Dr. Francis' User Manual of Behaving with the Natives: Abuse, Ablution and Oath-taking

In the third part of this series, Dr. Francis offers a user manual of sorts on how Englishmen who wish to come to India must behave with the "natives" here. His observations on the abuses in Indian languages and the sacred bathing habits of Hindus make for highly interesting reading.
Dr. Francis' User Manual of Behaving with the Natives: Abuse, Ablution and Oath-taking

In this series

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Dr. Francis' User Manual of Behaving with the Natives: Abuse, Ablution and Oath-taking
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Dr. Francis' User Manual of Behaving with the Natives: Abuse, Ablution and Oath-taking


In this section, Dr. Francis provides copious advice to the Englishmen who would potentially come to settle in India in various capacities: as military officers, bureaucrats, doctors, teachers, and so on. This advice encompasses quite an impressive range of specific aspects of Indian culture, social norms, customs, behavior, and nuances of daily habits of both Hindus and Muslims. In a way, it is a user manual of behavior: what is the most appropriate response on the part of the British to specific life-situations, what is regarded by the “natives” as inappropriate, and even what might invite danger.

Throughout, the words sahib, Master and variants thereof refer to the British officials in India.


No vocabulary seems to be complete without a certain number of terms of abuse. In India, and indeed in Eastern countries generally, the, abuse is of a nature too remarkable to be described. Europeans would be careful not to adopt it. There are plenty of suitable terms in which to express annoyance or disapproval without having recourse to language which we associate with the fish wife of Billingsgate or her counterpart in India: the bhatyarin (female innkeeper).

The servant, who is generally the object of the Sahib's wrath, is far more likely to mend his ways after a dignified scolding t han if his angry master vents his wrath by the use of a string of disgracefully indecent epithets which only lowers the master in the estimation of the man. For example, yeh kya ham hai (what sort of work is this?), Tum bura bepurwa ho (you are very careless), Yeh olloo ka kam hai (this is the work of an owl). These are forms of reproof for negligence quite sufficient for a good servant. Others, each having its special application convey sufficient censure without being abusive. Yeh gadhapan hai (this is stupidity, the work of a donkey); yeh nat-khati dikhai deta (this has an appearance of great naughtiness); tum ko kuch aql nuhein (you have no sense); Yeh namak harami malum hota (this looks like disloyalty). Such censures will readily occur to Anglo-Indians of experience, and which a new arrival will soon learn. Various other terms though not actually indecent, are too frequently used by the new arrivals. These terms are vilifying and therefore galling: for e.g., bad-zaat (bad caste); paji (low and mean fellow); luccha (blackguard); suvvar (pig) etc. They are highly objectionable and should be avoided at all costs.

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Dr. Francis' User Manual of Behaving with the Natives: Abuse, Ablution and Oath-taking

No really good man will take service with a Sahib who abuses and beats his servants. Hum na gaali na maar khayenge (I will take neither abuse nor a blow), he will say, when inquiring about the nature of a place of employment. Moreover, it is sometimes dangerous as well as cowardly to strike a native. I was once hurriedly summoned to see a brother officer who was bleeding profusely from a cut in his hand. In attempting to box the ears of a khidmatgar (table attendant), he encountered the blade of a knife which the man happened to have in his hand, which he held up in self-defence. A small artery in one of the fingers was thereby severed. Still more serious consequences have sometimes occurred from striking natives.


In England, a master or mistress would have good reason for being surprised and angry if, on sending for a servant, he was told that the person was washing. Yet, such a reply is frequently received in India much to the astonishment of the new arrival at this so-thought cool impertinence of the answer. However, those who are conversant with native customs and who are considerate, accept the excuse and desire the servant to come when the ablution is over.

The excuse is valid only in the case of Hindu, but not of Muhamedan servants. With the Hindus, bathing is a daily religions duty, performed before sitting down to the morning meals. It is binding with Brahmans especially. It would be neither in good taste nor in accordance with etiquette to interrupt a Hindu when so engaged. It is not, however, every kind of ablution that has a religious character with the Hindus, who may, of course, wash at any period of the day, independently of it. But the ante-prandial ablution of the morning, as also that performed in sacred waters at daybreak or any other time, is especially praiseworthy and purifying. When a sacred river or bank are at hand, one or both of these is taken advantage of. Else the bather must be content with the garden, or other neighbouring well.

When, in reply to the call for a servant, a fellow-servant explains, “woh nahane ko gaya (he is gone to bathe),” or woh gusal kurta (he is bathing); or woh snan kurne ko gaya (he is gone to bathe; and morally purify himself) – we maybe assured that the ablution is a religious one. The word ashnaan, snan, dhyan means the daily worship, or religious Meditation at the time of bathing of the Hindus—especially indicates religious and purifying ablution. If not, if the servant has only gone to wash his face and hands, the answer would be: woh munh haath dhota hai, abhi awega – he is washing his face and hands, but will be here directly.

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Dr. Francis' User Manual of Behaving with the Natives: Abuse, Ablution and Oath-taking

Mode of Taking Oath

In all countries, it is usual to swear to the truth or otherwise, of a statement by something which is held most Scared (or Most dear). Christians take oath upon the Bible and Muhammadans, the Koran. But Hindus do so upon any one of the several objects which, having more or less of a religious complexion, they reverence accordingly. Thus, they swear by the:

  • · Shastras (the Hindu Scriptures),

  • · Water from the Ganges,

  • · Salagram (the black quartzose supposed to represent Vishnu),

  • · Tulsi plant,

  • · Rudraj (seeds of Elaeocarpus ganitrus, used by the Brahmins in chaplets or rosaries),

  • · Fire as a representative of a Deity, and

  • What many Hindus consider the most binding oath of all: the eldest son.

As in common parlance, any Englishman may say, “upon by soul” or “upon my honour,” a Hindu in affirming a statement to be true or false, would conclude his sentence with beta qasam (I swear by my boy).

To be continued

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