National Geographic : 1946 Apr
The National Geographic Magazine Sari-clad land girls work with the menfolk in the Bombay. This boll-filled basket is made of split bamboo the bulk of the Indian crop a coarse, short-staple fiber. products consumed by our armies at the rate of several hundred million yards a year. The laborers in these mills-Bengalis dressed in loose cotton dhoti (long loin cloth) and white skullcap, a highly practical garb for such a climate-are skilled work men, and their specialized craft paid them an unexpected dividend during the famine of 1943. Bengal, cut off by the Japanese from its normal source of rice in Burma, suffered the most widespread starvation in fifty years. But while thousands of peasants and un skilled laborers were dying in the streets of Calcutta, the jute mill workers usually were able to get at least a bare subsistence ration. Because their skills were vital to the war effort, most of the factories managed to arrange vast cotton fields near o. Climate helps make special food supplies for their employees. Another group to which the war brought surprising good fortune is the tribe of Mughs (Maghs), an obscure hill people who once lived in almost com plete isolation in west ern Burma. Many of them emigrated to Bengal. Late in the nineteenth century, these tribesmen had an opportunity to render a handsome service to the British Army by serving as guides and scouts in the last of its wars with the Bur mese. In reward the Government of India proposed to give to each of them the cus tomary bounty of a handful of silver rupees. A British officer, however, had a better idea. "We have never had enough servants in In dia who understand European cooking," he pointed out, "and many Europeans simply can't keep in good health on the fiery, highly spiced curries of the native cooks. Why not reward the Mughs by training them to be a tribe of expert European-style chefs? Instead of a cash bounty which would be spent in a few weeks, they will have a skill which will pro vide security for them and their children for many generations." Wild Mughs Trained as Chefs The suggestion was approved enthusiasti cally by officials of the Political Department -most of whom suffered from indigestion and the young men of the Mugh villages were brought down to Calcutta a few at a time for training under the best British and French cooks the city could provide. Today the Mughs form a special kitchen caste, which has scattered over many parts of India and whose reputation has grown with the years.