I HAVE been often asked under what circumstances these stories were collected?
The circumstances were as follows.
In the cold weather of 1865-6, my father, whom I accompanied, made a three months' tour through the Southern Mahratta Country, in the Bombay Presidency, of which he was then Governor.
Our party was composed of my father and his Staff, to whom were usually added two or three friends, and the Officers Civil and Military, who were commanding in the Districts through which he was passing. Our mode of progress consisted in riding or driving about twenty-five miles a day, from one of our Camps to the next. We usually halted a day or two at each Camp, which admitted of a double march being taken by the Camp we had left behind us, and of its being ready pitched on our arrival, two days' march in advance of where we had left it. The double Camps, with the elephant, camel, and mule drivers, grooms, tent-pitchers, cooks, and other servants, numbered, with the addition of the Governor's Body-Guard, about six hundred souls. My mother being at the time absent in England, I chanced to be the only Lady of the party. Anna Liberata de Souza, my native ayah, went with me.
Our route from Poona, whence we started, lay through the district of Satara, with its fort-crowned hill (where the Mahratta Chief Sivajee's sword 'Bowanee,' given to him by Bowanee, the Goddess of Vengeance, is still shown), Kurar, with its Buddhist caves; the Native State of Kolapore; where, accompanied by Mrs. Wilder, the wife of an American missionary, I visited the Aka Sahib, and the Ranee in the Palace; Belgaum, with its beautiful fort and ruined Jam temples, and Dharwar, near the scene of the battle of Ram Droogand, and where we saw the Nawab's cheetas hunting antelope on the level plains.
From Dharwar we crossed the river Krishna, a matter of some difficulty--the elephants, horses, camels, mules, and bullocks swimming, the camp equipage being conveyed on rafts supported on jars or inflated skins, and my father and I, with two of his Staff, crossing in a circular coracle of wicker-work.
From the further bank of the Krishna we rode across interminable plains of black-soiled, cotton-growing country to the ruined Mahometan capital of Beejapore, the vast dome of whose great mosque (thirteen feet larger in diameter than that of St. Paul's), is to be seen standing out clearly against the sky hours before the city itself is reached. Of Beejapore--with its Motee Musjid (Pearl Mosque); its Soap-Stone Mosque; its big eleven ton brass gun, cast by a Turk in the sixteenth century, in which a grown-up person can sit upright; its wonderful Library (of which all that remained had been rescued from destruction by my father some twenty years before, and is now to be studied by those that so will, in the India Office Library in Westminster); its shrine, where are shown the three hairs of Mahomet's beard, and its numberless local traditions and legends of all kinds--this is not the place to tell
From Beejapore we crossed the Bheema river, and went to Sholapore, whence we returned to Poona by railway.
Some record of the country we traversed is to be found in the Duke of Wellington's Despatches, but much of its manifold interests and wild romantic history has never yet been said or sung. The glory of its works of art, the grandeur of its scenery, the living interest of the faith and fortunes of its people;--whose races represent all forms of Oriental barbarism and civilisation, from the Bedhur whose sole sustenance is parched millet-seed, to the wealthy Mahometan and Hindoo aristocracy and merchants of the great towns.
As there was no other lady in the Camp, and I sometimes had no lady visitors for some days together, I was necessarily much alone.
One day, being tired of reading, writing, and sketching, I asked Anna, my constant attendant, whose caste (the Lingaet) belonged to part of the country that we were traversing, if she could not tell me a story? This she declared to be impossible. I said, 'You have children and grandchildren, surely you tell them stories to amuse them sometimes?' She then said she would try and remember one, such as she told her grandchildren, and which had been told her by her own grandmother when she was a child; and she told me the story of 'Punchkin;' which was subsequently followed by the others that are here recorded.
Whilst narrating them she usually sat cross-legged on the floor, looking into space, and repeating what she said as by an effort of memory.
If any one came into the room whilst she was speaking, or she were otherwise interrupted during the narration, it was apparently impossible for her to gather up the thread of the narration where it had been dropped, and she had to begin afresh at the beginning of her story as at the commencement of some long-forgotten melody. She had not, I believe, heard any of the stories after she was eleven years old, when her grandmother had died.
As she told me a story I made notes of what she said, and then wrote it down and read it to her, to be certain that I had correctly given every detail. In this manner all the stories that she could recollect were one by one recorded.
This book has been translated into the German, Hungarian, and portions of it into the Danish language, and has been retranslated, I am told, into Mahratti, Hindoostani, and Guzerati. It is strange that, owing to accident, though two excellent French translations have been suggested, neither has yet been published Professor Max Muller told me not long ago that he had come upon the Sanskrit original (which he had not previously seen) of one of these stories, and that after the lapse of the many intervening centuries, the version of it, as recorded from Anna's narration, read like a direct translation from the native Sanskrit.