blog 83 my waterloo

I put my precious pony up for sale the next day. If the pony could sell I could pay off a goodly chunk of my debts. They played polo here and my pony had already been noticed. I avoided everyone off duty and held my head high knowing I was now a pariah. But I bawled like a baby when my dear horse was led away. “I am buying the pony for Queenie don’t you know” Bobby said. “And I know you need the money old chap. Queenie said she never enjoyed herself more. She thinks those mess nights for the memsahibs are twiddle for twaddle too. And at least …..we….. those rumors from Karnal are bunkum. So…. well… it was not a complete disaster….eh?” But of course it was. It was my Waterloo in Ferozepore

I wore my social leprosy like a metal. As I was snubbed I jutted my chin even higher in the sky. I told myself I liked being alone. And at least I had my Indian family. The bungalow was done. It had been bought dearly. I moved in. I covered the dirt floor and windows with tatties and set up my thermantidote swamp cooler. My room held my few pieces of camp furniture: cot with mosquito net, washstand with it’s brass bowl and towel rack on which resided my second and more precious silver brush and toiletries kit and lantern, table on which resided my lap desk, and lantern, chair, open trunk that acted like a closet for my clothes, my small trunk of books. The second room and kitchen and service area housed my Indian Family. Grandfather now manned the punkah ceiling fan. Grandmother swept. Father served as batman of my few meager uniforms. Uncle fussed about trying to cobble together uniforms and underclothes from native stuff. Mother ran the home as housekeeper. Sister cooked away for just us. Needless to say, there would not be guests, not even the Brahmin or Rajput NCO’s deemed us worthy. Predawn breakfast and late lunch and afternoon tea formed our little meals. 3:00 AM bugle meant I was in bed by seven or eight at the latest. But Son # 1 stood at social patrol anyway in his cut down red uniform like a grand footman even if he was only 13 years old. Son # 2 and 3 boiled water to keep my canteen and wash basin filed at all times. Brother # 1 wept for the loss of the horse but serviced my camel and the family mule. Brother # 2 served the scullery. Brother # 3 washed all of the clothes. Brother # 4 cared for the family cow so everyone had milk for chai and yogurt for cooking as well as ghee.

Most oddly, the ordinary soldiers interpreted my social Waterloo as a sort of bizarre triumph over the hated officers. They broke out into grins whenever they saw me. It was disconcerting. I was almost popular. Then some interpreted my social leprosy as desperation and got drunk during picket duty. Drunkenness was the biggest problem in the army. A third of hospital was full of drunks. Rum. Arrack. You name it. If they could get hold of alcohol in any form they drank it. The sepoys and sewars drank opium and bhang which was marijuana in alcohol. But all of it was appalling. I never before saw so many falling down drunks as when I joined the army.

The British drunks were flogged the regulation 25 lashes. The sepoys and sowars were punished with public humiliation so they would lose face but not caste. I was not going to let men think I was so weak I would turn a blind eye to drunkenness. The cantonment was wide open. There were no walls or gates. The pickets and guard posts were the only thing that protected the camp! This was the Frontier. The natives were not enraptured with us. The tigers were eating us. The flogging lost me my temporary popularity needless to say.

But the sergeants and NCO’s said I did the right thing. “Some young lieutenants want the men to like them Sahib!. You can’t treat men like that. You don’t want to be too hard or too soft. You want to be absolutely consistent so everyone knows the rules. When everyone knows the rules, and know the rules will be enforced, then men are happy the way dogs are happy – because they know the rules and therefore feel secure Sahib. Happiness comes from Security and Security comes from Consistency Sahib!”

The other two griffin lieutenants were soft, preferring the men to like them. This erratic enforcement of the rules only confused the men. Soon the men were drunk or drugged out of their skulls when the other griffin lieutenants were on duty, forcing me to enforce the rules when I took over each night. Finally we all ended up hauled up before the commanding officer! As the other two griffin lieutenants were in the mess and I was the social leper I had no doubt what was going to happen next!

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