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Book excerpt: The Himalaya Club is an account of the early British Raj

Barrister John Lang, best known for having defended the Rani of Jhansi in court, wrote of the early British Raj. This excerpt from a collection is an account of the lengths officers went to please the governor-general.

books Updated: Jun 13, 2015 14:50 IST
Hindustan Times
The Himalaya Club,Barrister John Lang,Book Excerpt

The Himalaya Club
John Lang
Speaking Tiger
Rs 199; Pages 135

Barrister John Lang, best known for having defended the Rani of Jhansi in court, wrote of the early British Raj. This excerpt from a collection is an account of the lengths officers went to please the governor-general.

What! Sham! Dinner ready?' I exclaimed, on observing the boy approaching the tent with a tray and a table-cloth.

'Oh, yes, sir; quite ready. And very good dinner.'

'What have you got?'

'Stewed duck, sir-curry, sir; pancake, sir. And by the time you eat that, one little quail ready, sir, with toast. I give dinner fit for a Governor-General, sir; and the silver shining like the moon, sir.'
(It was in this way that he ran on whilst laying the table.)

'But why are you preparing covers for two, when I am dining alone?'

'Yes, sir. But only poor mans has table laid for one. That place opposite is for company sake. And suppose some gentleman come-not likely here, but suppose? Then all is ready. No running about-no calling out, 'Bring plate, knife and fork, and spoon, and glass,' and all that. And if two plates laid, master, if he like-when I am standing behind his chair keeping the flies off while he eats-may fancy that some friend or some lady sitting opposite, and in his own mind he may hold some guftoogoo (conversation). That's why I lay the table for two, sir.'

I had been warned by the gentleman who permitted Sham to accompany me, that he was such an invaluable servant, it was only politic to let him have his own way in trifling matters; and therefore instead of objecting to his proceeding, I applauded his foresight.

Whilst discussing the stewed duck, which was excellent- as was indeed every dish prepared by Sham, when he had 'his own way-' and while he was standing behind me, keeping the flies off with a chowrie (a quantity of long horsehair fastened to a handle), I talked to him without turning my head:

'You say you wish to take a gun. Have you ever been out shooting?'

'Oh, yes, sir. When my master went up from Calcutta to Mussoorie and Simlah with the Governor-General, I went with him. And I often went out shooting in the Dhoon, with my master, who was a great sportsman, sir. And I was out with my master-on the same elephant-when the Governor-General shot the tiger.'

'What! Did the Governor-General shoot a tiger?'

'Oh, no, sir. But my master and the other gentlemens make him think he did, sir.'

'Explain yourself.'

'Well, sir, the Governor-General said he had heard a great deal of tiger shooting, and should like to see some for once. So my master, who was a very funny gentleman, went to an officer in the Dhoon-another very funny gentleman- and between them it was agreed that his lordship should shoot one tiger. And so they sent out some native shikarees (huntsmen), told them to wound but not kill one big tiger in the jungle, and leave him there. And the native shikarees did shoot one big tiger in the jungle, and they came and made a report where he was lying. Then next morning when all the elephants and gentlemens was ready, and the Governor-General had his gun in his hand, they all went to the jungle; and when they got to the place and heard the tiger growl very angrily, my master called out, 'There, my lord-there he is; take your shot!' and my lord fired his gun, and my master cried out very loud: 'My lord, you've hit him!' And my lord, who was very much confused-not being a sportsman- said, 'Have I?' And all the gentlemens cried out: 'Yes, my lord!' And then some of the gentlemens closed round the tiger and killed him, by firing many bullets at him. And my lord had the tiger's skin taken off, and it was sent to England to be make a carpet for my lord's sitting-room. And for many days all the gentlemens laughed, and asked of one another, 'Who shot the tiger?' And the Governor-General was so happy and so proud, and wore his head as high as a seesutree. But he had enough of tiger-shooting in that one tiger; for he was not a sportsman, and did not like the jolting of the elephant in the jungle.'

My repast ended, and the table-cloth removed, I lighted a cigar, and took my camp-stool once more to the opening of the tent, when, to my surprise, and somewhat to my dismay, I found myself besieged by a host of ryots, cultivators of the soil, each bearing a present in the shape of a basket of fruit or vegetables, or a brass dish covered with almonds, raisins, and native sweetmeats. These poor creatures, who doubtless fancied that I was a Sahib in authority (possibly, Sham had told them that I was a commissioner-a very great man-on a tour of inspection), prostrated themselves at my feet, and in the most abject manner imaginable craved my favour and protection. I promised each and every one of them, with much sincerity, that if ever it lay in my power to do them a service, they might depend upon my exerting myself to the utmost; and then I made a variety of inquiries touching their respective ages, families, circumstances, and prospects, in order to prove that I had already taken an interest in them.

First Published: Jun 13, 2015 14:47 IST