I VISITED the local hotel several days ago, and I met a completely new crowd of people. Yet all of them fit so readily into the stereotyped patterns, I have difficulty realizing that I scarcely know most of them. I can anticipate precisely what they are going to say, even before they open their mouths to say it. I am tempted to stop going to the hotel for conversation; I could imagine the whole evening without leaving the quarters. There is the drunken major who regales all present with his never-ending tales of frontier service. There is the rookie from England who chokes on his chota peg, but manages to down it with a mustered swagger. There is the respectful ranker who is afraid to say "boo" in the presence of his vaunted and alleged "betters." And as always in Poona, there are the foot-loose women, who are dying of boredom and living for sex.
Mrs. Aldrich is typical of the whole ugly pattern. She is old and obese, but thoroughly sensual. Yet she does not stand out in this Poona society, for so many of the women are exactly the same. I am apparently not alone in my views. For there was one at the hotel who, strange as it seemed, was quite ready to agree with my bitter opinion. Mrs. Bannefield is the survivor of a retired colonel who had spent the greater share of his life in this country. She has been out here for so long herself that she won't consider returning to Britain at this point. "Besides," she observed to me the other day, "there wouldn't be so much to see in Blighty." I followed her gaze across the room to the place where Kelly and Mrs. Aldrich were talking.
"You know, this place is going to hell," Mrs. Bannefield observed to my mild surprise. "A certain amount of promiscuity is one thing. A constant dwelling on sex is another. When I was a girl I traveled around through India wherever my husband went. But most of these youngsters," she waved her hand spaciously, "just stay in the most pleasant place they can find. And then when the man's busy running about, why they run about in a different way. They sleep with every guardsman and fusilier that so much as buys them a couple of drinks." I threw back my head and laughed at this, but Mrs. Bannefield seemed very serious. "I mean it," she said. "It isn't good. It completely destroys their sense of values. It's natural enough in a way, I suppose, for this is a terrible place for a woman to live. Her friends are few and her amusements fewer. But don't judge English women by this, my lad. It is the scum of the country that comes out here. The scum of the country, with scummy ideas."
"I'm glad to hear you say this," I replied, "for I certainly hope that England isn't like this. I've never seen such a sordid society, if I may take the liberty of perfect frankness. These women are naturally terribly frustrated with their husbands absent for years at a time. But that frustration comes out in many ways, none of them very pleasant or healthy. They're unspeakably bad to their servants, I've noticed, much worse than any of the men. They abuse their bearers physically and otherwise in a manner that can only be traced to real sadism. Another more obvious, direct manifestation is their constant preoccupation with sex. They dwell on it so heavily and with such unabating fury that it becomes vulgar and dirty instead of interesting."
Mrs. Bannefield exclaimed, "That's exactly what I mean. You understand me perfectly. It's a terribly warped, distorted society, dominated by largely erotic forces."
Just then Mrs. Aldrich called to an Indian musician who was busily setting up his drums and his music. "Director," she said in an angry voice, "you've got to use a different drum. The one that you have sounds like an African tomtom. It simply won't do. Nay thic hai, you malum?"
The musician stared at her blankly for a moment, shuffling uneasily and looking downward. "Nay malum, memsahib."
Then he lapsed into Urdu, but Mrs. Aldrich cut him short, saying, "Stop jabbering, do you hear? You've got to get a different drum. Another drum. New drum, do you hear?"
At last the Indian understood what she meant, but he apologized, "No other drum, memsahib. Only drum. No other drum."
Mrs. Aldrich replied, "All right, no other drum. But you've got to play this one differently then. Don't just beat it as if it were a tom-tom. Play it differently, softly, malum?"
Again the director was puzzled for a while, but the memsahib refused to clarify her statement. Finally, in desperation, the musician repeated, "No other drum, memsahib. Only drum."
At this Mrs. Aldrich almost broke into tears. "Get out of this room, you damned ignorant beast. Get out. Get out of this room, do you hear?" Then suddenly she regained her self-control and turned to one of the men behind her. "Phillip," she said sweetly, "read that last poem again. I love the way you speak those passionate lines. Oh, God, I'm bored. Go over it again. I love the way you read the lines!"
Mrs. Bannefield tugged vigorously at the sleeve of my tunic, whispering hoarsely, "Isn't that what we mean?" I looked down to see her smiling broadly.
I said, "Yes, Mrs. Bannefield, that's just what we mean."
I have never really seen this society before; I have never understood just what it was. These people are not the brave, determined imperialists that Kipling immortalized in his Barrack-Room Ballads! These are individuals living, living individual lives; they are not concerned with God and country. They are concerned primarily with making their living, a better living than they would make at home. What do they care for the Indian people? What do they know of justice and equality? They have nothing in common with Whitehall and Parliament. They have no conception of imperial responsibilities.
Now that I think of it, I have always imagined the representatives of the King in white tie and tails, carefully balancing the interests of the raj, cajoling here, coercing there. But His Majesty's representatives are not polished diplomats who will do all for India that can practically be done. They are little people, living little lives, prejudiced and variable, emotional and personal. The raj is the little man dressed in white who comes trooping out of the consular office, mopping his brow, looking discouraged, saying, "In the name of Christ, it's hot today." The raj is the colonel whose wife is unfaithful; the raj is his wife, who screams, "Get out! Get out!" This government is not run by rational policies, by weighty decisions made in London or Delhi. It is government by reaction, government by prejudice, government by snap judgment, personality, and bias.
When we Americans think of exploitation, we think of a ruthless but an efficient process. We think of selfishness, right enough, but we think of shrewdness, a calculating science. We think of cracked skulls and famine dead, but we think of these in line with some system, in line with some policy that is primarily logical, in line with some plan that is essentially rational. But the British raj is far from logical; it is hardly rational in most respects. If it were either, then Britain could live off India without nearly as much pain and bloodshed as this. But the raj is a self-directing thing, a thing that rules England more than England rules it. It is a cancer on the British body politic that is growing beyond all reasonable size. About half the energy and bulk of the raj is spent in performing its primary functions. But the other half, the inflamed and diseased half, simply preens and pets its own egoistic self. It flatters memsahibs, it assuages old men, it serves to check the decline of "King Arthur's court." It serves a thousand personal uses for the weak, frustrated souls who supposedly serve it.
I have known there was some slip twixt the cup and the lip, twixt "imperial policy" and this rotten actuality. But I only now discovered what it was; I've only now seen the ideology drip out. The slip is here, in the persons of these people, in the clay foundation for the great ivory tower. It is here in the lying, the frustration and graft that refuse to conform to any grand formula. It is here in Mrs. Bannefield, in Bailis and myself, in the human frailty which haunts any bureaucracy. It is here in the fact of mere personalities in jobs that were designed for not less than. gods. In spite of what Amery and Cripps have to say, these people will always be responsible for British policy. Through them the raj is told about India, and through them Britain must dictate her grandest plans. But their behavior is not shaped by edicts or acts of Parliament. Their attitudes cannot be subjected to pronouncements. Their lives and the lives of the nation they control are shaped by imperfections, by frail emotions. "In the name of Christ, it's hot today." "Get out! Get out!" "I love the way you speak those lines." This is the British raj at work, shaping lives, controlling a people's destiny.
Today is a Hindu holiday and the bullocks and cows are all gaily painted. The shoemaker who works on the porch of the barracks has closed his shop to celebrate the occasion. The men are all wearing paper garlands and the women have real flowers in their hair. Most noticeable of all are the red handprints, stamped on animals and buildings and sidewalks. My bearers have tried to explain this sign, saying that the handprint is a religious symbol. It seems that when Krishna disappeared into the clouds, the last thing to be seen was his outstretched hand. The abstract idea is quite appealing and beautiful, but the painted representation is usually rather garish.
The pariah women are still at work, fighting with the dung beetles for the manure in the streets. They are all dressed a little more gaily than usual, but their nasty job cannot wait till tomorrow. They follow the bullock carts that rumble back and forth carrying the city's produce over these roads. They pick up the fresh manure that drops, patting it into cakes and laying it in their baskets. These cakes are spread on the riverbank to dry in the parching noonday sun. Yes, even these women are in a holiday spirit, chattering with each other and calling back and forth.
An unhappy bull just passed the barracks, wearing a pair of ornamental horns. They were gilded at the ends and painted gaily, stretching a good two feet in the air. The beast did not know what to make of them as he glanced up coyly from under his corded fly-chaser. The weaving of his head could be interpreted as disgust, and I almost thought that I heard him sigh. But I noticed the strangest sight of all after the bull had passed the building. At first I could not believe my eyes when I saw that its testicles were painted a bright red. But surely enough, this was the case, impossible though it seemed at first. I suppose that it is some manner of fertility symbolism, probably connected with the particular holiday.
Some of the bearers have come to work, out of consideration for their helpless sahibs. But they sing as they go about their jobs, in their own little chanting, monotonous way. These Indian tunes sounded discordant at first, unpleasing to my occidental ear. But I'm beginning to find them very interesting, now that I've stopped looking for rhythm and phrase. Most of them are folk songs, I'm told, particularly dealing with religious epic histories. I have asked my bahisti, who seems especially literate, to translate a few for me.
I saw the beginnings of an incipient rebellion last night while I was down in Poona City. I had gone there originally over the warning of my officers, since the native districts are being decimated by the plague. It was a rather strange and creepy sensation to watch the rats scurry back and forth, knowing that in their fleas, from the filth that bred them, these vermin carried history's most horrible death. But the menace which I saw later was far more violent if considerably less deadly than the bubonic plague. It was a rising of the people in protest against one of the opium shops which the British maintain. The men of the district had gathered in anger, hoping to storm and destroy the place. But somehow the authorities got wind of their plans and had a squad of soldiers to guard the shop.
I tried to remain outside of the group, but my curiosity drew me closer, then into it. If I had been thinking rationally, or thinking at all, I would have realized that by color and uniform I was an enemy. The natives were carrying clubs and brickbats; for the first time I saw them angry and excited. Their quiet joviality had given way to a hatred which, if just as quiet, was terrible to behold. I hurried along from corner to corner, wondering how this ominous march would end. Women were following on the heels of the men, occasionally hanging on them, begging them to halt. Children brought up the rear of the parade, not understanding, but enjoying the spectacle. Then suddenly the front ranks stopped dead in their tracks, and we all piled up like waves on a beach. Across a square, dimly lit by torches, the people glared sullenly at His Majesty's troops. I was tempted to seek refuge by running to the shop, then I counted the tommies and decided to stay. For several hours both groups remained, afraid of a fight, yet prepared to face it. After this war of nerves had weakened the natives' leadership, the forces of the raj played their ace in the hole. Stepping boldly out in front of his ranks, an officer blew several short blasts on a whistle. A rumble began echoing down one of the side streets and in a moment two Bren-gun carriers appeared. They came together in the middle of the square, then they smartly spun around toward the mob. Slowly, but irresistibly, they ground down upon us, careful not to provoke the people into action. The natives held their line for several seconds, then they wavered and broke before the threat. I am sure that if the carriers had appeared an hour sooner, they would have been stormed and turned over in the street. But they did not appear an hour sooner; the timing of the raj was perfect, as usual.
As the people broke and ran from the guns, I was caught in their sudden panicky rush. I was awfully afraid that when they found me alone they might swarm over me and kill me in passing, out of frustration. Several times I thought this would happen as some Indian would see my uniform and shout. But on each occasion, though a knot would form, it would disperse with a few gestures or grumbling words. I tried, for the first time, to conform to the pattern of the cruel and insensitive pukah sahib. I knew that if I tried to pacify the people, they would rush upon me before I could explain. I stood my ground through every encounter, refusing even to look at the mobs. Though I was terrified, I puffed slowly and deliberately at my pipe, blowing the smoke into the men's very faces. Once I even dared turn my back, again I folded my arms and closed my eyes. But I knew that if I spoke so much as one word this howling mob would beat me down. At last the gun carriers rolled up and passed me. One stopped and a sergeant major hopped out. "Are you all right, sir?" he shouted in a welcome cockney. "Yes," I answered, "but I almost wasn't."
I have not been able to get the story behind this rioting, though my bearers have given me the native version. They say that a missionary somewhere near here had been preaching to the people on the evils of opium. Now he never anticipated such a reaction as this, and most likely under other circumstances he would not have got it. But just a few weeks ago a young boy died after procuring and consuming an overdose of the drug. When the people realized the cause of his death, they were bitter enough to resort to violence. I wonder what would have happened if this boy had been British and his death had occurred in London!
The caste system within the British Army is quite as rigid as the Hindus' own. I have been amazed to learn that no two ranks are ever encouraged to mix together. Even the enlisted man must choose his friends according to the number of stripes on their arms. Though no army order specifically demands this, consistent violation is "prejudicial to discipline." I noticed when I first arrived in Poona that in the cafés the various ranks sat separately. Sergeants were seated with other sergeants and corporals were seated with other corporals. Until now I had imagined that this was just chance or due at most to the custom of ranked billets. But recently I have learned that it is not simply chance, but a time-honored and strictly obeyed tradition. A sergeant who insists on associating with inferiors may suddenly be demoted to the rank of his friends. A lance corporal who eats with downright privates is apt to be classed with them in official terms.
Frequently there is a number of separate messes, one for each of the ranks and subranks. Here at Poona there are only two, one for the sergeants and another for those below. But sometimes there are four, five, or even six, depending on the size of the regular garrison. The sergeants will then be divided into subclasses, sergeant majors and color sergeants in a place apart. The fact that corporals eat with lance corporals is a sign of Poona's amazing broadmindedness. And the fact that both mess with the lowly private almost makes news throughout British India.
Even among the officers themselves, the same ridiculous distinctions are made. Though a lieutenant can be seen in the company of a captain, the senior officers are not nearly so lax. Seldom will a major and a lieutenant get together for anything but the most coldly official purposes. Colonels and all those creatures above live in a veritable military limbo. It is rumored that they, like the Cabots and the Lowells, speak only to each other and, on occasion, to God. At any rate, it is a matter of official fact that they are as unapproachable as a Himalayan peak.
Most unjust of all, from my point of view, is the habit of segregating the officers "up from the ranks" and making them conscious of their inferior position. These fellows, above everyone else in the Army, have distinguished themselves by sheer native ability. Still, the fact that they did not attend a university is a blot on their record that no merit can wipe off. They are given to realize that they may be officers, but they can never aspire to becoming officers and gentlemen.
While I was out on convoy some time ago I met a very interesting sublieutenant. We talked together for most of a morning, till our convoy stopped to "brew up" for tea. There were three little tents by the side of the road, two for our seven officers and one for twenty enlisted men. I followed the majority of the other officers who were heading for the tent that was farthest from our truck. My friend seemed to be a bit embarrassed, and he darted into the closer tent. "Not here," I called to him, unaware of fine distinctions. "Everyone else is headed for this other tent." An awkward silence followed this remark and I began to realize I had said something wrong. "Come along, Muehl," said one of the Herrenvolk lieutenants as my friend returned to the ranker's tent.
More recently I was sitting in the Medical Office, waiting for the officer of the day to appear. My chair was turned around away from the window and two lance corporals outside seemed to think they were alone.
"None of this spit and polish for me," said one. "I'm as much of a man as 'e is, ain't I?"
The other agreed, "You're right there, Alf. To see some of 'em jump, you'd think an officer was a bloomin' god. Well, you don't see me bein' so respectful and all. They's only human like we is, ain't they?"
I couldn't resist the temptation to rise and see what reaction I would get from these men. I suspected that their talk was simply bravado, but I wanted to make sure they were just like the others. "Well," I coughed. "That's pretty wild talk. Are you sure you men mean every word of it?"
The men spun around and turned white at these words; neither could answer my question for a moment. "No, sir," said one. "We was only talkin'. We didn't mean a thing by it."
The other whined, "'At's right, we didn't mean nought. Alf and me was jist talkin', 'at's all."
I couldn't keep up the pretense much longer for I felt awfully sorry for these two frightened men. "Get on your way," I said to them. "I won't repeat a word that I heard." At this they began falling over each other, trying to continue their apologies as they ran. "Look where you're going," I cried after them as one barely missed a concrete post.
This fear of superiors is bred into the tommy long before he enters the service. He is taught to consider himself in reference to his class and to offer due homage to those above. Here in the Army that process is completed systematically, consciously, and efficiently. The haircut of the soldier is specifically designed to make him look and feel ridiculous. To begin with, it has to be terribly short, about half the length of his officer's. But in addition to that it must be shaved up the side, creating the impression that a bowl has been used. if anyone departs from this strict regulation, he is ridiculed and humiliated in front of his fellows. He is asked whether he expects a job in Hollywood, then he is ordered to get the prescribed bowl shave. It is not just a matter of cleanliness and uniformity; Bailis and Bisbee have admitted that openly. It is simply another of the Army techniques to widen the gulf between officer and ranks.
No attempt is ever made to clothe the tommy attractively. He is put into pants that could fit no live animal, baggy in the crotch and tight at the waist. His shirts are tailored in the fashion of tents and his underclothes (how well I know) are painful to wear. It is hardly possible that this is intentional, but quite obviously it is the result of a supreme lack of care. The tommy's feelings count for nothing; he is a piece of machinery to be operated as cheaply as possible. It is terrible to see him systematically conditioned, consciously prodded into a regulation neurosis.
Last night two soldiers jumped into my victoria, asking if they might ride down to Poona with me. When I answered they noticed that something was amiss, for I did not have the proper accent for a private. Both of them froze in their seats immediately; then one cast a questioning look at the other. His comrade finally asked me, almost in a whisper, "Were we mistaken in thinking you a private . . . sir?" I didn't know exactly what to say so I decided to fall back on technicality. "Well, actually, I'm a civilian," I replied quite casually. "I'm just attached to the Indian Army." This hardly seemed to relieve the two, for it still left my position uncomfortably vague. Both of them began to apologize, insisting they would leave the coach at once. I told them that this not necessary, but the more I talked the more worried they seemed. Finally I realized that they were so uncomfortable that it would be a kindness to let them get out and walk.
I have been in Poona nearly five months now, but so far my training has been very general. I learned a smattering of military courtesy and had the usual indoctrination. Finally today, with, the arrival of our vehicles, I was assigned c/o water supply. My duties, though not yet officially outlined, will be the testing, purification, and approving of drinking water. I was rather dissatisfied with the assignment at first, since it seemed like a rather ignominious routine, but now that I think about it, it's rather important and involves quite a bit of technical knowledge. I am going to have to cram a bit since my grasp of chemistry is as yet rather slim. Since most of our water will be drawn from ponds and streams, a constant check for disease or poison is imperative.
I have been given a bewildering assortment of chemicals, as strange to the quartermaster as they are to me. I am amazed at the simple faith of these men that I will not absent-mindedly poison them all. I am really quite on my own, it seems, for the Horax. tests are nowhere outlined. I've tried to chase down a fat sergeant major who is rumored to have heard of them at one time or another. I am frankly disappointed at having come all this distance to measure out chlorine and pour it in a water tank. But then I understand that some men spend years in college to learn no less prosaic and mundane skills.
I'm to be issued a truck and several Indians. That is the way the quartermaster puts it. The truck carries a three-hundred-gallon tank and the sepoys carry the truck, I suppose, in emergencies. Actually, these natives will do most of the pumping, an arrangement to which I am definitely partial. My time will be consumed by the arduous business of gazing at test tubes and comparing their colors. Since I alone will understand this business (or dare to pretend that I understand it), I shall be able to set my own hours of work, a situation which has virtually undreamed-of potentialities. One good thing about this job, at least, is that I will always have plenty of water for myself. The usual allotment being one quart per day, I might otherwise have trouble maintaining my daintiness!
WELL, I managed to find Sasvad the other day, but not without gashing my tires to pieces. I've just limped in on a balky cycle after spending two days and three nights in the hills. It was a good half day's ride from Poona cantonment when the cycle suddenly bounded out of control. I skittered off the edge of a little ledge and crashed headlong into a sharp projection. The front tire exploded and one handle bar folded back; it was impossible to ride the bike as it was. Though I had got a few minor bruises and scrapes, my position was far more alarming than my condition. By the time I resigned myself to walking, the sun was already beginning to set. I was terrified at the idea of spending the night on the mountain, especially since I had previously flushed two large snakes.
Immobilizing the bike as best I could, I struck out in the direction of the nearest road. It was almost dark when I came upon it, spying the torch of a passing farmer. I hailed the man in the eerie twilight, and explained my predicament to him in sign language. He motioned me back along the path, in the opposite direction from Poona, I was sure. I hoped against hope that there might be a garrison, but I suspected that I would spend the night with some villager. Several processions of pilgrims passed me and a band of gypsies who watched suspiciously. I noticed, to my considerable discomfort, that everyone else seemed to carry a torch, probably to frighten animals and snakes. Finally, not without the profoundest joy, I spied the flickering lights of Sasvad.
The fringe of the village was dark and quiet; children watched me pass from between mud houses. As I moved along I wondered where I was bound, where I should go to request hospitality. In the middle of the village there was much activity, so I steered, without reason, to the market square. As I continued my walk the road became lighter and the corners more frequently knotted with people. When at last I reached the center of town I was sure that this was a carnival night. Singers were crying and beating their accompaniment; dancers stomped and whirled in the streets. Everyone was laughing and running about, jostling his neighbors and shouting back and forth. Children were playing games on the walk and all of the shops seemed open for business. Only once before have I seen anything like this, and that the phenomenon of Harlem at three A.M. Nobody seemed to know it was night; the town was wide open and doing business.
Gradually I began to realize that the villagers were taking me quite in unbroken stride. A few turned questioning eyes upon me, but generally I was ignored or taken for granted. At first I was rather glad this was so, for I felt less out of place that way. But later I began hoping for more attention, for someone to sense my awkward position. I accosted one fellow whom I met in a shop, assuming from his dress that he was a Pathan. Traditionally these people are moneylenders and therefore rather inclined to sophistication. Fortunately he spoke a little English, so I described the situation to him. At first he was quite disinterested and abrupt, but I finally offered to pay for his help. At this his countenance brightened perceptibly and he drew a map, locating a hotel. I thanked him for this and paid two rupees, rushing out to follow the directions.
At the end of an alley that was jammed with people I came to the "Lucky Hindu Hotel." It was a crude mud hut without door or windows, and a torch was blazing in its single room. In one corner a fellow was playing his flute; in another a man was singing to himself. In the center of the floor two men were arguing over the prostrate body of a third, who was snoring. All in all, the place looked like Bedlam itself in the flickering glare of the single light. Lining the wall the clientele was spread out, face down on a number of thin cloth mats. The racket within was augmented on occasion by enthusiastic shouting from the street outside. But these tenants were slumbering blissfully on as if the noise were their very lullaby. But none of the people were sleeping too soundly; they would speak occasionally or get up to eat. Frequently someone would jump to his feet to shake the bedbugs out of his clothes. Without bothering to brush them off his bed, he would then lie down to sleep again. In a few more moments someone else would rise and repeat the process in a sleepy manner. I decided that I might better have stayed in the hills than try to sleep in this dirt-floored flophouse. As I left I looked back at the name of the place, "The Lucky Hindu Hotel," in gold letters. Very aptly named, I thought. Very aptly named, indeed. It's surely a very lucky Hindu who manages to get out of that place alive.
Once I was out in the street again, I realized that I was no better off than before. I was still without a place to sleep, and I was still a stranger to this village and its people. But somehow I felt considerably better, knowing that my situation could be even worse. Instead of being here on the street, I thought, I could be chasing bedbugs in the Lucky Hindu Hotel. At last to my great relief and aid I met an Indian who spoke fluent English. He told me that he attended a mission school, and he promised to find me a place to stay. "If the resident commissioner were here," he said, "I know you'd be able to stay with him. But he's been away for about a week and his house is closed and locked, I believe." It was nearly four o'clock in the morning now, and I told my friend that I would sleep anywhere. After racking his brain for some suitable suggestion, he offered to let me stay with him. At first I declined his hospitality, sure that it would be an imposition to accept. But when Das assumed I was refusing out of pride, I agreed to go home with him to spike that notion.
Das lived out on the edge of the village, about a half mile or more from the market square. It was beginning to get light as we approached the place, a solid mud building with a well-thatched roof. It was built of the usual native materials, but decidedly superior to the houses around it. it was as clean as a home could possibly be without a wood floor and with baked clay walls. There was a flimsy partition dividing the hut, a woven straw matting that hung from the roof. Das directed me to a charpoy in one corner, a fiber hammock strung from a wood frame.
I must have slept till noon or after, for I was awakened by the sun streaming down in my eyes. It had found its way through a crack in the roof and had crawled along the floor to where I lay. As I opened my eyes I was startled, then amused by a curious little face staring down at me. I yielded to a temptation to growl and bark, which seemed to be just what the child expected. I was surprised to hear his mother laugh, for I had supposed that I would not be allowed to see her. Das, I assumed, was a Hindu name, and if so, his wife should be kept to herself. I made my peace with her frightened child and he was sitting on my bed when Das's wife brought me tea. "Good morning," I said as cheerfully as I could, but neither mother nor son could understand me. "Salaam," I said, adapting to the occasion. The two of them laughed and returned, "Salaam." They sat watching me intently as I sipped at the brew, then finally Das himself appeared in the doorway.
"Look here, why don't you stay for a while?" These were Das's first words to me.
"Well, I wasn't planning to rush past you out of the house, but I really must get back to Poona," I answered.
"How did you get yourself lost out here, if you're stationed all the way down in Poona?"
I replied, "That is a long and painful story centering around an accident on my motorcycle." I asked for directions to the nearest military highway, expecting that I was within a few miles of one. But I learned, to my sorrow, that it was twenty miles to the closest regularly traveled 'route. "How in God's name can I get my cycle back without letting my unit know I'm here?" I wondered. I found my answer when Das offered to relay a message via bullock cart and bearer to Captain Bisbee at the Poona Club. Bisbee, I reasoned, could send a truck out with several men to bring in the cycle. He could probably even get it repaired for me so that I wouldn't have to report my accident to the unit. But this would mean that I'd be stuck in the hills for two or three more days, at best. I resigned myself to that interesting fate and gave Das a message to send to Bisbee.
The next day I awoke at the crack of dawn, having gone to bed at eight o'clock. Das and his family were up and about, cooking some sort of stew for breakfast. It tasted like seaweed boiled in vinegar, but I didn't ask for the recipe. I choked as much of it down as I could, and assuaged my hunger on chapatty and rice.
Das was bound for the fields, I learned, where he was busy irrigating a section of land. I asked if I might go along. Das replied that he would be pleased to have me. When we got to the well, in the middle of a terrace, I was impressed by the peculiar shape of the thing. It was formed quite carefully of rock and mud, looking in outline like a giant keyhole. Das insisted the design was functional, but I suspect there was Freudian symbolism involved. When I asked if there was any reason for the shape, Das acknowledged that it conformed to a religious pattern. Beyond this he was reluctant to explain the form, but he implied that the well was a fertility charm.
Das began walking along a chain of buckets; the chain creaked suddenly and began to move. I saw that by climbing this endless ladder he was able to bring up the water to the fields. It began to flow along a sluice and out across the parched red ground. But almost as fast as it ran out of the trough it soaked into the earth and disappeared. As I stood there watching I forgot the time, and the sun grew hotter by imperceptible degrees. Suddenly I realized that my knees were buckling, and I could only call weakly,
"Das, come here!" I was prostrate on the ground when Das got to me, but he realized what was wrong and dragged me to the well. I lay there in the shade of the cool stones that were moist and fresh with the water that he pumped. I looked at the birds circling lazily above and listened to the creaking of the wooden axles. Every sound that was born in the valley was echoed and amplified by the mountain rim. Every farmer calling to his cattle could be heard; every dog that barked from across the plain, every sound of animal or man was softened but carried across the blue atmosphere.
That evening the family had come together for supper, the children from the village, Das and I from the fields. just as we were enjoying a delicious curry two neighbors rushed in, wringing their hands and wailing. "Good Lord, what's the matter, Das?" I asked when they had finally departed unhappily. Das was obviously agitated, and he took his time about answering the question. At length he said that one of his neighbors was in childbirth, unattended in the absence of the resident commissioner. Normally that official would deputize some local midwife, coming himself if there was anything unusual. But this neighbor'& wife was having trouble; I gathered she had been in labor for about twenty-four hours. I knew very little of the science of obstetrics, but I did know that this was abnormally long.
Suddenly Das's face was glowing with delight, as he turned toward me and pointed a finger. "But didn't you say that you were with the Medical Corps?"
I felt the bottom of my stomach drop away. "Yes," I said with some reluctance, "but not in a capacity that prepares me for this. My business is testing water for disease and poison; if you have any to test I can oblige you there. But childbirth---well, that's something entirely different. I know less than you; I'm not even married."
Das's enthusiasm was undampened by my speech and he cried, "But you must spend much time with doctors."
I said, "Yes, but watching them play a hand of bridge doesn't teach me much about midwifery. Now before this argument goes any further, I've simply got to put my foot down. No! I can't think of attending this woman. It would be sheer murder if I agreed to do so."
Das was dejected at this positive refusal, but he sat in silence for several moments. Then suddenly a man ran into our hut and began addressing me in his native Urdu. Das explained that he was the husband of the mother and that he was sure the sahib could do something for his wife. She was slowly bleeding to death, he explained.
I was terrified, so frightened I could barely breathe. "Good Lord, what does he think the sahib can do? Tell him I know absolutely nothing about this. Can't you get word to a near-by hospital, to the resident commissioner wherever he is?"
Das shook his head. "There is no hospital. The resident commissioner is in Kashmir now. You must take a look at the woman, at least to satisfy the husband if for no other reason.
I sighed. "All right, to satisfy the husband, to satisfy you all that I know nothing about it." Das leaped up and we dashed outside, into the darkness of the deserted street.
The hut was only a few doors from Das's and we came upon it all too quickly. I would have been genuinely tempted, if the walk had been farther, to run away, out into the night. But as we entered the house I was relieved to find that it was divided, unlike ours, into two separate rooms. I decided to conceal my ignorance and fear by insisting on seeing the woman alone. As I passed through one room where the family was gathered, a number of faces were turned toward me. Mumbling prayers were awkwardly broken off and there was an uneasy silence for several seconds. I walked resolutely to a draped archway, then turned rather shakily to speak to Das. "Put some water over the fire," I said. With those words I exhausted my knowledge of obstetrics.
The room was lit by one flickering taper, and I could not see my way around at first. I stood for several seconds by the doorway, wondering if the woman was able to see me. Finally, when my eyes became accustomed to the darkness, I dimly discerned the outline of a bed. Lying on it, twisted in rag covers, was a girl whose head hung over the edge. She seemed barely alive, but she would groan occasionally, whether meaningfully and to me I didn't know. I began moving slowly across the room, then I noticed an ugly spot on the bedclothes. It was a patch of fresh blood about two feet square. In the light of the candle it was shining and wet. I felt sweat breaking out on my hands and my forehead. I stopped ten or fifteen feet from the bed. I must have stood there for twenty minutes, unable to go closer or retreat from the woman. At length I noticed that her groaning stopped, and I actually prayed she was already dead. Whether she was or not I shall never know. I turned and rushed to the other room. "Das, I've done all I can," I lied. "I couldn't do much, but what I could I did." Then I faltered. "Das, I think she's dead."
Someone asked Das a question in Urdu, and he bitterly translated the words for me. "Does sahib want the water?" he asked.
I hesitated a moment. "No, I guess I don't," I said.
I can still see the woman writhing on the charpoy; I can still see the spreading spot of blood. I can hear the groaning and the rustling of her sheets, and Das saying bitterly, "Does sahib want the water?" I have talked to one or two of the medical officers, but none of them seem to understand how I feel. Death to them is an everyday occurrence, and they have learned not to feel responsible for it. I knew, intellectually, that the woman was doomed, that she was nearly dead when I entered the room. I know, objectively, that neither I nor an obstetrician could have done much after she had lost so much blood. But still, I should at least have tried. I should have had the courage to look at the woman. And yet there is no use castigating myself for her death; I could not bring myself to act differently now.
I didn't sleep much that second night; in the end I got up and pulled on my boots. Das was staring into the fire and he didn't seem to notice when 1 sat down beside him. "I'm sorry I couldn't have been more help, but I just didn't know what to do," I said. Das didn't answer, but I had the feeling he was less angry with me than with his Hindu god.
In the morning the woman's funeral was held, though everyone was surprised that it took place so soon. As many mourners as could be gathered together bore the body, in a coffin, to the burning ghats. On the side of a mountain the procession halted and I withdrew from the group as Das had suggested. From a distance I could see a wisp of smoke bearing, it is said, the soul of the departed. When the mourners began to depart from the ghats, I went back to the village without waiting for Pas. I found a surprise waiting for me at the house: the resident commissioner, in starched white clothes.
"I was told that someone was marooned in the village. I hope it hasn't been too bad," he said. "I've been away on a week's vacation; otherwise I'd have got here to rescue you sooner.
I was annoyed beyond reason with this little man, breaking in so airily upon a solemn mood. "It hasn't been bad at all," I said. "I can't think of a better way to see this country." I meant the words in the most literal sense, but the commissioner thought I was being sarcastic.
"Well, come along to my bungalow," he said. "You can take a bath and I'll lend you some clothes." The commissioner was trying his level best to be friendly, but I was not in a mood to appreciate his efforts.
"Couldn't you have got here last night?" I asked, catching him just a bit off balance.
"Why, I suppose I could if it had proven necessary," he said more charitably than I had a right to expect.
I snapped very angrily, "It did prove necessary. A woman died in the village in childbirth. There was nobody here to look after her. I wasn't able to do a thing myself."
The commissioner was peeved. "Look here!" he said. "Delivering babies isn't among my duties. It's only out of kindness that I help at all. Don't be so quick with your criticism of my methods." I began to realize that I was being unreasonable, so I apologized and explained my feelings to the commissioner. He sympathized. "My God, what a frightful night! I'll give you a stiff drink when we get to the house. I've learned to take these things in stride, but I can understand how you must have felt through it all."
I answered, "I'm grateful for your offer, and I thank you, but I think I shall stay in the village where I am."
The commissioner laughed. "But you can't be serious. Why, man, you're living in a terrible pesthole."
I answered, suddenly angry at the man again, "If it's a pesthole, then why don't you do something about it?"
The commissioner queried, "Well, what can I do, go around with a cricket bat killing the vermin? It's really a larger job than you suspect, just keeping track of the most serious things. If you're wise, you'll go back to my bungalow with me. These people will get along without our help."
I thanked the commissioner for his offer again, but repeated my intention of staying with Das. "I'm sorry I seem so disagreeable," I said. "I guess my nerves are all on edge."
The resident laughed. "Oh, I understand. If you're leaving tomorrow there's no sense in moving. Just be careful of what you eat and drink and you shouldn't come down with anything serious."
I could not tell the commissioner why I refused his hospitality, and I am still not convinced to my entire satisfaction. But having got involved in the life of the village, I felt as though I could not run away. Part of the explanation is emotional; I wanted to vent my anger on someone. But aside from that there was something else, a certain identification with Das and his friends. I had really become a part of the village, a part of its life and a part of its death. The greatest emotions had passed between us, forging a bond of mutual sympathy. When I told Das I planned to remain at his house, he expressed satisfaction but he asked no questions. I am sure he understood how I felt, for in two days we had almost grown to be friends.
I cannot forget my conversation with the resident commissioner in the village that morning. I cannot forget his "Well, what can I do, go around with a cricket bat killing the vermin?" Yes, what can the resident commissioner do? Is he twelve-armed and seven-headed like the Hindu gods? Or is he rather a pathetic little man in short pants whose job is completely out of proportion to his capacity? What can all England do for India? What did it do for the woman who died? Did it do all it could? (Then, how little that was!) Or did it do less than it could? (Then, how terribly cruel!)
Why doesn't England put up or shut up; help these people or admit she cannot? What has she done in two hundred years but build highways and railroads from the mines to the seaports? The British Information Service notwithstanding, these people are worse off than when the English came to India. The average yearly wage is lower and the death rate is the highest in, India's history. But worse than that, or rather responsible for it, the country's economy is in a terrible maladjustment. Here is the one place where Britain could help; it is also the one place where she refuses to try. In the words of one prominent economist, India has become a "plantation" for British industry. Indian manufactures have been ruthlessly destroyed and we have turned our back on India's real needs.
Nothing can be done by patch and repair, by a highway here and a free clinic there. There are four hundred million people in India and nobody can minister to their needs individually. The resident commissioner was perfectly right, he cannot eliminate the vermin by chasing them with a ball bat. Neither can he save needless deaths in his village by sacrificing his yearly vacation. But carry the logic a little bit further. Apply it, if you will, to the raj itself. Britain cannot bring progress to India by throttling her economy and distributing small favors.
I REPORTED to a Bombay hospital this morning, complaining of recurrent abdominal cramps. Last night I spent in the unit latrines trying hard to get rid of what I hadn't eaten. I expected to be given a pill or a tonic and told to go on about my business. But instead I was referred to this hospital, where I rest, none too comfortably, at this very moment. At first I was placed in a barnlike room that housed about sixty-five beds in all. I was sure that any number of my roommates might be dead and as yet undiscovered in its endless spaces. Finally a doctor got around to see me, but only after I had been here for three or four hours. He glanced at me perfunctorily and was about to pass on when I reminded him that I had just reported this morning. "Oh, yes," he recalled, "you're a new patient here. I assume your case has been diagnosed?"
I replied, "Why, I reported four hours ago but so far I've seen only two orderlies and a janitor."
The doctor was quite surprised to hear this and he demanded to see my chart at once. When I replied that no chart had as yet been made out, he gasped, "Why, then you're not officially registered. What are you doing in this bed, my man? Who gave you permission to come in here like this?"
I answered hotly, "Why; I came in an ambulance and the nurse insisted that I go to bed. But since I'm feeling quite well now, by the grace of God, I'll be only too happy to return to my unit."
The doctor mumbled, "But you can't do that. If you reported as sick, we must find out what is wrong." I rolled over in bed and closed my eyes, disgusted with this typical Indian Army "efficiency."
In a few moments Captain Balfour was back by my bed, this time with an admission blank in his hand. I was very sleepy and I tried to ignore him but he cleared his throat loudly several times. Finally, in obvious desperation, he stamped his foot and called, "Attention!" He was embarrassed when I slowly opened one eye and disgustedly groaned, "Oh, it's you again." This was certainly not the reaction he expected and he realized that everyone in the room was watching. Pleadingly, and with a hint of a question in his voice, Captain Balfour repeated softly, "Attention?" I sat up in the bed and pulled on my robe, saying, "All right, damn it. Attention, then. Have you and the Royal Army Medical Corps debated my case and decided to accept it?"
Captain Balfour was naturally a red-faced man, but his face flushed redder as he sat down on my bed. "Now let's have the symptoms first of all. Have you ever had this trouble before?"
I answered, "Yes, I first had trouble in my undergraduate years at the university."
Balfour just sat there, staring at me, apparently fascinated by something I had said. "Where . . . where did you say you first had the trouble?" he finally managed to stammer out.
"Why, as an undergraduate in the university," I repeated, amused by his strange expression. Unexplainably, Balfour got up from the bed and stormed out of the ward without saying a word.
While I was still puzzling over his strange behavior, another medical officer appeared in the doorway with two men. In silence the privates approached my bed and in silence they picked it bodily up. In silence we lumbered out of the large ward room, while I tried to make some sense of it all. Then my bed was finally brought to rest in a small private room adjoining the ward.
"Say, what in the hell goes on here?" I asked as the officer and a nurse came into the room.
"I'm terribly sorry this happened," he said, apologizing for some mysterious unfelt slight.
"I'm terribly sorry it happened too. I'm sorry I got into this hospital. Of all the damned nonsense I've ever seen, this morning's bungling surely gets the prize. I reported sick at eight o'clock. I saw a doctor at half past eleven. And then he debates the legality of my presence and finishes by having me carried about on a litter. Captain, does the Medical Corps practice black magic? Is this ritual some sort of spiritual cure? Or are you simply so preoccupied with rules and regulations that you don't have time to diagnose or treat patients?" What was left of my pains of the earlier hours was dispelled with this letting of angry bad blood.
Balfour and his nurse stood abashed through it all; then finally the latter said, "It was all my fault."
I answered, carried away by the power of my sarcasm, "No, surely one small girl could not have precipitated all this disturbance."
But she insisted. "I assumed that you were an enlisted man because you were wearing no insignia of rank."
The doctor broke in, "Yes, we're both very sorry. I knew there was a mistake when you mentioned your university. We've checked the records and we realize that you should have been placed in an officer's ward."
Understanding at last, I confessed, "Well, I'd just as soon have stayed where I was. If an O.R. receives so much bungling attention, I refuse to think what would happen to an officer."
Johnny Brennan was moved into the bed on my left, suffering from a nasty attack of jaundice. His skin is the color of a lemon rind and his eyeballs look like a pair of yellow agates. The doctors haven't made a. diagnosis yet. "They are waiting," says Johnny, "for my hair to turn yellow." I don't blame Brennan for being disgusted; he's a very uncomfortable lad at the moment. He is usually quite pleasant and cheerful, but considering his mood I don't even dare talk to him. When he gets better I'm sure he will enjoy watching the strange attention that I am getting.
Between my pointed comments on the day of my arrival and Johnny's blast at the efficiency of the staff, this room is rapidly coming to be considered the headquarters for "His Majesty's Opposition." Yesterday when Johnny saw his chart for the first time he asked Balfour what the N.Y.D. stood for. "Why, that means Not Yet Diagnosed," the doctor announced in a cheerful voice.
"Not Yet Diagnosed! How interesting," Brennan said with a certain air of ill-concealed sarcasm. "And all this time I've been under the impression that it stood instead for New Yankee Disease."
Since Brennan was admitted quite late last night, he decided to sleep through inspection this morning. But the ambulatory cases, of which he is one, are expected to stand at attention for the Brigadier. I poked Johnny once or twice through the mosquito net, suggesting that he get up and make his bed. "The hell with that," he growled out sleepily. "I'm supposed to be in a hospital and I'll stay where I am." When the Brigadier came through the ward toward our room I snapped to attention by the side of my bed. My net was rolled and the sheets folded back, all in the prescribed regulation manner. Johnny's trousers hung awkwardly from a chair and his foot projected from under the covers. The Brigadier started, then averted his eyes; it seemed he was going to pretend not to notice. "How are you?" he said quite cheerfully to me. I answered that I was feeling much better than when I came. "Good!" He nodded after some contemplation; then he turned on his heel to leave the room. But just as he got to the door of the ward, Brennan was beginning to come to life. He poked his head out from under the covers and shouted, "Say, bud! What time is it?"
There is an unbridgeable gulf between the Briton and the Indian, the inevitable gulf between the master and slave. The sahib can never understand the people of this country, for he has come to consider them simply as his tools. If they are relatively efficient in achieving his ends, then they have attained all the value which they can ever possess. If they are sloppy, grumbling, or inefficient, they have failed to fulfill their purpose in the universe. How often do we think of our servants as people with homes, with wives and children awaiting them? How often do we consider that the bearer must live his entire life while the master sleeps?
I used the words master and slave inadvertently, for neither term really applies in spirit. I'm sure I would be wont to respect a master and despise a slave, unjust though it sounds. But actually I feel that in most daily contact the Indian gets a little the better of us. His subtle "war of nerves" is masterfully fought and we can't often match his self-control. I saw an example of this some time ago before I began my "period of confinement." I had wandered down to the Poona Club to meet Turner's major, who had recently returned from the front.
Major Baker was just what I had expected, a portly man with a walrus mustache. His hair was graying and his face was florid so that he looked for all the world like Colonel Blimp. I found him decidedly unpleasant from the outset, a reaction which I apparently shared with the majority. When the Major left, some acquaintance explained that they feared he was getting just "a little bit jungly." He went far out of his way to have trouble with the servants, protesting from his chair that they were less than useless. But in the end, as is so often the case, he managed only to make a fool of himself.
A bearer brought a cold drink to the Major, handing him a glass that was frosted and moist. Without thinking Baker set the glass on his knee, spotting his trousers with the harmless water. "Bearer," he cried, grimacing at the boy, "haven't you the sense to dry off a glass?" The bearer explained, though none too clearly, that the glass had been dry when it was brought to the Major. He wiped it over with a cloth he carried and gave it back to the pakah sahib. Pouting a little, Baker accepted it, resuming his conversation after a few more grunts. Suddenly he stared at his trousers again and cried, "Bearer, you didn't dry off this glass!" I wondered if the Major was actually so foolish that he didn't realize that his glass would "sweat."
"I'm sorry, sahib," the bearer said. "Glass was dry when I gave it to you."
Baker mimicked, "Oh, glass was dry, eh? Well, I suppose this water came out of the air."
I could not help laughing and observing to the company, "Perhaps Major Baker is warmer than he thinks."
I believe Baker came to his senses at this point, but he could not admit his fault to a native. He turned on the boy with a new ferocity, demanding an explanation from him. "Water always on the outside of glass," the bearer explained after several seconds.
"Water always on the outside of glass? Typical Indian reasoning," Baker sneered. "Well, water isn't always on the outside of glass. Not when the glass is mine, do you hear?"
I interjected at this point. "Well, now I've seen everything---a bearer who's held responsible for the laws of physics." Everyone laughed but the Major himself, and my humor seemed only to anger him more.
I was not surprised when he launched into a tirade which I would rather not recall. Applied to a native, any language is acceptable, nay unnoticed, even by the women present. Baker was suffering from the censure of the group and he was determined to humiliate the native boy. But the boy remained respectfully silent, speaking only in answer to direct questions. To them he would answer as Baker desired, anxious to end the scene as soon as possible. He happily agreed when the Major called him stupid, and he said, "Yes, sahib," when asked if he weren't ashamed. By rights this would have been a brutal spectacle, the misused, fearful, and groveling boy. But rather it was funny, for by the minute the bearer was making a fool of Baker. His expression was one of genuine disinterest, passive in the face of the Major's rage. The "Yes, sahib," "No, sahib" were polite but detached, as if the bearer were discussing the weather. I began to realize that the boy was really trying quite earnestly to look penitent and abashed. He was not intentionally angering Baker, but he could not prevent his feelings from showing. He cared not a whit for our judgment of him; he knew that we were prejudiced and reacting emotionally. He would let this "child's tantrum" simply run its course. By the way, had he shut the screen door in the kitchen?
Baker sensed the fellow's preoccupation, and sensed, as well, its genuineness. This only served to infuriate him more, that this native should so easily dismiss his wrath. Finally he had spent his vitriol and his verbiage, and he stood shaking like a child before a locked door. His frustration found an outlet in motion, and he threw his drink into the bearer's face. The boy's expression did not perceptibly change, but he reached out obligingly to take the Major's glass. Baker sank into his chair and groaned as the bearer said, "If sahib is through I will return to the kitchen."
This is not a technique for tormenting the sahib, but a simple expression of the Indian mind. It stems from the fact that through two centuries of subjection, the Indian has never accepted his conqueror. He has had to put up with his presence in the land, because he has never mustered the energy to defeat him. But he is simply tolerated as a foreign body, just another annoyance that must be borne with patience. This bearer knew well what was right and wrong, and he had faith that his Indian god would judge him. But the censure of any lesser being, of a sahib, was of little fundamental importance.
Johnny's jaundice has finally been diagnosed, and I've promised to have a party to celebrate. "I finally managed to convince them," Brennan says, "that I didn't fall into a tub of yellow paint."
This morning the Major came into the room to see how the two of us were getting along. He asked if there was anything he could do for us and Johnny replied, "You can call me a doctor."
The Major, being unaccustomed to Yankee sarcasm, said, "But Captain Balfour is a doctor."
Brennan returned, "Then why the masquerade? Tell him to come in and go to work."
After a brief exchange of unpleasantries the Major diagnosed Johnny's case himself. "Now when does the treatment begin?" Brennan asked, naturally anxious to get out of the hospital.
"Oh, there is no treatment for jaundice," replied the Major. "We just have to let it run its course."
I blurted out, "Just let it run its course? Well, what about insulin and diathermy, Major?"
The Major was surprised that I knew the terms, but he brushed aside the suggestions I made. "There is no treatment for jaundice," he repeated, looking significantly, in my direction.
An orderly came in this afternoon to take a sample of my blood for analysis. "Beg your pardon, sir," he began apologetically, "I wonder if we might have a little blood from you?"
I replied, "Well, that depends on why you want it. Will you file it away or do something with it?"
The orderly replied, "Oh, we want to test it," oblivious to the intended sarcasm of my question. "We want to test it for malaria," he enlarged as he jabbed his needle into my finger.
I jumped, considerably more surprised than hurt, and exclaimed, "You want to test it for malaria?"
Wiping my finger the orderly said, "Yes, sir. Your temperature was two degrees high last night."
Johnny was already rolling with laughter, enjoying my annoyance with this new development.
"Can you imagine that?" I said to him. "They want to test my blood for malaria. Nobody gives a damn about my stomach cramps, but they're going to test me for malaria."
Brennan replied, "Listen, you're lucky, pal. They at least seem to be taking an interest in you. If you're smart you'll play up this malaria scare, then try to work them around to your stomach gradually. If you let them down too suddenly they'll all be disillusioned with you. Don't do that. Wean 'em from it slowly."
I laughed and agreed, "I guess you're right," almost believing in the wisdom of Johnny's words.
The orderlies are preparing for another inspection; they are sweeping the floors and aligning the beds. Johnny has been riding the boys pretty hard, asking them if they couldn't spend their time more profitably. "Why, I've been here for almost two weeks, and you fellows have never done anything for me. I've wondered what you did with all your time. Now I see. You spend it on this spit and polish." There's really some logic in Brennan's words, unaccustomed though I am to taking him seriously. The only energy expended in this hospital seems to be in the pursuance of formal regulations. The comfort of the patient is of no importance, his very health is secondary.
One of the orderlies finally exploded and objected to Brennan's derogatory remarks. "This 'ere ain't spit and polish, if you please. It's an important sanitary precaution," he said.
"What's a sanitary precaution?" I asked.
The fellow replied, "This 'ere moving of beds."
Johnny and I looked blankly at each other, trying to understand what the orderly meant. Seeing our bewilderment, the corporal elaborated. "Specifically, this 'ere is for isolation purposes."
This clarification only confused me more, and I asked, "Well, what has this to do with isolation?"
The orderly replied, in obvious triumph, "Oh, you mean you don't know why this is necessary?"
Johnny, imitating the fellow's accent, growled, "No, we don't know why this is necessary."
The corporal replied, "Well, you see, it's like this. These beds is not allowed to touch the walls. For if the end of the sheet were against the stone, then the germs could crawl from one bed to the other. They could make their way right off of this 'ere bed" (his fingers mimicked germs walking off this 'ere bed) "and they could run along the wall to infect someone else." The orderly turned to his alignment of beds with one last glance of magnificent condescension.
I've got to know one of our nurses quite well, a pleasant little girl who insists she's not English. "The English and the Welsh are a different people, and I'll thank you to remember that when referring to me."
Audrey presented me with a bouquet this morning which, she confided, the head matron had given to her. "It was supposed to be placed out in the ward room, I guess, but I'll give them to you," she said quite simply. I thanked Audrey for her consideration and I put the flowers in a vase by my bed. Seeing that Brennan had fallen asleep and being terribly bored, I yielded to an impulse. I dropped the mosquito nets over both of our beds and stuck the flower stems through the mesh. I expected that Brennan would wake up quite soon and be amused by the peculiar decorations. But Brennan slept on till about ten o'clock, when Audrey came into the room again. She stared at the nettings, garlanded with flowers, then she flushed and murmured, "What's this all about?"
I poked my head from under my mosquito net, waving a blossom beneath my nose. "Audrey, my dear," I said with a drawl, "I wanted to surround myself with this beauty." Suddenly I realized that Audrey was not alone; there was someone else directly behind her. As she stepped aside I was quite embarrassed to recognize the head matron's shocked face.
I've been in the hospital for over three weeks now and my stomach cramps (long since vanished) are undiagnosed. I have tried in vain to get my release; the doctors consider me a challenge, I suppose.
In the twenty-six days of my confinement to date, I have enjoyed, or rather eaten, just two green vegetables. When I complained of this is to Captain Balfour yesterday he said, "Why, Muehl, aren't you getting enough to eat?"
I answered, "It isn't a question of amount. I'd just like to see some vegetables occasionally."
Balfour laughed. "Well, you're pretty particular. This isn't your Waldorf-Astoria, you know."
I agreed that this wasn't the Waldorf-Astoria, but I insisted that there was real cause for complaint. "As a doctor," I said, "you must know yourself how important the vitamins and minerals in vegetables are."
Balfour answered, with obvious amusement, "Oh, you Americans overestimate the significance of those things. I wouldn't worry about your vitamins and minerals. We'll give you good food that sticks to your ribs."
I could hear a groan from Johnny's direction, but I tried to pretend that I didn't notice it.
For the record, our daily menu is quite regular; fish for lunch and liver for supper. In the three weeks I've spent so far in this place that routine has been varied only once. On that day I thought the heavens would fall. We had liver for lunch and fish for supper.
I have been impressed by at least one quality of the colonial officer: his forthright, if avowedly amoral, attitude.
If I have ever been unsure of anyone's opinions it has been only because he was rather close-mouthed. True, there are subjects which these fellows avoid, and some important topics fall into that category. Still, asked point-blank about any issue, they will invariably give a direct and honest answer. They are different from so many of my friends in this respect, different at least from the average middleclass American. I was taught by that group that frankness was bad manners and that "intellectual adaptability" was a primary virtue.
To engage the average American in discussion is to tilt, not at windmills, but at the wind itself. For just when you have sized up your opposition it vanishes into a puff of thin hot air. When someone says, "Muehl, don't you agree with me?" I know what I am expected to answer. If I dare say, "No, I certainly don't," I am not only expressing disagreement but boorishness. Time and again I have taken issue with friends on matters that seemed of the greatest importance, sure, on the basis of their previous remarks, that a clash of basic values was involved. But confronted with any opposed proposition my friend would invariably yield his ground, not retreating to a stronger defense but fleeing from the awful possibility of a clash. The "yes man" is a typically American institution, symbolic of the dangers inherent in our attitude. The "higher-up" is always right and he is not expected to argue his position.
This makes the job of the liberal very hard, for he is never able to launch a frontal assault. Like Napoleon being drawn across the Russian wastes, he spends his energy "sword-slashing a pond." He storms the citadels of reaction in rage, but is mocked by their smoldering deserted ashes. He exhausts himself in lunging blows at a phantom horde that retreats, but never yields. At last he is engulfed and overrun; his cannon are spiked and left to rust. Phrases like "the equality of men" are twisted wrecks against a landscape of intolerance.
It is pleasant to find men who differ from the pattern, who will stand quietly and firmly by some final position. Right or wrong, the average Briton will state his assumption and defend his conclusions. I am terribly critical of the imperial policies, but I admire the spirit that proclaims them candidly. In spite of the hatred which I feel for brutality, I think better of the man who admits than cloaks it. I wish Britain would practice this virtue nationally and would be as frank in high places as she is in low. I'm sure that if she would, Britain would surely become as fine a nation as she is a people.
Once again the irrepressible Johnny Brennan has asserted himself in the face of authority. Once again he has proven the master of all he surveys and of numerous indistinct appurtenances. On the Brigadier's regular inspection of our barracks, the irascible Brennan was, as usual, abed. Though he is technically ambulatory, in the official parlance, he insists that if he must stay here he will enjoy complete leisure. This time the Brigadier was prepared for emergencies by the attendance of several officious sergeant majors. One of these terriers wandered into our room to make sure that both of us would be forewarned and prepared. His anger, I suspect, was greater than his surprise when he found Brennan sprawled comfortably like Cleopatra on her barge. "Beg pardon," he growled, "but today is Wednesday." Brennan allowed that the man was excused. "But the Brigadier is making the rounds on inspection and you'll have to be dressed and at attention to see him." Johnny replied sweetly that if that were the case he guessed we must forego the pleasure of his company. "But, sir, you have no choice in the matter. The Brigadier will be furious if he finds you like this."
Brennan drew himself angrily up on one elbow. ."Say, listen!" he cried, furiously lighting his pipe. "I'm supposed to be in a hospital. Right? The hell with this 'up at attention' business. If I'm sick I'm going to take it easy."
The sergeant major paled visibly. "But, sir, you're ambulatory according to the chart."
"Ambulatory, nuts!" was Brennan's reply. "I'm not interested in your fine distinctions." By now the sergeant was wringing his hands, protesting that we would all be broken for this. "Well, I don't know about you," Johnny laughed, "but Muehl and I are safe enough. Tell your admiral that there was a terrible struggle and that you were overwhelmed by superior forces."
By now the Brigadier had entered the ward and was bearing down toward the door of our room. "Stand at attention! " the sergeant shouted, jumping aside to admit the Brigadier. His expression was one of supreme unhappiness as he surveyed the disordered state of our room. "Stand at attention!" he shouted again, hoping against hope that Johnny would respond. Brennan and I simply glanced at each other, enjoying the sergeant's futility. "Lie at attention!" he finally shouted, hoping to get somewhere by compromise. The Brigadier came stomping into the room to be met by gales of roaring laughter.
At first Brigadier Hoales drew himself up to full height, then he collapsed from within like a deflated balloon., "Well," he observed with a sad little grin, "always glad to see patients so happy." Suddenly he noticed the sergeant major and for the sake of discipline he regained his dignity. "Tell me, is everything going all right?" he asked in a more becoming manner.
"I guess it's going as well as we can expect," answered Brennan, blithely adding insult to injury.
"Then you don't think much of our hospital, I take it?" asked the Brigadier, vowing to have done with the nonsense.
"Well, I really had better not say," Johnny answered, affecting an air of unfelt modesty. "No, we've caused you enough trouble already, Brigadier," he continued with unheard-of self-restraint.
The Brigadier rose to the bait like a starving trout, believing at last that he was on the offensive. "I'm asking you because I want to know," he said sternly, pointing a finger at Brennan.
"Well, in that case" (Johnny savored every word), "to be perfectly frank, I think this place stinks."
Captain Balfour has taken an interest in my stomach, now that the malaria scare is over. In spite of a number of careful tests my blood remains adamantly and uncompromisingly negative. The Major pouted over this for days, but I think he has reconciled himself to it at last. At any rate he gave Balfour his written permission to undertake the diagnosis of my stomach cramps. Balfour is showing unusual genius; he has hit upon a sound line of questioning, at last. He suspects, though I dare not anticipate him openly, that my trouble may originate in a nervous reaction. This explanation is conceivably accurate, since it agrees with a number of previous findings. Balfour will call in a psychiatrist eventually, though I don't think he actually knows that yet. Well, anything will be better than this endless waiting for instinct and intuition to combine into hunch. Perhaps if I'm transferred to the care of a psychiatrist I'll be able to break out of this barless jail. I hope that Balfour doesn't start reading his medical journal again or we're apt to get sidetracked on Asiatic cholera. And once the merry-go-round is set in motion there's no getting off till the tune is over.
I knew that I should have knocked on wood when I was concluding my last entry referring to Balfour! This morning he came in with that eager smile that indicates he's off on a tangent again. "We're going to take a little blood this morning," he greeted me, much more anxious than professional. "I want to check it just to make sure that you don't have a touch of inactive cholera." I managed to swallow my disappointment, for I didn't want to stifle Balfour's picnic-day glee, particularly when he held a long sterile needle which he had every intention of inserting in my arm. I naturally tend to nervousness when confronted with the penetration of my epidermis. But I was particularly worried this morning because I just previously talked with the nurse about Balfour. "He's being sent back to England," she said, "because, they say, of professional incompetence." I was reflecting upon this when my reverie was disturbed by Balfour's soothing "Now, this won't hurt a bit."
To put it bluntly but truthfully, Balfour was a liar. His incision or incisions hurt more than a bit. Most disturbing of all were his facial expressions, which quite candidly conveyed his own uncertainty. Time and again he would insert the needle only to drive it through the vein. He would pull on the plunger of his hand syringe and wiggle the needle in pointless explorations. After several vague sallies into either arm, Balfour finally took his syringe apart. He blew through the needle and shook the components like a schoolboy exploring a carpenter's kit. Finally he resumed his practical quest into arms already black and blue from abuse. He had exhausted almost all of the primary vessels and he was working on the tiniest auxiliaries now. The nurse came into the room to watch and she was horrified to, see the captain surrounded by his damage. Grown almost accustomed to the pain by now I said, "Well, did you come in to watch the mumbley-peg game?"
Suddenly the Captain made a lucky penetration and was rewarded with a welcome spurt of blood. Hastily he began reassembling his syringe, the needle to which he left in my arm. The blood was flowing out and over the sheets as Balfour tried vainly to couple his apparatus. His attempts were faintly reminiscent of my father in his classic role, connecting a hose to a running faucet. At this point Johnny came into the room, returning from the latrine, where he had been until now. As he entered he was greeted by the gruesome sight of my bloody sheets and the spurting needle. "My God!" he cried in mock amazement. "Has someone been slaughtering a pig in here?"
There is one fellow in the ward who has been terribly banged up; his face is in bandages and one arm is in a sling. Two teeth have been knocked out and another one is chipped and the bone in his nose has been partially removed. I suspected, when I heard him recounting his injuries, that he had collided head-on with the Frontier Mail; either that or he had tried to drive across one of those imaginary bridges the Information Service builds for the Indian people. But I learned that he was injured in a field punishment center, a disciplinary jail for disobedient troops. He had argued with his jailers and finally struck at one, whereupon he was beaten by seven or eight. I have heard of these atrocities in vague terms before, but I never really believed that they happened till now. As soon as this tommy gets out of the hospital he's scheduled to go back to the center for a month. At present he's under the closest guard, since in cases like this men often resort to suicide. And considering what this fellow has to face, I'm not surprised that he promises to do so.
Corporal punishment is quite openly accepted as a vital part of Indian Army discipline. No secret is made of the punishment centers or of the fact that their guards are hand-picked sadists. It is the design of the officer of each of these camps to make it as intolerable as it can possibly be. He exhorts his guards to constant violence and to the most ruthless treatment of rebellious prisoners. Beatings, floggings, and cold-water treatments are a regular part of the camp routines, not as necessary occasional extremes, but as a matter of brutally regular policy. Benedict, this fellow in the ward next to us, may well be exaggerating some of his stories. But he insists that the guards at the punishment centers judge the effectiveness of their methods by the number of attempted suicides. Whether or, not that much is true, this I have heard from reliable sources: No prisoner in any of the centers is ever allowed a belt, a tie, or a straight razor.
Before a soldier is committed to a field punishment center, he is given a thorough physical examination. The Army is quite aware of what he will undergo and it screens out the men who are too weak to stand it. At the center itself he is attended by doctors who prevent accidental deaths from mounting too high. After a particularly brutal session with the guards a medical officer may attend the man in his cell. But until his very life is endangered he must stay to serve out his entire sentence. No consideration of comfort or health is allowed to cut one day from the prisoner's term.
In the morning the inmates are usually awakened by a bucket of cold water that is flung in their faces. But the usual routine is always open to unpleasant innovations which a guard may conceive. Razors are distributed without soap or warm water, and the men are given sixty seconds to shave. At the end of that time the razors are collected and woe to the man who is not clean-shaven. Calisthenics are next on the program, often involving a three-mile run. Once again the guards are ever on the alert for the unfortunate who should stumble or drop behind the rest. Breakfast consists of dry oatmeal eaten with the hands or dog style from the plate. After breakfast the soldiers are separated into groups for assignment to the really arduous and exhausting day's work.
The job which Benedict was given most often was burying and then excavating a handful of matches. He would be driven for ten hours at a frantic pace, covering them and uncovering them as fast as he could. At the end of the day the matches would be counted and the number tallied against the amount which he had been given. If one of the matches was lost in the dirt he would be sent out again to dig till he located it. Sometimes he said he would dig all night unable to find the missing match. In that case he would begin the next day's work without even a rest or a chance to lie down. It is no wonder that Benedict cracked under this, this and the humiliation he was forced to endure. He had been made to crawl on all fours for days at a stretch as a punishment for having failed to locate his matches.
"Finally," he told me, "I could stand no more and I struck at a guard who had stepped on my fingers. I was dragged to my feet by him and a lot of others and slapped until I was almost unconscious. Then I was taken back to my cell and left without food and water for more than twelve hours, though I was already weak. Finally the guards came into my compartment and dragged me out to the work yard near by. Some of the men had sticks in their hands, but I thought that they brought them only to frighten me. But when I got outside they all began hitting me with their fists or with sticks until I went down. I've been sentenced by court-martial to another twenty-eight days for striking another soldier 'without provocation.' But mind you, sir, I'm not going back if I get a chance to end it before then."
Joe Russel was in to see me today, having just been released from the hospital himself. He tells a story which seems to be typical of the attitude of our higher officers. "I went into the office of the Brigadier on the morning of my expected discharge from this place, only to learn upon reporting to his clerk that I was supposed to be dressed in the hospital clothes. I was naturally very embarrassed to learn this, having changed already into my regular uniform. But decided to carry on as I was without bothering to go back for my little blue suit. When I was ushered into the Brigadier's office he naturally seemed rather surprised by my attire. Without waiting for him to question me about it, I explained that I had misunderstood the orders. The Brigadier's expression was unaccountably grave and I began to wish I had run back to change. 'Well, I don't mind,' he finally said, 'but I'm afraid the sergeant major will be furious!' "
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