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Week 7 seminar text

I crossed the dirty Ganges with infinite satisfaction and left Calcutta behind me. Jostling through the swarming crowd of Hindoos, Mussulmans, and Coolies who filled the railway station, I once more enjoyed that mild personal triumph which one feels in establishing one’s-self in the pet corner of a railway carriage, and in a few minutes was traversing the flat and uninteresting district which lies on the right bank of the Ganges. […] For as far as the eye can reach on either side there are the same small patches of rich green amid larger expanses of baked earth or banked-up water, fringed by little groves of dates, of cocoa, of palm, or by clumps of plantains. Beneath every thicker tope or clump of trees are the wretched-looking cottages of mud, bamboo, and thatch in which the natives live. The snipe springs skirling from the marshes which fringe the railway banks, and along the margins of the tanks stalk snow-white egrets with long crests; the tamer paddy bird, which looks like a bittern, may be seen investigating the contents of the worm-heaps in the newly-dried land; snakes of various kinds, a large blue jay of beautiful plumage, and the saucy king crow, sit unmovingly on the telegraph wires,—the white buzzard, the common home kite, and multitudes of vultures hover over-head. A whirling cloud of flying foxes disturbed from their morning sleep wheel over the thick tope from which they have been roused by some native in search of a cocoanut; and the pretty green flycatcher darts from branch to branch incessantly. The hoopla, like our own rare specimens, a large black and white kingfisher, poised over a tank like a hawk on the swoop; innumerable daw-like rooks frequent the sides of the rail, and the long-winged tern and the sanderling are busy at work by the flooded fields. But at this season of the year the rice crops are scanty and the tanks are not half full. The country has been baked by the sun and with the exception of such patches as I have mentioned the whole surface of Bengal is like nothing so much as a vast brickfield. There are bricks by the million on all sides, and people busy making them. There are bricks in heaps, in mounds, in piles, in blocks, all drying in the sun; there is the hard bare earth one vast brick in itself. Water or mould a piece of it, and it becomes a brick in a few hours. And the people naked and baked too—it seems as if not much were required to change them to their original element.


[William Howard Russell,] ‘The War in India’, The Times 29 March 1858, pp.8-9 (quotation at 8)