“So what lucky bastard has a bungalow going up?” I asked.
“We do Sahib!” my Indian family exclaimed.
“We have no money to pay for it!”
“Manna from Christian Heaven!” my Indian family explained. The grunt soldiers grinned at me as they stacked up the mud bricks. I crawled onto my fold up cot under my malaria net and alternating shivering and sweating. My commanding officer’s memsahib came and she was a harpy! A gorgon! A terror in petticoats! She marched into the tent while welding her umbrella like a lethal weapon. Then she sat down in my folding camp chair as I tried to hide under the thin cotton sheet. “Nicholson! A more antisocial bastard I have never met! Mess pooled funds to pay for your bungalow! IOU! To be paid back! Batta to be deducted! Why did you leave hospital if you are still sick?”
“Trying to get well Memsahib!” I said from under my thin sheet. I was all but naked in just my drawers.
“Well speed up the ‘getting well’ and we expect to see you in Mess every Sunday! Do try to act human! Not like a shy and grumpy badger! You act as if you are frighten of us! We won’t eat you!” Then she stood up and inspected the hill tent. Son # 1 had arranged my camp furniture very neatly and stood outside in his cut down red tunic like a guard at Buckingham Palace. Then she bent down and whispered “I will make sure there is ginger seltzer or tunic seltzer because I gather you do not drink alcohol being a good son of the kirk. We are family too son. Family takes care of it’s own.” Then the intimidating memsahib sailed out as Son # 1 bowed.
By the end of another week I was up and about and able to ease back into picket duty and parade drills which meant I would have to attend Sunday Mess. During parade drills I had met one on one the various officers in business capacities so that took the edge off meeting them in mass at mess. That just left the memsahibs. But they were infinitely worse! They murdered people who failed to produce calling cards, and tortured people who failed to produce letters of introduction, and impaled people who failed to execute the most minutely detailed social rituals, and tore out the fingernails of people who failed kowtow correctly, and disemboweled people who failed to say ‘and your dress is the latest fashion right out of London! How did you do it Memsahib?’ and tore out human hearts and ate them if you did no say ‘oh what a lovely hat you are wearing today Memsahib!’
To steady my nerves I cooked turkish delight and pale white Indian toffee studded with pistachio nuts with my Indian Sister and Mother. By the time we cooked up about a ton of the stuff I realized I was about to have another health breakdown from sheer screaming meemies as my little brother Charlie used to call them. So over lunch I explained the entire crisis to my Indian family. “We are about to be eaten alive by the man eating tigers of civilization. Then I turned to my munshi. “You know how to navigate Mughal Society. Can you general us through British Society because I can’t!”
The aging courtier smiled as wonderfully crafty smile of sheer guile he looked the human fox of deceit! “Sahib! Am I not the aged courtier of moldering courts all over India! I have seen every social trap and stately bailiwick and witnessed formal battles waged and won or lost in dusty durbars of fading memory! I have already plotted our counterattack!”