Across the Bridge – Chapter 16
Continued from “Magic of Cotton-Balls”
Harvest time together with another disappearance of Kesari Nagar’s crops just behind, it was usual time for the weddings, which took place with more grandeur than Ghanto’s more than a century later, one of the major differences being a group of elephants marching ahead of the procession. All expenses were paid by Prithvi Singh. In addition, he had a somewhat more decent house built for the Landlord’s family in Kesari Nagar. Sure enough, Ratna brought huge amount in dowry, jewelry, clothes and even a decent horse for the landlord that replaced the pony. Honoring the Brahman’s wish, Prithvi gave them his finest guard Kharag Singh but warned, “He is a gallant warrior and the finest fighting machine you can find, but he is not a strategist, has even a habit of charging alone in a gang of dozens of fighters; just keep him on leash and things will be fine.”
Kharag Singh was born in a family of guards serving the kings and landlords for generations. His grandfather was a skilled spear fighter. Expecting to train his son in spear fighting, he named him Ballam Singh, lion with a spear. However, Ballam Singh did not show much interest in spears but was a natural with swords. Being a swordsman, he expected to raise his son as one and therefore named him Kharag Singh, lion with a dagger, but connoting sword instead of dagger. Kharag Singh gave up the shield and learned to fight and defend with a sword and a spear, both. Each generation had other brothers also who could serve new landlords who were springing with each generation each with lesser land than the father.
Festivities and the ceremonies were normal on the arrival day of the bride and the days following it. During bride’s brief stay, she and the groom were allowed a brief meeting during the day. For a few minutes, Indrajit just looked at the veiled bride, then said, “I have seen you before you know.” The bride immediately removed her veil from her smiling face. Indrajit picked a clay vase he had hidden in the room and handed it to Ratna.
“You bought it from the bazaar?”
“The day I saw you first, but I colored it myself.”
Ratna pulled out a bouquet of cotton balls on stems, put them in the vase with a comment, “I knew you’d get a vase, so I came prepared.”
“Will it last?”
“I have glued them to the pods and waxed the cotton balls. So it will be here for a long time.”
Indrajit turned around to leave when he heard Ratna say, “Wait, I have something else,” and she showed him a lion made of bamboo strips with cotton balls glued to it giving it a lion-like appearance.
“Did you make the lion yourself?”
“No I had a servant pick it from the bazaar but I glued and waxed the cotton balls myself.”
“Servant” word had some impact on him, not a pleasant one. He turned around and left. Couple of days later, Ratna was gone to her parents, place.
As soon as Ratna was gone, Kharag Singh, nicknamed Khargu, got to work. Being a vegetarian, he drank a large amount of milk to build and sustain his strength. Other than that, he started training the weavers and whoever else was interested into the art of fighting with the weapon of one’s choice: sword, spear, sticks, and the like. Although a few peasants that were there had started planting small amount of crops but they were still living in their original villages; they were only the ‘guest’ farmers in Kesari Nagar; they had not developed much affinity with this village. Also, there was no danger to their crops. For one thing, robbing the small amount of their crops was not worth it; secondly, it was the Landlord who was required to establish his credentials to be treated as equal or about equal and the Brahman was lumped with him.
When Khargu was alone, he exercised to build his muscles and strength with push-ups, sit-ups, exercise with mugdar and hone his skills in mock fights with enemies only in his imagination. Villagers found all that rather amusing particularly his slashing and piercing the air while letting strange sounds out of his throat. He also ordered the weavers to build a wall with mud and wood surrounding the Landlord’s house giving it an appearance of a fortress; that is what he called it, which was rather comic.
For his part, Prithvi Singh proceeded to have the Landlord of Kesari Nagar recognized as a bona fide member of the community, which did not turn out as easy as he had thought initially in spite of his stature but his own prestige did not suffer by association as had that of Vir Singh due to the belief that it was by the divine will. It was argued that this was his and his daughter’s fate; Prithvi and Ratna must have done some good deeds in their previous lives for which they were rewarded with wealth and stature but there must be some bad deeds also for which they were being penalized by being forced to associate with Kesari Nagar.
“We know, they can’t defend themselves but they should not sit there like cowards,” a landlord argued.
“They might; they have got Khargu now,” Prithvi argued.
“Khargu is a mighty warrior but he alone can’t do much; he can be contained.”
“With him available and increased population, the villagers will have enough strength to mount a good defense.”
“Then they should. They must show courage, their valor; the landlord must establish himself as a kshtriya deserving the bounties of land.” ….
After quite a bit of lobbying effort, the only concession Prithvi could extract was that there would be no battle at the time of the next robbery but the aggressors would challenge them as always and they must come out to defend themselves believing that there would be a battle. As the villagers would respond to the call, the invaders would flee. It would be clarified later that the invaders did not flee for fear or cowardice but because this was a test and that the Landlord of Kesari Nagar would be accepted in the community and at a later date, in the council of landlords but for that, he must bring all the land under cultivation by renting to the peasants and with hired help as a landlord should. There was not much more Prithvi could do.
Since the people of Kesari Nagar were not supposed to know that there would be no battle, they must come out to defend their crops believing that they were going in a battle, Prithvi was in hot water: “If I tell them, I go back on my word of honor; if I do not, things might go wrong in some way and people might get hurt!” What was he to do? Only person he could think of who could help him was the Pundit of Kesari Nagar.
“Pundit ji, I need your help in making a decision, I am in a Dharma Sankata,” Prithvi asked the Brahman.
“What is it brother Chowdhari?”
“I have given someone a word of honor. If I keep it, someone might get hurt; if not, I dishonor myself; even worse, I am likely to make a mockery of a sincere activity. What am I to do?
The Brahman paused for a few moments, then asked, “If someone is running away from a gang intent on murdering him, the gang spots you and asks, “Which way did he go?” What will you tell them?”
Prithvi, after a few moments of thinking, responded, “I shall point in a wrong direction to save his life.”
“And sacrifice the truth?”
“But it will be for a greater good pundit ji.”
“Then you know brother Chowdhari, what to do.”
Since he knew what to do, Prithvi told the Brahman who advised him:
“Tell no one else little brother. Bhole Nath had already revealed to me that Kesari Nagar would achieve its due with the help of the Divine Mother Durga. The goddess has taken the steps as you well know. We are not to interfere with the Mother’s ways.”
Weaver’s wives and daughters provided some help in doing the household chores but unlike other landlords’ wives, the wife of the Landlord of Kesari Nagar had to do some of them herself, cooking being entirely her responsibility. During her second visit in winter, Ratna started helping her mother-in-law.
“I know beti, you’ll have to help out; your fate has brought you here but no one starts it during her second visit.”
“My fate is good Ma ji. As for the chores, I like to keep myself busy, it may as well be in useful work,” Ratna responded.
As was the practice, she stayed in Kesari Nagar for about a week. During her third visit, just before the harvest time, she was to stay for about a month to increase slowly during each following visit.
The Landlord was counting on Prithvi to get him out of the difficulty but all he got was the direction to fight to show his valor in the battle. Harvest time upon him, he talked to the Brahman, “Pundit ji, what are we to do now?”
“Respond to the call.”
“But all we have got is Khargu. I can fight and will lead but the weavers are not ready. You must not participate. If I go, village will be fine, I have two sons to inherit the mantle, they will do well under your guidance but if you go, there is nothing.”
“I shall not fight, neither will you.”
“What, and show my cowardice!”
“Tales of fallen gallant, brave Rajput warriors leading their forces have filled the pages of Indian history little brother Chowdhari.”
The Brahman knew that there would be no battle but one side, Kesari Nagar side, was unaware of it. The Brahman wanted his Divine Mother to do as she deemed fit or he knew that telling anyone was surely to make it look like a joke and the ‘army of Kesari Nagar’ may not respond with genuine zeal that was required for the success of the mission. He did lend a hand to the Divine Mother by issuing his directive, “The warriors of Kesari Nagar must only defend themselves collectively, not attack to hurt the invaders.”
“Are we going to succeed in defending ourselves Pundit ji?” asked the Landlord.
“How easily you forget the words of Lord Krishna; ‘Your authority extends only to the action, not to the outcome.’”
“Outcome here doesn’t appear to be much in doubt Pundit ji, there will be more than a dozen seasoned fighters against one Khargu and his band of weavers like the army of Dara Shikoh.”
“All the more reason for us to only defend ourselves, not exert by aggressive moves. Outcome is always in doubt but remember, Bhole Nath has already revealed that Mother Durga will be on our side.”
“She got us associated with Prithvi Singh, she could have finished the task.”
“Do not act cowardly brother, do your duty, indulge in action, righteous action. Do you not know the ways of the Divine Mother?”
“She did slay demons herself.”
“There her direct participation was necessary, to fight with humans would be an insult to the Mother.”
Some days before the expected battle, the Brahman summoned the ‘warriors’ and briefed them by repeating his directive that they were not to harm the attackers, they were just to defend themselves for their battle was to defend their crops and their honor.
“And you Khargu, you must take this advice to your heart. This is the directive of Mother Durga; you know that if the Divine Mother is offended, we’ll have to pay a severe penalty,” the Brahman directed Khargu.
Sure enough, when the crops were ready, the band showed up, “You cowards of Kesari Nagar, come defend your crops, your honor,” came the call.
Immediately the Brahman and the weavers with their weapons rushed to the fortress where the Landlord was having hard time restraining Khargu, “You should wait for the blessing of Pundit ji.”
This worked for a while. Khargu waited pacing back and forth impatiently. As soon as the Brahman showed up, the second call was heard. Khargu declared, “Pundit ji is here, I am blessed,” and pole-vaulted over the mud-wall of the ‘fortress’ using his spear as the pole. Not much vaulting was necessary as the wall was only a couple of meters high, if that.
While the Pundit was shouting, “Stop this bull, stop this bull, …,” and the weavers were scrambling to grab their weapons to follow Khargu, he was already halfway to the battle field. In the confusion created, the army followed the general in a haphazard way. The general was known to be a mighty warrior but a poor strategist, a great soldier but a poor general. The invaders saw Khargu rushing towards them alone. They had expected an organized resistance, which is when they were instructed to flee. Now, they couldn’t run away from a single combatant; that too Khargu, not genuinely from Kesari Nagar. They expected a gallant defense on the part of the people of Kesari Nagar. Thus, they were as confused as the weavers. They had no choice but to contain Khargu and wait for an adequate defense effort from the villagers. Khargu for his part charged in the invading crowd paying no attention to the advice of Brahman. The attackers initially tried to ward off his attacks but soon there was mayhem. This became a genuine but a disorganized battle.
As a matter of course, the invaders had arranged their platoon in the usual formation placing the archer hidden in a strategic location. As they were not succeeding at stopping Khargu, they pulled back as their standard strategic maneuver providing an opening to the archer to strike from a distance, which he did of course. An arrow struck Khargu’s chest area below his shoulder. It appeared that Khargu was badly wounded or close to it but that did not stop him, he kept on attacking with ferocity inflicting and receiving wounds. Archer did not get another opening. The fact that a severe wound could not stop Khargu and as the plan was not to engage in a genuine battle, they started fleeing but the leader would not flee as this would mean cowardice: How shameful for him that his over a dozen men were beaten by a single fellow!
By the time the weavers reached there with the Landlord and Pundit rushing behind, the leader of attackers had fallen to the ground with a slash to his neck he had received from Khargu’s sword; so was Khargu with multiple wounds to his body; and the remaining attackers including the archer had fled. Upon checking, it was found that the leader was already dead and Khargu was bleeding profusely barely capable of speaking as he said, “You may exchange the last words. I am leaving soon but with the satisfaction of knowing that your problem has been solved. After we have spoken our last words, I will close my eyes and you pull the arrow.” Tears were flowing out of all eyes. His instruction was followed. The Brahman remarked: This had to happen; Khargu had disobeyed Mother’s command; mother slayed a demon for his deeds; and Khargu for his.
The landlord asked, “What are we to do with these bodies Pundit ji?”
“What is done with the dead bodies?”
“Not just like that. First they should be honored as the fallen warriors. Then we should wait for his father to come,” referring to the fallen attacker.
As per instructions of the Brahman, the weapons of both were placed on their bodies and a weaver was dispatched to tell Ratna to bring two lit clay lamps with clarified butter for the fuel. Ratna prepared the lamps immediately, then remarked, “He was a brave man, how do we honor him in a befitting way, lamps won’t be enough.”
Indrajit looked at the vase with cotton bouquet placed beside the lion, then looked at his wife who in turn responded with a glow in her eyes. She picked the tray with the lamp and turmeric paste and he picked the vase in one hand and the lion, in the other. Turmeric tilak was applied to the foreheads of both bodies, one lamp was placed on the chest of each, the lion and vase were placed beside the body of Khargu. Then Ratna was asked to go home.
The news spread like wildfire kindled by the fled attackers. Landlord father of the dead attacker and Prithvi Singh rushed to the scene; so did many from the neighboring villages.
“Did my son die a coward’s death Chowdhari?”
“Oh no, no Chowdhari Sahib, he fought like a true warrior, a gallant brave man. The cowards were those who fled.”
“Thanks to Shankar Bhagwan, otherwise there would have been more bodies to cremate,” the Brahman interjected sarcastically.
“And your son was honored as one,” the Landlord of Kesari Nagar continued.
Soon after the incident, police showed up. The landlords had come prepared for this. Prithvi and the other landlord indicated to their respective servants just with the eyes and the servants handed two bundles of the silver Rupees to the Sub Inspector, who sized them up and then pocketed. Some sweets and milk were ordered for the police personnel. No one else would eat or drink anything in that state of mourning, at least not until after the bodies were cremated; police had no such qualms. There was no cremation ground in Kesari Nagar as these were the first deaths there. The battle had taken place near the pond of Kesari Nagar. Khargu’s body was cremated where it had fallen with the lion and all. The area became the crematorium of Kesari Nagar forever although the cremation spots later were selected closer to the pond. Father of the fallen attacker stayed out of respect for Khargu.
The Brahman managed to find a few moments of privacy with him and Prithvi Singh to say, “Brothers, Mother Durga’s work is done but not yet the work of Bole Nath. I am charged with the remainder. After the period of mourning, Bhole Nath has ordered me to address the council of landlords.”
“I do not know. I’ll have to ask Him.”
After Khargu’s body had been engulfed by the flames and half burned, the other body was taken to his village for cremation. The police accompanied them; they wanted to make sure that no proof of wrongdoing was left behind before leaving. After all was done, police returned to the station. No report was ever filed, not even a trace of the event remained behind except that everyone in the area knew.
The Landlord of Kesari Nagar had overheard the Brahman talking with Prithvi Singh and the other landlord. He was curious about what else Bhole Nath wanted him to do or he wanted Bhole Nath have him do; so he asked, “What are you up to this time Pundit ji?”
“How many times do I have to tell you; I am never up to anything. I am an instrument of the will of the Lord of the Weak and Meek; I do what He tells me to do.”
“Alright, why do I even ask when I already know your answer.”
“Oh yes,” the Brahman ignored the comment, “There will be a temple for Khargu, Bhurakh Mandir, the temple of the protector of land, soon after the mourning period.”
Bhurakh Mandir, just a couple feet extension in all dimensions was built with mud soon after the mourning period.
Harvest time upon them, other matters had to wait. Kesari Nagar got a bumper crop. They didn’t know where to put all that grain. Several round kuthalas were built to store the grain, just with mud and wood. After that, the villagers had some leisure time. A larger temple was then built engulfing the little Bhurakh Mandir with bricks and cement produced in a cottage factory in a village some distance away by roasting the limestones. The temple was just a couple of meters high platform with a dome on top of it, which looked the same as a temple structure found in other villages also. As in the other villages, this too was called Bhumiya, which means essentially the same as its ancestor name: Bhurakh Mandir, but for Kesari Nagar, it had a special meaning. A pipal tree was planted beside the temple and a banyan tree, behind it. Every Sunday, villagers, whoever felt like, placed a lit clay lamp with clarified butter under the dome. Initially there were more lamps than the dome could accommodate, later the number decreased but at least one was there every Sunday. Bhumiya turned out to be a convenient landmark more than a century later by coincidence to mark the event and spot where Parasu received money from a British officer for calling him a Red Assed Monkey. Shiva Mandir was still very much farther in future.
The Brahman did address the council. A day before the meeting, he dressed as a genuine pundit and headed to Shiva Mandir.
“So, you are going to ask Bhole Nath what He wants you to say in the meeting tomorrow,” the Landlord remarked.
The Brahman nodded in affirmative with a sly smile. The meeting was held in another village. The landlords came, paid their respects to the Brahman and got busy with sharing the hookah without which no meeting of the landlords could be conducted. The Brahman started.
“Chowdhari brothers, Bhole Nath, the Lord of the Weak and Meek had already revealed to me that Mother Durga would help Kesari Nagar. I must admit, I did not know that this is how the Mother would end it. Two brave men dead, substantial amount of money lost to corrupt police to get where we should have been in the first place: Accepted members of this society.”
“But Pundit ji, without valor, honor, his pagari, what is left of a Jat?” a landlord remarked.
“And pagari has to be defended, valor has to be demonstrated,” remarked the other.
“At the expense of the human lives?” asked the Brahman.
The landlords acted with horror, “Life over valor! We are talking about honor, Pundit ji!”
“Had my landlord not acted honorably by throwing his property away to build a new life to live honorably? Did he not demonstrate his valor by working as a laborer to bring this land in the wilderness to the cultivation stage? Did he not live honorably in this society?”
“But Pundit ji, this is how we have always settled the matters of honor. How can we give up a time-honored tradition?”
“Tradition for how long? Hundred years? Two hundred years?”
He paused, then continued, “Brothers, traditions change and new traditions emerge. There are courts now, there is police.”
“Pundit ji, our old system of Rajah-Maharajahs has disintegrated and we understand nothing of this new system of the firangis. That firangi Histings-Pistings, whatshisname, has created a mess.”
He was referring to Warren Hastings, the second governor of East India Company who had introduced the new system of administration involving some Indians.
“You do understand the new system when you use police so effectively to extract even the last drop of blood out of poor peasants in the name of taxes. Show your valor, defend your honor. There are so many of the peasants skilled in martial arts. If you do not bring police and do not resort to the courts of Histings-Pistings, just challenge them as you challenged us, they’ll tear you all apart with their bare hands. Having demonstrated their valor, they’d have the right to the fruits of land and then you can work as peasants. And yes, do not forget the bribes you pay to swindle the peasants among other things. Is that also one of your honorable acts? Go defend your land and expel these bandit firangis, show your valor and claim your right to your motherland. I can go on forever little brothers, but I think enough has been spoken.”
Argument pursued between the landlords, some taking the side of the Brahman, some opposing. After a while, the Brahman called the meeting to order stopping the chaos that was about to ensue. After a short period of silence, one of the landlords spoke, “It is not you Pundit ji who is speaking, it is Bhole Nath speaking through you.”
“Precisely brothers,” the Brahman said with a grin.
He had convinced them of the folly of their thinking and since they didn’t think or admit that any human could be so clever, even the Brahman, they considered or declared it a divine act, the best excuse humans have used so frequently and so effectively. This is what the Brahman had wanted them to believe anyway, a good way out for him. Now he could employ the divine will to get them on track, which is what he did although he had to be careful. He managed to convince them that they could keep settling the matters of society through their council but employ some fairness and not use the ways of bandits in the name of honor and valor. They could keep using the new system for the matters dealing with administration and for what could not be settled by the council. Using the council was a form of self-government, which he considered preferable as long as it worked. He tried gently to persuade them to treat the peasants little less harshly but he knew that that was not going to fly. He tried to explain that they themselves were no different from the firangis whom they despised, “They are using our resources, our labor to dominate and humiliate us and you employ the same methods on the peasants who hate you in turn.”
There were some changes to the way things were done following Brahman’s address to the council although not a great deal, which nevertheless made a big difference. Year after year, Kesari Nagar produced bumper crops. As a result, its prosperity increased leaps and bounds in spite of rather small amount of farmland in comparison with the other villages.
British were consolidating their hold on the country taking over kingdom after kingdom reducing their rulers to pensioned figureheads or appointing them to subordinate roles or deposing them altogether. Given the political decadence, it was not much of a feat. Rulers mostly had no interest in managing the affairs of their states; whatever it was, was done by Divans, the viziers. They themselves and their rich subjects of high stature, some comparable to the rulers, were more interested in the tawaifs, courtesans, which they considered the symbol of their status as was the hookah. There were traditional gharanas entertaining this ‘high class’ people and supplying cultured courtesans to them. Gentry used to send their grown up sons to such gharanas to learn tehjeeb, cultured ways, from the tawaifs. Lucknow was famous for the gharanas of classy tawaifs supplying cultured courtesans like Umrao Jaan profiled in a novel and the movies by this name later was a fabulous dancer, singer and poet. She is believed to have existed with some fictional folklores associated with her. Whatever the case, the story describes the true state of affairs of the times. This Jaan, that Jaan, Jaan, Jaan, Jaan, each had to be a good dancer and singer but poetry was unique to the likes of Umrao Jaan although not uncommon. Point is that tawaifs were not regular prostitutes or even ordinary courtesans, they had some other talents. As for Ghanto, if she was a reincarnation of some Jaan, she couldn’t have been much in demand as she was a fabulous dancer but singing was not one of her traits and culture was completely alien to her. Her immense sexual appetite was no relief as that could get her only into a brothel of much lower class.
The gentry were about the same as profiled in Munshi Prem Chand’s famous story: Shatranj ke Khilari. In the story Mir and Mirza were avid chess players, even addicted. They were conned by the wife of one of them and her lover into believing that they would have to serve in the army in a looming battle, which sent Mir and Mirza in a hideaway mosque with their chess set and mats and allowed more opportunity to the wife and her lover to engage in their carnal pursuits. In their last game, Mir and Mirza clashed due to a disagreement concerning some moves. A sword fight ensued and both died by the swords of each other protecting their wooden kings, symbol of their honor. Obviously, they were basically honorable men and not cowards but their priorities were somewhat skewed. At that time their Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, with many wives and courtesans, whom the chess players refused to fight for was being taken into custody following a nonviolent ‘battle,’ not the nonviolence of the kind Mahatma Gandhi advocated but what Prem Chand called, ‘of an ultimate cowardice.’ Thus, fictional characters Mir and Mirza were actually quite safe even if they had been called and gone into the ‘battle.’ They had no interest in the courtesans either; it was overtaken by their addiction to chess, which was not so common. Oh yes, chess playing was common, so much so that at times the battles were fought on chessboards with chess players; what was not common was to lose interest in the courtesans for any reason.
As the British control increased, the new system of justice and administration was being introduced everywhere. Previously the rulers administered their kingdoms, rather their Divans did, or didn’t. By the time the Brahman and his Landlord settled in the area, such matters had already been taken over by the British. Former rulers and landlords used the system very effectively. They were viewed by the general populace as the British cronies and by the British, lower level middlemen, akin to the house-slaves, their instruments in dominating and exploiting the masses. The general populace had no respect for the British and although it was not in the open due to the fear of repercussions, it was not completely hidden either. Such observations prompted Macaulay to propose in the British parliament in 1835 to institute the British system of education and discredit the older Indian systems, all kinds, medical, educational and social as well as indoctrinate the Indian people into believing that everything British was superior to their own. There was already some such injection. The first English school was the Presidency College opened in 1817 in Calcutta, now known as Kolkatta, designed to train Indians for subordinate positions bestowing the nickname babu, the clerk, on the Bengalis. After Macaulay’s successful proposal, such activities were pursued with vigor on a larger scale.
Some benefits to the Indians also resulted by some of those activities as a byproduct although the motivating factor was to benefit the ruling class. Irrigation system was improved to increase the yield and thus, the taxes. However, the lives of the general populace, peasants, remained about the same. One of the outcomes of the improved irrigation system was the canal passing by Kesari Nagar with a bridge on it to connect the village to the fields. East India Company’s main business in India was to transport cotton from there to England and the cloth, back to Indi for which some infrastructure was necessary. Together with cotton they hauled gold, silver, diamonds, works of art, even removing some precious stones from Taj Mahal with intent to dismantle it and sell its pieces as souvenirs, which did not fly. Locomotives served the purpose of transporting the cotton, finished cloth and other items very effectively; inflicting insult on the Indians by prohibiting them from travelling in first class was a bonus. However, there was little of the new infrastructure in the rural areas although not completely absent.
As a result of the drastic changes, variety of differing attitudes developed pervading all groups of Indians, from peasants to landlords to the rulers. Macaulay’s plan worked well on some who had convinced themselves that British were inherently superior to them and everything British was better including their culture, and that the British were destined to rule the world. These people co-operated with the British and became the instruments of their domination. Some were fiercely proud of their heritage and considered the British inferior to them like Grandpa who preferred to starve than eat the food touched by a ‘lowly firangi mlechchha.’ Some benevolent, competent and dedicated rulers also fell in this proud class. The methods that worked on the likes of Wajid Ali Shah did not work on some of them. Similar mix existed in the British army in India, which constituted mostly of Indians from day one, the time when Robert Clive with a little contingent ‘defeated’ a much larger heavily armed army of Nawab Sirajuddola in the battle at Plessey essentially because the Nawab was betrayed by one of his generals Mir Zafar who had conspired with Clive in advance. Zafar deserted his Nawab on the battle field even when challenged to defend the pagari he was sworn to defend. Mir Zafar was made the new Nawab as was agreed upon, the reward for his betrayal.
Spearheaded by the patriotic elements inside and outside the British military, discontent of the people culminated into The 1857 War of Independence or the Sepoy Rebellion or the mutiny, depending on whose interpretation and terminology one accepts. Although the Indian discontent had been growing for long time, the final trigger was provided by the controversy over new Pattern 1853 Infeld Rifle. To load this type of rifle, the sepoys had to bite the cartridge containing gunpowder, load the gunpowder and pack it with the cartridge. It was believed that the cartridges that were issued with the rifles were lubricated with lard, offending the Muslims and tallow, offending the Hindus. A lower caste laborer in a village even taunted a sepoy that by biting the cartridge, he had himself lost his high caste status. All in all, the revolution started with the discontent because of these cartridges. Losses and victories on both sides followed but finally, the sepoys lost their final battle in Lucknow. Umrao Jaan with others in her gharana, many Jaans together with others in their gharanas and many non-Jaans, merchants and everyone else, left the city to end up as refugees.
Soon after that, Lucknow became famous for tanga drivers who told tales of them being the descendants of some Nawabs and for the bankas, instead of tawaifs and their gharanas. A banka was a fellow who would adopt some novelty, even as mundane as shaving half of one’s beard, and declare oneself a banka for the novelty. In a story depicting this state of affairs, a rural, rustic fellow rides a tanga together with several others who were all going to some government office. The driver immediately told the passengers that he was a direct descendant of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Ayodhya and entertaining them with tales related to his ancestors. They came to a bridge, which was blocked by a crowd. It was found that two bankas could not settle their territorial dispute by discussions; they decided to settle it with a fight. The battle was taking place on the bridge. The crowd consisted of their ‘disciples,’ in fact their chamchas, who were going to fight with each other after their masters had fought a champion’s bout. Both sides had brought several stretchers to carry the wounded.
“This is a battle of the bankas, not an ordinary battle, the bridge will be littered with corpses,” explained the tanga driver.
Each of the bankas proceeded taking slow steps and raising their fists in the air at every step. At each such gesture, there were loud cheers by the supporters of each side. This way the bankas took about half an hour to reach the middle of bridge. Then they engaged their panjas and tried to push each other. After a while, one of them said, “Ustad, I never experienced such strength in a panja!”
“Neither have I experienced such finesse in any other panja Ustad,” responded the other.
After a few more minutes of pushing each other with their palms and not succeeding, one of them asked, “Ustad, what are we fighting about?”
“That is exactly what I don’t understand.”
Yet another few minutes of pushing and shoving before one of them suggests, “You are the banka of the other side of this canal, Ustad that is your territory.”
“And you are the banka of the opposite side.”
They disengaged their panjas, shake hands and turned back amongst the loud cheers and shouts of “Alla-hu Akbar.”
“How nice that the battle is averted by the grace of God and the wisdom of our Ustads, otherwise it would have been the blood that would be flowing in the canal instead of water;” some of the disciples commented.
By the time, this show was completed, the office was closed, so the passengers asked the driver to turn back and leave them where they had boarded his tanga. The banka of that side was being carried on a high platform on the shoulders of his disciples amongst loud cheers. The rural fellow remarked addressing him, “Quite a show you fellows acted out there!” The banka ignored him; after all, it was below the dignity of a great Ustad to tangle with an uncultured, rustic fellow; and his disciples ignored him as it would be uncivil of them to tangle while their Ustad ignored him.
Few years later Bupal Singh was born. Congress had already been constituted to facilitate communication between the British and the Indians. Mohan Das Gandhi was born a few years later. By the time Shambhu became an orphan, Gandhi was already in England for his law studies. At the turn of the century, the Wrestler Boy was born.
Continued to “Wrestler Boy”