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In The Presence
by [?]


‘So the matter,’ the Regimental Chaplain concluded, ‘was correct; in every way correct. I am well pleased with Rutton Singh and Attar Singh. They have gathered the fruit of their lives.’

He folded his arms and sat down on the verandah. The hot day had ended, and there was a pleasant smell of cooking along the regimental lines, where half-clad men went back and forth with leaf platters and water-goglets. The Subadar-Major, in extreme undress, sat on a chair, as befitted his rank; the Havildar-Major, his nephew, leaning respectfully against the wall. The Regiment was at home and at ease in its own quarters in its own district which takes its name from the great Muhammadan saint Mian Mir, revered by Jehangir and beloved by Guru Har Gobind, sixth of the great Sikh Gurus.

‘Quite correct,’ the Regimental Chaplain repeated.

No Sikh contradicts his Regimental Chaplain who expounds to him the Holy Book of the Grunth Sahib and who knows the lives and legends of all the Gurus.

The Subadar-Major bowed his grey head. The Havildar-Major coughed respectfully to attract attention and to ask leave to speak. Though he was the Subadar-Major’s nephew, and though his father held twice as much land as his uncle, he knew his place in the scheme of things. The Subadar-Major shifted one hand with an iron bracelet on the wrist.

‘Was there by any chance any woman at the back of it?’ the Havildar-Major murmured. ‘I was not here when the thing happened.’

‘Yes! Yes! Yes! We all know that thou wast in England eating and drinking with the Sahibs. We are all surprised that thou canst still speak Punjabi.’ The Subadar-Major’s carefully-tended beard bristled.

‘There was no woman,’ the Regimental Chaplain growled. ‘It was land. Hear, you! Rutton Singh and Attar Singh were the elder of four brothers. These four held land in–what was the village’s name?–oh, Pishapur, near Thori, in the Banalu Tehsil of Patiala State, where men can still recognise right behaviour when they see it. The two younger brothers tilled the land, while Rutton Singh and Attar Singh took service with the Regiment, according to the custom of the family.’

‘True, true,’ said the Havildar-Major. ‘There is the same arrangement in all good families.’

‘Then, listen again,’ the Regimental Chaplain went on. ‘Their kin on their mother’s side put great oppression and injustice upon the two younger brothers who stayed with the land in Patiala State. Their mother’s kin loosened beasts into the four brothers’ crops when the crops were green; they cut the corn by force when it was ripe; they broke down the water-courses; they defiled the wells; and they brought false charges in the law-courts against all four brothers. They did not spare even the cotton-seed, as the saying is.

‘Their mother’s kin trusted that the young men would thus be forced by weight of trouble, and further trouble and perpetual trouble, to quit their lands in Pishapur village in Banalu Tehsil in Patiala State. If the young men ran away, the land would come whole to their mother’s kin. I am not a regimental school-master, but is it understood, child?’

‘Understood,’ said the Havildar-Major grimly. ‘Pishapur is not the only place where the fence eats the field instead of protecting it. But perhaps there was a woman among their mother’s kin?’

‘God knows!’ said the Regimental Chaplain. ‘Woman, or man, or law-courts, the young men would not be driven off the land which was their own by inheritance. They made appeal to Rutton Singh and Attar Singh, their brethren who had taken service with us in the Regiment, and so knew the world, to help them in their long war against their mother’s kin in Pishapur. For that reason, because their own land and the honour of their house was dear to them, Rutton Singh and Attar Singh needs must very often ask for leave to go to Patiala and attend to the lawsuits and cattle-poundings there.