce, and exchanged for local produce, or sold retail to the people.
Marwarree agency is not confined to India. The fraternity may be seen in China, in Africa, in Arabia, and in Persia, unchanged in character, and in their one pursuit, that of wealth. For them education has no charms. It is not one of their necessities at all. Many of them can barely read or write enough to carry on business, and a village Marwarree's books have an unenviable notoriety. The character they use is the "Mahajun," a kind of Deva Nagri running hand, very difficult to read, even by the writer. There are many jokes current against the sect in the mouths of the people on this subject. One story is, that a body of them being assembled for the purpose of deciphering a family letter from home, the following awful words were read. ''Your father, 'Aj-mur-gya,' died to-day;" upon which the usual noisy demonstrations of grief began, and the shop was shut up. Some days after, another reading of the letter took place, and the passage was found to signify, "your father, Ajmeer gya, is gone to Ajmeer ;" and the result may be imagined.
Marwarrees, go where they will, never lose their national peculiarities. They are among themselves a kind, hospitable, self-adhering, intelligent, and cheerful people. They are fond of gay dress, especially of the brightest turbans, plain and chequered, that the dyer can contrive to dye, and pieces of one colour are not unfrequently, as in the case of the right-hand figure in the Photograph, tied over others. They many only within their own gotes or clans, and most usually only one wife. They are a fine, handsome race, with strong features ; sometimes, especially their women, very fair, and even ruddy, with grey or blue eyes, the evidence of a pure descent from most likely an ancient Aryan stock. In every point of view, therefore, they are perhaps the most remarkable mercantile race in India.