Colonel Horace Cartwright sat at his desk in Dehradun and cursed the heat and flies affecting his concentration. The Pankah Wallah studied his Sahib anxiously as he pulled ropes activating house ceiling fans reading irritation on the Colonel’s face and hoping it wouldn’t result in scolding should he not activate those fans fast enough to counteract the shimmering heat.
The Colonel shouted for the servant hovering in the hallway behind the Pankah Wallah. “Dass!”
Dass appeared at the desk and stood waiting for instructions. “Limbu pani! Joli Jao!
Dass disappeared in a flash and the Colonel smiled as he heard the kitchen come alive with the noise of preparation and arguing. He had to act the part of Sahib but in fact he treasured all of those serving household needs and provided for them liberally.
He missed his most treasured assistant Shireen who right now supervised the bulk of his servants who’d transferred with Matilda Cartwright and family to the nearby hill station Mussoorie 6,580 feet average above sea level where colonial families retreated for Indian blistering hot summers. He’d been asked to take time from army duties to supervise Matilda his wife and their servants and household goods as they were carried up the steep incline by those short muscular hill people to enjoy relief from heat until the monsoon broke.
Colonel Cartwright and the officer group he commanded oversaw Gurkha soldiers grafted into the Colonial British army. They’d been inherited at the conclusion of the Anglo-Nepalese War 1814-1816 at which the Sugauli Treaty had been signed. It was long ago since Colonel Paris Bradshaw had signed on behalf of the British and annexed Dehradun under Colonial rule. Colonel Cartwright had found this a much-prized commission after his time spent in command of outposts on the North West frontier. The British prized their Gurkha troops and the Gurkha troops served with pride and distinction not holding any grudges about their defeat at war.
Dass reappeared with a jug and cup, placed it on the table then stood back stiffly and salaamed. “Limbu pani Sahib!”
The Colonel nodded in appreciation. He found the Indian lime water very refreshing in the heat of high summer. He indicated Dass was free to go but he continued standing.
“Shireen Sahib back home Sahib.”
“Thank you Dass. You can go now.”
“Shireen was an asset. His light skin, blue eyes and commanding appearance gave him Sahib status in the eyes of the servants and others. The Colonel had inherited him during his service on the North West Frontier. Shireen was from the Kalash Community in the Bum Boret Valley below the snow-capped Hindu Kush. The Kalash Community claimed to be descendants of Alexander the Great’s army choosing to stay behind and integrate with the local population from whom they took wives. Shireen had proved to be invaluable as a spy and infiltrator playing a vital role in “The Great Game” being contested between major powers of the day seeking to extend their influence in the region. He’d been wounded in Afghanistan, and the Colonel had insisted he be granted rank. He remained the eyes and ears of Cartwright’s regiment having transferred with him.
Shireen’s wife Noorzia was virtually in charge of the Cartwright household Matilda choosing to be the mother figure to those British wives who’d been recruited from England to marry British army officers and were constantly struggling to culturally adapt. Matilda’s roots in India went back to the early days of the East India Company. She was one of those domiciled English, the original Anglo Indians and she spoke many of the languages. Matilda also mixed freely with the wives of notables in Indian society around them. Her easy command of languages and customs and respect endeared her to them.
Cartwright doted on Noorzia’s daughter who he called Titali as she daintily flitted from place to place unafraid and confident as a butterfly. Titali looked on the Cartwrights as her extended family and could come and go as she pleased. To her Reginald Horace Cartwright was her elder brother and to Reg she was his sister to be guarded and protected. They were inseparable as children and newcomers to the regiment were often puzzled at the relationship between the Colonel and Shireen’s family. It was not quite proper for some of them.
The Colonel glanced up as his peripheral vision caught someone entering the room. It was Shireen and he beamed with pleasure.
“How did Memsahib and Noorzia handle the trip up the mountain this time?”
Shireen laughed. “Memsahib had them well organized, so it was an easy assignment for me.”
The Colonel’s face sobered. “Her earliest memories are of India and she does have knowledge to handle situations, but she doesn’t realize not everyone is happy to have the British here. She feels she is part of Indian society. I fear some of the people she visits show her a friendly face but deep inside they feel differently.”
Shireen nodded. “I’m aware of that but it’s under control. Sometimes British troops overstep the mark and when they do even I’m resentful. But I respect you and accept you as my brother so would die for you and your family if you were threatened. I’ll tell you frankly as a friend if the British harmed my people without cause, I’d take my people’s side.”
The Colonel smiled. He knew he could trust this man as it was all up front between them. “Under my watch here you don’t have to make that choice as I respect your people.”
Now we will deal with this paperwork together as I need you to do some urgent intelligence gathering around the areas of control and that means you’ll have to go back to one of your many disguises again. You’ll check on pressure points and gauge the feeling of the population toward us seeing we are dealing appropriately with the local populations. My officers will not know of this assignment, but you should carry my written authority hidden in case the English question you. I’ll tell the troops you are in Calcutta on special assignment from me, so you need to be very careful. But now I need to ask your advice. Matilda wants Reg to further his education here and that’s what Reg wants too but I feel he needs to go to England for a few years to complete studies there and then come back. He doesn’t want to train for the army as his wish is to take an administrative appointment here in India eventually.
Shireen shrugged. “It is your decision Colonel Sahib. When Titali becomes of age it will be me who makes the decision about her future not Noorzia. We’ll of course miss him during his study time, but it’s good to know he has a love for Bharat Mata and intends to come back here. What will you do when you eventually retire from service? Will you go back to England?”
The Colonel stared at his Indian friend. “Matilda would never be happy there and I don’t think I’d be either. No, we’ll stay here and watch our son’s progress and enjoy grandchildren he produces in our old age.”
When the monsoon broke, and Matilda and servants returned from Mussoorie the Colonel called them to his office and outlined plans he’d made for Reginald’s education. After one month he was to sail to England and complete his education there. He’d stay with the Colonel’s brother in Oxford and on the completion of studies he’d return to India if that was still his wish. Shireen and Matilda would accompany him on the long trip to Bombay and see to their son’s needs and departure from India. Both son and Mother protested vigorously but the Colonel was adamant. This was the plan and they’d see it was carried out to the letter.
Matilda, Noorzia and Titali shed tears when the day approached for Reg’s departure from Dehradun.
To be continued.
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