The End of an Era and Beginning of a New.
On his return to Dehradun the Colonel sought out Major Lancaster informing him of his retirement from army duties and the Major’s elevation to the command of the base. The Major considered Cartwright his mentor and benefactor in positioning him for advancement and the honour of his appointment as replacement and ordered an immediate function to honour the Colonel as he commenced his retirement. Major Lancaster pled with Shireen to stay on for a while during orientation to his new position as he viewed him an invaluable asset. The Colonel encouraged Shireen to do that and he in turn placed more responsibility on Sunder Singh during this transition period. When he finally indicated he was ready for retirement a celebration was ordered to recognize Shireen’s productive service to the army. Tears were shed among his intelligence soldiers as they bid farewell to this respected leader.
Reg was waiting for his father’s return with some news of his own. He’d received word of Shireen’s permission to marry his daughter while still in Mussoorie. There was an English school there designed to educate the children of English in India and they accepted children of the Rajas and prominent Indian’s as well. Reg was well acquainted with them from his hill leaves each year with family and visited the school whenever in Mussoorie. He’d shared his joy on the discovery of permission to marry with his friends at the school who seemed quite supportive. So, plucking up courage he’d asked if there was work for both of them at the school and the offer was eagerly accepted. Accommodation would be provided but the pay was not as generous as the job offered him in Bengal as an administrator for the Raj. This he shared with his father on his return from Calcutta.
The Colonel listened and initially gave his blessing. A few days later he had second thoughts and called for his son. “Reg I’ve been thinking, why don’t you and Titali set up your own English language school here in Dehradun?” That way we’d get to see more of you, and I’d like you to think about that. We are negotiating with a landholder who has a large bungalow like this one the army owns. Major Lancaster has graciously not requested us to vacate but I want our own home in retirement. The property is a large complex for a Hindu undivided family with several buildings. I will approach Shireen to see if he is interested in joining us there.”
This was a new thought for Reg, and he warmed to the idea. “I’ll talk with Titali and let you know.” Next day he returned with the positive answer they were both interested, but how would it be financed?
Shireen thought hard about the proposal to move with the Cartwrights. It appealed to him to be with his friend, but his pride wouldn’t allow him to be reliant on anyone. He’d have his own house. In discussions between them the Colonel agreed on a proposal to separate titles on that large property surprised to know Shireen had enough funds to buy his own property. They’d done well on army pay and been frugal, but the bulk of their wealth had come from Noorzia’s trade in herbal remedies with the local people. The fame of her natural medicines was spread abroad among local people and she had a thriving business the Colonel had not been aware of. Noorzia was going to continue her trade and even expand it now that her man was retiring.
Wedding plans were not without tension between the families. Titali was adamant the celebration would take place in her homeland in the Kalash nation of the Bom Boret Valley. She’d not been raised there but it was her people and her relatives were there. She cared little for the Western ceremonies or for a wedding in this place. She was aware of the undercurrent this would create between the English and the local people and wanted a setting where she felt at home with the culture. On the other hand, Reg saw that registering the marriage with authorities was vital for the legitimacy of their children in this society. So eventually a compromise was reached. They’d register a marriage through friends at the school in Mussoorie where a cleric would perform a low-key Western style marriage and then they’d all take the long journey West to Shireen’s valley for a local marriage and celebration.
The marriage was celebrated for one week in Shireen’s village with the whole village showering gifts and blessings on the pair. It mattered little to them that the man was an Englishman. Alexander The Great may have conquered the Kalash briefly, but the Kalash women had conquered his soldiers and sent Alexander back to where he’d come from. Reg luxuriated in their acceptance and the beauty of the Hindu Kush.
On their return the purchase of properties was finalized and registered in separate names and work on a new school commenced bankrolled by the Colonel. Within a year their first small enrolment commenced and within another it was apparent expansion would have to take place as the demand for enrolment continued to increase.
When Shireen finally announced his retirement from the army the Colonel and he looked for an appropriate venture to commence their partnership. They settled on a novel idea. In that era trades were segregated. The cloth wallah only sold cloth, the grain trader only sold grain, each type of household goods was sold separately in a specialized shop. Why not sell all these things in one building? So, premises were secured in town and contracts given to all the individual traders to supply their goods to one department store. Shireen handled purchases and the Colonel supervised the increasing sales assistants and finances. At first individual traders found the idea threatening but while they continued their individual trades in their own shops they soon found supplying their separate wares to the bara bazar of the Sahibs increased their business profitably. Soon they were knocking on the Sahibs doors to sell their products in this novel trading emporium where everything you needed could be bought in one place. Even Noorzia’s remedies could be bought there. Prices were not high, but profits came from high turnover through this store.
The families became increasingly prosperous through their ventures and were a happy extended family together. But five years into their retirement venture together the Colonel had a sudden heart attack and died in Matilda’s arms. Noorzia nursed her adopted sister through the grieving process while grieving herself over the loss. The Colonel had been good to them and they all mourned his passing. He was buried with full military honours with Major Lancaster presiding at the community event.
The women had wept bitterly as they viewed the Colonel lowered into his grave. After the ceremony Reg took his wife aside to comfort her. “He named me!” She sobbed. Reg was startled.
What do you mean Titali?”
“My tribal name is not Titali, the Colonel gave me that name. As a child on the NW Frontier I’d follow him around when he was home. My Mother would scold me, but the Colonel was amused at the way I’d inspect everything flitting from place to place and told Mother to allow me to go where I pleased in the home. At first she’d be alarmed when I’d interrupt him in his home office, but he’d raise his hand for her to leave me free to do that. Both of us had that privilege at his bungalow. Sometimes he’d put an English children’s primer in front of me, point to letters and sound them out for me. And sometimes he’d take you and me on hill walks pointing to things and sounding out their names in English. It was for my benefit. I remember you walking as you were older and sometimes when I got tired he’d carry me. One day he pointed to a butterfly flitting from place to place then he pointed to me and laughed.”
“Titali.” He said pointing at me until I understood.
“From that time on he called me by that name, and I cherished it. I’d not answer to any other name at home and my parents gradually accepted that.”
Shireen took over full management of the department store enticing some of his former trusted army intelligence soldiers to work for him. The store continued to expand and the school to prosper and expand too employing both English and educated Indians to the teaching staff while Titali produced children proudly one by one helping her Mother in the natural remedy business after leaving teaching. The first child was a girl and then a series of boys followed, each favouring the blue eyes of European Greek origin and the light olive skin of the Kalash people.
As the children grew they identified with the peoples of India and they in turn grew to manage their parents and grandparents increasingly prosperous ventures expanding into other cities as the business grew. Matilda lived for several years beyond her husband’s death and lived to see her grandchildren grow and prosper. She died with her extended family gathered around and was buried beside her beloved husband.
Shireen and Noorzia continued to a ripe old age and progressively turned over supervision of their businesses to their grandchildren as they matured. The boys managed the shops now scattered over a wide area. Their wives had been skilled in traditional medicines by Noorzia. The girl took over management of the school with her husband they’d both been educated at the Mussoorie School for Sahibs.
Shireen and Noorzia died within days of each other. Reg and Titali obeyed their wishes and took their ashes on the long journey West where they were scattered in their beloved homeland.
Titali turned to her husband after watching the icy waters of the Hindu Kush take her parents ashes onward to the sea. She addressed him in Urdu their language of choice now.
“Ramesh some day I’d like our children to make a pilgrimage to this site with our ashes so we can join them. Do you agree?”
Titali had grown tired of Indians mispronouncing his name Reg as Wretch Sahib as it made the English laugh. So, she’d informed Indians his name was Ramesh and he’d been known as that for a long time now. He’d accepted being called Reg by the English and Ramesh by Indians. It made no difference to him.
“You should inform the children of our wishes Titali prem.
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