MADRAS: CHAPTER SIX
Early next morning, Chandru got up to the unfamiliar and unpleasant loud noise of the bell. Late that night, officer Ashok had come to meet him in his room and asked Ram to wait outside.
“We all knew your father. He was a good man whom we all admired. I trust you shall live up to his name and repute except in those certain aspects mentioned in that letter. Leave other matters to us and focus on your own wellbeing, you can’t afford to lose more. Chandru, I wanted to give you some words to enlighten you as to this appointment with the Major. Fair to say he has taken a peculiar interest in you and I am not sure at all it’s good. I am sure you shall avoid noticeable oppurtunites for degradation at his hands. Dress smartly and appear with a clean shaven face, be the most presentable you can tomorrow, do you understand?” he said.
Chandru was surprised at all the notice he was being favoured with, and simply nodded.
Ashok hung around in silence for some time with his head bent down and said slowly, “Whatever happens, remain neutral” he said and wished Chandru good night and left. These events and his grave look and words implied more than he’d let on and made Chandru very curious, but he was bent on proving that he would take whatever came to him like a man and was sure he needed no help from any so he did not ask much or display his anxiety and doubt to the Officer. But a single thought of the Major was enough to dispel all confidence and fill him with a loathing fear.
So that morning, he dressed and shaved with particular care. He woke Ram up and they made their way to the mess to have breakfast as instructed. It was a large hall with a counter at one end for cooking. The benches were filled with the sepoys at one corner and the Officers on the other. The few Englishmen had a separate mess.
Chandru scarcely ate for he was full of nervous anticipation. At seven, Ashok came to fetch him to go and see the Major. The thudding of the brown boots on the floors of the silent corridor was the only sound as they made their way to a cabin.
The Officer stepped forward and knocked twice on the door and was admitted by the low cold voice of the Major. They entered as Ashok announced, “Cadet Chandra Kumar” and left the room.
The Major had been having coffee and writing something, obviously for he had a pen in his hand and white sheets on the side of his desk. He breathed in slowly in a meditated manner and began to carry on with his work and speak at the same time.
“Good morning, Chandru” he said quietly writing away on his papers. He looked even more imposing than ever with his neat and broad moustache and combed back hair and penetrating, cold gaze.
It took a few seconds for Chandru to find the voice to answer and it was still a little shaky despite his utmost efforts as he returned the greetings.
Without looking, he waved Chandru into the wooden chair opposite of his desk.
“So” he said, suddenly looking up, with a mischevious twinkle in his eyes and jesting smile, “I am sure we’ve met yesterday. How do you find me? Are you pleased with the idea of serving under me?” he asked.
This fashion of speaking, his inexplicable nature baffled Chandru further but he lost a little of his fear of the man and replied with a terse yes, still looking down on the floor and staring at the wall and displays alternatively.
“I find your father, Raj Kumar had been a member of this regiment for 17 years” he asked and looked at Chandru who seemed at a loss to know how to converse with this strange man. And, without waiting for a reply, he went on. “I am pleased you have chosen to join us in the footsteps of your father. You are a fine dandy young man, if you discard my comments of you earlier” he said with a slight chuckle and spoke in a very friendly fashion.
“My deep condolences for your loss, I am sure. Has your father told you much of us and our regiment. I hear the Colonel and him were good friends. He must have given you lots of accounts of his time here, has he not?” he said, smiling.
The Major seemed to wait a while before saying, “do you know how he died, my boy?”
“He was shot with sixteen others during the Delhi camp” Chandru replied slowly.
“Ah....” ejaculated the Major. Then he looked up and held Chandru’s gaze and said, “He conspired with sixteen other soldiers and staged an ambush, killed unarmed Englishmen and was shot down.”
Chandru gasped and shifted nervously in his seat.
“I bear no ill will to you but you may well understand my inspection of you yesterday” he said gently.
Chandru felt his throat clog up and choke and he stared down fixedly on the ground, as his eyes grew moist.
“Chandru, if you shall excuse me calling you so informally. I have taken a great interest in you, men like are the ones this country needs now. You, being a well-educated fellow must know the prosaic violence and idiocy of useless adamancy and I am sure you shall know better than your father. I trust you greatly. I am sure you do not like me much at present but I had reasons to like your father which I choose not to reveal now and I genuinely wish you do not come to such an end” his voice trailed off at the end and he looked away.
“You may go” he said, still looking away as Chandru quietly left the room, overcome with a wave of emotions and a new regard for the Major.