Thursday, May 17, 2012

Flashman in the Great Game - Chapter 5

Chapter 5 is a bit of a departure for Harry as a character. I don’t think he’s ever spent this long in disguise without someone knowing who he really is. He’s masqueraded as all sorts over the years and used various aliases, but I can’t count things like Beauchamp Comber in Flash for Freedom and Flashman and the Redskins, because that’s essentially Harry Flashman with another name. Makarram Khan is an alias for sure, but Harry is pretending to be an Afghani tribesman, not an Englishman with a different name.  

While Harry can look and speak like am Afghani tribesman, he can’t simply drop the training of years or prevent himself from reacting to hearing English. He is accepted as a recruit, but even the recruiters notice little things like the way he stands and reacts and know that he’s got some military experience. He almost outs himself when he passes a game of cricket and on reflex picks up the ball and almost throws it back as he was taught to at Rugby before making it look unnatural, and even then one of the officers remarks on his ability.

Before long he comes to the notice of one of the colonels, who offers him a position as major domo in his house. Harry knows that sooner or later he’s going to slip up in the barracks and things are getting hot there as well, with rumours about the cartridges the men use being greased with either beef fat (against the Hindu religion) or pig fat (the Muslims), most of the men are either Hindu or Muslim. Harry can’t be sure of this, but he has suspicions that this is part of the Russian’s plans. It’s got Ignatieff written all over it.

He doesn’t actually mind being Duff Mason’s major domo, in fact he really enjoys it. Partly because he’s around his equals (British officers) most of the time, partly because he can relax a little his slip ups won’t be so noticeable, and largely because he has a position of authority and complete impunity to smack the servants around.  That’s what he enjoys. One of the mem sahibs even tells him that her father used to have the servants flogged every other day as a matter of course, just to make sure that they were on their toes. They wonder why the Indians rebelled too. Harry imagines that he would have enjoyed being the butler in a large household, or a gentlemen’s gentleman. He may have felt it rather romantic at the time, but I can’t imagine him being satisfied if that were his lot in life, he’s just not suited to it. He probably would have found himself in the wrong bed at some stage and been dismissed in any case.

Eventually push comes to shove and the new cartridges arrive. Every man in the squad, bar 5, one of which is Harry as Makarram Khan refuse them on religious grounds. Flashman said it’s insane, because the cartridges weren’t even greased they were waxed, and it’s not even really necessary to bit them open, the recommended method is to rip them open with the fingers. The entire regiment, aside from the 5 that did as they were ordered, is found guilty of insubordination and sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour. That may have still not put the match to the powder keg if the British commanding officer hadn’t insisted on a punishment parade, which heaped insult on injury, and the Indian soldiers were a proud people. There’s also talk of a name; Pandy, one of the first Indian soldiers to mutiny, he was hung for his actions and his name would become synonymous with the mutineers, who were known as ‘pandies’.

There’s a lot of talk about the officers families, their wives and children, and even if you haven’t read the book before you know what’s coming and that it won’t be pleasant. I’m actually almost reluctant to read the next chapter, because it is gruesome.  

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