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A Surge of Time (Chapter 7)

Sounding of the bugle


The possibility that three persons suspected his motives made Lakha more cautious in his movements and discreet in his utterings. Ever since Elizabeth had presented the village team with a cricket ball, he had wanted to go and report this matter to Russell but he could cook up no ruse for the need to go to Raigadh. He would not dare try another nocturnal escapade, for his father would undoubtedly notice his long absence away from the house.

A bit of this vacillation on the young man’s part was also due to the fact that Shambhu kaka’s lovingly intimidating words were gnawing away at his conscience. The hold of envy was nevertheless predominant still, urging him towards further folly. An occasion presented itself very soon when his father asked him to go across to the forest to get some timber to replenish their dwindling reserves. It presented Lakha with a perfect alibi for being away for long. He would have to make a short detour on the way back from the woods but that would be no hindrance.

That evening the sentry at the cantonment gate saw the familiar shrouded form stealthily approaching carrying fagots upon its head. It deposited its burden along the wall abutting the gate and strode in with confidence and hardly a glance at the sentry who felt a bit spited at this lack of courtesy and show of arrogance. He could only gulp down his annoyance and wait for an opportune time to get even with the man.

Lakha headed straight to Russell’s office and asked the orderly to announce his coming to the commandant. The Captain too felt a spurt of irritation on being told that the villager sought a meeting. He was used to summoning Indians to his presence according to his needs and here was an Indian who walked at his convenience demanding an interview, which he could not refuse. Like the sentry at the gate, he too swallowed his pride and strode into his office with a stern face.

“What is it now?” he demanded.

Lakha narrated the blameworthy happening.

Russell dismissed the man and rushed up the stairway to his sister’s apartment and stormed into it, startling his sister. Angry words surged forth from him with equal force and vehemence.

“How dare you go to see the villagers despite my forbiddance? I will ensure that you have no means of doing so any more. Anyone in this cantonment who has the gall to help you will be whipped.”

The storm of a man quit the room in the same tempestuous fashion as it had entered.

‘If you are determined, brother, then so am I. It is the same blood that flows in our veins. I will go to the villagers even if I have to walk all the way,’ said Elizabeth to herself glaring at her sibling’s back.

That afternoon, when Russell on horseback – with Lieutenant Smith and a few Indian soldiers similarly astride, passed by the practice field near the old well on the outskirts of Champaner, loud shouts coming from there made them halt to discover the source of the commotion. At the same time, the sound of horse trot made the village cricketers stop their game to ascertain the identity of their mounted visitors.

It was a tense face off as the six horsemen watched the eleven men and the boy line up a short way ahead in a show of defiance. From behind this line of men emerged another figure clad in an alien feminine attire but the same rebellious boldness writ across its face to join the line of men.

It was Elizabeth.

Russell’s facial muscles twitched. His fingers tightened their grip on the cane that he held in his hands. For once however, he controlled his anger. If he were to assault any of the villagers now, particularly the members of their cricket team, then with Colonel Boyer in the know of happenings at Champaner, he would be in deep trouble.

‘Let me win the match,’ he told himself, ‘then I will flog and hide these rascals to my heart’s content.’

For a few more moments, the rivals stood their respective grounds, staring away at each other with as much scorn for the other that they could muster and exhibit on their faces. The riders then turned around and went their way leaving behind a cloud of dust.

“A great portent!” It was a characteristic one-liner stated by a familiar voice.

Then two more followed in a similar vein, “We stand. They run. Ha! Ha! Ha!”

The other members of the team raised their closed fists to the sky in a show of solidarity, resolution, and triumph.

Under the stern gaze of Deva, the daily workouts of the cricketer’s band increasingly began to get a militaristic hue. Their movements, gait, and mannerisms – all had that disciplined air about it. Ungainly flab began to disappear leaving well-formed muscles behind.

Those with a tendency for meaningless banter began to verbalize rather eloquently while those given to be frustratingly frugal with their words became satisfyingly expressive. The will to do began to assert itself. Self-doubt started to evaporate. Team spirit became the driving force. The villagers would be entertained in the mornings by the thunderous shouts of the exercisers and their electrifying contemporaneous movements.

It was not long before Gurran’s poetic instincts were roused by the influence of this parade and on the day before the match when they were about half-way through their regimen, it spewed out with such vehemence and force that it cleansed all the village-folk of any vestige of reservation about the initiative of Bhuvan and his group or the end result of this intrepid enterprise.

Synchronizing his words with the rhythmic exercising, Gurran’s gritty voice bellowed -

Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge;

Hurdles overcome, victorious emerge;

The land and people, of tyranny, we purge;

In the nation redeemed, may bounty splurge.

They were doing an exercise that mimicked the warding off of an adversary’s attack in a sword fight. It was a four level sequence of actions, the last of which was to stretch the left hand at an angle holding the imaginary shield to bear the brunt of the enemy’s strike, while the right hand that held the imaginary sword was bent at the elbow and held backwards for balancing the body. The torso was held a foot above the ground with the left leg bent at the knee and the right stretched out in a graceful arc behind the body.

As the exercising paused after this sequence with the men frozen in their stances, Bhuvan followed up on Gurran’s lead with the following verses -

Time and time again, be it so;

We deign to pick up a gauntlet and Lo!

For the rival, it is a resounding rout;

Our success absolute, faith our redoubt.

It was the first time that Deva had a taste of Gurran’s stimulating articulation and he was mesmerized. He let out a crisp command to the men to repeat those stirring lines, saying, “All chant with me!” -

Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge;

Hurdles overcome, victorious emerge;

The land and people, of tyranny, we purge;

In the nation redeemed, may bounty splurge.

Deva put his wards through the demanding maneuver of a forward cartwheeling in the air, followed by a precise erect landing with the legs close together and the hands held aloft at an angle along the lateral plane of the torso.

There was perfect unison in their execution of this step and as they exhaled deeply at its termination, a normally reticent Goli came up with his contribution to the vibrancy of the moment –

Our aspirations, goals, ours hearts are one;

Our unity is stronger than the white man’s gun;

But for a conclusion, the work is done;

We’ll be free as the air; as the rays of the sun.

... “Chant with me!” hollered Deva –

Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge;

Hurdles overcome, victorious emerge;

The land and people, of tyranny, we purge;

In the nation redeemed, may bounty splurge.

At a signal from their conductor, the exercising men performed the more demanding maneuver of a backward cartwheeling in the air followed by a landing similar to the earlier one. The result was not as fluent as the previous sequence and there were a couple of faltering steps that attracted a severe stare from Deva.

There may also have been a sharp verbal reprimand had it not been for the words of Arjan that followed immediately -

Of willingness to struggle, there will be no dearth;

On immoderation, always a restraining girth;

Every deed being a source of joy and mirth;

We’ll strive for our land to be paradise on earth.

Each new saying from one of the men seemed to increase the decibels of Deva’s exhortations. Those lines by Arjan mirrored closely his very fond aspirations. “Chant! Chant! Chant!” he roared –

Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge;

Hurdles overcome, victorious emerge;

The land and people, of tyranny, we purge;

In the nation redeemed, may bounty splurge.

Then Deva put them through the rigor of sprinting across a hundred yards together, along parallel paths and a body-length apart to a stretch of ground that had been leveled and swept clean of stones and pebbles, dive to the ground with one leg bent and the other stretched and employ the momentum of the body to stand up erect again in one continuous motion.

It was Ismail’s turn to convey his feelings –

Other’s accomplishments we do not begrudge;

From our convictions we shall not budge;

Our cultures and traditions none dare fudge;

Our claims and commitment, time will judge.

It had been a while since Deva had witnessed such fervor, such dedication to a cause and he shouted joyously, “Chant with me yet again!” –

Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge;

Hurdles overcome, victorious emerge;

The land and people, of tyranny, we purge;

In the nation redeemed, may bounty splurge.

The tiring group was into the final component of their routine that entailed running up and down the fifty treads of the stairway to the temple hilltop three times and at the fourth ascent Deva would strike the bell implying the culmination of the day’s physical training schedule. When the last vibrations of the temple bell died out that day, all were in for a surprise.

Kachra, to whom very few in the village attributed knowledge or wisdom of any kind, poured out his grateful joy –

To live a full life is indeed an art,

Where everyone plays their assigned part;

With a barb of elixir and a poisoned dart:

Stunned thus, would make a robust heart.

Deva lifted up his hands standing at the top of the stairway, calling upon all those who had come to view their work out to chant with him –

Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge;

Hurdles overcome, victorious emerge;

The land and people, of tyranny, we purge;

In the nation redeemed, may bounty splurge.

This was heady stuff and the villagers felt that they had not only already won the match, but had driven the usurpers away, and gained self-rule. Had Captain Andrew Russell been there at the time and watched this scene, he would have had second thoughts about going ahead with the proposed confrontation. The village had clarified its intent in no uncertain terms.

The war cry had been raised. The bugle had been sounded.

The war of a match was scheduled for the ‘morrow.


While Champaner prepared for its tryst with destiny, Captain Russell marshaled his players and called for a practice match to aid his selection of his eleven. He was the captain of the Raigadh cricket team not merely because he was the commandant. He was a good cricketer too and had led the team ably in the inter–cantonment matches. His team had narrowly missed winning the final for the Queen Victoria Cup in the previous year.

Other than himself and Smith, there were Yardley, Burton, Brooks, Willis, Proctor, North, Harrison, Wesson, Benson, Ward, and Flynn to choose from. He planned to go into the match with four bowlers, five batsmen, an all-rounder, and a wicket-keeper batsman. Nine of the thirteen had already made themselves certain for a place in the playing eleven going by their past performances and reputations. These included Burton, the wicket-keeper, Smith as the all-rounder, four batsmen, and three bowlers. The captain’s task was now confined to the selection of one batsman and bowler each from two pairs of contenders. He decided to exercise his choice based on their performance in the practice match.

Yardley was the pick of the bowlers. He was a speedster, could swing the ball either way, and was a menace to batsmen with the new ball. He could be lethal if batsmen messed around with him and the ferocity of his game was aptly mirrored by his handle bar moustache that proceeded head-wards from his cheeks to double up as side burns.

It was to this man’s bowling that Russell planned to subject the two contesting batsmen. The one who could stand up to Yardley and score the maximum runs would be in the team.

Being the best bat, he would make the two contending bowlers, bowl at him. The less economical of the two would sit out for tomorrow’s contest. With two of the older members of the clerical staff at the cantonment officiating as umpires, the game commenced late in the afternoon.

Russell sent in North and Ward, the pair that was vying for the position of the fifth batsman, to open. The Captain would have preferred Ward to North due to the fact that the former was younger and was also a good fielder. Yet he decided to give them a fair chance to prove their batting strength. Yardley was to bowl from one end and Flynn from the other. As they were under test, only the runs that they scored off the team’s bowling spearhead were to be recorded.

Yardley sent in a maiden opening over. From his next three overs, North scored three singles and Ward, two. Going by the general rule, the older man was wiser and knew that if Yardley got hit for a four or six, it would be an excellent way of ensuring that the batsman in question was out of the team despite such an accomplishment, for retribution would be immediate and terrible.

Youth knows no fear – primarily attributable to naiveté rather than bravery, which led Ward to chance his arm and succeed in hitting two consecutive boundaries off the ace bowler. That a frightful retaliation was in the offing could be discerned from the bowler’s longer run up, longer and swifter strides. The ball hit the pitch with tremendous force and rose head-high, racing at Ward’s face.

Though the head was rather unwise, the limbs were faster, alert, and nimble. The batsman quickly moved away and swung his bat. Wood connected with leather sending the ball soaring over the boundary for a six. The fear on Ward’s face turned to glee. He was certain that he had beaten North to the lone available position in the team.

Elation induced recklessness that set the stage for his speedy and horrific downfall. He committed the unpardonable mistake of smirking at Yardley and posing a question tinged with sarcasm. “How was that?” he asked.

The bowler who had run up close to the batsman carried by the momentum of the bowling action, glared at Ward with bloodshot eyes that said much more than what his mouth could have voiced, he being a man of few words. But those close to the pitch who had heard the batsman’s mocking barb, knew better. Russell, standing at midwicket, realized that Yardley had already made the choice for him and it was ironically to be the man who had decided not to stand up to and challenge the fiery bowler.

Yardley walked up to the top of his bowling run calmly, tossing the ball hand-to-hand, which was another sign of the impending tempest. He ran in, step by determined step, gripping the ball tight as if transferring all his frustration and fury into it. He took the final step before the take off ahead of the stumps, jumped up, and let go the ball targeting the head of his mocker. Had the ball bounced off the pitch, some of its power would have been absorbed by the soil and made the impact a bit less destructive.

Ward, who had taken a step forward expecting a half volley had positioned himself directly in the line of the ball’s ripping course, bore its full impact upon his left jaw. There was a piteous muffled cry and Ward was on the ground his hands having dropped the bat and holding his jaw, his whole body writhing in agony. He had collapsed over the stumps that lay uprooted and prostrate with the grounded bails.

While the fielders crowded around the fallen man, mouthing incoherent inanities, the triumphant bowler stood over him and growled, “How wazz zat!”

A stretcher was called for by the umpires who were a picture of confusion – one arm flailing in the direction of the pavilion and the other raised up with the index finger aloft to give the batsman out. The injured man was carried away to the sick bay at the cantonment.

It was later announced that Lieutenant Ward had a broken jaw and a loss of six of his teeth and that he was to be transferred to Cawnpore for further medical attention, as those available locally were insufficient to restore the patient to full health.

One decision having been made in a manner that Russell would have been glad not to have been privy to, the captain padded up and took the crease to test the two bowlers – Flynn and Proctor, both spinners. The commandant was quite disturbed at Yardley’s show of needless aggression and frustrated at the loss of the services of Ward, not just for the match but also from his regular administrative duties. Lieutenant Ward had been a good subordinate, carrying out his superior’s orders unquestioningly and unflinchingly.

Being a man who lacked the ability to contain irritation and needing to get it out of his system at the earliest opportunity, Russell marked the two unfortunate bowlers for the treatment. Both were repeatedly hit to the boundary and beyond. Their confidence shattered, their bowling became pedestrian which only went to replenish the reservoir of impatience that he had managed to drain in the process of hammering the ball around. He called the two men over, deciding to settle the issue on the basis of their attitudes.

“Proctor, what would you do if one of those morally decrepit Indians begins hitting you around as I did just now? I know it is only an abnormal possibility. Yet, imagine yourself in such a situation and tell me what strategy you would adopt to address it,” asked the captain.

Happy to have been spared further ignominy, the eager aspirant came up with a circuitous explanation of how he would watch for chinks in the batsman’s armor and employ the necessary tactic to exploit them.

“And you Flynn, what would you do?” asked the captain of the other.

“I would aim my deliveries at his body, if possible at his head as Yardley did a while ago, and have the rogue taken away in a stretcher, Sir.”

A smile played on Russell’s face. All his exasperation and soreness appeared to have vanished. “You are in the team, Flynn, and you, Proctor, will be our twelfth man.”

He clapped his hands a few times to get the attention of all his men asking them to gather around. “That will be enough for the day, boys. Let me announce the batting order for tomorrow. Smith and Burton will open – Smith to face. I will follow at number three. Then it will be Brooks, Wesson, North, Benson, Harrison, Flynn, Willis, and Yardley.”

The men nodded their understanding one by one, as their names were called.

“As usual,” continued the captain, “Yardley will open the bowling attack with Harrison at the other end. We will decide on further bowling changes according to the manner in which the situation develops. I doubt whether those minions would last through Yardley’s opening spell, yet one can never say. Cricket is after all “the game of wonderful uncertainties,” as the wise say and I believe that for once we will prove them wrong.”

The men guffawed at their captain’s attempt at jest and walked back to the pavilion for an evening of celebration for their anticipated victory.

The historic day dawned.

Never before had a cricket match been played to decide the quantum of tax to be levied.

Never before had the future of the people of an entire kingdom rested on the skill of usage of a ball and a bat.

This of course was merely one perception. From the viewpoint of people like Dwarakadas and Shambhu kaka, it was a regular happening because uniqueness was a regularity. No two days were the same in one’s sensitivity and awareness. Every day had something new to offer, something novel to discern, something exceptional to understand. And this regularity was contained within a larger canvas of relentless recurrence. Whatever changes there may have been in an individual or collective perception, the sun would yet rise every day, and the stars persevere with their nightly parade. From this latter standpoint, every day was to be lived as it comes, reveled in if possible, and attempted to be enjoyed if not.

These were the thoughts of Colonel Boyer too, lounging with his eyes closed in the coach drawn by two horses, as it sped down the road from Jubbulpore to Raigadh. Seated next to him was Major Cotton and on the seat opposite was Major Warren with his quaint ponytail swaying in resonance with the speeding carriage. Two armed horsemen at the front and two at the rear completed the entourage.

They had started before the light of dawn to be in time for the match to begin. The chief administrator of the Central Provinces was keen to be present at the venue to ensure that the game was conducted in all fairness, and that the local commandant did not use anything other than the cricketing abilities of his men to force a win. Many in his employ, both whites and natives had argued with the Colonel about there being no need to show such strict impartiality in this issue. With the British firmly entrenched in power, it would matter little what the outcome would be. There may be a few starvation deaths – a phenomenon quite common even otherwise, perhaps sporadic rioting that could be promptly quelled by the use of force.

But Boyer had stood his ground. He had always been led to make decisions by his focus for the larger cause, and fair play within its ambit. He also bestowed much importance upon a word that had been given, a promise that had been made, even more than for something agreed to in writing. It was not that he had not faltered in this pursuit. It was impossible but to stumble in life.

Destiny bequeaths this ability invariably and uniformly to every being. Particularly in his profession, that involved plotting a government’s downfall through intrigues, destroying another by force, feigning friendship with yet another, only to pull the rug from beneath its tottering feet at the opportune moment, it was quite a difficult task to hold fast to very strict and strong convictions.

Nevertheless, Boyer managed this tightrope walk rather admirably, because he had the gift of the gab, calmness of demeanor, and a pleasant appearance. The larger cause that he focused upon was the expansion and health of the British Empire. Within this realm, he adhered to and insisted on fair play.

For this particular match, he had arranged for two qualified umpires from Cawnpore to officiate. From his intelligence officer Willis at Raigadh, he had a report to say that the villagers were practicing earnestly. It further said that Captain Russell’s sister Elizabeth has had a hand in it. This piece of information greatly amused him and when he shared it with his colleagues Cotton and Warren, it tickled their curiosity sharply enough to make them readily accept Boyer’s invitation to accompany him to watch the match.

Having awoken very early for the journey the three senior officers mostly drowsed along the way. As they neared their destination, it was early morning, the sun having cleared the horizon and was in the process of transforming itself from a sleepy orange to a dazzling golden yellow.

The cacophonic clamor of a multitude of voices upset their slumbering state. What they saw made them sit up. Long serpentine lines of villagers, many thousands in number, were converging on Raigadh from all directions. The dust raised by the masses in movement rose into the sky to obscure the brightness of the rising sun.

The outriders accompanying the carriage were loudly ordering those blocking the path to move away. Traveling the last two miles to the cantonment seemed to take almost as much time as it had taken for the remainder of the journey. It was a dust covered Colonel and a pair of Majors of the British army who stepped down from the carriage when it stopped in front of the commandant’s mansion at the Raigadh cantonment. They were immediately shown to the guest quarters for a welcome wash and a warm breakfast.

Denizens of the villages of Bhand, Tanpur, Pataunja, Lalpur, and Sohas which were in the immediate vicinity of Champaner had made up their mind to congregate at Raigadh to behold this clash between the whites and the natives, between the oppressor and the oppressed. They had braved an overnight trek across the wilderness to reach the venue well before the scheduled beginning of the match so that they could occupy vantage positions in the highlands and rocks encircling the field. There were representatives from other outlying villages too in the crowd but not as many in number as those from the five nearby ones.

The procession of the inhabitants of Champaner too trooped in, led by the Mukhiya seated in his cart with Shambhu kaka and Dwarakadas for company. They descended by the canvas cloth canopy held up by bamboo poles that was raised on the opposite side of the field, across the main seating enclosure for the whites to serve as a pavilion for the village team.

This was another small gesture on the part of Colonel Boyer and would not have been there but for his insistence. Dalpat Chauhan was joined by the chiefs of Bhand, Tanpur and Sohas – Namdeo, Ramprasad and Brahmadutt, respectively. After exchanging pleasantries, they occupied frontline seats under the shade of the canopy befitting their status.

The king of the land, King Puran Singh, whose subjects had thus gathered not far from his palace, had a very disturbed and restless night.

He was up and pacing his bedroom from an hour past midnight. After dinner the previous evening, he had ordered his elephant bedecked before the start of the match the following day, in full royal regalia which consisted of a silver ‘howda’ or box plated with gold, which seated the king; caparisons of gold to adorn the mammoth’s forehead; diamond studded gold necklaces that were three yards or more in length and about a foot wide; a gold lined metallic umbrella over the seat inside the box that would protect the king from the elements; a huge velvet cloth with the royal crest embroidered with gold that draped the elephant on either side, and little bells tied to its belly that jingled melodically at each of its elephantine strides.

The royal entourage consisted of a fan bearer who would stand atop the animal, a liveried mahout, four outriders, and a 24 piece musical band. He had also ordered for his best robe to be brushed, pressed, and laid out, and all his personal jewelry polished.

He wanted to ride out in style and be a source of inspiration to his people and the local cricket team.

This was his ego’s bidding.

His alter ego however, persistently chided him for having let down his people and would not let him sleep. It reproached him for being content with ensuring that his royal lifestyle was maintained at the expense of his impoverished subjects, while they had boldly challenged the foreigners. It rebuked him for not having been valiant enough to hazard a showdown with the usurpers.

If he had led such a face off, it would only have attracted an armed reprisal leading to a loss of several lives, retorted his ego. It is his balancing influence that had avoided bloodshed and provided the people with the bare means to live.

While his two representative personalities were arguing thus, the true and dispassionate Puran Singh reminisced the last time that he had ridden the royal elephant in full ceremonial wear.

It was over a decade ago in his undivided kingdom during the idol consecration ceremony at the Bhavani temple. He had gone there in a procession from Raigadh to Bhavanipur. There were great festivities after the conclusion of the rituals followed by a wrestling tournament.

He had announced the nomination of his brother as his successor and as a mark of celebration, had waived the entire tax for the year payable by his subjects. This act of his, which he considered to be a generous one and which his brother thought of as foolish was the beginning of their progressive disagreements that finally led to the division of the kingdom.

He had been a good king, concerned about his subjects and working for their welfare. Yet destiny had recompensed him thus. The bitterness in him made his shoulders stoop, and his enthusiasm concerning the day to follow decline.

While he was thus staggering around in the morass of self-pity, a little voice told him to honestly tally his happiness and sorrow to analyze whether life had indeed been so iniquitous.

If the reality that he was now only a pawn in the hands of the British were to be accepted, then shorn of this ego-shattering fact, he could see that there had been so many instances when he had been of assistance to his people by obtaining little concessions for them from the white administration. Their grateful eyes showered more happiness upon him than what they would have, had he been a king with full powers.

Without the burden of administration, he had had time to watch a butterfly flutter, a bird soar, a gazelle leap, a flower bloom... each of which granted him indescribable tranquility.

He realized that, when looked at from this perspective, life certainly had its compensations. It was not only not iniquitous; it was munificent. He would go to the match as planned and cheer his people regardless of the outcome. This was the least that he could do. His mind calmed; his decision made, he looked out of the window to find twilight beginning to drive away darkness and pursue it westwards.

The day had come and he would stand by his men.

The hour began to near. Mounted soldiers were patrolling the ground perimeter to keep the surging crowds at bay. British residents of the cantonment – men and women attired at their best, began to arrive and take their places at the main pavilion, which was a picturesque structure.

At the sound of horse trot, all eyes turned towards the road leading up to the gates. It was the train of carriage and horsemen from Jubbulpore that cantered along and stopped at the entrance. Captain Russell and Ram Singh marched up to the carriage. The commandant smartly saluted his superior officer and followed it up with a few formal words of welcome.

The three men from headquarters descended from the coach and made their way to the seats reserved for the honored guests. Elizabeth was introduced to them by her brother and the Colonel sized her up with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips. Though there were no spoken words, their eyes appeared to communicate many thoughts and discuss the present situation and their respective roles in it.

Boyer took the settee for two in the middle. Warren took the one to his right, while Elizabeth and Cotton seated themselves on the couch to the left. With about thirty minutes to go for the scheduled start of play, all awaited the king’s arrival.

The faint sound of bagpipes and drumbeats announced the approaching royal procession. Gradually the resonance of the martial music grew louder and not long after the majestic and colorful convoy came around the bend on the road leading to the palace.

Despite having been reduced to a ritual pageant, the sight yet had that grandeur, dignity, and a sense of awe about it. The king looked relaxed and at ease swaying harmoniously with the elephant’s gait, which in its turn was in step with the marching tune being played by the band. The assembled natives watched it spellbound.

Patriotism, self-respect, and pride swelled in their hearts. There were deafening shouts of, “Long live the King!”

The atmosphere was electrifying. Puran Singh was glad that he had taken the decision to ride to the venue in state. The adulation of his subjects was no doubt gratifying but it certainly seemed to serve the purpose that he intended it for. As the procession reached the pavilion, all seated there got to their feet. The British ruled the land, yet accorded due deference to the former monarchs and maintained strict protocols.

This was perhaps attributable to the two related and intertwined motives of containing the possible fallout of a mass uprising and their ingrained esteem for the institution of monarchy. The elephant began its arduous process of kneeling down to enable the king to descend. A three step portable stairway was quickly placed beside the giant animal’s side. The king stood from his seat, waved to the vociferous crowds and walked down the short stairway.

He then did something totally unexpected. Ignoring the saluting Russell and breaking an unwritten protocol of first meeting Colonel Boyer, he headed determinedly towards the makeshift pavilion for the native team across the field.

There had been hectic activity at the native camp. It was almost as if the villagers were going to war and were equipping their heroes materially and spiritually. There were little rituals performed to propitiate the gods.

The cricket bats, pads, and gloves were worshipped as would have been swords, lances, and bows and arrows. There were adorned with flowers, smeared with vermilion and turmeric, and prostrated to.

Gurran had sat in meditation for a long while. He could feel the spirit of his late master telling him that the hour of test had come, goading him to resolute action, urging him to give unyielding battle. As he opened his big eyes, his heart mutely recalled the inspiring words –

Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge;

Hurdles overcome, victorious emerge;

...and his voice sustained it, as it roared –

The land and people, of tyranny, we purge;

In the nation redeemed, may bounty splurge.

Gurran’s sudden pronouncement that was followed by the sound of bagpipes and drums proclaiming the arrival of the king had a stirring effect on the other players in various stages of readying themselves.

Ismail’s parents were tying a talisman around his neck muttering prayers. ‘Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge,’ said Ismail to himself.

Bhuvan touched the feet of his mother and then walked across to Dwarakadas and Shambhu kaka to do like wise. The old man took the younger one in his arms and embracing him said, “We are proud of you, my boy!”

There was a steely determination in Bhuvan’s eyes as he thought, ‘Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge.’

Dwarakadas cradled the face of his son Baga, “You are no less than any one, my son! You have been endowed with the strength of many. Use it well for our people.”

The enthused young man wanted to say aloud, ‘Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge,’ but all that emanated was a garbled shout that almost conveyed a similar euphoric sentiment.

The wives of Arjan, Goli, and Bhura applied a vertical streak of vermilion upon the foreheads of their respective husbands chanting prayers for their success, their eyes pleading with them to save the village from the terrible curse of a three-fold tax. The eyes of the men reassured those of their loved ones conveying the thought, ‘The land and people, of tyranny, we purge; in the nation redeemed, may bounty splurge.’

Deva stood to a side watching all this. He had been part of many campaigns against the British. Never had one been so full of fervor, so ardent, so sincere, and so sublime. His mind rejoiced at having had the opportunity to be associated with such a group and in delight hummed, ‘Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge; Hurdles overcome, victorious emerge!’

Gauri was administering to her father Ishwar, a concoction that would keep fatigue at bay. She was very concerned that he would have to exert himself for three days consecutively in the hot sun.

During the practice sessions, Bhuvan had discreetly made sure that Ishwar did not have to work out too long. But this was different. This was real. While her anxious eyes searched for any tell tale signs of weariness and exhaustion on his face, his were fixed on the opposite camp, his mind imagining their victory lap at the end of three days singing, ‘Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge.’

Many remarkable transformations had the growing dedication of the villagers wrought. The sight of the Mukhiya and Kachra sitting together side by side with the chief’s hand over the redeemed outcaste’s shoulder, dispensing cricketing advice would not have occurred even to the divine mind. But here it was, happening in flesh and blood. The Mukhiya would have gone on, had it not been for the arrival of the king.

“Remember all that I have told you, Kachra,” said the Mukhiya, proceeding to the edge of the ground to watch the king get down from his mount.

Kachra’s heart quavered. Could he live up to the trust that the villagers had reposed in him. He reassured himself that he would, by softly saying, ‘Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge; Hurdles overcome, victorious emerge!’

Hari looked at his son worriedly, “There is still something that you are hiding from me,” said the uneasy father.

“It is just the tension, father, nothing else. I am all right otherwise,” assured Lakha looking away.

Tension there was in him. An awful one at that. He had increasingly come to rue his misdemeanor. The intensity of his regret had almost begun to match the might of his envy and greed. It only needed a hard shove to tilt the balance. Going into the match however, it was the demon in him that continued to rule. The angel had to bide its time a wee bit longer.


All who were gathered around the field, the British and natives alike, let out a gasp of surprise as the king, after getting off the elephant made his way directly for the place where the village team members stood with two of his attendants in tow. Shouts of “Long live the king!”, “Victory to the king!” again rent the air.

The Mukhiya was obsequiousness personified. The cricketers stood still and erect. Their eyes reflected a blend of respect and defiance. They had not forgotten the king’s discouraging and disparaging words the last time they met him at the palace. The king walked up to Bhuvan, locked eyes with him and said forcefully, “Beat the hell out of these white skins. Squash their pride to dust. Clobber them, as they have never been before. My best wishes are with you.”

Bhuvan was stunned by the king’s vehemence.

“Victory to the king!” shouted he. ‘Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge,’ roared Gurran. ‘Hurdles overcome, victorious emerge!’ chorused the others. The king quickly turned round and retraced his steps, having done what he set out to.

As the king came striding back to the regular pavilion, a silent and earnest benediction played upon his lips, “Victory to thee, my men! Victory to thy courage!”

All stood up once again at the king’s approach. He was escorted to his seat beside Colonel Boyer by Ram Singh.

“How do you do, Your Majesty!” beamed Boyer.

“As well as you let me be, Colonel,” returned the king.

The white-man searched the eyes of the native who stood before him for signs of bitterness or dislike. He did not find any and recognized the king’s words to be only a friendly jibe directed by one sincere man at another.

“That was well said, Your Majesty, and if you will permit me, I will go as I am required, to do the honor of setting the ball to roll.”

Lowering himself to the seat assigned, the king replied, “Please, Colonel. I will not detain you,” and as an afterthought added, “Long live the Queen, Colonel, but I can only wish success to my men.”

Boyer, who had taken a couple of steps towards performing his mission, turned around and smilingly replied, “Destiny grants me the privilege of being a bit more equanimous, Your Majesty! I can wish that the best team wins.”

Ram Singh was assigned the honor of being the master of ceremonies though he did not consider it so. It would have been so much better standing in the shade inside the pavilion attending to the king. With a brightly polished brass megaphone in hand, he went around the field along the boundary line explaining the rules of the game.

“The match is to be played over three days,” his amplified voice boomed.

“Each team will bat once and the team that scores the most number of runs will be declared winner. There will be a toss of the coin to determine who bats first. Colonel Boyer, the governor of Central Provinces who has come from Jubbulpore specifically to watch this game, will toss the coin in the presence of the two umpires and the two team members.”

Then directing the megaphone towards the main pavilion he announced, “May I request the Raigadh cantonment cricket team led by Captain Andrew Russell to please take the field.”

The army officers in all white, donning maroon blazers and maroon caps, briskly walked out in single file and stood in a line in the centre of the field. Turning the megaphone towards the improvised pavilion on the opposite end, Ram Singh’s voice bellowed, “And now may I request the Champaner cricket team led by Bhuvan to take the field.”

Bhuvan led his men into the field. Ram Singh may have been in the employ of the British, but his heart was with his people.

In his enthusiasm, he cried out into the megaphone, “Cheer for your team - men and women of Raigadh!” which drew two immediate responses. The crowd roared and Russell’s head jerked around, his eyes boring into Ram Singh, who was happily unaware of it.

“The teams being in position, I now request Colonel Boyer and the two umpires to kindly grace the field to complete the formality of the toss,” said the master of ceremonies walking up from the boundary to the centre to announce the outcome of the toss.

The two umpires from Cawnpore - Neilson and Doherty, and Colonel Boyer walked to the centre to a stifled applause. The governor took the coin given by one of the umpires and tossed it up.

“Heads!” called Russell and ‘heads’ it was.

“Your call, Captain Russell,” said the umpire looking at him, “What is it to be?”

“We will bat first, Sir,” was the answer he got.

“Good luck to you, Captain,” said Boyer extending his hand to Russell.

“Thank you, Sir,” returned the commandant.

Boyer then turned to Bhuvan. He looked for a few moments at the man who had dared to challenge the British might before extending his hand to him as well. “Good luck to you too, young man!”

Though Bhuvan kept a straight face, he was taken aback by the gesture on the part of the governor. It was his first encounter with a white man who treated a native on an equal footing. At that instant, it dawned on him that this graying man standing in front of him was perhaps one of the many others without whose help they would not have been able to come this far, to be standing face to face with British officers, with their own heads held high. Bhuvan’s momentary hesitation brought a smile on Boyer’s face, which seemed to wash away all distrust from the young man’s mind about the governor’s sincerity.

He took the extended hand firmly in his, and expressed his gratitude with a light squeeze.

Russell who was watching all this, considered every gesture of his commanding officer to be intended as a personal affront.

‘My time will soon come, Colonel, and I will be as unsparing as you have been, in showing me up in bad light. I do not forget slights easily,’ thought he resentfully.

There could not have been two minds, two intellects, two centers of awareness, as divergent and exclusive as those of the two Englishmen. Try, as they might, neither could fully comprehend the other’s basis of thought and the rationale underlying such basis. The only thing common between them was their uniform, though with differing epaulettes.

It is indeed a wonder that despite such utter mismatches in characters, mannerisms, outlooks, and accomplishments occurring together in every sphere of existence, life yet works, its wheels still go around – perhaps they jerk and shudder occasionally, but never come to a standstill.

It is even more marvelous to realize and appreciate the fact that each of these exclusive pairs of entities have their place in the story of life, have their tailormade scripts to enact, have their limited but special domain of activity where they excel, dreaded realms where they fail miserably, and contrary to popular notion - are without doubt indispensable in life’s intricate and confounding mosaic.

The story of Champaner would not have been what it was sans even one of them. It may be fashionable to argue that without one of them it would just have been a different story. That however would be speculation, not reality.

All individual thought-trains were derailed when Ram Singh announced over his megaphone, “Captain Russell has won the toss and elected to bat. The game will commence in five minutes.”

Everything was now set for the match to begin.

End of Chapter 7

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