Lhasa 751 AD. King Khrisong Detson of Tibet is deeply influenced by the teachings of his spiritual master, Padma Sambhava. He wishes to meet the Buddha. He is told this is possible.
He awaits the Arrival of the Lord in the small room of a boot maker. An old soldier, a poor woman with a baby, and a female apple seller come, and the King acts a kind host.
Did the Buddha come ? ‘Waiting For The Buddha’ is the touching story of the King’s tryst with the Lord which also speaks of the meaning of life.
A wicked medical professor is given to making various types of dangerous medicines from the plants in his garden by injecting them with the blood and urine of various animals. His daughter , unknown to her, is a part of these experiments.
This unususal life is one day interrupted by the arrival of a young, handsome man. The young duo fall in love to the discomfiture of the father. It leads to Nafisa, the pretty daughter , ultimately deciding to drink the fatal liquid. What happened ? The answer comes in the last paragraph of the haunting tale Anwar Khan’s Pretty Daughter.
No , It Wasn’t A Sad Funeral , My Father , and Remorse are uplifting tales of people who are old, lonely or have lost something precious in their lives.
But this not all . The Unwanted Piano and Revolution And The Doctor are satires whereas many other’s are beautiful stories about common events which happen daily in our lives.
These are wonderful stories to cater to all tastes and ages. They leave an indelible impression on the reader. They make compulsive reading.
In 629 A.D.Srong- Tsan- Gampo of Yarlung dynasty ascended the throne at Lhasa and at the behest of his two queens (one from Nepal and the other from China) introduced Buddhism in Tibet. However, it was under his great grandson Khrisong Detson that Tibet became Buddhist. Padma Sambhava, a tantric Buddhist living in Udayna in North West India, was invited to Tibet in 747 A.D. and it was his association with King Detson that led to the spread of Buddhism in Tibet. He is today a revered as a saint in the Tibetan community and known as Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Gem. This is the story of how it happened. -Author
A cobbler named Tongstan lived in Lhasa, Tibet in 751 A.D. He had a tiny room in a basement, the one window of which looked out on to the street. Through it one could only see the feet of those who passed by but Tongstan recognized the people by their boots. He had lived long in the place and had many acquaintances. There was hardly a pair of boots in the neighborhood that had not been once or twice through his hands, so he often saw his own hand work through the window.
Tongstan had always been a good man but in his old age he began to think more about his soul and God. While he still worked for a master , his wife had died, leaving him with a three year old son. None of his elder children had lived; they had all died in infancy. At first Tongston thought of sending his little son to his sister in the country but then he felt sorry to part with the boy, thinking, 'It would be hard for my little boy to have to grow up in a strange family. I will keep him with me.'
In order to earn more money, Tongstan left his master and began to work on his own. But he had no luck with his child.No sooner had the boy reached an age when he could help his father and be a support, the child fell ill and after being laid up for a week with a burning fever, died. Tongstan could no longer hold his remorse and gave way to despair so great that he began murmuring against God. In his grief he prayed again and again that he too may die, reproaching God for having taken the son he loved, his only son, while he, old as he was, remained alive.
One day, Gyatsho Tshering , an old man from Tongstan's native village who had become a monk, called on his way from the Samye monastry. Tongstan opened his heart to him and told him of his sorrow.
"I no longer even wish to live, holy man,' he said . 'All I ask of God is that I may soon die. I am now without any hope in the world.”
The old monk replied, "you have no right to say such things, my friend. Birth and death is part of life. So is suffering. Your problem is you wish to live for your own happiness."
"What else should one live for ?" asked Tongstan.
"For Nirvana1,' said the monk. "Sorrow, suffering, dissatisfaction, and all other forms of unpleasantness are inherent in life. By giving up our craving for desire, personal gratification and self living, we can attain Nirvana."
Tongstan was silent awhile and then asked : "But how can one attain Nirvana ?”
Gyatsho Tshering replied, "how one may attain Nirvana has been shown to us by Buddha. He preached his message of compassion and happiness many centuries back. Follow his teachings and you shall be more content .”
The boot maker bowed humbly and asked from where he could obtain the teachings of Buddha.
"The teachings of Buddha are contained in the scriptures called the turning of the wheel of law. This is in Sanskrit whereas our language is Bhot . If you want I will come to you for the next few days and tell you of the message of Buddha."
"That will be most kind of you Holy Gyatsho Tshering," said Tongstan.
And so began the education of Tongstan. At first they met only on holidays but having once started, Tongsatn found his heart so light that he wanted his friend to come everyday. Sometimes he got so absorbed in the discussions that the oil in his lamp burnt out before he could think of bidding his friend goodbye. Before, when he went to bed he used to lie with a heavy heart moaning as he thought of his son but now he only found peace and contentment.
From that time, Tongstan's whole life changed. He became peaceful and calm. The more he discussed the teachings of Buddha, the better he understood life and the clearer and happier he felt in his mind.
Now Tongstan was also the boot maker of the king of Tibet, Khrisong Detson , who lived in his majestic Khriste Marpo (the Red Palace). Tongstan frequently went to the king to make or mend his shoes. This had brought him quiet close to the king and he frequently shared his grief and sorrow with him.
One day the king asked him, “Tongstan, you lost your only son sometimes back and had lost all desire to live. Now I notice your sorrow seems to have lessened and you are at peace with yourself. What has brought about this miracle?”
“My Lord,” replied the boot maker, “ It is the teachings of the Buddha. He has taught me the meaning of life.”
“You know Tongstan, I too have heard of the many wonders of the Buddha. But I have never understood the full meaning of his religion. I still get confused between our earlier beliefs when we followed the Shamnistic religion and worshiped our local Gods and these teachings of Buddha. Very recently a man from Udayana1 in north-west Aryadesh2 has come to my court. His name is Padma Sambhava. He too speaks of the many wonders of Buddha. Why don't you bring your monk friend to me so that we may all learn something more?”
“Ofcourse, Your Majesty. I shall do as you bid.”
And so Gyatsho Tshering was brought to the king and there again began a long series of discussions between this Tibetan monk, Padma Sambhava, the king and the bootmaker. As king Khrisong Detson knew how to read, he also began studying the Buddhist scriptures. Meanwhile, Gyatsho Tshering, the old Tibetan monk, fell sick, and died.
His death had a profound effect on the king. He relapsed into sorrow and began wondering about the meaning of life. Not able to contain himself any longer, he one day asked Padma Sambhava what is happiness and how it could be obtained.
“There is no absolute happiness, Your Load,” replied Padma Sambhava. “Indeed, dukh or suffering is inherent in our lives. It is due to our craving for individual satisfaction. It can be reduced by stopping this craving; and this can only be done by taking a middle path as propounded by Buddha.”
“And what is this middle path?” asked the king.
“This, My Lord,” replied Padma Sambhava, “is following a course between self –indulgence and extreme asceticism, and leading a moral and well ordered life.”
Khrisong Detson thought about this for some time. After a long silence he asked: “How can one follow this middle path?”
“My Lord, it is Right Views, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Recollection and Right Meditation.”
The king remained quiet for a long time. The more he thought about this path, the more he liked the idea.
&“Did Buddha preach this?” he asked.
“Yes, My Lord,” replied Padma Sambhava. “That is why we call him Tathagata. It means he who has attained enlightenment.”
“He certainly was a great man, Padma Sambhava,” said the king. “ Did he say anything about suffering?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” replied the man from Aryadesh.
“That birth is suffering, aging is suffering, disease is suffering, death is suffering, every wish unfulfilled is suffering inshort all the five components of individuality are suffering.”
The more Detson contemplated these answers, the more merit he began seeing in the teachings of Buddha. He brooded about these answers for many days. Then one day he asked Padma Sambhava what is the best way to avoid these sufferings.
“This is called the Noble Truth of Stopping of Suffering, My Lord,” he replied .“ It is the complete elimination of that thirst so that no passion remains. It means completely leaving this thirst, being free from it, giving no place to it.”
However, despite these long talks with Padma Sambhava, Khrisong Detson was still not completely convinced of the merits of Buddha's teachings compared to his own beliefs of local Gods. So one day he asked his Indian friend: “Holy man, you also know something of occult sciences. Why can't you ask your Buddha to come and speak to me about the truth of life?”
Padma Sambhava contemplated the king's question for a long time. “Very well, Your Highness. I will today do something. I am sure Buddha will grant your wish and come to you in person.”
That night as Detson was gloomily contemplating about life, he laid his head upon both his arms and before he was aware of it, he fell asleep.
“King Detson!” he suddenly heard a voice, as if someone had breathed the words above his ear.
He started from his sleep. “Who's there?” he asked.
He turned around and looked at the door; no one was there. He called again. Then he heard quite distinctly: “King Detson, king Detson! Go to your friend, the bootmaker's room tomorrow. Ask him to leave you alone for a day and look out for me, for I shall come. But be sure to be alone.”
So the next morning Detson rose well before daylight and after eating some food, quietly went to the room of his friend, Tongstan. There he told Tongstan that he wishes to spend the whole day alone in his room for contemplation. Much shocked and confused, Tongstan left the king alone. He himself went to spend the day in the monastery of Samye.
So Detson sat by the window, looking out into the street, and whenever any one passed the window, he would crane his neck to see who was passing by. A porter passed in torn clothes; then a water carrier. Some children playfully ran past the window. Presently an old army soldier came near the window, spade in hand. It was Tsering Wangyal, whom Detson knew. Then Tsering Wangyal began clearing the snow in front of the window.
“I must be growing crazy,” said Khrishong Detson, laughing at his fancy. 'Tsering Wangyal comes to clear away the snow, and I am imagining it's Buddha coming to visit me. I am a fool.”
Yet, after he had waited for sometime he felt drawn to look out of the window again.He saw that Tsering Wangyal had leaned his spade against the wall and was either resting himself or trying to get warm. The man was old and broken down, and had evidently not enough strength even to clear away the snow.
'What if I called him in and gave him some tea?' thought Detson.
He slowly rose and putting the samovar on the table, made tea. Then he tapped the window with his fingers. Tsering Wangyal turned and came to the window. Detson beckoned to him to come in and went himself to open the door.
“Come in,” he said, “and warm yourself a bit. I'm sure you must be cold.”
Seeing the king, Wangyal was shocked. “My king,” he said. “What brings you to this humble abode?”
“Hush,” whispered the king. “I am here to meet someone. But let that not disturb you. Come, my friend, first have some tea with me.”
“You are a very kind man,” Wangyal answered. “My bones do ache but then I am an old man.” He started shaking off the snow, and lest he should leave marks on the floor, began wiping the sole of his shoes. But as he did so, he tottered and fell.
Detson rushed to lift him and gently put him in a chair. Filling two tumblers with tea, he passed one to his visitor and pouring his own into the saucer, began to blow on it.
But while Wangyal drank his tea, Detson kept looking into the street.
“Who are you expecting, My Lord?” asked the visitor after some time. “If I am an intrusion, I may be permitted to leave.”
“Pray do not be cruel, “said Detson. “It is true I am expecting someone. But that does not mean you should leave.” And so saying Detson poured more tea into the visitor's tumbler.
They sat in the silence for a long time. Then Wangyal Tsering got up and said : “Thank you , Your Majesty. You have given me food and comfort, both for soul and body. You are much more than a king. You are a noble man.”
Slowly Tsering walked to the door and when out, blessed his host. Detson again began looking out of the window, waiting for Buddha and thinking about him and his doings. His head was full of his preachings.
Two town people went by; then a baker carrying a basket. Then a woman came up in peasant made shoes. She passed the window but stopped by the wall. Detson glanced up at her through the window and saw that she was poorly dressed and had a baby in her arms. Detson heard the baby crying and the woman trying to soothe it. He rose and going out of the door, called her.
“Why do you stand out there with the baby in the cold? Come inside. You can wrap him up better in a warm place. Come this way.”
The woman was surprised but she followed him inside the room. He took her near the stove and said: “Sit down, my dear and warm yourself. Also please feed the baby.”
“Haven't any milk. I have eaten nothing myself since early morning,” said the woman but still she took the baby to her breast.
Detson shook his head. He brought out a tumbler and some bread. Into it he poured some cabbage soup and said: “Eat my dear and I'll mind the baby.”
The woman began eating while Detson put the baby on the bed and sat down beside it. He chuckled and chuckled and soon the baby was laughing. He drove his finger straight into the baby's mouth and then quickly drew it back, and he did this again and again. This made the baby laugh all the more and Detson felt quite pleased.
The woman sat eating and talking, and told him who she was and where she had been.
When she had finished eating she got up to go. Detson sighed.
“Haven't you any warmer clothing?” he asked.
“No,” she replied. “I cannot afford anything better.” Then the woman came to the bed and took the child. Detson picked up his long cloak which he had earlier hung on a nail on the wall and gave it to her.
“Here,” he said. “It will do to wrap him up.”
The woman looked at the cloak, then at her host, and taking it, burst into tears. While leaving she thanked and blessed him.
After the woman left, Detson drank some cabbage soup and again began waiting. Presently he saw an old apple woman just in front of his window. She had a large basket but there did not seem to be many apples in it; she had evidently sold most of her stock. She placed the basket on the ground in order to rest and while she was looking further towards the street, a boy in a tattered cap ran towards her, snatched an apple out of the basket and tried to slip away. But the old woman noticed it and caught the boy by the sleeve. The boy screamed and the old woman began scolding and beating him. Detson rushed out and heard the boy saying, “I did not take it. What are you beating me for? Let me go.”
Detson separated them. He took the boy by the hand and said, “Let him go, mother. Forgive him. He is just a child.”
“I'll teach him a lesson so that he won't forget for a year! He is a rascal!”
“Let him go, mother. He won't do it again. Please let him go.”
The old woman let go and the boy wished to run away but Detson stopped him.
“Ask the lady's forgiveness,” he said. “And don't do it another time. I saw you take the apple.”
The boy began to cry and to beg pardon.
“That's right. And now here's an apple for you,” and Detson took an apple from the basket and gave it to the boy, saying, “I will pay you, mother.”
“You will spoil them that way, the young rascals,” said the old woman.” He ought to be beaten so that he would remember it for a week.”
“Oh, mother,” said Detson, “that's the simple way but it's not the correct way. If he should be beaten for stealing an apple, what should be done to us for our sins.”
The old woman was silent.
“We should forgive,” dear mother,” said Detson, “or else we shall not be forgiven. And we should forgive a thoughtless youngster, most of all.
“It's true enough.” she said. “But they are getting terribly spoilt.”
“Then we must show them better ways,” Detson replied.
Soon enough the old woman was about to move and as she picked her basket, the boy sprang forward to her, saying. “Let me carry it for you, mother. I'm going that way.”
The old woman nodded her head and as they moved away, she blessed Detson but quite forgot to ask him to pay for the apple.
When they were out of sight, Detson returned to his room to again await the arrival of Buddha. But no one came and presently it was evening. Feeling tired, he lay down to rest. As he was about to go to sleep he seemed to hear footsteps, as though someone was moving behind him. Detson turned around and it seemed to him as if people were standing in the dark corner but he could not make out who they were. And a voice whispered in his ear: “King Detson, king Detson! Don't you know me?
“Who is it muttered Detson?”
“It is I,” said the voice. And out of the dark stepped Tsering Wangyal, who smiled and vanishing like a cloud was seen no more.
“It is I,” said another voice after a few moments. And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms and the woman smiled and the baby laughed, and they too vanished.
“It is I,” said a third voice and this time Detson saw the old apple woman and the boy stepping out of the darkness and smiling. They too vanished quickly like the others.
And Detson felt good. He understood that Buddha had visited him through these people and had shown him the correct way to live. He understood that only by following his message can he and his people attain enlightenment. He understood that he was blessed as Buddha had visited him and it was now his duty to spread his message throughout his kingdom.
King Detson called Padma Sambhava the next morning and after narrating him his experiences of the previous day said: ”My friend , you are truly a remarkable man. I waited for the Buddha and he came. He told me the meaning of life. I am blessed. From now onwards I will call you Guru Padma Sambhava. As for me, I will devote the remainder of my life in spreading the message of Buddha.
As A child in the early 1950’s I was a frequent visitor to the botanical garden of Lucknow, Popularly known as Sikandar bagh. It was then a very quiet and deserted area of the city. On its outskirts was a dilapidated two storeyed house, a Haveli with its own garden, which was rumoured to be haunted.
It was said that long hack a Hakim and his pretty daughter lived in the Haveli. The Hakim was given to making various types of medicines and poisons from thxe plants in his garden. He often injected them with the blood and urine of various animals including goats, rabbits, buffaloes and monkeys. In these experiments, his daughter also assisted him. He often experimented his products on her.
Once a young man, a Nawab, came to live in a house near the Haveli. He and the pretty daughter soon fell in love. The Hakim was infuriated. When all his entreaties to his daughter failed, he had the Nawab poisoned with the juices of his plants.
Since then the Haveli became haunted and many tales were associated with the young lovers and the wicked Hakim.
This story is based on these tales.
A young Nawab, named Salim Ansari, came in 1894 to the city of Lucknow to pursue his studies of the Persian language. Ansari took his lodgings in a old gloomy building situated near the botanical garden or Sikandar bagh, as it was locally called. These despondent surroundings, together with the tendency to heartbreak, natural to a young man for the first time out of his native sphere, Caused Salim to sigh heavily as he looked around the desolate and ill-furnished old house.
“Do you find this old mansion gloomy?” asked the old maid, who was also the housekeeper. “If you do then put your head out of the window, and you will see a garden that has all the beauty of the world.”
Ansari mechanically did as the old woman advised, and was immediately struck by the grandeur of the garden which seemed to have been cultivated with exceeding care.
“Does this garden belong to the house?” asked Salim.
“No, Nawab sahib.” This garden belongs to the Haveli you see yonder and is cultivated by the own hands of Hakim Anwar Khan, a naturalist, and a famous man of our town,” said the old maid. “It is said that he distills these plants into medicines that are as potent as a charm. Very often you will see the Khan Sahib at work, and sometimes his daughter, too, gathering the strange flowers that grow in the garden.”
The old woman had now done what she could for the information of her young master, and making an excuse, took her leave.
Salim still found no better occupation that to look down into the garden beneath his window. From its appearance, he judged it to be one of those botanical garden which might once have been the pleasure place of an opulent family, for there was the ruin of a marble fountain in the centre in which the water gushed and sparkled as cheerfully as ever. All about the pool into which the water subsided, grew various plants, that seemed to require a plentiful supply of moisture for their nourishment they all had gigantic leaves, and, in some instances huge gorgeously magnificent flowers.
While Salim stood at the window, he heard a rustling behind a screen of leaves, and became aware that a person was at work in the garden. His figure soon emerged into view, and showed itself to be that of no common laborer, but a tall, emaciated, sallow, and sickly-looking man, dressed in a black Sherwani and white narrow pyjamas. He was beyond the middle age, with grey hair, thin grey beard, and a face marked with intellect and cultivation.
Nothing could exceed the intentness with which this gardener examined every shrub which grew in his path. However, he avoided their actual touch or the direct inhaling of their odors with a caution that surprised Salim.
The distrustful gardener, while plucking away the dead leaves or pruning the too luxuriant growth of the shrubs, defended his hands with a pair of thick gloves. Nor were these his only armor. When, in his walk through the garden, he come to the magnificent plant that hung its purple gems beside the marble fountain, he placed a king of mask over his mouth and nostrils, but, finding his task still too dangerous, he drew back, removed the mask, and called loudly.
“Here I am, father. What would you?” cried a rich and youthful voice from the window of his Haveli. “Are you in the garden?”
“Yes Nafisa”, answered the gardener,” and I need your help.”
Soon there emerged from under a sculptured portal the figure of a beautiful girl. As Nafisa come down the garden path, it was observable that the she handled and inhaled the odor of several of the plants which her father has most sedulously avoided.
“Here, Nafisa”, said the, latter, “see many chores are required to be done to our chief treasure. I am afraid my life might pay the penalty of approaching it too closely. Henceforth, this plant must be consigned to your sole charge.”
“I will look after it with pleasure,” cried again the rich tones of the young lady, as she bent towards the magnificent plant and opened her arms as if to embrace it.
Then, with all the tenderness in her manner, she busied herself with such attentions as the plant seemed to require, and Salim, from the precincts of his window rubbed his eyes and almost doubted whether it were a girl tending her favorite flower, or one sister performing the duties of affection to another. The scene soon terminated. Night was already closing in, and Salim closing the lattice, went to his bed and dreamed of a rich flower and a beautiful girl.
Salim’s first movement, on starting from sleep, was to throw open the window and gaze shown into the garden. He was surprised and a little ashamed to find how real and matter-of-fact an affair it proved to be. The young man rejoiced that, next to his gloomy chambers, he had the privilege of overlooking this spot of lovely and luxuriant vegetation.
In the course of the day he paid his respects to Iqbal Mohammad, professor of medicine in the local university and a physician of eminent repute, to whom Salim had brought a letter of introduction. The professor was of genial and jovial nature. He kept the young man, the son of his friend, to lunch and made himself very agreeable by the freedom and liveliness of his conversation. Salim, conceiving that men of eminence and inhabitants of the same city must be on familiar terms with one another, took an opportunity to mention the name of Hakim Anwar Khan. The professor reacted to this name in a manner which made Salim realize that these two eminent people are not on the best of terms.
“Although knowledgeable, Anwar Khan is a man given to very unusual and dangerous experiments,” said the professor. “He is a man who might hereafter hold your life and death in his hand, if he comes to know you. There are certain grave objections to his medical art and experiments.”
“And what are they?” asked the young man.
“What is it”, asked the professor, that makes you so inquisitive about him. As I have already informed you, he is a most unworthy man who would sacrifice human life, his own among the rest, or whatever else was dearest to him, for the sake of adding to his evil knowledge.
“It is a theory,” continued the professor, “that all medicinal virtues are comprised within those substances which we term vegetable poisons. These he cultivates with his own hands, and fertilizes them with manure consisting of goat’s blood and some herbs. It is said he has even produced new varieties of poison, more horribly deleterious than anything known.”
The young Nawab was shocked. But having realized the professors antipathy to the Hakim, he took his statement with a pinch of salt.
At length he said,” I do not know how deadly Hakim Anwar Khan’s experiments are, but surely there is one object more dear to him. He has a daughter.”
“Aha!” cried the professor, with a laugh. “So now your secret is out. You have heard of his daughter, whom all the young men in Lucknow are wild about, though not half a dozen have ever had the good fortune to see her face. I know little of Nafisa save that Anwar Khan is said to have instructed her deeply in his science, and that, young and beautiful as fame reports her, she is already qualified to continue conducting his experiments.”
The pleasant lunch soon ended and Salim returned to his lodgings somewhat excited with the conversation of the afternoon. On his way, he bought a bouquet of flowers.
Ascending to his chamber, he seated himself near the window, so what he could look down into the garden with little risk of being discovered. All beneath his eyes was solitude. Soon, however, as Salim had half hoped, a figure appeared beneath the antique sculptured portal and come down between the rows of plants, inhaling their various perfumes. On again beholding the young lady, the Nawab was amazed to perceive how much her beauty exceeded his recollection of it. He was struck by her face of simplicity and sweetness.
Approaching the shrub, she threw open her arms, and drew its branches into an intimate embrace – so intimate that her features were hidden by the shrub and her glistening ringlets all intermingled with the flowers.
“Give me your breath, my sister,” exclaimed Nafisa, “for I am faint with common air. And give me this flower of yours, so that I may place it close beside my heart.”
With these words the beautiful daughter of Anwar Khan plucked one of the richest blossoms of the shrub, and was about fasten it in her bosom. But now a singular incident happened. A small orange-colored reptile chanced to be creeping along the path, just at the feet of Nafisa. It appeared to Salim that a drop or two of moisture from the broken stem of the flower descended upon the lizard’s head.
For an instant the reptile contorted itself violently, and then lay motionless. Nafisa observed this remarkable phenomenon sadly but without surprise; nor did she hesitate to arrange the fatal flower in her bosom.
“Am I awake? Have I my senses?” said the Nawab to himself. “What is this being? Beautiful shall I call her, or inexpressibly terrible?”
Nafisa now strayed carelessly through the garden, approaching closer beneath Salim’s window. At this moment there came an insect over the garden wall. Without alighting on the flowers. It lingered in the air and fluttered about Nafisa’s head. And lo! What did Salim see? He saw that While Nafisa was gazing at the insect with childish delight, it grew faint and fell at her feet ; its bright wings shivered, it was dead- from no cause that he could discern. Again Nafisa sighed heavily as she bent over the dead insect.
An impulsive movement of Salim drew her eyes to the window.
“May I introduce myself,” said the Nawab. “I am Salim Ansari, a Nawab from a small town near Lucknow. I have come to this city to pursue higher studies in Persian.” Here the young man stopped, coughed and then continued, “It is my good fortune to have this beautiful garden next to my chamber and more than to have made the acquaintance of its lovely owner.” So saying, the young Salim Ansari , with all the ardor at his command , threw down the bouquet.
“Please accept this gift,” said the Nawab.
“Thanks, Nawab sahib,” replied Nafisa, with her rich voice that sounded like music. “I accept your gift.”
She lifted the bouquet from the ground, and then, as if inwardly ashamed at having stepped aside from her maidenly reserve to respond to a stranger’s greeting, passed swiftly homeward through the garden. But few as the moments were, it seemed to Salim, when she was at the point of vanishing beneath the sculptured portal, that his beautiful bouquet was already beginning to wither in her grasp.
For many after this incident, the Youngman avoided the window that looked into Anwar Khan’s garden, as if something ugly and monstrous would have blasted his eyesight had he been betrayed into a glance. He felt conscious of having put himself, to a certain extent, within the influence of an unintelligible power. Whether or not Nafisa possessed that terrible attribute, that fatal breath, she had at least instilled a fierce and subtle poison into his system.
Sometimes he endeavored to assuage the fever of his spirit by a rapid walk through the streets of Lucknow. One day while so walking, he met Professor Iqbal Mohammad.
“Salim Ansari!” the professor cried, “Where have you been?”
Endeavoring to recover himself from this sudden encounter, Salim quietly said: “How are you professor sahib?”
“I am fine. But what about you? Do you wish to have no contact with me?”
“Of course not, professor sahib. It is just that I have been very busy lately,” said the young Nawab.
Now, while he has speaking came a man in black along the street, stooping and moving feebly like a person in inferior health. His face was all overspread with a most sickly and sallow hue. As he passed, this person exchanged a cold and distant nod with the professor, but fixed his eyes upon Salim with an intentness that was unerring.
“It is Anwar Khan,” whispered the professor when the stranger had passed. “Has he ever seen your face before?”
“Not that I know,” answered Salim, starting at the name.
“He has seen you! He must have seen you!” said Iqbal Mohammad, hastily.” For some purpose or other, this man is making a study of you. I know that look of his! It is the same that illuminates his face as he bends over a bird, a mouse, or butterfly, which, in pursuance of some experiment, he has killed by the perfume of a flower. Salim, I say it with all authority, you are the subject of one of Anwar Khan’s experiments.”
“I can’t believe it, “replied the startled Nawab.
“You must, you must,” said the professor in haste. “I tell you that Anwar Khan has a professional interest in you. You have fallen into his fearful hands! And Nafisa is a part of this conspiracy.”
“This cannot be,” said Iqbal Mohammad to himself after Salim had gone. “The young Nawab is the son of my old friend, and should not come to any harm. I have a premotion that Anwar Khan is going to make a use of him for his infernal experiments along with his daughter. I must stop this.”
Meanwhile Salim after a circuitous walk, returned to his lodgings. As he crossed the threshold he was met by the old maid.
“Is there a way by which I can enter the gardens?” asked Salim of the maid.
“Yes, my master. There is a secret private entrance.”
“What do you say?” exclaimed Salim, “a private entrance into the Hakim’s garden?”
“Hush-hush! not so loud!” whispered the maid, putting her hands over his mouth. “Yes, into the Hakim’s garden, where you may see all his shrubbery. Many a young man in Lucknow would give gold to be admitted among those flowers.”
“Then show me the way,” said Salim.
After some hesitation, the maid led him along several obscure passages, and finally undid a door, though which, As it was opened, there came the sight and sound of rustling leaves, with the broken sunshine glimmering among them. Salim stepped forth, and walking a few steps found himself beneath his own window in the open area of Hakim Anwar Khan’s garden.
Once in the garden, he threw a glance ground the garden to discover whether Nafisa or her father were present, and perceiving that he was alone, began a critical observation of the plants.
His studies disappointed him. He found the plants, shrubs and flowers huge and too gorgeous. But other than that, they seemed normal. While busy in her observations, he heard the rustling of a silken garment, and turning, beheld Nafisa emerging from beneath the sculptured portal.
Salim had not considered , that in the event of his meeting Nafisa or her father, what should be his behavior, whether he should apologize or assume that he was there as a neighbor. But Nafisa’s manner placed him at ease. She came lightly along the path and met him near the broken fountain. There was a surprise in her face, which was brightened by a simple and kind expression of pleasure.
“You seem to be a connoisseur of flowers, Nawab sahib,” said Nafisa with a smile. “It is no marvel, therefore if the sight of my father’s rare collection has tempted you take a nearer view. If he were here, he could tell you many strange and interesting facts as to the nature and habits of these shrubs; for he has spent a lifetime in such studies, and this garden is his world.”
“And yourself, Nafisaji,” observed Salim with a deep bow, “If I am to believe what your fame says, are likewise deeply skilled in the virtues of these rich blossoms and these spicy perfumes.”
“Are there such rumors about my fame?” asked Nafisa, with the music of a pleasant laugh. “No, though I have grown up among these flowers, I know very little of their hues and perfumes. There are many flowers here that shock and offend me. But pray, Nawab sahib, do not believe what people say of me. Believe nothing of me save what you see with your own eyes.”
“But must I believe all that I have seen with my eyes?” asked Salim, pointedly, while recollecting the former scenes which made him sick.
It would appear that Nafisa understood him. There came a deep flush to her cheek; but she looked full into Salim’s eyes, and responded to his gaze of uneasy suspicion with a queen like haughtiness.
“Forget whatever you may have fancied in regard to me,” she said. “You must only believe whatever I tell you because the words come from my heart. Come, let us take a walk around the gardens.”
While they walked her manner became gay and she talked about matters as simple as the daylight or monsoon clouds, or asked questions in reference to the city, or Salim’s distant home, his friends, his mother and his sisters- questions indicating such seclusion , and such lack of familiarity with the world , that Salim responded as if to an infant. In this free intercourse they had walked through the gardens and after many turns among its avenues, came to the magnificent shrub, standing beside the fountain. It had a fragrance which Salim recognized as identical with Nafisa’s breath, but incomparably more powerful. As her eyes fell upon it, Salim beheld her press her hand to her bosom as if her heart were throbbing suddenly and painfully.
“For the first time in my life,” Nafisa murmured addressing the shrub, “I had forgotten you. “
At this stage Salim extended a hand to pluck a flower from the shrub in order to present it to the beautiful woman; but Nafisa darting forward, uttered a shriek that went through his heart like a dagger. She caught his hand and drew it back with the while force of her slender figure.
“Do not touch it!” exclaimed Nafisa, in a voice of agony. “Not for your life! It is fatal!”
Then hiding her face, she fled from him and vanished beneath the sculptured portal. As Salim followed her with his eyes, he beheld the emaciated figure of Anwar Khan, who had been watching the scene from the shadow of the entrance.
After this first interview, a second followed; and then a third; a fourth; and thereupon a meeting with Nafisa in the garden became a part of Salim’s daily life. He began thinking and dreaming of nothing else but meeting his Nafisa.
But, with all this intimate familiarity, there still was a reserve in Nafisa’s demeanor. By all appreciable signs they loved; but their love lacked something which he could not fathom.
A considerable time had now passed since Salim’s last meeting with professor Iqbal Mohammad. One morning, the professor visited him.
The professor chatted carelessly for a few minutes and then said:
“I wonder whether you remember the old story of the Persian prince, who sent a beautiful woman as a present to Alexander, the great. She was as lovely as the dawn and as gorgeous as the sunset, but what especially distinguished her was a certain rich perfume in her breath. Alexander, as was natural to a youthful conqueror, fell in love at first sight with this magnificent stranger, but a certain physician, happening to be present, discovered a terrible secret in regard to her.”
“And what was that?” asked Salim, turning his eyes downward to avoid those of the professor.
“That this lovely woman,” continued the professor, with emphasis, had been nourished with poisons from her birth upward, until her whole nature was so imbued with them, that she herself had become the deadliest poison in existence. With that rich perfume of her breath, she could put to death almost anyone. Her love would have been poison-her embrace death. Is this not a marvelous tale?”
“A childish fable,” answered Salim nervously starting from his chair.
“By the by,” said the professor, looking uneasily about him, what singular fragrance is this in your apartment? Is it the perfume of your handkerchief? It is like the smell of a flower, but I see no flowers in the chamber.”
“Nor are there any,” replied Salim, who had turned pale as the professor spoke, “nor, I think, is there any fragrance except in your imagination.”
“Ay; but my imagination does not often play such tricks,” said professor Iqbal Mohammad. “Our friend Anwar Khan, as I have heard, tinctures his medicaments with odors richer than those found anywhere. Doubtless, likewise, the fair Nafisa would minister draughts as sweet as a maiden’s breath, but woe to him that inhales them!”
Salim’s face evinced many contending emotions. The tone in which the professor alluded to the pure and lovely daughter of Anwar Khan was not to his to liking.
“Professor Sahib,” said Salim, “you are being most unfair to Nafisa. To call her breath poison is,” here the young Nawab hesitated before he uttered the words, “evil thinking.”
“Salim,” answered the professor, with a calm expression of pity, “I know this wretched girl far better than you. Now hear the truth in respect of the poisoner Anwar Khan and his poisonous daughter, yes, poisonous as she is beautiful. That old fable of the Persian woman has become a truth by the deep and deadly experiments of Anwar Khan.”
Salim groaned and hid his face.
“Her father,” continued the professor “is a genius, but an evil genius. Beyond a doubt you are selected as the material of some new experiment. Perhaps the result is to be death; perhaps a face more awful still.”
“It cannot be,” muttered Salim to himself. “It cannot be.” he repeated feebly.
“But,” resumed the professor, “I am your father’s friend and so have to help you. Look at this little silver vase! Its contents are invaluable. One little sip of this antidote would render all other poisons innocuous. Doubt not its efficacy. We can still help this unfortunate girl. Give this precious liquid to your dear Nafisa and see the result. I am sure it will have the desired effect.”
The professor laid a small, exquisitely wrought silver vial on the table. He then took his leave and departed.
It was now the customary hour of daily interview with Nafisa. Before descending into the garden, Salim looked himself in the mirror. While gazing he said to himself:
“At least her poison has not yet lodged itself into my system. I am no flower to perish in her grasp.”
With that thought he turned his eyes on the bouquet, which he had planned to present to her. A thrill of indefinable horror shot through his frame on his perceiving that those dewy flowers were already beginning to droop. Salim grew white as marble, and stood motionless before the mirror. He remembered the professor’s remark about the fragrance that seemed to pervade the chamber. It must have been the poison of his breath. Then he shuddered at himself. Recovering from his stupor, he began to watch with a curious eye a spider that had just entered his room. Salim bent towards the insect and emitted a deep, long breath. The spider suddenly dropped to the floor. Again Salim sent forth a breath, deeper, longer, and imbued with a venomous feeling out of his heart. The spider made a convulsive grip with its limbs and was dead.
“Accursed! accursed am I!” muttered Salim addressing himself. “My breath has become so poisonous that this deadly insect perished by my breath?”
At that moment a rich, sweet voice came floating up from the garden.
“Salim! Salim! It is past the hour! Please come down!”
“Yes,” muttered Salim again. “She is perhaps the only being whom my breath may not slay!”
He rushed down, and in an instant was standing before the bright and loving eyes of Nafisa. A moment ago his wrath and despair had been so fierce that he could have desired nothing so much as to wither her by glance; but in her actual presence, Salim’s rage was quelled. Nafisa, with a quick spiritual sense, immediately felt that there was a gulf of blackness between them. They walked on together, sad and silent, and came to the marble fountain, and to its pool of water in the midst of which grew the shrub that bore gem-like blossoms.
“Nafisa,” he asked, abruptly, “from where has this shrub come?”
“My father created it,” she answered, with simplicity.
“Created it?” repeated Salim. “What do you mean, Nafisa?”
“He is a man fearfully acquainted with the secrets of nature,” replied Nafisa; “and at the time when I was born, he created it by extracting from an existing plant its juices. Then he mixed them with goat’s blood and some herbs; this mixture was reinjected into the plant to give it a new life.”
Here she stopped speaking for a few moments. However seeing that Salim was approaching the shrub she said with terror: “Don’t approach it! It has qualities that you cannot dream of. But I, dearest Salim, - I grew up and blossomed with this plant and was nourished with its breath. I have loved it as my sister. But,” and here Nafisa became quiet.
“But what?” asked Salim.
“It is all wrong,” said Nafisa. “I have realized that an awful doom awaits me. It was all wrong.”
There was a long silence. Salim noticed that tears welled up in Nafisa’s eyes. Then she continued:
“Yes, there is an awful doom. The effect of my father’s fatal love of plants has estranged me from all society. I am so lonely.”
“Is it a hard doom?” asked Salim, fixing his eyes upon her.
“Only of late have I known hard it is,” she answered tenderly.
Salim’s rage broke forth from this sullen gloom like a lightning flash out of a dark cloud.
“Accursed one!” he cried, with venom and anger. “And finding your solitude unbearable, you have poisoned me likewise and enticed me into your region of unspeakable horror!”
“Nawab Sahib!” exclaimed Nafisa, turning her large bright eyes upon his face. The force of his words had not found its way into her mind; she was merely thunderstruck.
“Yes, poisonous thing!” repeated Salim, beside himself withy passion. “You have done it! You have filled my veins with poison! You have made me as fateful, as ugly, as loathsome and as deadly a creature as yourself! Now, if our breaths are as fatal to ourselves as to all others, let us join our lips in one kiss of unutterable hatred, and so die!”
“What has befallen you?” murmured Nafisa, with a low moan out of her heart. “Holy God, pity me, a poor heartbroken child!”
“Aha, so you want mercy from God and wish to pray,” Cried Slim, still with the same friendish scorn, “Your prayers, as they come from your lips, taint the atmosphere with death.”
“Nawab sahib,” said Nafisa calmly, for her grief was beyond passion, “why do you say such terrible words. I, it is true am the horrible thing you can call me. But what have you to do, except with one shudder at my hideous misery, go out of this garden and mingle with your people and forget that there ever lived a woman called Nafisa.”
At this stage there came a swarm of insects in the garden. They circled around Salim’s head, and were evidently attracted towards him by the same smells which had drawn them to the shrubs. He sent forth a long breath among them, and smiled bitterly at Nafisa, as at least a score of them dead upon the ground.
“I see it! I see it! shrieked Nafisa. “It is my father’s fatal experiments. No, no Nawab sahib; it is not I! I dreamed only to love you and be with you and then let you go, keeping only your image in my heart.”
There was a long pause before she continued. “Nawab Sahib, believe me; though my body is nourished with poison, my spirit is God’s creature , and craves love as much as yours. But my father- Oh! He is evil. Yes; spurn me, tread upon me, and kill me! Oh what is death after such words as yours? But it is not I who am to blame. Not for a world of bliss would I have done it.”
There now came upon Salim a sense of remorse. He became mournful and tender and felt intimate in the peculiar relationship between Nafisa and himself.
“Dear Nafisa,”he said, approaching her, while she shrank away as always at his approach. “Dearest Nafisa, our fate is not yet so desperate. I have something special. Look! There is a potent medicine, which my physician friend has assured me, is very effective. It is composed of ingredients, the most opposite of what your awful father mixes and which has brought this calamity upon us. Should we not drink it together, and thus be purified from evil?”
“Give it to me!” said Nafisa, extending her hand to receive the little silver vial which Salim took out from his pocket. She added, with a peculiar emphasis, “I will drink it first; you await the result.”
She was about to put Iqbal Mohammad’s antidote to her lips when, at the same moment, the figure of Anwar Khan emerged from the marble fountain. As he drew near, the pale man gazed with a triumphant expression at the beautiful youth and his daughter. He paused and his bent form grew erect with conscious power; he spread out his hands over them in the attitude of a father giving a blessing upon his children. Salim trembled. Nafisa shuddered nervously, and pressed her hand upon her heart.
“My daughter”, said Anwar Khan, “you are no longer lonely in the world. Pluck one of those precious gems from your sister shrub and ask your bridegroom to wear it on his coat.
“My father,” said Nafisa feebly, “Why did you inflict this miserable doom upon me – your only child?”
“Miserable!” exclaimed Anwar Kan. “What do you mean, foolish girl? Do you deem it a misery to be endowed with such a marvelous and unique gift by which your breath can end the life of the mightiest? Do you deem it a misery to be as terrible as you are beautiful? Would you have preferred the life of a weak woman, exposed to all evil and capable of doing nothing?”
“I would have liked to love, not feared, “murmured Nafisa sinking down upon the ground. “But now it does not matter. I am going father where the evil which you have striven to mingle in my body will pass away like a dream-like the fragrance of these poisonous flowers.”
“I am going to drink this antidote which Nawab sahib has brought; either it will liberate me from your evil poisons or take me to the world beyond; where hopefully there will be no evil.” So saying she drank the antidote.
Within a few moments, she felt dizzy and knew that the antidote she had taken had failed. As she fell, she raised her hands and said: “Farewell Nawab sahib, my love.”
Just at that moment Professor Iqbal Mohammad looked out from the window where he had been sitting and called loudly, in a tone of triumph to the thunder stricken Hakim.
“Anwar Khan! Anwar Khan. This is the upshot of your evil experiments!”
By the mid nineteenth century the Sikh kingdom built by Ranjit Singh was in decay. One weak ruler after another was deposed in quick succession till in 1843 Dalip Singh, a minor, was acknowledged as king with his mother, Rani Jhindon, as Regent. These events led to the rise of the Khalsa army as the predominant force in the kingdom. The army began a series of hostile acts against the British including the crossing of the Sutlej river on the East. This led the Governor General Sir Henry (afterwards Lord) Hardinge to declare a war on the Sikh state. The British army moved towards Punjab and after a series of skirmishes finally defeated the Khalsa army at Sobraon in February 1848. This incident occurred in February, 1846 near Ferozepur, a small town in Punjab. -Author
Major Broadfoot, the giant sized Commandant of the British troops near Ferozepure, a small town of Punjab, was reading his newspaper, lying back in his great armchair, with his booted feet on the beautiful carpet, where his spurs had made two holes which grew deeper every day during the two months that he had been in this old dilapidated house.
A cup of tea was smoking on a small table which was placed next to his armchair. When he had read his letters and the British newspaper which his baggage master had brought him he got up, and after throwing two or three enormous pieces of green wood onto the fire, for these gentlemen were gradually cutting down the forests in order to keep themselves warm: he went to the window. The rain was descending in torrents, a regular Punjab winter rain, which made the surroundings even more forbidding and gloomy.
For a long time the officer looked at the sodden turf and the forests beyond it, and he was drumming a waltz on the windowpanes with his fingers, when a noise made him turn around: It was his second in command, Captain Harry Smith.
The Commandant shook hands with him and drank his cup of tea (the sixth that morning) as a draught, while he listened to his subordinates report of what had occurred and they both went to the window and declared that it was a very unpleasant outlook. The Major who was a quiet man with a wife at home, could accommodate himself to everything but the Captain, given to women, was mad at having been shut up for two months in the compulsory chastity of this wretched hole.
There was a knock at the door and when the Commandant said, “Come in,” one of his personal soldiers appeared and announced that breakfast was ready. In the dining room they met three other officers of lower rank: a Lieutenant, Hugh Gough, and two Second Lieutenants Robert Sale and John McCaskill, a very short, frail, fair haired man, who was proud and brutal toward men, harsh towards prisoners and very violent.
The dining room of this old house was a magnificent long room which was now in a state of decay. The mutilated room, whose fine old mirrors were cracked by pistol bullets, and its tapestry reduced to ribbons, looked dull in the rain and melancholy under it's dilapidated appearance.
When they had finished eating and were smoking and drinking, they began as usual, to talk about the dull life they were leading. The bottle of brandy passed from hand to hand and all sat back in their chairs, tasking repeated sips from their glasses. They were enveloped in a cloud of strong tobacco smoke in their drowsy state, not knowing what to do, when suddenly Captain Harry Smith sat up and said: “By heavens! This cannot go on. We must think of something to do.” And on hearing this, Lieutenant Hugh Gough and Second Lieutenant Robert Sale, who possessed the grave, heavy British countenance said, “What Captain?”
The Captain thought for a few minutes and then replied: “What? Well, we must organize some entertainment if the Commandant allows us.”
“What sort of entertainment, Captain?” the Major asked, taking his pipe out of his mouth.
“The entertainment of some ladies,” the Captain said. “I can organize all that. I can send a few soldiers to town to bring them here. We can have supper here, as all the materials are at hand and at least we shall have a jolly evening.”
Major Broadfoot shrugged his shoulders with a smile. “You must surely be mad, my friend.”
But all the other officers got up, surrounded their chief and said, 'Let the Captain have his own way, sir. It is terribly dull here.”
And the Major ended by yielding. “Very well,” and the Captain immediately set about organizing the evening.
Half an hour later, a large wagon galloped off as fast as two horses could take it, and the officers seemed to awaken from their lethargy, their looks brightened and they began to smile and crack jokes.
They parted on this merry note to perform their daily duties, while the Captain had plenty to do in seeing about dinner.
When they met again it was growing dark and they began to laugh at seeing each other as dandified and smart, as on the day of a grand review. Inspite of the rain they left the window open, and one of them went to listen from time to time. At half past six, the Captain said he heard a rumbling in the distance. They all rushed down, and soon the wagon drove up at a gallop with its two horses steaming and panting. Five women, five young and handsome girls, who had been carefully selected, stepped out of the carriage.
They had not required much pressing as they were sure of being well treated, for they had got to know the British officers and their soldiers in the two months during which they had to do with them. So they resigned themselves to the men as they did to the state of affairs. “It is part of our business, so it must be done,” they said as they drove along, no doubt to allay some slight and secret scruples of conscience.
They went into the dining room immediately where the table was covered with choice dishes, shining china and glasses, and a whole array of liquors. The Captain was radiant, he took hold of the women as if he was familiar with them, appraising them, kissing them, valuing them for what they were worth as ladies of pleasure, and when the three young men wanted to appropriate one each, he opposed them authoritatively, reserving to himself the right to apportion them justly, according to their ranks, so as not to wound the hierarchy. Therefore, so as to avoid all discussion and suspicion of partiality, he placed them all in a line according to height and addressing the tallest in broken Hindustani, he said in a voice of command:
“What is your name?”
“Roopmati,” she replied, raising her voice.
Then he said, “Number one called Roopmati, is adjudged to the Commandant.”
Then having kissed Sukhbir, the second, as a sign of proprietorship, he preferred stout Parvez to Lieutenant Hugh Gough, the rosy cheeked Mina to Second Lieutenant Robert Sale, and Jasminder, the shortest of them all, a very young, dark girl to the youngest officer, frail John McCaskill.
They were all pretty and young, without any distinctive features, and all were very much alike in look and person from their daily dissipation and the life common to houses of public accommodation.
The three younger men wished to carry off their women immediately under the pretext of finding them brushes and soap, but the Captain wisely opposed this by saying they must first all have dinner together and become better acquainted with each other. There were only many kisses, expectant kisses.
Suddenly Jasminder choked and began to cough until the tears came to her eyes, while smoke came through their nostrils. Under pretence of kissing her, John McCaskill had blown a whiff of tobacco into her mouth. She did not say a word but looked at her possessor with latent hatred in her eyes.
They sat down to dinner. The Commandant seemed delighted; he made Roopmati sit on his right and Sukhibir on his left and said as he unfolded his table napkin: “That was a delightful idea of yours, Captain.”
As the conversation grew, so did the level of the volubility. Captain Harry Smith began by paying the ladies compliments in English but soon started talking in broken Hindustani of the wonderful perfumes they hid under their clothes.
They did not understand him, however, and their intelligence did not seem to be awakened until he uttered nasty words and made meaningful gestures. Then they all began to laugh at once like mad women, and fell against each other repeating the remarks of the Captain, then saying them all wrong, in order that he may have the pleasure of hearing them say doubtful things. Within the first half hour, they were all drunk and apart from giggling, they kissed the moustaches of the men on the right and left of them, pinched their arms, uttered furious cries, drank out every glass, and sung local songs, intermingled with some English phrases, which they had picked up in their daily intercourse with the British troops.
Soon the men themselves, intoxicated by that which was displayed to their sight and touched, grew very amorous, shouted and broke the dishes, while the soldiers behind them waited on them stolidly. The Commandant was the only one who put any restraint upon himself.
John McCaskill had taken Jasminder on to his knees and getting excited would at one moment kiss the little black curls on her neck, and at another inhale the pleasant warmth of her body through the slight space that was between her dress and her skin. He often held her close to him as if to make her part of himself, and put his lips in a long kiss on her rosy mouth until she lost her breath. At last he bit her until a stream of blood ran down her chin and into her bodice.
For a second time she looked him full in face, and as she wiped the wound, she said “You will have to pay for that.”
But he merely laughed a hard laugh and said “I will pay.” As dessert champagne was served, the Commandant rose, and before gulping down his drink said, “To our ladies!”
Then a series of toast began, toasts worthy of the lowest soldiers and of drunkards, mingled with filthy jokes in English and Hindustani which were made still more brutal by their ignorance of the language. The men got up one after another, trying to say something funny, and the women, who were so drunk that they almost fell off their chairs, applauded madly each time.
The Captain, who no doubt wished to impart an appearance of gallantry to the orgy, raised his glass and said “To our victories over hearts.” Thereupon, Lieutenant Hugh Gough, jumped, and inflamed and saturated with alcoholic patriotism cried, “To our victory over the Khalsa army!”
Drunk as they were, the women were silent and Jasminder turned around with a shudder and said “Look here, I know many Sikhs in whose presence you would not dare to say that.” But the little John McCaskill, still holding her on his knees began to laugh and said, “Ha! Ha! Ha! I have not met any of them as yet. As soon as we show ourselves they flee. In the battle at Mudki and Aliwal, they ran away like rats.”
The girl who was in a terrible rage, shouted into his face ;“You are lying , you dirty scoundrel .”
For a moment he looked at her steadily with his bright eyes upon her. And then he began to laugh: “Ah, yes, I talked about them, my dear! Should we be here now if they were brave?” Then getting excited he explained, “We are the masters! India belongs to us!”
The others , who were quiet drunk and who were suddenly seized by military enthusiasm of brutes, seized their glasses and shouting , “Long live Great Britain !” emptied them at a draught.
The girls did not protest, for they were reduced to silence and were afraid. Even Jasminder did not say a word , as she had no reply to make, and then the little John McCaskill put his champagne glass which had been just been refilled on to the head of Jasminder and explained : “All the women in India belong to us.”
At that she got up so quickly that the glass fell, spilling the amber liquor on to her black hair and broke into a hundred fragments as it fell on to the floor . With trembling lips she defied the looks of the officer, who was still laughing, and she stammered in a voice choked with rage: “That–that-is not true, you shall certainly not have any Sikh woman.”
He sat down again so as to laugh at his ease, and trying eventually to speak in the local language, he said: “That is good, very good! Then what did you come here for, my dear.”
She was thunderstruck and made no reply for in her agitation she did not understand him at first, but as soon as she grasped his meaning she said to him indignantly and vehemently : “I am not a woman; I am only a servant strumpet, and that is all you English men want.”
Almost before she had finished, he slapped her full in the face but as he was raising his hand again , as if he would strike her, she, almost mad with passion, took up a small dessert knife from the table and stabbed him right in the neck, just above the breast bone. Something that he was going to say was cut short in his throat, as he sat there with his mouth half open and a terrible look in his eyes.
All the officers shouted in horror and leaped up tumultuously but throwing her chair between Lieutenant Hugh Gough's legs, which fell down at full length, she ran to open a window, opened it before they could seize her and jumped out into the dark night.
In two minutes Second Lieutenant John McCaskill was dead. Robert Sale and Hugh Gough drew their swords and wanted to kill the women, who threw themselves at their feet and clung to their knees. With some difficulty the Major stopped the slaughter and had the four terrified girls locked up in a room under the care of two soldiers. Then he organized the pursuit of the fugitive as carefully as if he were about to engage in a skirmish, feeling quite sure that she would be caught.
The table, which had been cleared immediately now served as a bed on which to lay John McCaskill out, and the four officers made to the window, rigid and sobered, with the stern faces of officers on duty, and tried to pierce through the darkness of the night . Suddenly a shot was heard and another a long way off, and for six hours they heard from time to time near or distant reports and rallying cries, strange words heard in guttural voices.
In the morning they all returned. Jasminder had not been caught.
Then the inhabitants of the area were terrorized, the houses were turned topsy – turvy; the country ravaged and the people beaten up over and over again, but the girl did not seem to have left a single trace of her passage behind her.
When the General was told of it he gave orders to hush up the affair so as not to set a bad example to the army, but he severely censured the Commandant who in turn punished his inferiors. The General had said; “One does not go to war in order to amuse oneself and caress prostitutes.”
Jasminder remained in hiding in a Gurdwara . A short time later, after the British left for Lahore in the west, a local with no prejudices, who liked Jasminder because of her bold deed and who afterward loved her for herself, married her, and made a lady of her.
The battle of Kalinga in Orissa in the third century B.C. had a profound impact on world history. King Ashoka of the Mauryan empire inflicted a crushing defeat on the king of Kalinga. The suffering that his defeat caused the vanquished deeply hurt Ashoka. He eschewed violence, became a Buddhist, and turned a little known sect then existing on the bank of river Ganga in Bihar, into a world religion. This story is based on this incident -Author
The Mauryan king, Ashoka, had concquered the kingdom of Kalinga, had destroyed and burnt numerous towns, slaughtered the warriors, beheaded some chieftains and impaled or flayed others, and had imprisoned king Satkarni in cell, when suddenly he heard a rustling near his bed and opening his eyes saw an old man with a long grey beard and mild eyes.
“You wish to execute Satkarni?” asked the old man.
“Yes,” answered the kind. “But I cannot make up my mind how to do it.”
“But you are Satkarni,” said the old man.
“That’s not true,” replied King Ashoka. “Satkarni is Satkarni, and I am I.”
”You and Satkarni are one”, said the old man. “You only imagine you are not Satkarni and that Satkarni is not you.”
“What do you meana by that?” said the king. “Here am I, lying on a soft bed; around me are obedient men and women slaves, and tomorrow I shall feast with my friends as I did today; whereas Satkarni is imprisoned in a small cell, and tomorrow he will be impaled, and his body will be torn to pieces by the dogs.”
“You cannot destroy his life,” said the old man.
“And how about the many thousands of warriors I have killed,” said the king. “I am alive but they no longer exist. Does that not prove I can destroy life.”
“How do you know they no longer exist?”
“Because I no longer see them. And, above all, they suffered but I did not. It was bad for them but not for me.”
“That, also, only seems to you. You tortured youself in torturing them as all life is one”.
“I do not understand,” said the king.
“Do you wish to understand?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then come,” said the old man, pointing to a large pitcher full of water.
The king rose and approached the pitcher.
“Now bend to enter the top of your head in the pitcher. Do not put your nose in the water so that you can breath feeely.”
Ashoka did as the old man bade him.
“As soon as I begin to pour this water over you,” said the old man, “dip down your head.”
The old man helped the king to put his head in the pitcher and then began pouring water from his bumbler.
And as soon as king Ashoka was under the water, he felt he was no longer Ashoka, but someone else. And,, feeling himself to be the other man, he saw himself lying on a rich bed, beside a beautiful woman. He had never seen her before, but he knew she was his wife. The woman raised herself and said to him:
“Dear husband, Satkarni! You were wearied by yesterday’s work and slept longer than usual, and I have guarded your rest and have not roused you. But now your princes await you in the great hall. Dress and go out to them.”
And Ashoka, understanding from these words that he was Satkarni, and not feeling at all surprised at this, but only wondering that he did not know it before-rose, dressed, and went into the great hall where his princes awaited him.
The princes greate Satkarni, their king, bowing to the ground, and then they rose, and at his word sat down before him; and the eldest of the princes began to speak, saying that it was impossible any longer to endure the insults of the wicked king Ashoka, and that they must make war on him. But Satkarni disagreed, and gave orders that envoys shall be sent to remonstrate with king Ashoka; and he dismissed the princes from the audience. Afterwards he appointed men of note to act as ambassadors, and impressed on them what they were to say to king Ashoka.
Having completed this business, Ashoka–feeling himself to be Satkarni—rode out to hunt for wild boar. The hunt was successful. He killed three wild boars himself, and having returned home, feasted with his friends and witnessed a dance of girls. The next day he went to court where he was awaited by petitioners, suitors, and prisoners brought for trial; and there, as usual, he decided the cases submitted to him. Having finished this business, he again rode out for his favourite amusement; the hunt. And this night he spent in the company of his wife, whom he loved intensely.
So, dividing the time between kingly duties and pleasures, he lived for days and weeks, awaiting the retrun of the ambassadors he had sent to that king Ashoka, who used to be hiself. Not till a month had passed did the ambassadors return, and they returned with their noses and ears cut off.
King Ashoka had ordered them to tell Satkarni that what had been done to them would be done to king Satakarni himself also, unless he immediately sent a tribute of silver, gold and precious stones, and came himself to pay homage to king Ashoka.
Satkarni, formerly Ashoka, again assembled the princes, and took counsel with them as to what should be done. They all with one voice said that war must be made against Ashoka, without waiting for him to attack them. The king agreed; and leading his army met that of Ashoka on the fourth day of his march in a broad valley. Satkarni’s army fought bravely, but Satkarni, formerly Ashoka, saw the enemy swarming down the valley like ants, overwhelming his army. Satkarni fell from his chariot and realized he was wounded but continued fighting with his sword till taken prisoner and locked in a cell.
In his cell Satkarni suffered not so much from hunger and his wounds as from shame and impotent rage. All he could do was to deprive his enemy for all he was suffering; and he firmly resolved to endure courageously, without a murmur, all they could do to him. He saw his relatives and friends led out to death’ he heard the groans of those who were executed: some had their hands and feet cut off, others, were falyed alive, but he showed neither disquietude, nor pity, nor fear. He saw the wife he loved, bound, and taken by two eunuchs. He knew she was being taken as a slave to king Ashoka, That, too, he bore without a murmur.
At last two executioners opened his cell door, and having strapped arms behind him, led him to the place of execution, which was soaked in blood.
This is death, destruction!” thought Satkarni, and forgetful of his resolved to remain bravely calm to the end, he sobbed and payed for mercy. But no one listened.
“But this cannot be,” he thought. “Surely I am asleep. It is a dream” And he made an effort to rouse himself, and did indeed awake, to find himself neither Ahoka nor Satkarni, but a small boy playing in a open grassy field with another boy. A short distance away sat a poorly dressed Ashoka, like an ordinary man, under a shady three,gazing vacantly into space. Laughing, the other boy ran towards his father, the poorly dressed Ashoka, and hiding behind a tree he squealed:
“Can you see me, father?”
“yes, I can,” replied a laughing Ashoka and began a mock run to catch his son.
The boy ran playfully forward but suddenly something flew near with a whistling sound and hit him in the side, and with its sharp point entered his skin and flesh. Feeling a burning pain, Ashoka rushed towards his son, when another arrow in full flight struck the boy’s neck. Before Ashoka could reach his son, a man ran upto the boy and shouting ‘death to the enemy’, stabbed the boy to death.
“This cannot be; it is a dream!” thought Ashoka, and made a last effort to awake. I am emperor Ashoka.”
He cried out, and at the same time lifted his head out of the pitcher…. The old man was standing by him, pouring over his head the last drops from his tumbler.
“Oh, how terribly I have suffered! And for how long!” said Ashoka.
“Long?” replied the old man, “you have only dipped your head under water and lifted it again; see, the water is not yet finished in my tumbler. Do you now understand?”
Ashoka did not reply, but only looked at the old man with terror.
“Do you now understand,” continued the old man, “that Satkarni is you, and the warriors you put to death were you also. Life is one, and yours is but a portion of the same common life. And only in that one part of life that is yours can you make life better or worse—increasing or decreasing it. You can only improve life in yourself by removing the barriers that divide your life from that of other, and by considering others as your self and loving them. By so doing, you increase the value of your life. The life of those you have slain has vanished from your eyes, but is not destroyed. By destroying life you achieve nothing, except suffering for yourself.”
Having said this the old man vanished.
Next morning king Ashoka gave orders that Satkarni and all other prisoners should be set at liberty and that the executions should cease.
A few days later Ashoka embraced Buddhism and spent the remainder of his life preaching the message of Buddha.
Monsieur Antoine Polier
After the capture of Chandernagore by Robert Clive in 1755, a group of French soldiers led by Monsieur Law made their way to Lucknow and were employed by Nawab Shuja-ud-daula to train his own troops in the European manner. More French officers and men arrived in after the French town of Pondicherry fell to the British. Among them was Monsieur Antoine Poiler who was appointed by the Nawab as ‘Architect of the Court.’ Polier adopted himself to the Indian way of life and grew a long mustache like his patron Nawab. He also began wearing the Laknavi dress of a long kurta, pyjamas and a flat embroidered cap. He kept a harem of beautiful women and very often invited the Nawab to share these women with him. He and the Nawab became very close friends.
Now one day when Monsieur Polier was enjoying a nautch dance with the Nawab in the latter’s harem, a woman caught his fancy. Enquiries revealed that she was a intimate of the Nawab’s harem. As time passed, Antoine’s ardor grew stronger till he could no longer restraint himself. One day, while the Nawab had been called away from some errand, the Frenchmen approached the young lady and offered her a costly necklace.
“Why this must be worth at least three thousand rupees,” she said in surprise.
“Certainly,” he replied, “but what of that? It is a sum not worth mentioning in the presence of such a charming lady.”
“But the Nawab may not be interested in such a high price.”
“Be less than cruel,” said Monsieur Polier in a low husky voice, “and allow me to give this as a present to you.”
“I presume you are joking.”
“I think you must be joking, as I cannot think you are serious.”
“But my dear, I love you and want you.”
“This is outrageous,” cried the energetic young women; “I could flog you as is sometimes done to the slaves.”
“Let me be your slave,” Frenchmen replied ardently, “and I will gladly put up everything from you. Really, with a whip in your hand you would be a lovely sight.”
The young lady looked at the Frenchmen with a peculiar smile.
“Then if I were to listen to you favorably, you would let me flog me you,” she said after a pause.
“Very well,” she replied quickly. “You will let me give you twenty five cuts with a whip, and I will be yours after the twenty fifth blows.”
“Are you in earnest?”
Monsieur Polier took her hand pressed it ardently to his lips.
“When may I come?”
“Tomorrow evening at night eight o’clock in my room without the knowledge of the Nawab.”
'And may I bring the whip with me?'
“No, I will see about that myself.”
Next day Monsieur Polier sought the permission of the Nawab to inspect some portions of his place for architectural reasons and made a quiet entry in the young lady’s chamber at the appointed hour. He found her lying alone on a bed, dressed in a very tight fitting kameez which very well exposed the contours of her shapely body, and holding a dog whip in her small hands.
“You know are agreement.” she began.
“Of course I do,” replied Polier shaking with passion. “I am to allow you to give me twenty five with the whip, and after the twenty fifth, you will do as I ask you.”
“Yes, but I am going to tie you hands first.”
The amorous Antoine quiet allowed the lady to tie his hands behind him, and then at her bidding he knelt down before her, and she raised her whip and hit him hard.
“Oh! That hurts most confoundedly,” he exclaimed.
“I mean to hurt you,” she said with a mocking laugh and went on thrashing him without mercy. With each lash he groaned with pain, but she consoled himself with the thought that each blow brought him near to his happiness.
At the twenty fourth cut she threw the whip down.
“That makes it only twenty four,” the Frenchmen cried.
“I will make a present of the twenty fifth,” the lady said with a laugh.
“And now you are mine, altogether mine,” he exclaimed ardently.
“What are you thinking of?”
“Have I not let you beat me?”
“Certainly , but I promised you to grant your wish after the twenty-fifth blow , and you have received only twenty, “ the lady cried, “and I have a witness to prove it.”
With these words she drew back the curtains over the door, and the Nawab came out of the door smiling.
As the speechless Monsieur, still on his knees, looked from his Delilah to the Nawab, the latter asked:
“And, my dear friend, have you architectural inspections of the palace finished?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” replied Polier, “I beg your forgiveness.”
The Nawab gave a big laugh and said: “Do not call me Your Majesty. Not only do I forgive you but you will continue to be my very good friend. Infuture, we will see nautch dances only in your harem, not mine.”
The Ayurveda Doctor
In May 1857, a large number of people rebelled against the British regime in India. This incident happened in July, 1857 at Sitapur, a town near Lucknow
Sitapur, a small town near Lucknow, had just heard of the defeat of the English troops and the installation of Bahadur Shah Zafar as the new ruler of India at Delhi. The new order was proclaimed. All around Sitapur, the people were panting from a madness and a hitherto unknown fervour. Everybody was playing a soldier from one end of the countryside to the other.
Cap makers became colonels, assuming the duties of generals; revolvers and daggers were displayed on large rotund bodies enveloped in red sashes; common citizens turned warriors, commanding battalions of noisy volunteers and swearing like troopers to emphasize their importance.
The very fact of bearing arms and handling guns excited a people who hitherto had only handled scales and measures. They even executed a few stray dogs to prove that they knew how to kill. Each believed himself called upon to play a great role in military affairs.
Now the town of Sitapur still did not yet know fully the news of the army and the country's capital, Delhi. It had, however, been greatly agitated for a month over an encounter between two rival important people. The police Havaldar, Sher Singh , a small thin man, already old, remained true to the English, especially since he saw rising up against him a powerful adversary in the great, sanguine form of Dr. Kamta Prasad, the local Ayurveda Doctor, a man of considerable influence and organizer of the rural militia designed to save India.
In two weeks he had induced sixty-three men to volunteer in defence of their country--married men, fathers of families, prudent farmers and merchants of the town. These he drilled every morning in front of the Havaldar’s window.
Whenever the Havaldar happened to appear, Commander Kamta Prasad, covered with pistols, passing proudly up and down in front of his troops, would make them shout, "Long live Hindustan!" And this, they noticed, disturbed the little Havaldar who saw in it a menace and defiance, and perhaps some odious recollection of the great expected change.
On the morning of the fifth of July, 1857 in uniform, his revolver on the table, the Doctor gave consultation to an old peasant couple. The husband had suffered with a severe stomach ailment including cramps for two years but had waited until his wife had them too, so that they might go and visit the physician together, so that they may save some money.
Dr. Kamta Prasad opened the door, looked surprised, straightened himself abruptly and, raising his arms to heaven in a gesture of exaltation, cried out with all his might, in the face of the amazed rustics:
"Long live the Mughal King! Long live the Mughal Empire! Long live the Mughal King!
Then he dropped into his armchair weak with emotion.
When the peasant explained that this sickness commenced with ex- cruciating pains in the stomach and a feeling of nausea, the Doctor exclaimed: "You foolish man, I have spent too much time with you idiots. Do you know the Mughal Empire has been proclaimed! The English are defeated! Our country is saved! And, running to the door, he bellowed: " Yashodra! Quick! Yashodra!"
The frightened maid hastened in. He stuttered rapidly, "My shoes, my –gun, my cartridge box--and--the dagger which is on my night table. Hurry now!"
The obstinate peasant, taking advantage of the moment's silence, began again: "The pain is very severe when it comes and the cramps are unbearable"
The exasperated physician shouted: "”Keep quiet ! If you only stop eating chillies and spicy food, the pain would not come." Then, getting close to him, he hissed in his face: "Can you not comprehend that we are living in a new Hindustan, stupid!"
But the professional sentiment calmed him suddenly, and he let the astonished old couple out of the house, repeating all the time:
"Return tomorrow, return tomorrow; I have no more time today."
While equipping himself from head to foot, he gave another series of urgent orders to the maid:
"Run to Subedar Ram and to Lance Naik Mohommed and say to them that I want them here immediately. Send Iqbal to me too, with his drum. Quick now!" And when Yashodra was gone, he collected his thoughts and prepared to surmount the difficulties of the situation.
The three men arrived together. They were in their working clothes. The commander, who had expected to see them in uniform, had a fit of surprise.
"You know nothing, then? The English have been defeated. Bahadur Shah Zafar is our new ruler. A monarchy is proclaimed. A new order has emerged. Our position is delicate."
He reflected for some minutes before the astonished faces of his subordinates and then continued:
"It is necessary to act, not to hesitate. Everything depends upon promptness of decision. You, Ram, go and find the priest and get him to ring the temple bells to bring the people together, while I get ahead of them. You, Mohommed, beat the call to assemble the militia in arms in the village centre. You, Iqbal, put on your uniform at once, that is, the jacket and cap. We, together, are going to take possession of the village and summon Havaldar Sher Singh to transfer his authority to me. Do you understand?"
"Act then, and promptly. I will accompany you to your house, Iqbal, since we are to work together."
Five minutes later the commander and his subaltern, armed to the teeth, appeared in the village centre just at the moment when the little Havaldar, with his khaki shorts tied loosely around his waist and his rifle on his shoulder, appeared by another street, walking rapidly and followed by three guards in khaki shorts and shirts, each carrying a baton and a gun over his shoulder.
While the Doctor stared, half stupefied, the four men entered the Havaldar’s house and the door closed behind them.
"We are forestalled," murmured the Doctor; "it will be necessary now to wait for reinforcements; nothing can be done for a quarter of an hour."
Here Subedar Ram appeared. "The temple priest refuses to obey,"he said; "he has even shut himself up in the temple with his assistant."
Then, as the puzzled inhabitants put their noses out of the windows or came out upon the steps of their houses, the rolling of a drum was heard, and Iqbal suddenly appeared, beating with fury the three quick strokes of the call to arms. He crossed the village centre with disciplined step and then disappeared on a road leading to the fields.
The commander drew his sword, advanced alone to the middle distance between the two buildings where the enemy was barricaded and, waving his weapon above his head, roared at the top of his lungs: "Long live the Mughal Empire! Death to the English!" Then he fell back where his officers were. The butcher, the tea shop owner and the grocery merchant, feeling a little uncertain, put up their shutters and closed their shops. The retail cloth shop alone remained open.
Meanwhile the men of the militia were arriving little by little, variously clothed but all wearing caps, the cap constituting the whole uniform of the corps. They were armed with their sticks, knives and some with rusty guns. They all looked quite like a detachment of country soldiers.
When there were about thirty around him, the commander explained in a few words the state of affairs. Then, turning toward his major, he said: "Now we must act."
While the inhabitants collected, talked over and discussed the matter, the Doctor quickly formed his plan of campaign.
"Subedar Ram you advance to the windows of the Havaldar house and order Sher Singh to turn over the town to me in the name of the new monarchy."
But the Subedar, a mason by profession, refused.
"You are a scamp, you are. Trying to make a target of me! Those fellows in there are good shots, you know that. No, thanks! Execute your orders yourself!"
The commander turned red. "I order you to go in the name of our great country," he said.
"I am not getting killed or injured without knowing why," the Subedar returned.
Men of influence in a group near by, were heard laughing. One of them called out: "You are right, Ram, it is not the proper time." The Doctor, under his breath, muttered: "Cowards! " And placing his sword and his revolver in the hands of a soldier, he advanced with measured step, his eye fixed on the windows as if he expected to see a gun or a cannon pointed at him.
When he was within a few steps of the building, three monkeys who were perched on a tree, jumped down onto the open ground and snatched two bananas from two girls who had just peeled the banana skin off to take a bite. Some in the crowds gesticulated at the monkeys and tried to shoo them off; the others laughed or kept staring at the antics of the monkeys. The Doctor scarcely knew what to make of it.
As soon as the monkeys were shooed off, the commander surveyed the scene in bewildered amazement and then called out in a loud voice:
"Havaldar Sher Singh?"
A window in the first story opened and Sher Singh appeared.
The commander began: "Havaldar Sahib, you are aware of the great events which have changed the government. The party you represent no longer exists. The side I represent has now comes into power. Under these sudden but decisive circumstances, I come to demand of you, in the name of our Mughal King, to put in my hand the authority vested in you by the outgoing power."
Sher Singh replied: "Doctor Kamta Singh, I am the Havaldar of Sitapur and Havaldar of Sitapur I shall remain until I am removed by an order from my superiors. As Havaldar, I am incharge of Sitapur and I shall remain so." And he closed the window.
The Commander returned to his troops. But before explaining anything, measuring Subedar Ram from head to foot, he said:
"You are a coward, the disgrace of the army. I shall degrade you."
The Subedar replied: "Go ahead. Do anything." And he went over to a group of muttering civilians.
Then the Doctor hesitated. What should he do? Make an assault? Would his men obey him? He explained the situation fully to the bewildered crowd of onlookers; told of the danger of this government under the Havaldar, offered his devout services, asked for orders and looked askance at the crowd. Seeing no response, he returned to his army corps and, drawing five rupees out of his pocket, said:
"Now, my friends, go and eat something. Only leave here a detachment of ten men, so that no one leaves the Havaldar’s house."
Subedar Ram, chatting with the carpentar, overheard this. With a sneer he remarked: "Pardon me, but if they go out, there will be an opportunity for you to go in. Otherwise I can't see how you are to get in there!"
The Doctor made no reply but went away to luncheon. In the afternoon he appointed officers all about town, having the air of knowing of an impending surprise. Many times he passed before the doors of the Havaldar’s house without noticing anything suspicious.
The butcher, the sweet meat seller and the tea shop owner reopened their shops and stood gossiping on the steps. If the English had been defeated, there must be a traitor somewhere. They were not sure of the future.
Night came on. Toward nine o'clock the Doctor returned quietly and alone to the Havaldar’s residence, persuaded that his adversary had retired. And as he was trying to force an entrance with a few blows of a pickax the loud voice of a guard demanded suddenly: "Who goes there?" The Doctor beat a retreat at the top of his speed.
Another day dawned without any change in the situation. The militia in arms occupied the village centre. The inhabitants stood around awaiting the solution. People from neighbouring villages came to look on. Finally the Doctor, realizing that his reputation was at stake, resolved to settle the thing in one way or another.
One thought, especially, tortured the Doctor. If he should make an assault, he must march at the head of his men; and with him dead, all contest would cease, it would be at him and at him alone that Havaldar Sher Singh and the three guards would aim. And their aim was good, very good! Subedar Ram had reminded him of that.
But an idea shone in upon him, and turning to Ram, he said: "Go, quickly, and get me a white cloth and a pole."
The Subedar hurried off. The Doctor was going to make a political banner, a white one, that would, perhaps, give the Havaldar an opportunity to surrender..
Ram returned with the required linen and a broom handle. With some pieces of string, they improvised a standard, which Kamta Prasad seized in both hands. Again he advanced toward the house of the Havaldar, bearing the standard before him. When in front of the door, he called out: "Havaldar Sher Singh!"
The door opened suddenly, and Sher Singh and the three guards appeared on the threshold. The Doctor recoiled instinctively. Then he saluted his enemy courteously and announced, almost strangled by emotion: "I have come, sir, to say that your graceful withdrawl would be in the best interests of all of us.."
That gentleman, without any salutation whatever, replied: "I am going to withdraw, sir, but you must understand that it is not because of fear or in obedience to an odious government that has usurped the power." And, biting off each word, he declared: "I do not wish to have the appearance of serving the Mughal King for a single day. That is all."
Kamta Prasad, amazed, made no reply; and Sher Singh, walking off at a rapid pace, disappeared around the corner, followed closely by his escorts. Then the Doctor, slightly dismayed, returned to the crowd. When he was near enough to be heard he cried: "Hurrah! Hurrah! The Mughal King triumphs!
But no emotion was manifested. The Doctor tried again. "The people are free! You are free and independent! Do you understand? Be proud of it!"
The listless villagers looked at him with eyes unlit by glory. In his turn he looked at them, indignant at their indifference, seeking for some words that could make a grand impression, electrify this placid country and make good his mission. The inspiration came, and turning to Ram, he said "Subedar, go and get the framed photo of the Empress of Britain which is in the Havaldar’s office, and bring it to me with a chair."
And soon the man reappeared, carrying the photo under his armpit and holding in his left hand a straw-bottomed chair.
Kamta Prasad met him, took the chair, placed it on the ground, put the photo on it, fell back a few steps and called out in sonorous voice:
"Tyrant! Tyrant! Here do you fall!"
He awaited applause. But there was no voice, no sound. The bewildered peasants remained silent..
They remained thus face to face, the framed photo of Queen Victoria on the chair, the Doctor in front of her, about three steps away. Suddenly the commander grew angry.
What was to be done? What was there that would move these people and bring about a definite victory in opinion? His hand happened to rest on his hip and to come in contact there with the butt end of his revolver under his red sash. No inspiration, no further words would come. So he drew his pistol, advanced two steps and, taking aim, fired at the English monarch. The photo frame cracked but there was no effect on the crowd. Then he fired a second shot, then a third; and then, without stopping, he emptied his revolver. The crowd remained unimpressed. Exasperated, the Doctor overturned the chair with a blow of his fist and, resting a foot on the fractured framed photo, in a position of triumph, he shouted: "So let the Queen and all English perish!"
Still no enthusiasm was manifest, and as the spectators seemed to be in a kind of stupor from astonishment, the commander called to the militiamen:
You may now go to your homes." And he went toward his own house with great strides, as if he were pursued.
His maid, when he appeared, told him that some patients had been waiting in his office for three hours. He hastened in. There were the two stomach pain patients, who had returned at daybreak, obstinate but patient.
The old man immediately began his explanation: "The ache last night was unbearable. I felt I was collapsing."
Laurel, Hardy and the Cat
In 1950 I was introduced to the wonderful world of Laurel and Hardy at Lucknow. I was then eleven years old and very thin. I naturally started imagining myself Laurel.
My friend and neighbour Raghav was on the heavier side. He thus became Hardy. We always went together to see Laurel and Hardy movies. This thickened our friendship.
Once we decided to enact a play for our parents, siblings and servants. I was to be Laurel and Raghav, Hardy. My role required my being dressed in a night suit while Raghav was to be in a white shirt and black trousers. The high point of the play was me sweeping the floor with a broom while Raghav is sitting in a chair reading a newspaper. While so cleaning I was to slip and fall. Raghav would walk over to me, put his hands on his waist, clench his fists and say in anger," Now Laurel. can''t you even do a simple thing like sweeping the floor properly." We felt this would send the audience into peels of laughter..
The big day arrived. The verandah of my house became the stage and the porch the auditorium. We neatly placed ten to twelve chairs in two to three rows.
After some cajoling and coaxing, we assembled the entire audience.The mother's were the most difficult to get as they had to complete many household chores. Raghav's ten year old sister Madhu, whom I liked immensely, also joined much to my delight.
As the play gained momentum, I picked up the broom and began sweeping the verandah floor. We were feeling great and the audience was in various stages of laughter. As I fell with a thump, the laughter became hysterical. Raghav walked upto me and was about to utter the punch line when suddenly a cat appeared from nowhere and looking at me ''meowed". I jumped in terror and while fleeing to the backroom, I heard Raghav saying," Come on Laurel, you can't run away like that."
The whole audience was laughing. There was loud clapping and as I came back confused and bewildered, the laughter became infectious.
Later, Raghav and I decided we would keep the whole thing a secret. If anyone asked us how we managed the cat., the answer would be,''ít is a secret;''
But our agreement was broken that very night by Raghav. He squealed to Madhu. Next morning when we met , she giggled and said, " I didn"t know you were such a scary. Why did you have to run when you saw the cat.?"
I never forgave Raghav for this treachery. By breaking the agreement, he ruined all probabilities of my ''possible love affair with Madhu.". Instead of emerging as a hero in her eyes, I was reduced to a scary.
We moved out of our house shortly thereafter and I lost all contact with Raghav and Madhu. .One day, twenty years later, I ran across Madhu in a market in Delhi..She was now the mother of two girls and still looked lovely. She gushed when she saw me and after some pleasantries said,' 'Oh Anil you were wonderful when you rushed off the stage on seeing the cat. I can never forgot that hilarious act. It was great acting."
Turning to her two daughters she continued," Look this is Anil Uncle. When we were young we played together. Anil Uncle was a great actor. He played the role of Laurel-you know the Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame. The way he acted that day when a cat came on the stage was superb. It was spontaneous improvisation. Raghav Mamaji ,as Hardy, was no patch on him."
The two daughters laughed. Madhu gave me a peck on my cheeks. As I walked back to my car, I reminisced about Laurel and Hardy who made my childhood so happy. As for the cat, well she ended my possible affair with Madhu. but so what ! ! may have been scary but twenty years later,.I had emerged as a spontaneous improviser and a hero in her eyes,