Things were always chaotic at the frontier. We went to sleep every night knowing full well we might wake up dead. We all knew the score of course, well those of us who followed cricket did anyway, but we hadn’t signed up for a Company division to trim rosebushes in lush gardens, that’s what the Mughal army had been for. We were here for glorious combat, defending Company interests they called it, I didn’t know what was so interesting about northern Punjab, but I didn’t care.
There were a dozen of us at the fort, including the Captain. The Captain wasn’t the brightest lantern in the house but he was the only one qualified for the job, being white. We needed his signatures for requisitions. He called me to his cabin one day on an early December morning. Yes, December was early that year, came right after August.
“Come in, sepoy. Sit down…I have to inform you that it’s time for your annual psychiatric evaluation.”
“Go ahead sir.”
“It’s time for your yearly psychiatric evaluation.”
“As you may already be aware, you are brown. That makes you untrustworthy, moreover, living as we are, cut off from the rest of the world…well, isolation can make anyone go insane. Why, if it weren’t for the voices in my head that would have happened to me long ago! So I’m going to ask you a series of questions to test your mental health. I expect prompt and honest replies. Are you ready?”
“Who’s in charge here?”
“Who do you work for?”
“Who is the Queen of England?”
“You are, sir.”
“Excellent. It’s because of loyal traitors like you that the Company still has a foothold in this region. Now then, do you drink?”
“No sir,” I replied. “It’s not allowed in my faith.”
“Poor lad! Oh well, more for me then.” In a few minutes he was absolutely smashed and lay unconscious on the floor. Not having been dismissed, I was still sitting in the chair when he woke up at noon the next day.
“Ah, come in sepoy..I have to inform you that it’s time for your annual psychiatric evaluation.”
“You did that yesterday, sir.”
“I did? Then what are you sitting around here for? Fuck off!”
As ordered, I fucked off. I’d only fucked off as far as the courtyard though when a man came riding on a horse and said he wanted to see the Captain, I pointed to the main hall where a picture of him hung from the wall. Not satisfied he asked to be able to speak to him as well, I showed him to the Captain’s office but the horse wouldn’t fit through the door. The Captain had to come out into the corridor.
“Are you the Captain?” He asked.
“That depends. Are you the tax man?” The Captain replied.
“No,” he began, pausing to glance over his shoulder. “I’m just a messenger. I have some good news and some bad news, sir.”
“Just tell me what’s happened son.”
“Your wife. Her carriage was attacked on the way here by Sikhs. She’s dead.”
“What’s the bad news?”
“They’re coming here next.”
“My God! Sepoy! Call the frontier guard!”
“We are the frontier guard.”
“Well what do you think we should do?”
“I think if we barricade the fort’s entrance and put all our men at the front, we can defend our position sir.”
“Excellent plan! You do that while I go hide in the closet, and remember…we’re all in this together!”
I rallied the troops and explained the plan. Some of them didn’t like it, mainly the Sikhs who’d already sneaked in through the back door. They didn’t feel it gave them much of a chance. Nevertheless, they agreed to assemble out front and give us time to prepare. They were to count to a hundred and then attack.
Now, I respected the Sikh, he was a worthy adversary, him with his foot long dagger and me with the empire issued Brown Bess Musket and it’s 26 inch barrel. A fair fight. They charged at us with great exuberance but, surprisingly, dropped dead before they could get within a hundred yards of the fort. All except for one.
We asked him if he wanted to be taken prisoner as we had an empty jail, he agreed so we beat him up a little and threw him in the cell.
“Captain, you can come out of the closet now.”
“Have the sodomy laws been repealed??”
“No sir, but we’ve defeated the marauders.”
“Ah, well done.” He said as he stepped out. “This calls for a celebration my boy. Do you drink?”
“More for me then!” He was out cold in ten minutes.
The Captain woke up sometime in the evening and was informed a second time of our comprehensive victory. He had dinner and then went down to the basement to inspect the prisoner, which was a bit of a shame as the prisons were on the second floor. He then ordered the captive be brought to him instead, so I dragged the Sikh down to the courtyard.
The Captain had opened up another bottle of sherry. “So, Hindu dog, you dare…what’s that?”
“He says he’s Sikh sir,” I explained.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“As in, the religion sir.”
“Ah, I see. Well that explains the odd behaviour,” he said as he poured out a glass. “Do you drink, my good man?”
The Sikh shook his head.
“Sepoy, do you speak Sikh? I don’t understand what he’s saying.”
“I think he’s saying no, sir.”
“Hmmm, won’t admit to anything, will he? Very well, have him interrogated.”
“For what sir?”
“Oh, anything. Names, places, phone numbers. Ask him if he has a sister, I’ve recently found myself a bachelor again. I tell you sepoy, this is the life. War, sherry and unimpeded loins. Isn’t there a good brothel in town?”
“There’s no town sir. We’re in the barrens.”
“Aye. My wife was barren. It was the worst shock of my life, sepoy. To find out I’d never have children. I always wanted a son, you know. To discipline, to nurture; to tutor in the ways of righteousness. You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”
“I knew you would. In many ways, sepoy, you remind of the son I never had. Except I don’t remember him being this dark. But I’m not a racist, sepoy. White, black, brown; it doesn’t matter. Inside we’re all the same colour; tangerine! When I used to climb oranges for trees in my father’s orchards, I often saw my mother joining giblets with the butler in the back yard. She had no sense of class whatsoever, cheating on her husband with the hired help! That’s what’s wrong with Britain today, all this mingling with the lower classes. All these bloody civil rights and treating them like human beings. You can’t even spit on them when they pass you by in the streets, anymore. That’s why I came here, sepoy, India, where treating people like animals is still a mark of good breeding. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone here. I don’t have to suffer the indignity of being dragged before a judge because I trampled over some degenerate who’s greatest achievement in life was crawling out of his mother’s womb. Ugh, they make me sick! … ”
“Sikh…! Where’s the Sikh!?”
“He escaped while the Captain was talking.”
“Where were the guards?”
“That speech put everyone to sleep!”
The escapee came back two days later with twice the amount of men, and more Sikhs as well. They came in through the back door again, mental note: must fix that lock. It was an absolute massacre.
The Sikhs were everywhere, in the courtyard, on the stairs, up the walls, in the toilets, hanging from the ceiling. They came at us from all angles, 180, 270, 360. I punched one in the face and broke my wrist but the rest weren’t as fortunate; they were dropping us like flies.
“They’re dropping us like flies!” the Captain screamed.
They killed everyone other than the eleven of us. They asked the other survivors to throw down their arms, then their legs and finally their heads. Having cut them up into pieces they deliberated over what to do with me. One of them suggested cutting my balls off, but I protested, saying I was rather attached to them. They told me to march outside and stand in front of the eastern wall. I knew they meant to shoot me so I tried bargaining for my life.
I told them I knew of all the fortifications on the frontier, I could provide them with logistics. They weren’t convinced. I told them one of my parents was Sikh. They weren’t convinced. I told them they could have their way with me, being an insurgent can be lonely, they’ve been away from their women, I wouldn’t mind really. One of them looked interested but the rest weren’t convinced.