A CLASH OF CULTURES

‘How did the meeting with the union go?’ Asked Andrews, his huge frame over-towering B’s six foot plus, as they met on the track from the bungalows leading to the offices. These offices were a line of single storey adobe buildings running down one side of a wide open space. There was another line of similar low buildings, thirty metres or so across the other side, where the stores and workshops were situated. The area between the two sets of buildings seemed like a parade ground of flattened earth. All around these simple buildings was open land where the bushes and weak grass mingled with dry, dusty cultivated-farmed soil. Goats, donkeys and even the occasional ox would often encroach on to the office area, sometimes sniffing at windows or prodding doors with their heads. His and Andrew’s offices were adjacent and they would occasionally walk together in the mornings down the track, past some oil derricks and the diesel generator house, to their offices. ‘It was sheer hell,’ said B, half reproachfully. Andrews laughed as though expecting the answer. ‘How did Nawab behave?’ ‘He wasn’t any help.’ ‘There have been a number of complaints about Nawab from the local work force. Very discreet. They don’t know how much power he has.’ ‘Do we?’ asked B. Andrews let that ride. ‘The notes claim he is running an extortion racket. They’ve probably been written for the claimants by our clerks. McCarthy wants us to hold an enquiry with anonymity guaranteed. Can you organise this? Here are the letters; that’s all we have to go on.’ He passed over a number of scraps of paper. It did not occur to him that since he had been flown out to this Oil Company in the Punjab in 1948 with the objective of helping to sort out its parlous state caused by the partition of the Indian sub-continent by the British in 1947 he had no training or no experience for the jobs that came his way. There were three others in their twenties and ex-military and a handful of senior staff serving as management with not much more local experience between them . BLOG – (THE OFFICE GLASS) BLOG – (THE PUNJAB – A MORNING REVERIE). BLOG – (THE UNION MEETING)¬† BLOG – (WEEKEND) BLOG – (SPORTS DAY AT MORGAH) BLOG – (AIR CONDITIONED RESPITE) BLOG – (HARRY MEETS THE PRIME MINISTER) BLOG – (ABBOTABAD AND THE MILITARY)

It was necessary to begin by excluding all personal views from his mind. He ran over the names of anyone who might be helpful to him in this investigatory exercise and, to begin with, he couldn’t think of one. The Pakistanis would be either biased or scared; the Europeans would be able to offer him nothing more than he had himself. He thought regretfully of Dan Gill, the English geologist who knew the language, the local people and how they thought. He was probably marking students’ essays now at Durham University, and making himself just as liked and indispensable as he had been here. He went over the options again. There was really no one; but he had to have some one as an interpreter, his Urdu was not good enough for a task like this. Jumbo States could do that. But what did he know about Jumbo? Precious little, even though he was a next door neighbour. Jumbo and Molly were Anglo-Indians. This meant that they and their parents had been born in India and they had been brought up in India. But there was no curiosity about this from others of the same race but with different birth places, outside India. The shame and the waste of a categorisation of such people into an inferior level by the social mores of the British Raj, was apparent in the way they were viewed and, as a consequent, how they viewed themselves. They were not Eurasians, of mixed racial blood, but mainly British people who had not been born in Britain and had never been there. So marked was this grading prejudice, that the British in India would do anything in their power to send their wives back to the homeland to have their babies, and thus escape the Anglo-Indian stigma. If this course was not possible, the next best thing was to send the locally born child back to Britain for schooling or, failing this, to schooling at one of the hill station public schools set up by the British. Without any of these measures and, unless the child had an outstanding personality, they would grow up, fitting themselves into a life that the system had already determined for them, the numbingly patronising Anglo-Indian category of life.

Both Jumbo and Molly were in this category, aware of their position and the impossibility of changing it. It was, in many ways, a merging of the inexorable fixed caste system of India, and the more flexible, but equally well entrenched class system of England. Jumbo was a junior driller. He was quiet and thoughtful and liked to read, which brought him and B together in at least one thing. But you could see that Jumbo would never open up to an English born Englishman. There was something that had gone deep into his soul in his life; a rebuff, a contemptuous word or a slowly growing realisation that ‘your ways are not our ways.’ Whatever it may have been, one could only try to imagine a young and bright-eyed Jumbo meeting for the first time a representative of those who benefitted from the system, presenting himself whole and entire, ‘here, see me as I am; just see me clear.’ But the system could not accept any individual claim to be an individual outside the system; and so he turned in on himself, his family and his books. However unmeaningful this might seem, here in India – and now Pakistan – a race, or caste, or class slot was personal, was general and final., so Jumbo was himself to himself, getting on with everybody but familiar with none. Molly had been very pretty once. She had blonde hair and fair skin that attracted the eye in this land of dark-haired people. It was said she had been George Stiven’s lover when his wife and family were in England, but whispered rumours abounded in this close society.

B explained to Jumbo what was needed. It never occurred to him that there would be any reason for Jumbo not to agree. But as they sat together in B’s bungalow he could see that there was. And, at the same time, it dawned on him that his own natural and immediate identification with the western management was not quite so immediate with Jumbo. ‘Does Nawab know about these accusations?’ ‘He hasn’t been told by Andrews or me, replied B.’ ‘Don’t you think he should be told?’ Andrews had left everything to him and he wasn’t sure about this point. They were sitting facing each other, Jumbo in his driller’s khaki outfit, B in slacks and one of the new nylon shirts that were now on sale in the bazaar. It was brown and awful, and he sweated more and was uncomfortable in it. He felt it was a concession on his part to say to Jumbo that he wasn’t sure.. ‘Nawab might think you were working behind his back,’ ‘Yes, but forewarned is forearmed,’ said B. ‘As he has a responsible position he might have a good explanation.’ That was what B was afraid of, getting involved in a network of Nawab’s fabrication. ‘I don’t think I’d like to get involved unless Nawab was told first,’ said Jumbo. This condition annoyed B but after some further talk he realised that this was a sticking point and, if he wanted Jumbo’s help he would have to cede to this condition. ‘All right, Jumbo, but the accusers must remain anonymous.’ ‘Well, that’s between you and Nawab.’ Jumbo finished his beer and rose to his feet. ‘Thanks for the beer Bill, and I’ll wait to hear from you.’ As they walked to the mosquito-netted front double door leading on to the open porch, he realised that Jumbo was a strong character and looked at him briefly, in parting, with different eyes. He really dreaded having to tell Nawab because he wasn’t sure how much he should tell and how much Nawab might demand he tell in the name of staff solidarity.

‘I must know the names of my accusers,’ was certainly Nawab’s opening shot when B acquainted him with the contents of the notes. ‘The management doesn’t want to make this a matter for the police and insist on anonymity,’ replied B. ‘That is not British justice. Is there one rule for Englishmen and one for natives, Mr Mason?’ ‘Oh please, Nawab, can’t you just tell me what you have to say about these accusations?’ ‘Mr Mason, I am dealing in my job with all types of people; many of them are thieves and criminals. When they become aware that they are being investigated by me, naturally, they react. I have been threatened many times, but what better way for them to try and discredit me with the management and get me replaced by a more compliant personnel officer; one with less zeal than I have, one less dedicated than I to the company interests?’ ‘So, the accusations are lies?’ ‘Lies, lies. They are the lies of criminals who wish to overturn me, so they can carry on with their wickedness, undetected, as they were doing before I was appointed here.’

B watched Nawab as he spoke, as fascinated as though he was watching a hooded cobra. How such words came from such a character whose face and expressions spoke only duplicity, he could not have believed possible had he not seen it. But what if faces lied? Nawab spoke sincere words and B did not like to think that sincere words could be spoken by insincere people. ‘All right, I’ll report back what you say.’ But Nawab wanted more out of the situation than this; he rose from the chair where he was sitting in B’s office and leaned his hands on the desk, putting his face closer, until B could smell the garlic on his breath. ‘The matter cannot be dropped there, I must insist on names Mr Mason. These people cannot be allowed to escape.’ ‘My instructions are ‘no names’ Nawab.’ ‘You hide behind your instructions?’ ‘I obey my instructions. have you any more to say?’ ‘I will not leave this office without names.’ ‘If you have nothing more to say, our discussion is at an end, and I ask you to leave.’ ‘You are too weak to deal with this.’ B leapt to his feet, lunging for Nawab ‘get out,’ he roared. Nawab was quicker than he, reaching the door and wrenching it open; it slammed in B’s face as his hands sought to grab the fleeing form.

It was some days later and he was in the office, seated with Jumbo. The time was nearly eight o’clock in the evening and it was dark and silent outside. Notifications had gone out that any employees with grievances against any officers of the company could present them to Mason sahib in strictest confidence, at 8 PM at his office. There was a noise outside and B went to the door to investigate. Standing some way away in the shadows was a bulky policeman wearing a pugree and carrying a lathi in his belt. he looked at B ¬†from a gross, bloated face as he drew near. ‘Salaam sahib.’ ‘What do you want?’ Jumbo was at his shoulder as the policeman spoke. ‘he says he has been sent here because the sahib might be in danger,’ translated Jumbo. ‘Who sent him?’ ‘His chief, the superintendent.’ ‘We don’t want him; he can go away.’ More dialogue. ‘he cannot leave; he has his orders. he is here to protect the sahib.’ ‘Blast him.’ They went inside, shutting the door. ‘What do you make of that, Jumbo?’ ‘Well, they don’t want anything unpleasant to happen to you Bill.’ ‘I don’t believe I’m in any danger.’ ‘They’re taking no chances.’ ‘I don’t know how they ever got to hear of this,’ grumbled B.

The two of them settled down again, ready for a long wait. There was no sound from the policeman outside. He could see the corner of the water tank and the stars in the darkness through the window, from where he sat. At twenty minutes past eight he yawned. ‘Doesn’t look as though anyone’ll come now,’ he said. From outside came the sound of a yell, shouts and the noise of blows. He was at the door in an instance. In the darkness he could see the fat policeman wielding his lathi with great energy and one or more figures vanishing from sight into the night. He stood there in an inner rage as the policeman came towards him, puffing and wiping his face with a piece of cloth. His lathi was held against his body by the other arm. ‘You stupid damn fool,’ shouted B. ‘Very bad men,’ said the policeman. he felt Jumbo’s hand on his arm and heard the sound of Jumbo’s voice speaking to the policeman. He already knew what the translation would be. Nawab had succeeded, and his accusers were driven off by the arm of the police force, as deeply committed to corruption as was Nawab. What could be done? He turned angrily away as Jumbo was saying, ‘he said some men were coming to make a lot of trouble for the sahib, he spotted them and drove them away, and saved the sahib from these bad men.’ ‘They won’t come back now, Jumbo,’ he said. ‘Let’s go.’

1950