Jahangir's Kingdom was the Dwelling-place of Bitter Woe

A vivid and heart-rending description of the wretched life of the common people in Jahangir's kingdom. Extortion, unpaid, labour, and rampant exploitation were the characteristic traits of his regime.
Jahangir's Kingdom was the Dwelling-place of Bitter Woe

In this series

Jahangir's Kingdom was the Dwelling-place of Bitter Woe
Muslim Marriages in Jahangir’s Agra: An Eyewitness Account
Jahangir's Kingdom was the Dwelling-place of Bitter Woe
The Superstitions of Moslems in Jahangir's Era and Jahangir's Demolition of his Son's Tomb
Jahangir's Kingdom was the Dwelling-place of Bitter Woe
No Hindu Could Venture into the Streets during Muharram in Jahangir's Agra!
Jahangir's Kingdom was the Dwelling-place of Bitter Woe
Wine, Opium, Hunting, Debauchery and Nur Jahan: A Glimpse of Jahangir’s Administration
Jahangir's Kingdom was the Dwelling-place of Bitter Woe
In Jahangir's Regime, Avarice Dominated Manly Honour: Corrupt Kazis, Debauched Governors

OF THE RICH in their great superfluity and absolute power, and the utter subjection and poverty of the common people. Poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling-place of bitter woe. Nevertheless, the people endure patiently, professing that they do not deserve anything better; and scarcely anyone will make an effort, for a ladder by which to climb higher is hard to find.

There are three classes of the people who are indeed nominally free, but whose status differs very little from voluntary slavery workmen, peons or servants, and shopkeepers. For the workman there are two scourges, the first of which is low wages. Goldsmiths, painters, embroiderers, carpet-makers, cotton or silk-weavers, blacksmiths, coppersmiths, tailors, masons, builders, stonecutters, a hundred crafts in all. For a job which one man would do in Holland, here passes through four men's hands before it is finished, any of these by working from morning to night can earn only 5 or 6 takas that is, 4 or 5 stivers in wages. The second scourge is the oppression of the Governor, the nobles, the Diwan, the Kotwal, the Bakhshi, and other royal officers. If any of these wants a workman, the man is not asked if he is willing to come, but is seized in the house or in the street, severely beaten if he should dare to raise any objection, and in the evening paid half his wages, or nothing at all.

From these facts the nature of their food can be easily inferred. They know little of the taste of meat. For their monotonous daily food they have nothing but a little khichri, made of green pulse mixed with rice, which is cooked with water over a little fire until the moisture has evaporated, and eaten hot with butter in the evening. In the day time they munch a little parched pulse or other grain, which they say suffices for their lean stomachs.

Their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs. Furniture there is little or none, except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking, and two beds, one for the man, the other for his wife. Here, man and wife do not sleep together, but the man calls his wife when he wants her in the night, and when he has finished she goes back to her own place or bed. T heir bedclothes are scanty, merely a sheet, or perhaps two, serving both as under and over-sheet; this is sufficient in the hot weather, but the bitter cold nights are miserable indeed, and they try to keep warm over little cow dung fires which are lit outside the doors, because the houses have no fire-places or chimneys.

Jahangir's Kingdom was the Dwelling-place of Bitter Woe
Murder Thy Dad for Power: The Ugly Mughal Truth at the Heart of Shah Jahan’s Letter to Jahangir

Peons or servants are exceedingly numerous in this country, because everyone, be he mounted soldier, merchant, or king's official keeps as many as his position and circumstances permit. Outside the house, they serve for display, running continually before their master's horse. Inside, they do the work of the house, each knowing his own duties. The silahdar attends only to his horse, the bailwan, or carter, to his cart and oxen; the farrash or tent-pitcher, attends to his tent on the way, spreads carpets, both on the march and in the house, and looks after the diwan-khana or sitting room…

The messenger, a plume on his head and two bells at his belt, runs at a steady pace, ringing the bells; they carry their master's letters a long distance in a short time, covering 25 to 30 kos in a day; but they eat much postibang or opium regularly, so that they do not feel the continuous work or fatigue. They run on with dizzy head; they will not as a rule answer anyone who asks where they come from or where they are going, but hurry straight on. These messengers may bring their masters, who hold official positions as governors, into great credit, or disgrace, with the King. This is because letters on important official business are sometimes delayed, and if the news they contain should reach the King first from some other place, whether nearer or more distant, the officer will be blamed for negligence, and dismissed from his post.

For these services, the wages are paid by the Moguls only after large deductions, for most of the great lords reckon 40 days to the month, and pay from 3 to 4 rupees for that period; while wages are often left several months in arrears, and then paid in worn-out clothes or other things.

If the master holds office or power, the servants are arrogant, oppressing the innocent citizens, and sinning on the strength of their master's greatness. Very few of them serve their master honestly. They steal whatever they can. If they buy only a paisa worth of food, they will take their share or dasturi [commission]. The masters sometimes know this very well, but they suppose it is paid by the poor, and not out of their pockets. In this, they are mistaken, because the commission is always taken into account in the sale. Otherwise it would be impossible for the servants to feed themselves and their families on such low wages.

Jahangir's Kingdom was the Dwelling-place of Bitter Woe
The Appalling Lifestyle of the Muslim Aristocracy

Whatever he may deal in: spices, drugs, fruit, cotton goods, cloth, or anything else, the shopkeeper is held in greater respect than the workman. Some of them are even well-to-do but they must not let the fact be seen. Else, they will be the victims of a trumped-up charge, and whatever they have will be confiscated in legal form, because informers swarm like flies round the governors, and make no difference between friends and enemies, perjuring themselves when necessary in order to remain in favour.

Further, the shopkeepers are subject to a rule that if the King's nobles, or governors, should require any of their goods, they must sell for very little—less than half price. To begin with, they must give great weight for small coins, the difference being 20 per cent. After this, 9 per cent is deducted for dasturi [commission]. Then clerks, overseers, cashiers, and others all know very well how to get their share. In such circumstances the unfortunate shopkeeper may be robbed in a single hour of the profits of a whole month, although they bear the general cost.

This is a short sketch of the life of these poor wretches, who, in their submissive bondage, may be compared to poor, contemptible earthworms, or to little fishes, which, however closely they may conceal themselves, are swallowed up by the great monsters of a wild sea.

Now we shall write a little of the manner of life of the great and rich.

To be continued

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