From Sea to Sea

The Smith Administration

The Serai Cabal

Rudyard Kipling

UPON the evidence of a scullion, I, the State, rose up and made sudden investigation of the crowded serai. There I found and dismissed, as harmful to public morals, a lady in a pink saree who was masquerading as somebody’s wife. The utter and abject loneliness of the mussalchi, that outcaste of the cook-room, should, Orientally speaking, have led him to make a favourable report to his fellow-servants. That he did not do so I attributed to a certain hardness of character brought out by innumerable kickings and scanty fare. Therefore I acted on his evidence and, in so doing, brought down the wrath of the entire serai, not on my head,—for they were afraid of me,—but on the humble head of Karim Baksh, mussalchi. He had accused the bearer of inaccuracy in money matters, and the khansamah of idleness; besides bringing about the ejectment of fifteen people—men, women, and children—related by holy and unholy ties to all the servants. Can you wonder that Karim Baksh was a marked boy? Departmentally, he was under the control of the khansamah, I myself taking but small interest in the subordinate appointments on my staff. Two days after the evidence had been tendered, I was not surprised to learn that Karim Baksh had been dismissed by his superior; reason given, that he was personally unclean. It is a fundamental maxim of my administration that all power delegated is liable to sudden and unexpected resumption at the hands of the Head. This prevents the right of the Lord-Proprietor from lapsing by time. The khansamah’s decision was reversed without reason given, and the enemies of Karim Baksh sustained their first defeat. They were bold in making their first move so soon. I, Smith, who devote hours that would be better spent on honest money-getting, to the study of my servants, knew they would not try less direct tactics. Karim Baksh slept soundly, over against the drain that carries off the water of my bath, as the enemy conspired.

One night I was walking round the house when the pungent stench of a hookah drifted out of the pantry. A hookah, out of place, is to me an abomination. I removed it gingerly, and demanded the name of the owner. Out of the darkness sprang a man, who said, ‘Karim Baksh!’ It was the bearer. Running my hand along the stem, I felt the loop of leather which a chamar attaches, or should attach, to his pipe, lest higher castes be defiled unwittingly. The bearer lied, for the burning hookah was a device of the groom—friend of the lady in the pink saree—to compass the downfall of Karim Baksh. So the second move of the enemy was foiled, and Karim Baksh asleep as dogs sleep, by the drain, took no harm.

Came thirdly, after a decent interval to give me time to forget the Private Services Commission, the gumnamah (the anonymous letter)—stuck into the frame of the looking-glass. Karim Baksh had proposed an elopement with the sweeper’s wife, and the morality of the serai was in danger. Also the sweeper threatened murder, which could be avoided by the dismissal of Karim Baksh. The blear-eyed orphan heard the charge against him unmoved, and, at the end, turning his face to the sun, said: ‘Look at me, Sahib! Am I the man a woman runs away with?’ Then pointing to the ayah, ‘Or she the woman to tempt a Mussulman!’ Low as was Karim Baksh, the mussalchi, he could by right of creed look down upon a she-sweeper. The charge under Section 498, I.P.C., broke down in silence and tears, and thus the third attempt of the enemy came to naught.

I, Smith, who have some knowledge of my subjects, knew that the next charge would be a genuine one, based on the weakness of Karim Baksh, which was clumsiness—phenomenal ineptitude of hand and foot. Nor was I disappointed. A fortnight passed, and the bearer and the khansamah simultaneously preferred charges against Karim Baksh. He had broken two tea-cups and had neglected to report their loss to me; the value of the tea-cups was four annas. They must have spent days spying upon Karim Baksh, for he was a morose and solitary boy who did his cup-cleaning alone.

Taxed with the fragments, Karim Baksh attempted no defence. Things were as the witnesses said, and I was his father and his mother. By my rule, a servant who does not confess a fault suffers, when that fault is discovered, severe punishment. But the red Hanuman, who grins by the well in the bazar, prompted the bearer at that moment to express his extreme solicitude for the honour and dignity of my service. Literally translated, the sentence ran, ‘The zeal of thy house has eaten me up.’

Then an immense indignation and disgust took possession of me, Smith, who have trodden, as far as an Englishman may tread, the miry gullies of native thought. I knew—none better—the peculations of the bearer, the vices of the khansamah, and the abject, fawning acquiescence with which these two men would meet the basest wish that my mind could conceive. And they talked to me—thieves and worse that they were—of their desire that I should be well served! Lied to me as though I had been a griff but twenty minutes landed on the Apollo Bunder! In the middle stood Karim Baksh, silent; on either side was an accuser, broken tea-cup in hand; the khansamah, mindful of the banished lady in the pink saree; the bearer remembering that, since the date of the Private Services Commission, the whisky and the rupees had been locked up. And they talked of the shortcomings of Karim Baksh—the outcaste—the boy too ugly to achieve and too stupid to conceive sin—a blunderer at the worst. Taking each accuser by the nape of his neck, I smote their cunning skulls the one against the other, till they saw stars by the firmamentful. Then I cast them from me, for I was sick of them, knowing how long they had worked in secret to compass the downfall of Karim Baksh.

And they laid their hands upon their mouths and were dumb, for they saw that I, Smith, knew to what end they had striven.

This Administration may not control a revenue of seventy-two millions, more or less, per annum, but it is wiser than—some people.

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