He awoke with the sun already up and hot, his eyes rested on the segment of light coming through the closed shutters as his mind ranged to absorb the reality of a new day. Yesterday it had been mildly warm and the cool season was now at an end. The punkah had been turned on for the first time since the end of the hot season last year, and dust and bits of dried insects had shot all about the room, dislodged from the rotating blades. His watch showed that it was nearly seven and he wondered if Bagah Khan would be on time with his tea. He recalled the early days when Ghulam Hussein would enter his bedroom; tall, proud and erect, dressed immaculately in spotless dhoti and his turban, with a new colour flash every day. he would stand by the bed and with a voice that was deep and resonant say the same words every morning, ‘tea master,’ staying motionless until B spoke some words, ‘good morning, put it down Ghulam.’ No words from B, then no tea from Ghulam. Later, when Ghulam had left him, Sher would leave the tea by his bedside and it was usually cold when B went to drink it. That was the difference between a well-trained servant and an indifferently trained one. Ghulam had been the servant of the Oil Company’s general manager Elliot sahib and was used to entertaining on a grand scale; finding himself as the servant of a junior manager, called company officer in order to maintain parity with the officials and diplomats in this hierarchical society, a hundred miles distance from any town of note, at an oil field deep in rural scrubland, Ghulam had asked and been allowed to go. His replacement Sher  had not lasted long;  he had started to steal. This had gone unnoticed until one Saturday in Chakwal bazaar B had seen Sher wearing his new, brown, nylon shirt. A servant that stole more than food had to go, so now Bagah Khan was catering for his domestic needs. Bagah stole food. The memsahibs told him so, and when he checked his bazaar expenditure it was to find he had paid for over twenty pounds of sugar in one month, and he knew they were right. He had raised his voice on the matter and Bagah, suitably meek, had made a half-contrite and half justified defence. Bagah was rustic but flexible and B felt that he could live with a certain inflation of his bazaar bills, so long as nothing else was taken. A surprise inspection of the servants’ quarters followed his audit, and it showed that he was supporting about a dozen of Bagah’s relatives. It shocked him to realise his power and their dependency. Their meekness and deference put him in a position he would rather not have been in, because power took away from you the common bond of humanity. How could there be moral censure over one who had so little taking food from one who had so much?

Riff was stirring at the end of the bed as the door opened and, scruffy, unshaven Bagah appeared, carrying the morning tea. Riff used to growl at Sher’s entry, but he liked Bagah Khan who prepared his food, bringing the heaped plate for B’s approval, before putting it on the floor for Riff, always in close and impatient attendance. Bagah always gave a mumbled greeting with the tea, often speaking to Riff also which was unusual with a Muslim, as they usually viewed dogs with indifference or dislike, but he seemed to like Riff. B felt more at ease with Bagah than with the stern, censorious and aloof Ghulam, or the sly, untrustworthy Sher. He sipped the tea slowly. It was Sunday, and soon it would be time to slip on sandals, shorts and a bush jacket and set off with Riff for a walk, perhaps to the road that led to Khaur, always empty and quiet; or even further to the river when, in the monsoon season, they had seen water bearing down in the dry channel between the two banks where a few days earlier it had been possible to walk. The rains had fallen up north, the dry, hard earth had no porosity and the collecting rainwater conveyed into the upstream river, building up speed and volume, as it bore down southwards to the sea nine hundred miles away. It was an awesome sight, something seen for the first time, from a distance, looking up the dry river bed and seeing the wall of unstoppable water, greyish brown, churning, not noiseless, but with a low, sibilant, persistent tone that once heard could never be forgotten. It filled the channel from side to side to the height of a three-storey house. As it came closer, the profile of its head could be more clearly distinguished, with weird patterns forming and re-forming; but there was not much time to identify anything, its speed may have been ten miles an hour or more, it was difficult to gauge. It seemed slower from afar, and faster as it came nearer. The mixed debris, picked up on its way, was mingled with the lapping and leaping tongues of water; there were bits of houses, tree trunks, dead animals on the long journey southwards. It was rare seeing the head of the spate, unless one lived close to the riverbank.

Later, as the torrent consolidated into the semblance of a great river, its brown, muddy waters flowing smoothly and swiftly past, he and Riff saw boys from the nearby villages leaping into the water from a high bank that overhung the flow, the current carrying them rapidly to a mudflat, still uncovered, on a bend downstream. It looked dangerous and probably was, but the small, brown, naked boys seem never to tire of running back from where they had beached on the mudflat, back to where they could launch themselves again and again into the swirling waters, thrashing their limbs and shouting with the exuberance of their sport.

Once, coming back from Rawalpindi with the Field’s wages he had come to another part of this river to find that the large bridge spanning it had been swept away. There was no alternative but to turn back and make a detour of several hundred miles along what were, in places, little more than bullock tracks. After that memorable journey from A to B via C he had slept for more than twelve hours. Another bridge had gone, this time between Rawalpindi and Khaur, when he and Wally were bringing back the liquor rations from ‘Pindi, but the river level was down then and they were able to arrange a trans-shipment to another lorry called up to the other side. It all took many hours to complete and, as they sat in the shade waiting with Walhi Khan, the driver of their lorry, he had joked in the little English he had, that seeing the coolies carrying the alcohol supplies on their heads to the other side that with all this alcohol he would become ‘Christian man and help them to drink it.’ So are our impressions made. It had never occurred to B to equate Christians with alcohol drinking, but evidently, Muslims did. Afterwards, Wally had called Walhi Khan a ‘drummer,’ which B guessed was a ‘Masonic’ term. Wally would sometimes use expressions that exposed B’s lack of worldly knowledge. He would then, never ask for an explanation, hoping the term would become clear in the context of the talk. Sometimes it did, but often did not, so it was tucked away in a corner of such a memory box as he possessed to be clarified in due time.

He was cut off here from all new learning, except the learning about the people and the country. He had often thought about the Masons and knew virtually nothing about them. Wally seemed to know a lot. And he knew the General Manager, Elliot was one, and Stiven another. There was also an Englishman at Morgah called Percy who, like Jumbo States had been born in India. Percy had married a Eurasian girl who was very dark; they had wanted to emigrate to Australia, but a strick colour bar was in force at that time and they had been turned down. He confided in B that he had joined the Masons in order to help his career. It didn’t matter that he had a coloured wife. What sort of wife am I going to find here?

The world he knew back in England had faded by this time to the image of a totem and a mirage; something ‘there’ and available if he would ever want it. But he liked it here, it suited his restless out-of-doors nature, where he was participating in a smaller, more tangible world. All right. Here he was a bigger fish in a smaller pond, but he believed he liked it for the right reasons, and not the wrong ones. In a way he was cut off from the main stream, but when he read old copies of English newspapers, or heard something on the radio – the clothes rationing had ended on 1st February 1949, or about the conscription of men between the ages of 18 and 26 in December 1948, or that the first Morris Minor car had been built at Cowley on 12th December 1948 – it was all really a big yawn – just a snippit of news to mention at the club to remind most people that they were English, (it was always ‘English’ at that time, never ‘British’) a common culture held in abeyance, as the island’s attractions became less obvious from a distance. In this newly formed, undeveloped country, on the wide plain, south of the great range of hills, in the stifling heat and amongst an alien people, he was content, and wouldn’t think about the future. Well, not too much, anyway.

The tea was finished but instead of getting up he lay his head down again. Riff evidently felt like a lie in too, there was no movement from him, and B had struck a reverie mode. It was true he was feeling a bit limited at Balkassar where he had been transferred after successfully getting the oil company supplies moving again following the disruption of the Indian partition debacle. But here there was no challenge and his work was not fulfilling in spite of the expected great tie-up with Burmah Oil Company. His bright and energetic assistant called Quadar was a few years older than B and looked like a western version of an Indian matinee idol; he was cosmopolitan too compared with the usual village employees. Quadar was active, assured, efficient and pleasant; he wore khaki slacks and a bush jacket like a British army officer, and this suited his breezy and attractive personality. B felt that Quadar could do everything he could do in Ballkassar, and perhaps do it better, because his knowledge of the local people was much deeper. It boiled down to a question of trust, and non-British people had to work harder and longer than the ex-patriates to earn the management’s trust. A person like Nawab, given commercial responsibility would be to invite disaster. Although it wasn’t for B to decide, he would trust Quadar.

And then the growing demands from Angie made him believe that she didn’t care how widely known their liaison became. Whereas he did. But to break it off now was more than he dared to do. She would erupt like a volcano. He was aware at this time he was just beginning to understand his romantic, idealistic view of life, and starting to acknowledge and accept some of life’s hard realities. Popular dictums can be useful for self-debate, and he was wrestling with one of these in this phase of his development – ‘every man has his price’ – such a thought had been rejected by him out of hand up to now as it conflicted with his view of life having ‘goodies’ and ‘badies.’ B considered himself to be a ‘goodie’ and whilst classifying people as one or the other, had recently noted a neutral, centre band, a grey area had started to emerge of those people, neither one nor the other in absolute terms but a mixture of the two, sharing different attributes at different times. It was convenient, even necessary to establish this new grouping, as experience and growing maturity taught him that people are more complex than they appear to be on the surface, and his facile, subjective classification system had to be completely reviewed and overhauled. As there is no wound without pain, there is no idea, he thought, that did not require a re-grouping of one’s existing beliefs, once it had been taken aboard and incorporated into the crew.

In the half sleep of his ranging mind he felt a new restlessness again and with it a feeling of being trapped. He didn’t think about the future and it seemed that he had outgrown the present. But where could he go? What could he do? Walter had written from England to say that he had got a job with an oil company in Bahrain and would be going there in a few weeks. Was there any possibility of their meeting? he asked. This had unsettled B. He didn’t know why. He wanted Walter to be settled. He knew that he was the roamer and yet Walter seemed always to adopt his approaches in life. Quite wrongly, he thought. Walter had much more in him than ever he did. It brought back so much that had been lying quiescent, so that his adoption and absorption in this new life seemed now to be undermined and exposed as being only an illusion in his mind. He couldn’t face a sustained examination of his future, here or anywhere else and, with an abrupt gesture that surprised himself, leapt out of bed on to the numdah covering the polished concrete floor, ‘come on’ he shouted at Riff who had leapt up with his master, ‘we’re going for a long walk.’

APRIL 1949