It is now time to give the plant a light touch of the plough. This eases the soil about the roots, lets in air and light, tends to clean the undergrowth of weeds, and gives it a great impetus. The operation is called Bedaheunee. By the beginning of June the tiny red flower is peeping from its leafy sheath, the lower leaves are turning yellowish and crisp, and it is almost time to begin the grandest and most important operation of the season, the manufacture of the dye from the plant.
To this you have been looking forward during the cold raw foggy days of November, when the ploughs were hard at work,—during the hot fierce winds of March, and the still, sultry, breathless early days of June, when the air was so still and oppressive that you could scarcely breathe. These sultry days are the lull before the storm—the pause before the moisture-laden clouds of the monsoon roll over the land ‘rugged and brown,’ and the wild rattle of thunder and the lurid glare of quivering never-ceasing lightning herald in the annual rains. The manufacture however deserves a chapter to itself.
[Illustration: INDIGO BEATING VATS.]
Manufacture of Indigo.—Loading the vats.—Beating.—Boiling, straining, and pressing.—Scene in the Factory.—Fluctuation of produce.—Chemistry of Indigo.
Indigo is manufactured solely from the leaf. When arrangements have been made for cutting and carting the plant from the fields, the vats and machinery are all made ready, and a day is appointed to begin ‘Mahye’ or manufacture. The apparatus consists of, first, a strong serviceable pump for pumping up water into the vats: this is now mostly done by machinery, but many small factories still use the old Persian wheel, which may be shortly described as simply an endless chain of buckets, working on a revolving wheel or drum. The machine is worked by bullocks, and as the buckets ascend full from the well, they are emptied during their revolution into a small trough at the top, and the water is conveyed into a huge masonry reservoir or tank, situated high up above the vats, which forms a splendid open air bath for the planter when he feels inclined for a swim. Many of these tanks, called Kajhana, are capable of containing 40,000 cubic feet of water or more.
Below, and in a line with this reservoir, are the steeping vats, each capable of containing about 2000 cubic feet of water when full. Of course the vats vary in size, but what is called a pucca vat is of the above capacity. When the fresh green plant is brought in, the carts with their loads are ranged in line, opposite these loading vats. The loading coolies, ’Bojhunneas’—so called from ‘Bojh,’ a bundle—jump into the vats, and receive the plant from the cart-men, stacking it up in perpendicular layers, till the vat is full: a horizontal layer is put on top to make the surface look even. Bamboo battens are