The Smith Administration, by Rudyard Kipling

The Explanation of Mir Baksh

My notion was that you had been
(Before they had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him and ourselves and it.

‘That’s the most important piece of evidence we’ve heard yet,’ said the king, rubbing his hands. So now let the jury . . .’

‘If any one of them can explain it,’ said Alice, ‘I’ll give him sixpence. I don’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it’— Alice in Wonderland.

THIS, Protector of the Poor, is the hissab (your bill of house-expenses) for last month and a little bit of the month before — eleven days — and this, I think, is what it will be next month. Is it a long bill in five sheets? Assuredly yes, Sahib. Are the accounts of so honourable a house of the Sahib to be kept on one sheet only? This hissab cost one rupee to write. It is true that the Sahib will pay the one rupee; but consider how beautiful and and how true is the account, and how clean is the paper. Ibrahim, who is the very best petition-writer in all the bazar, drew it up. Ahoo! Such an account is this account! And I am to explain it all? Is it not written there in the red ink, and the black ink, and the green ink? What more does the Heaven-born want? Ibrahim, who is the best of all the petition-writers in the bazar, made this hissab. There is an envelope also. Shall I fetch that envelope? Ibrahim has written your name outside in three inks — a very murasla is this envelope. An explanation? Ahoo! God is my witness that it is as plain as the sun at noon. By your Honour’s permission I will explain, taking the accounts in my hand.

Now there are four accounts — that for last month, which is in red; that for the month before, which is in black; that for the month to come, which is in green; and an account of private expense and dispens, which is in pencil. Does the Presence understand that? Very good talk.

There was the bread, and the milk, and the cow’s food, and both horses, and the saddle-soap for last month, which is in green ink. No, red ink — the Presence speaks the truth. It was red ink, and it was for last month, and that was fifty-seven rupees eight annas; but there was the cost of a new manger for the cow, to be sunk into mud, and that was eleven annas. But I did not put that into the last month’s account. I carried that over to this month — the green ink. No? There is no account for this month? Your Honour speaks the truth. Those eleven annas I carried thus — in my head.

The Sahib has said it is not a matter of eleven annas, but of seventy-seven rupees. That is quite true; but, O Sahib, if I, and Ibrahim, who is the best petition-writer in the bazar, do not attend to the annas, how shall your substance increase? So the food and the saddle-soap for the cows and the other things were fifty-seven rupees eight annas, and the servants’ wages were a hundred and ten — all for last month. And now I must think, for this is a large account. Oh yes! It was in Jeth that I spoke to the Dhobi about the washing, and he said, ‘My bill will be eleven rupees two pies.’ It is written there in the green ink, and that, in addition to the soap, was sixty-eight rupees, seven annas, two pies. All of last month. And the hundred and ten rupees for the servants’ wages make the total to one hundred and seventy-eight rupees, seven annas, two pies, as Ibrahim, who is the best petition-writer in the bazar, has set down.

But I said that all things would only be one hundred and fifty? Yes. That was at first,. Sahib, before I was well aware of all things. Later on, it will be in the memory of the Presence that I said it would be one hundred and ninety. But that was before I had spoken to the Dhobi. No, it was before I had bought the trunk-straps for which you gave orders. I remember that I said it would be one hundred and ninety. Why is the Sahib so hot? Is not the account long enough? I know always what the expense of the house will be. Let the Presence follow my finger. That is the green ink, that is the black, here is the red, and there is the pencil-mark of the private expenses. To this I add what I said six weeks ago before I had bought the trunk-straps by your order. And so that is a fifth account. Very good talk! The Presence has seen what happened last month, and I will now show the month before last, and the month that is to come — together in little brackets; the one bill balancing to the other like swinging scales.

Thus runs the account of the month before last:— A box of matches three pies, and black thread for buttons three annas (it was the best black thread), khas — khas for the tatties twelve annas; and the other things forty-one rupees. To which that of the month to come had an answer in respect to the candles for the dog-cart; but I did not know how much these would cost, and I have written one rupee two annas, for they are always changing their prices in the bazar. And the oil for the carriage is one rupee, and the other things are forty-one rupees, and that is for the next month.

An explanation? Still an explanation? Khuda-ka-kusm! Have I not explained and has not Ibrahim, who is notoriously the best petition-writer in the bazar, put it down in the red ink, and the green ink, and the black; and is there not the private dispens account, withal, showing what should have been but which fell out otherwise, and what might have been but could not?

Ai, Sahib, what can I do? It is perhaps a something heavy bill, but there were reasons; and let the Presence consider that the Dhobi lived at the ghat over against the river, and I had to go there — two kos, upon my faith! — to get his bill; and, moreover, the horses were shod at the hospital, and that was a kos away, and the Hospital Babu was late in rendering his accounts. Does the Sahib say that I should know how the accounts will fall — not only for the month before last, but for this month as well? I do — I did — I will do! Is it my fault that more rupees have gone than I knew? The Sahib laughs! Forty years I have been a khansamah to the Sahib-log — from mussalchi to mate, and head khansamah have I risen (smites himself on the breast), and never have I been laughed at before. Why does the Sahib laugh? By the blessed Imams, my uncle was cook to Jan Larens; and I am a priest at the Musjid; and I am laughed at? Sahib, seeing that there were so many bills to come in, and that the Dhobi lived at the ghat as I have said, and the Horse hospital was a kos away, and God only knows where the sweeper lived, but his account came late also, it is not strange that I should be a little stupid as to my accounts, whereof there are so many. For the Dhobi was at the ghat, etc. Forty years have I been a khansamah, and there is no khansamah who could have kept his accounts so well. Only by my great and singular regard for the welfare of the Presence does it come about that they are not a hundred rupees wrong. For the Dhobi was at the ghat, etc. And I will not be laughed at! The accounts are beautiful accounts, and only I could have kept them.”

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Sahib — Sahib!    Garibparwar!    I have been to Ibrahim, who is the best petition-writer in the bazar, and he has written all that I have said — all that the Sahib could not understand — upon pink paper from Sialkot. So now there are the five accounts and the explanation; and for the writing of all six you, O Sahib, must pay! But for my honour’s sake do not laugh at me any more.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38