One of the best journalistic jobs of this war is a weekly paper published by the American Army in New Delhi, India. Distinguished by its wit and news sense, C.B.I. (for China, Burma, India) Roundup has had many of its stories reprinted by the U.S. press.
  Readers of Roundup have been struck by frequent references in it to "bearers." At LIFE's request the following account was written by a member of Roundup's staff.


New Delhi, India (by cable)

"Dear Mom, I got a valet." Thus one American corporal began his letter home, after making his first delighted discovery of the Indian bearer system. A bearer is an Indian-style valet and quite an institution among the British officers here. British privates have never had enough money to enjoy such service but the high-paid American troops can afford it, jointly if not singly.

  The bearer of an important English official recently deserted without so much as collecting back salary. He was finally discovered happily valeting nine American enlisted men - colored quartermaster troops. Earning twice his old salary, he was also becoming proficient at American slang and winning heavily at craps. After a life spent quietly pussy-footing through plush apartments, salaaming and calling all Europeans "master" and "sahib," he was drunk with a life in which he indulged in horseplay with his bosses and called them by their first names.

  He is typical of many of the bearer class in India in that his salary has doubled and in that he has to work only half as hard for it. Ten to 20 enlisted men splitting the bearer usually
pay him the aggregate of between 50 to 70 rupees a month and require much less of him than the English masters.

  An old saying of the bearers in India goes as follows: "Work for the English and sweat; work for the French and be well-dressed; work for the Dutch and travel; but work for Americans and be rich." Indian bearers' attitudes about Americans were mainly formed on the basis of wealthy world tourists who employed them as combination guides and servants, but the American troops have not disappointed them.

  At many camps in India the famous Army drudgery of K.P. is nothing more arduous than seeing to it that native employees observe sanitary regulations. Sometimes even the work of preparing for inspections - shoe shining, brass polishing, rifle cleaning - is done by native servants hired by the men. "Don't report me, sir," is a common witticism. "Fire my bearer."

  Most U.S. officers have their own exclusive bearers, having found that Indian hotels run on the assumption that each guest brings his bearer. One die-hard major tried to live at the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi without hiring a bearer but soon tired of toting his own laundry through the crowded lobby, dusting his room an incurring the sibilant scorn of the native flunkies. When he could stand it no longer he hired himself a young man who had once served a native prince and then dressed him in the most brilliant yellows and blues he could buy. Until his commanding officer objected, he had his colorful servant follow him to the office every day, solemnly carrying his master's fountain pen and pencil in the palms of his hands like jewels of great price.

  Such things have convinced most Indians bearing for Americans that their employers are not used to personal service. Consequently they dare things which they would never think of under normal conditions. One lieutenant pays the equivalent of $5 a month to his bearer for "shoe polish" and still doesn't recognize that he's being cheated. Another lieutenant, a pilot, is away from his home station fully half the time but pays his bearer full salary to sit at home and amuse himself.

  Long used to the ways of the Indians, most English are familiar with the various dodges by which bearers traditionally get time off. An ailing grandfather in a distant village, a small brother in the throes of some horrible death, a wrong to the family honor which the bearer must go home to avenge, the various incalculably mystical religious occasions - all are pulled daily on Americans who invariably fall, and usually add a few rupees for traveling expenses or heart balm.

  An American captain recently received this note, carefully written for his bearer by a professional scribe: "Respected Sir: I beg to inform you that I cannot attend my evening duties this day, nor my duties for two and one-half days to come, as this is the occasion of my younger brother's circumcision."

  The captain suspected nothing, merely commenting on the odd customs of Mohammedans in general. He never would have been disillusioned if he hadm't by accident run into his bearer valeting a brother officer. They compared notes and found that both had been paying full wages and getting only half a bearer.

  Under the caste system the duties of a bearer are rigidly delimited. Americans often can't understand why their bearers refuse to help out by sweeping a room
(an occupation performed by members of the sweeper caster) or doing some laundry (the work of the dhobi). One American officer fired his bearer when that worthy refused to remove a small piece of lint from the floor. "Am I a donkey, horse, nothing?" the bearer heatedly demanded. Whereupon he called a sweeper who presumably was a donkey, horse, nothing.

  Righteously angry at what he considered the "snobbishness" of the bearer, the officer refused to give him a letter of reference and thereby incurred the enmity of his and all other bearers in the neighborhood. Faced with such flagrant violation of the Eastern chit system, they formed a tight little union and no one would work for the offender until he wrote the chit.

  He gave in finally, but his was a moral victory. He wrote: "This will introduce Muzid Khan who worked for me for seven weeks. He is a good and slothful servant. I only part with Muzid's services because my regular bearer has returned from a walking tour of southern Baluchistan and wants his old job back."

  Used to doing such traditional chores as making small purchases (and getting a commission from the shopkeeper), laying out clothes, mixing drinks, bearers working for Americans find themselves oddly employed. One first sergeant, whose bearer has had some schooling, keeps his lad busy coloring duty rosters and various official documents. Another imaginative enlisted man makes his man spend several hours a day rolling dice over and over again. "I have always wanted to see if the law of averages really works," he explains.

  Other bearers have found themselves acting as shortstops and fielders in impromptu baseball games, posing for endless photographs, scratching backs and, in at least one case, acting as lookout while the master was on sentry duty but preferred to sleep.

  British Tommies, whose salaries are much smaller and who can't afford personal service on anything like the scale of the Americans, taunt the Yanks unmercifully: "Hullo, dear. Did your bearer brush your teeth and tuck you in last night?"

  So far no one has found any better answer than the simple "Yes, he did."

  After all, he might have.

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by (unidentified) C.B.I. Roundup Staff Writer

Adapted from the November 30, 1942 issue of LIFE.
Portions copyright 1942 Time, Inc.