Colonel Durand and I rode out and surveyed a desolate area of the road. “I think the rebels next year will attack it.” Then he laughed. “I sound like that damn Naga! Guarding dubious treasure forever!” Across the road as wild guru sat meditating noisily. Durand mockingly glared at the wild man who returned wild glare for wild glare. Then the wild man upped and crossed the road! I was worried. But the wild man laughed at Durand. Apparently they knew each other. “Why did the guru cross the road?” Durand asked me.
“I ….don’t know” I stuttered.
“To get to the other side Sahib!” the wild guru roared as Durand laughed. Durand then pulled a bag lunch out of one saddlebag and gave it to the guru who sat down abruptly and commenced dining.
“Naturally this road must be attacked ” I said, continuing to the topic at hand. “They must attack it. And it is a key road. It leads to Baroda who is ruled by nutter with gold cannon who wages gladiatorial contests while dressed as some fucking Indian Julius Caesar! If he is not taking this coming year seriously then how can you not? Some one has to take things seriously while nutters with gold cannon wage gladiatorial contests!” Durand laughed. He delivered a back handed goony salute as he grimaced cross eyed at me. I delivered a back handed goony salute back at him. We then stood at attention and delivered goony salutes to the wild guru who returned the goony salutes as he dined on leftovers.
“The Nawabs and Rajahs of India are all utter nutters but alas, we British are utter nutters as well so no one realizes how utterly nutty India is!” Durand said. We delivered back handed goony salutes to a pair of wanderers who passed by. Alas, they assumed we British were utter nutters so they just ignored us. The wild guru delivered a goony salute to them and they hurriedly dropped a rupee in his begging bowl in fear and hastened off . Then Durand turned serious. “The Muslims are a grumpy minority here. The weaving of cotton is a big industry and the most weavers are Muslims. And the weavers are devotees of the Wahhabi preachers.”
“Naturally” I said. “Just like Benares and Madras and Bombay and Calcutta. And like the original cottage weavers of England, they rage against the tide. Luddites, The industrialization of textiles brings forth redundancy as much as it brings forth progress.”
“Yes” Colonel Durand replied. “And they gash their teeth and made threats against the Baneshwar Temple just they did at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple at Varansi at Benares which was attacked by nutty Muslim weavers too. Less than ten years ago!”
“And you are afraid they will vandalize or defile the temple here?” I asked.
“Ahilya Bai rebuilt temples destroyed by Muslims fanatics like Aurangzeb. But according to Sharia Law once Muslims destroy a pagan temple then no temple can be rebuilt. Whether or not they build a mosque over the destruction, no temple can be rebuilt there. But she rebuilt damn near every single Shiva temple the Muslims destroyed outside of Kashmiri which was deemed to violent. She even talked the Nizam into letting her rebuild a temple. She pressured Oudh to allow her to build (officially not calling that a rebuilding) of a temple destroyed previously. But under Sharia Law it was all illegal.”
“But the Maratha War Machine broke the spine of the Mughals and forced the revoking of Sharia Law, the revoking of Jizya Taxes and Pilgrim Taxes on Hindu holy places, and thus allowed Hindus to rebuild and worship in defiance of the Muslims. And we have outlawed the persecution and destruction. Not even religious ruins can be destroyed now. Much less can Muslims order Hindus to stop building temples or installing idols.”
“But Ahilya Bai is a big target for the fanatics now” Colonel Durand explained. “She was a conspicuous Hindu campaigner for the restoration of the Hindu Religion. That, combined with the role she played in the Maratha War Machine all adds up to a really big placard being pinned to her memory. Why did Mughal Imperialism fail? Why is India officially ‘unfinished business’ ie not 100% Dar al Islam? Why did conversions stop the moment Muslims could no longer point a gun at a head of a Hindu and say ‘Convert or die!’? Blame her. Blame us. Blame everyone! Except the Muslims!”
“She offered to build Muslim mosques and Sufi Shrines. It was not her fault they brushed her off with a back handed salute.”
“She was and is seen as a ‘threat to Islam’ by fanatics.”
“So the Baneshwar Temple will be a logical target for the green flag of jihad?” I asked.
“I fear so. It was her own family’s temple. She was it’s official patron. As much as this damn road I am trying to defend! I know the Muslims here in Indore will rise up. I even know the rogue who will lead them: Saadat Khan. Ambitious minor Muslim noble. Malwa used to be a Muslim minor bastion of power before the Maratha took it over. The Muslims rave about the historic Mohammedan Kings of Malwa.”
“Fuck! Some minor Ghazi thugs rampaging through the Hindu countryside looting and raiding and raping do not constitute royalty!”
“Who constitutes royalty Sahibs?” the mad guru asked as he scratched one scaly arm. He had some sort of skin disease besides being amazingly dirty.
“You and Queen Victoria” Durhand replied laughing as the guru laughed a gap tooth laugh. Most of his teeth were missing. So his two remaining teeth appeared oddly like the twin fangs of a serpent. “ But officially this is Mughal Empire territory” Durhand continued. “Or at least the border! This is where the glory that was Mughal Rome stopped! Stopped by ‘barbarians’! Imperial glory terminated! The dream of Mughal India destroyed forever! The Universal Caliphate dashed! The Maratha are the bad guys who stopped the glorious Mughal Empire in it’s tracks and made themselves princes ruling Muslims. That is a no-no in Sharia Law. This means Maratha Malwa is an affront to the honor of Muslims. It is suppose to be Mughal Malwa. It is like Oudh. Oudh is suppose to be a Muslim bastion. It does not matter if Hindus are a majority. Muslim bastions are suppose to stay Muslim bastions no matter what! Even if the majority are not Muslims but Hindus! Just as no mosque can be demolished even if it was built illegally and most grotesquely on Hindu holy land and no demolished Hindu temple can be rebuilt once destroyed by Muslims! Period!”
“The Glory that was Rome!” I parroted. We kowtowed to each other after delivering more back handed goony salutes which the mad guru returned. “Fuck!” I said. “Some day the Muslims of India just have to get over the fact they were defeated! Malwa was their Spain! Over extended! Kicked in the rump! And then they retreated to fight outside Delhi at their version of Waterloo! Lost! Done! Flushed down the crapper by history! Fucking get over it!”
Durand shrugged. “Will we get over it when the accidental British Empire is flushed down the crapper by history?”
“Touche!” I agreed.
“The Holkar of Indore has a target pinned to his back mostly because of his ancestors. Very big and very conspicuous ancestors! But he is the sort who can’t say yay or nay. So this guy, Saadat Khan, is parading around Indore, claiming to be blessed by the local hoity-toity mullahs to become the lawful Nawab Saadat Khan of Malwa. Kingdom starts here. Then he will expand it to include Bhopal and Gwalior apparently. Apparently the senile Emperor of Delhi is already handing out Nawabships to up and coming Muslim homicidal maniacs of the Jihadist kind. Kill. Parade the chopped off heads. Bounty per head. Enough heads gets you a nawabship!”
“Like 72 virgins plus pearly boys in paradise for tonnage of corpses?” I asked.
Durand nodded. “But I cannot get Holkar up at Indore to say yay or nay! He whines ‘What if they attack?’ I say ‘In all probability sometime in 1857 we will see the Muslims attack! Prepare!’ He says ‘But what if they don’t?’ I say ‘The odds are they will! But there is a possibility, remote, that they will not attack’ so he says ‘Then why not arrest every Muslim now?’ But I say ‘We can’t arrest a few million Muslims unless and until they rise up and attack and murder everyone in their beds! Until then, they are officially innocent.’ So he says ‘Then do something so they won’t kill me’ and I say ‘I am! I am telling you to prepare to be attacked!’ But he says ‘Then why not arrest every single Muslim now?’ and I say ‘We cannot arrest people until they do the crime …. bah! Bah! Bah! And Etc! He is scared stiff but that is the only part of him that is stiff! Otherwise? A piece of rose delight. Quivering but dusted with powder sugar and crumbled gold!” Durand mimed a human piece of quivering candy jelly. Durand was one of those sorts who had a marvelously daffy humor of the most physical kind. For some reason the English seemed to produce an unexpected percentage of such daffs when you don’t expect the English to produce any humor at all.
“But you have to hold this fucking road” I said as I tried in vain to keep a straight face as he mimed holding a snake of a road in his bare hands as the wild man laughed as he finished devouring the leftovers.
“But I have to hold this fucking road” Durand replied as he mimed holding the whole damn road!
“How many men do you have?” I asked while trying not to laugh.
“Less than 30″ Durand said as he gave up ‘holding’ the road in his bare hands. “And Holkar won’t fire his Pathans and dashing Muslim sowar cavalry. Who will bite him in the arse next year! ‘They love me!’he says as he wears his best uniform! ‘See! They are saluting me!’” Durand shook his head as he delivered a Muslim sowar cavalry salute to a Hindu Prince — with one hand behind his back delivering a middle finger salute! We delivered more goony salutes to each other. Durand had that infectious madcap wit that swept me up!”
“I say!” Durand said. “You are a jovial chap! Who said you were the Grim Reaper?”
“How dare they say I am the Grim Reaper!” I shot back. “I am Captain Grotesque!” At that moment that arrogant Pathan I saw the other day rode by. He glared at us with utter contempt. I delivered a goony salute as Durand and the wild guru threw raspberries.
“That is ‘Nawab’ Saadat Khan!” Durand said. “And he insulted you and yours yesterday at the One Thousand Falls!”
“Fuck!” I said. I delivered a very loud raspberry at him. He turned around in the saddle and glared at us! If looks could kill! Durand staggered as if struck by a black look and fell melodramatically into my arms. Then he snorted and stood up as the wild man yanked down his dhoti to moon him.
“The self appointed ‘Nawab of Indore’ is such a pompous bigot!” Durand continued as he pulled out an old blanket and worn cashmere shawl to give to the wild guru to face winter. He was all but naked except for this dhoti loincloth and dreadlocks and tangled beard which however was very long. “But he outnumbers me big time! Next year he will come gunning! And I have no delusions about Rajah Rose Delight finding any spine to save anyone! That bastard could swagger into his durbar covered with the blood of people he is plotting to butcher and Rajah Rose Delight will do nothing! Nothing! Let him go! ‘Oh so sorry Nawab Saadat Khan! Here! Take my fucking divan! Here is my fucking crown! Take Indore! Take everything! Kill everybody! Here! Let me kneel down and wipe the blood off your fucking boots you have walked into my durbar wearing!” We shook are collected heads as the officer wrapped the shawl around the bare shoulders of the mad guru. “Old man” Durand said, “You have to go someplace warm for winter. You cannot live in the wild when you are so old. Not anymore.”
The mad guru shook his hand. “I cannot leave Indore until my sacred duty is done!”
“Well” Durand replied, “Can I asked the Royal Munshi to give you a job praying at the fort?” Pay in food and water and a warm place to live?”
“Nay! I cannot pray for the Ruler of Indore! Unless he ceases to be the ruler of Indore. Then of course I can help him as one poor man might help another poor man!”
Durand sat down in the dirt by the smelly wild man. “Why can’t you pray for The Holkar? Are you enemies?” Durand smiled a fey smile. He had this compassionate tolerance and even appreciation for the wild gurus which I lacked. Once a mad Sikh guru picked me to be his incarnation of some god. He pestered me so much I finally had him flogged because he was in effect ridiculing the Sikh Religion. But the Sikhs said they understood he was mad and asked me to tolerate his madness. Fortunately, he then seized on another victim for his delusions and ‘voices’ and tormented him instead.
“Yea! Most dire enemies!” the wild man replied as he rubbed a dirty hand over his dreadlocks as he smiled his oddly fang tooth smile.
“Why enemies?” Durand asked smiling.
At that moment Khan Son # 1 rode up. “Father of my heart! There has been an incident!”
“And attack at the Baneshwar Temple?” I gasped as Durand blanched.
“No. At the One Thousand Falls! Bodies of pilgrims! Found floating in the pools! Dead!”
“Murdered by Muslims?” Durand gasped.
“That is it! No one knows exactly how they died! That is the trouble!”
Durand looked at me. “Right. John. Can I call you John? You can call me Marion. Why my Mother called me Marion is anyone’s guess. But up to investigate a mystery?”
“Sure—- Marion!” I said.