I worked every moment I could. When other griffins collapsed under their wicker beds which were draped with wet towels, I persevered. After all! It was not Hot Season! I carried Mary’s umbrella and a water bottle full of boiled and then cooled water ( Uncle Hogg’s suggestion) to keep wetting myself down. I was not vain. I wore used NCO uniforms which I was able to buy. I just sewed my cadet insignia on the fronts and added shoulder straps. They were looser red cotton tunics cut roomy for ventilation. The uniforms ended at the knees. They were called alkalaks or kurtas. Hobson also wore flamboyant alkalaks with bib fronts or kurtas which buttoned straight down the front to the waist. Cavalrymen wore them dense with gold embroidery. Mine were plain. The Indian tunics were cut up the back and sides for riding too. They were just more comfortable. It was such common sense to wear cotton instead of wool! Hobson showed me how to wear trouser- overalls or pajama trousers or else riding britches which looked damn uncomfortable but which were actually designed to ride over 16 hours at a stretch in. They had wide rump material for your seat in the saddle and were inset with suede to slide on and off the saddle easier. They laced below knee both to keep the material loose around the knee and to allow one to ease on riding boots.
Hobson even gave me an used cashmere cummerbund sash over which I wore my leather belt with my revolver, complete with neck loop safety cord to prevent me dropping the damn gun and losing it in battle. This way I could shove the revolver deep in the cummerbund and have it safe but in easy reach instead of a holster. Hobson insisted I had to buy his used neck scarf and matching silk scarf to use instead of a sword knot around my wrist to hold the sword in case I dropped it out of my hand in battle. Hobson wanted a new set and needed the money. He quite insisted it was the latest greatest fad. I did not believe him until I saw the officers at lunch in the mess. Every ‘incoming sahib’ had one. However the griffins thought it effete. They were, after all, woman’s scarfs. But the Muslim sowar teaching me riding nodded in approval. He wore his gear the same way.
The NCO’s even showed me how to tie a lungi or turban. Hobson wore one. More and more ‘incoming sahibs’ were wearing them. Apparently on the Frontier it was quite the rage. But Hobson did not seem to be able to explain how to tie one professionally. I figured the NCO’s were a better source of information. Their turbans always looked fantastic. There was endless styles until I realized a turban was just what you wanted depending on your mood. I wanted to wear a Sikh style which was neat but being careless, ended up dashing off a Jat with one small fringed end flapping to the wind on top and the other longer end hanging down the back of my neck to keep the heat off. I bought a forage cap with a neck curtain and a new thing called a tropic helmet which was canvas and wicker cut a little like a roman helmet. The visor dipped well over the eyes and the back dipped down too to cover the neck. I tied a lungi on it but usually I just wore the lungi turban. It reminded me of Singh. Singh always looked so neat and tidy and in control in his turban. And I figured that if I was to become a Political Officer then wearing a turban would be required. After all, Political Officers did not wear top hats and frock coats!
I did not wear my expensive fully lined wool uniform unless I had to so I could slosh myself with water and anyway why in god’s heaven would anyone wear wool in India? It was tight and impossibly hot! It was not fucking London! Fortunately Fort William Collage had cool rooms deep down in the basements for suffering students to undress down to their underwear and read in comfort. Until I could snag the bungalow I stayed there as much as I could. The professors and munshi teachers did not give a damn what you wore. Half of the time they were in their underwear or some cool cotton alkalak too.
Parade drills were at dawn with horse riding classes right afterwards. Then it was a free for all. Some of the griffins took that to mean sleeping half the day away in the so-called heat and then fornicating in Calcutta. I saw free-for-all as time to cram as much cramming in as I could. The parade drills were stupid. What was the point of keeping a parade line? That wasn’t how battles were fought. Horse riding classes were a lot harder. I was not a born horseman but I reasoned that as long as I stayed on the damn beast what did it matter? I was not going to be in the cavalry! And the incoming sahibs, who were usually cavalry, were wearing the new stuff. Why the fuck would ‘John Company’ or even HM’s Army wear knock off copies of passee Napoleonic crap anyway? This was India! Not Waterloo! At one point the color sergeant snarled at me but I just snarled back. The point was the NCO’s did not report me. So what did it matter if I did not look like a picture postcard home to Mommy? Who gave a fuck? I certainly didn’t!
My shooting proceeded better than I hoped once I snagged my Adams revolver and pin rifle which was created for hunters, marksmen, and by extension, snipers. The breech loading pin rifle used an all in one cartridge bullet with internal percussion cap. When the special hammer diagonally struck the cartridge on the slightly protruding needle firing pin, then the pin plunged down and ignited the internal percussion cap which propelled the bullet spinning out of the rifled barrel at superior forward ignition, superior ballistics, and generally all around superior performance. I did a test of a crappy upgraded Brown Bess musket and a pin rifle and was blown away how much better it was. It was better than the upgraded Baker rifles too. It was not cheap but clearly it was a needful thing. A breech loader was much faster to load and fire. I wished my Adams six cylinder revolver used pin cartridges. It need paper cartridges painstakingly loaded and rammed home to crush the paper open and then percussion caps carefully set on the nipples so basically you loaded it just before going into battle and then once spent, that was that. So I bought a second pin carbine rifle that I could shoot from my horse.
None of the other griffins worried about such things. But a muzzle loading musket was crap. I could not believe they were still using modified Brown Bess Muskets in this day and age. Even I could see that. Having to bite the paper cartridge and pour powder down the smooth bore barrel, then ram the rest of the damn thing down, then set the percussion cap, then replace the ramrod, all before firing was crap. And muskets were lousy after 100 feet. A rifle could shoot 500 yards clean and with a good sight and sniper training you could hit up to a thousand yards. A rifle was revolutionary. It could even blow away the infamous Punjab jezail matchlock musket. Griffins razzed me but I did not give a damn. The one drawback was the pin rifle had to be loaded precisely, fast, but precisely, with the pin cartridge up. My NCO instructor taught me to never panic and rush. “Rush Sahib and you just blow off your toe. Never rush. Death comes for you or not.”.
My NCO instructor also taught me how to deliver a bayonet thrust. Factoring in the time to reload any gun the bayonet was a necessity in battle. Old Man Gould still thought the British Army could win any war in India, or indeed the world, simply by the cold steel blade of the bayonet alone. But frankly I hoped that I would never be commanded by such a relic from Wellington’s bygone Era. Charging across the slaughter ground with only a bayonet to take intrenched artillery was suicidal. However the bayonet was better than a sword in outreaching your adversary. You had to deal with the tribal small round shield of course so we were trained to work in pairs to attack while covering each other. “Sahib! Sahib! Remember Sahib! The generic Indian is terrified of the bayonet.”
“Bullshit!” I laughed. “Are you afraid Sahib?”
The NCO stood square before me and wagged one finger. “It is the official truth!”
“And like all official truths is based on a nugget of truth! It is true! The Indian Sepoys are the ballast troops. But in battle the British troops are the shock troops and they weld the bayonet! And in the heat of battle the British Bayonet hacks it’s way through battle like Kali! And no Indian can withstand it!”
“Shit!” I exclaimed. “You are pulling this greenhorn’s leg Sahib!”
“It is true! Watch in your first battle Cadet Sahib and see how the cold steel of the bayonet disembowels the enemy!”
“Bull! The generic Brit is a bowlegged, runty boozer!”
“But in battle Sahib that bowlegged, runty boozer became possessed by Kali! The goddess of Blood! And all fear him!”
“Jemadar Sahib! You are five foot eleven. Your generic Limey is five foot four – which is typical of the material drafted out of Britain. Drunks. Criminals. Madmen. Wastrels. Rickety kids from the poor house. Desperate younger sons of the poor living in crofts and hovels. The military here in India recruits the best of India. Big guys like you. You guys won’t run away from a gibbering five foot tall boozer drafted out of the slums of London!”
The Jemadar laughed. “Watch that gibbering five foot tall boozer drafted out of the slums of London charging across the field of death right up into the mouth of the best artillery in the world, Indian artillery, and win the day! With the cold steel of the bayonet! He becomes possessed by Kali! And when you are possessed by Kali you are capable of massacring the world!”
“But the katar is better” I replied mulishly.
“But in every battle when the tide turned Sahib! It turned on the cold steel of the bayonet in the hands of a British shock trooper! So! Show me now! The best form of disemboweling your enemy!” and the NCO pointed to the straw man. I did my best but could not conceive how this could possibly be true. I followed my attack with my Indian bich’hwa scorpion boot knife. Then I asked when we would we would learn how to use the nighttime ambushing garotte. All of the NCO’s shook their heads in despair of me. “Sahib! Sahib! You are our most difficult student!”