To the people of India the Collector is the Imperial Government. He watches over their welfare in the many facets which reflect our civilisation. He establishes schools and dispensaries [for their children], gaols [for their troublesome relations and neighbours], and courts of justice [for the benefit of their brothers who can talk and write]. He levies the rent of their fields, he fixes the tariff, and he nominates to every appointment, from that of road-sweeper or constable, to the great blood-sucking officers round the Court and Treasury. As for Boards of Revenue and Lieutenant-Governors who occasionally come sweeping across the country, with their locust hosts of servants and petty officials, they are but an occasional nightmare; while the Governor-General is a mere shadow in the background of thought, half blended with “John Company Bahadur” and other myths of the dawn.
The Collector lives in a long rambling bungalow furnished with folding chairs and tables, and in every way marked by the provisional arrangements of camp life. He seems to have just arrived from out of the firmament of green fields and mango groves that encircles the little station where he lives; or he seems just about to pass away into it again. The shooting-howdahs are lying in the verandah, the elephant of a neighbouring landowner is swinging his hind foot to and fro under a tree, or switching up straw and leaves on to his back, a dozen camels are lying down in a circle making bubbling noises, and tents are pitched here and there to dry, like so many white wings on which the whole establishment is about to rise and fly away—fly away into “the district,” which is the correct expression for the vast expanse of level plain melting into blue sky on the wide horizon-circle around.
The Collector is a bustling man. He is always in a hurry. His multitudinous duties succeed one another so fast that one is never ended before the next begins. A mysterious thing called “the Joint” comes gleaning after him, I believe, and completes the inchoate work.
The verandah is full of fat black men in clean linen waiting for interviews. They are bankers, shopkeepers, and landholders, who have only come to “pay their respects,” with ever so little a petition as a corollary. The chuprassie-vultures hover about them. Each of these obscene fowls has received a gratification from each of the clean fat men; else the clean fat men would not be in the verandah. This import tax is a wholesome restraint upon the excessive visiting tendencies of wealthy men of colour. [Several little groups of] brass dishes filled with pistachio nuts and candied sugar are ostentatiously displayed here and there; they are the oblations of the would-be visitors. The English call these offerings “dollies”; the natives dali. They represent in the profuse East the visiting cards of the meagre West.
Although from our lofty point of observation, among the pine-trees, the Collector seems to be of the smallest social calibre, a mere carronade, not to be distinguished by any proper name; in his own district he is a Woolwich Infant; and a little community of microscopicals,—doctors, engineers, inspectors of schools, and assistant magistrates, look up to him as to a magnate.