I would host a party before boxing each treasure up and sending it off to my Uncle Hogg # 2 to keep safe. Shipping cost almost as much as buying and I was using Military shipping too! A perk I exploited with zeal once I was told about it! Peshawar was smaller and if I had a reason to give the party then it seemed less a social occasion and more a unitarian function. Everyone would discuss the mystery of the Gandhara Art and I could just stand back and listen and not worry about talking. I was never a talker but if people would just let me be quiet then I was fine and I did not freeze up and glare or drop champagne glasses or anything. I could serve tea too. It was fine. Everything was fine.
The memsahibs were great. Captain Broadfoot’s bibi, a Sikh lady, was splendid. She had that Indian woman’s exotic beauty but without the exaggerated sexuality of Indian Art that slightly repelled me. Her long black hair was braided and hung to the ground. I rather suspected Captain Broadfoot loved to unbraid it and run a comb through the luxury of it all. She wore a rich red sari wrapped low on her hips, the front dipped even lower where the weight of the five folds pulled the skirt portion of the sari down well below her navel. Because the sari was a semi-transparent Tamil muslin you could pretty much see through it. Fortunately she wore a petticoat and short sari blouse which tied in back in a loose, almost backless scoop effect. All of the embroidery was only on the last part of the swag of sari muslin except for an aggressive hemline of embroidery which accented the folds and swags of the sari as it was cleverly wrapped around her in such a way as to accent her most erotic parts of her body: her hips, belly, and hourglass shape.
But the lack of hysteria in the room meant the Captain’s bibi was a common sight. Sikhs do not force purdah and indeed I had already met Mrs Broadfoot a week before when she was writing a military report. During the day she wore a sari military uniform, the regulation tunic combined with the crisp red cotton skirt of the sari draped at her waist and tied into flowing trousers to allow her to ride a horse. Mrs Broadfoot acted as her husband’s adjutant. Captain Broadfoot had a run-in with the Imam who became hysterical when he saw Mrs Broadfoot. But I don’t know if the male hysteria was because she wore a sari, was not in purdah (sexual isolation), or was a Sikh lady.
There was no Christian minister to be hysteric except for a rogue Catholic monk turned explorer who had ‘gone native’ years before and now even dressed like a Buddhist monk except the fact the robe was black and was graced by a rosary. He was blase. Between surveying mountain passes he worked on his book on the history of the Buddhist Religion and how it paralleled the Christian Religion. His thesis was that Jesus actually visited India and learned key points of Christianity from Buddhism. I don’t think his Pope was going to enjoy his book if it was ever done.
No one was uppity or demanded calling cards or wore silly clothes from London. The officers wore Indian tunics and turbans like myself. Mrs MacDonald wore a matching kilt to her husband and hunted Punjab lions with rifles and her mastiff hounds, great hairy beasties, and she wore a Scottish bonnet and fought in ‘sticky wickets’ as her husband explained obliquely. Mrs Berenice wore her husband’s clothes. When her hair was up in a turban she looked so Pathan she was actually accosted in the streets of Peshawar by Pathans giving her quail. Tame quail. And tame partridges. By the dozen.
“Why?” I asked. Clearly a mistake for everyone laughed.
“Because Pathans here in Peshawar, being Muslim, must lock up their women and girls. So they don’t ever see a girl until the night they finally marry. Like young Spartans in Ancient Greece. The two sexes are kept so strictly apart you see. So your young Pathan, unable to meet any girl pines. Poor laddie. Don’t you know” Mr Berenice replied. I was being dense alas. So alas, he had to continue. “And flirting with window curtains or shrouds an’t very romantic don’t you know! And staring up at lattice windows for shadows only gives one a stiff neck. So when a lonely young Pathan teenager sees a handsome young Pathan teenager walking along, well….. he gives a love token. A tame quail. Or else a tame partridge. And…. don’t you know…..”
I did not know but I blushed right royal when I finally got it. Mrs Berenice laughed. “I was mystified initially with all of the damn birds. I kept eating the love tokens! But now it is just funny. I smile. He smiles. Then I smile as one finger gestures to my neck. Then I watch as he looks for the Adam’s apple —-which is not there. Then I watch as he blushes and then goes white! Then the poor fellow runs away in such utter horror! All but blubbering in shock! When he realizes I am that mysterious thing: a female!”