The Smith Administration, by Rudyard Kipling

The Writing of Yakub Khan

From Yakub Khan, Kuki Khel, of Lala China, Malik, in the Englishman’s City of Calcutta with Vahbtahn Sahib, to Katal Khan, Kuki Khel, of Lala China, which is in the Khaibar. This letter to go by the Sirkar’s mail to Pubbi, and thence Mahbub Ali, the writer, takes delivery and, if God pleases, gives to my son.

Also, for my heart is clean, this writing goes on to Sultan Khan, on the upper hill over against Kuka Ghoz, which is in Bara, through the country of the Zuka Khel. Mahbub Ali goes through if God pleases.

To My Son. — Know this. I have come with the others and Vahbtahn (Warburton) Sahib, as was agreed, down to the river, and the rail-dâk does not stop at Attock. Thus the Mullah of Tordurra lied. Remember this when next he comes for food. The rail-dâk goes on for many days. The others who came with me are witnesses to this. Fifteen times, for there was but little to do in the dâk, I made all the prayers from the niyah to the munajat, and yet the journey was not ended. And at the places where we stopped there were often to be seen the fighting-men of the English, such as those we killed, when certain of our men went with the Bonerwals in the matter of Umbeyla, whose guns I have in my house. Everywhere there were fighting-men; but it may be that the English were afraid of us, and so drew together all their troops upon the line of the rail-dâk and the fire-carriage. Vahbtahn Sahib is a very clever man, and he may have given the order. None the less, there must be many troops in this country; more than all the strength of the Afridis. But Yar Khan says that all the land, which runs to the east and to the west many days’ journey in the rail-dâk, is also full of fighting-men, and. big guns by the score. Our Mullahs gave us no news of this when they said that, in the matter of six years gone, there were no more English in the land, all having been sent to Afghanistan, and that the country was rising in fire behind them. Tell the Mullah of Tordurra the words of Yar Khan. He has lied in respect to the rail-dâk, and it may be that he will now speak the truth regarding what his son saw when he went to Delhi with the horses. I have asked many men for news of the strength of the fighting-men in this country, and all say that it is very great. Howbeit, Vahbtahn Sahib is a clever man and may have told them to speak thus, as I told the women of Sikanderkhelogarhi to speak when we were pressed by the Sangu Khel, in that night when you, my son, took Torukh Khan’s head, and I saw that I had bred a man.

If there be as many men throughout the place as I have seen and the people say, the mouth of the Khaibar is shut, and it were better to give no heed to our Mullahs. But read further and see for what reasons I, who am a Malak of the Kuki Khel, say this. I have come through many cities — all larger than Kabul. Rawal Pindi, which is far beyond the Attock, whence came all the English who fought us in the business of six years gone. That is a great city, filled with fighting-men — four thousand of both kinds, and guns. Lahore is also a great city, with another four thousand troops, and that is one night by the rail-dâk from Rawal Pindi. Amritsar has a strong fort, but I do not know how many men are there. The words of the people who go down with the grapes and the almonds in the winter are true, and our Mullahs have lied to us. Jullundur is also a place of troops, and there is a fort at Phillour, and there are many thousand men at Umballa, which is one night, going very swiftly in the rail-dâk, from Lahore. And at Meerut, which is half a day from Umballa, there are more men and horses; and at Delhi there are more also, in a very strong fort. Our people go only as far south as Delhi; but beyond Delhi there are no more strong Punjabi people — but only a mean race without strength. The country is very rich here, flat, with cattle and crops. We, of the villages of the Khaibar alone, could loot these people; but there are more fighting-men at Agra, and at Cawnpore, and at Allahabad, and many other places, whose names do not stay with me. Thus, my son, by day and by night, always going swiftly in the rail-dâk we came down to this very big city of Calcutta.

My mouth dripped when I saw the place that they call Bengal — so rich it was; and my heart was troubled when I saw how many of the English were there. The land is very strongly held, and there are a multitude of English and half-English in the place. They give us great honour, but all men regard us as though we were strange beasts, and not fighting-men with hundreds of guns. If Yar Khan has spoken truth and the land throughout is as I have seen, and no show has been made to fill us with fear, I, Yakub Khan, tell you, my son, and you, O Sultan Khan! that the English do well to thus despise us; for on the Oath of a Pathan, we are only beasts in their sight. It may be that Vahbtahn Sahib has told them all to look at us in this manner — for, though we receive great honour, no man shows fear, and busies himself with his work when we have passed by. Even that very terrible man, the Governor of Kabul, would be as no one in this great City of Calcutta. Were I to write what I have seen, all our people would say that I was mad and a liar. But this I will write privately, that only you, my son, and Sultan Khan may see; for ye know that, in respect to my own blood, I am no liar. There are lights without oil or wood burning brightly in this city; and on the water of the river lie boats which go by fire, as the rail-dâk goes, carrying men and fighting-men by two and three thousand. God knows whence they come! They travel by water, and therefore there must be yet another country to the eastward full of fighting-men. I cannot make clear how these things are. Every day more boats come. I do not think that this is arranged by Vahbtahn Sahib; for no man in those boats takes any notice of us; and we feel, going to and from every place, that we are children. When that Kaffir came to us, three years agone, is it in thy memory how, before we shot him, we looked on him for a show, and the children came out and laughed? In this place no children laugh at us; but none the less do we feel that we are all like that man from Kafirstan.

In the matter of our safe-conduct, be at ease. We are with Vahbtahn Sahib, and his word is true. Moreover, as we said in the jirgah, we have been brought down to see the richness of the country, and for that reason they will do us no harm. I cannot tell why they, being so strong — if these things be not all arranged by Vahbtahn Sahib — took any trouble for us. Yar Khan, whose heart has become so soft within him in three days, says that the louse does not kill the Afridi, but none the less the Afridi takes off his upper-coat for the itching. This is a bitter saying, and I, O my son, and O my friend Sultan Khan, am hard upon believing it.

I put this charge upon you. Whatever the Mullah of Tordurra may say, both respecting the matter that we know of, which it is not prudent to write, and respecting the going-out in spring against the Sangu Khel, do you, my son, and you, Sultan Khan, keep the men of the Khaibar villages, and the men of the Upper Bara, still, till I return and can speak with my mouth. The blood-feuds are between man and man, and these must go forward by custom; but let there be no more than single shots fired. We will speak together, and ye will discover that my words are good. I would give hope if I could, but I cannot give hope. Yar Khan says that it were well to keep to the blood-feuds only; and he hath said openly among us, in the smoking-time, that he has a fear of the English, greater than any fear of the curses of our Mullahs. Ye know that I am a man unafraid. Ye knew when I cut down the Malik of the Sipah Khel, when he came into Kadam, that I was a man unafraid. But this is no matter of one man’s life, or the lives of a hundred, or a thousand; and albeit I cursed Yar Khan with the others, yet in my heart I am afraid even as he is. If these English, and God knows where their homes lie, for they come from a strange place, we do not know how strong in fighting-men — if, O my son, and friend of my heart Sultan Khan, these devils can thus fill the land over four days’ journey by this very swift rail-dâk from Peshawar, and can draw white light, as bright as the sun, from iron poles, and can send fire-boats full of men from the east, and moreover, as I have seen, can make new rupees as easily as women make cow-dung cakes — what can the Afridis do?

The Mullah of Tordurra said that they came from the west, and that their rail-dâk stopped at Attock, and that there were none of them except those who came into our country in the great fight. In all three things he has lied. Give no heed to him. I myself will shoot him when I return. If he be a Saint, there will be miracles over his tomb, which I will build. If he be no Saint, there is but one Mullah the less. It were better that he should die than take the Khaibar villages into a new blockade; as did the Mullah of Kardara, when we were brought to shame by Jan Larens and I was a young man.

The black men in this place are dogs and children. To such an one I spoke yesterday, saying, ‘Where is Vahbtahn Sahib?’ and he answered nothing, but laughed. I took him by the throat and shook him, only a little and very gently, for I did not wish to bring trouble on Vahbtahn Sahib, and he has said that our customs are not the customs of this country. This black man wept, and said that I had killed him, but truly I had only shaken him to and fro. He was a fat man, with white stockings, dressed in woman’s fashion, speaking English, but acting without courtesy either to the Sahibs or to us. Thus are all the black people in the city of Calcutta. But for these English, we who are here now could loot the city, and portion out the women, who are fair.

I have bought an English rifle for you, my son, better than the one which Shere Khan stole from Cherat last summer, throwing to two thousand paces; and for Sultan Khan an English revolver, as he asked. Of the wonders of this great city I will speak when we meet, for I cannot write them.

When I came from Lala China the tale of blood between our house and the house of Zarmat Shah lacked one on our side. I have been gone many days, but I have no news from you that it is made even. If ye have not yet killed the boy who had the feud laid upon him when I went, do nothing but guard your lives till ye get the new rifle. With a steady rest it will throw across the valley into Zarmat Shah’s field, and so ye can kill the women at evening.

Now I will cease, for I am tired of this writing. Make Mahbub Ali welcome, and bid him stay till ye have written an answer to this, telling me whether all be well in my house. My blood is not cold that I charge you once again to give no ear to the Mullahs, who have lied, as I will show; and, above all else, to keep the villages still till I return. Nor am I a clucking hen of a Khuttick if I write last, that these English are devils, against whom only the Will of God can help us.

And why should we beat our heads against a rock, for we only spill our brains
And when we have the Valley to content us, why should we go out against the Mountain?
A strong man, saith Kabir, is strong only till he meet with a stronger.

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