The History of India
From the Portuguese to Prince Albert
For the thousand years before the 1600s, India was very much like Scotland, Spain, and most other European countries. Men dressed in linen shirts and wool trousers. Women wore brightly colored dresses and skirts. They wore leather shoes and were especially proud of their much-beloved wide, polished belts whose big, bright, brass buckles could, when gleaming in the sunshine, be seen for miles. Their quaint villages were much the same in appearance and activity as most small towns in Europe.
The earliest Indians spoke a Very Old Armenian dialect that had remote similarities in word and structure to the Old Germanic languages that evolved into our own. There are very subtle similarities, more recognizable to the professional linguist than to all but the most accomplished amateur, that continue to be noticed.
The only technical advancement the Indian people lacked was gunpowder. By some curious freak of inventiveness, they had tried to copy guns that they’d heard about from traders, but inexplicably set the barrels at right angles to the stock, and left them open at both ends. The question, “What do we do with these?” was answered by using them for smoking local tobacco substitutes.
The lack of gunpowder left them easy prey for Portuguese traders. They were at first fooled into keeping their distance by the smoking muskets, and nearly sailed on to what would become Burma. After finding the Indian “guns” had plenty of smoke, but could not fire, which, translated from the Portuguese, is the origin of that aphorism, Lisbon traders established large “call-centers”, where they “called” on local people to exchange huge quantities of hemp for tiny bottles of perfume. Hemp gathering, processing, and storage became the largest segment of the Indian economy, and hemp-related operations dotted the countryside.
Soon, the supply of hemp overwhelmed the need. “What do they do with all this hemp?” the perceptive, and, by then well perfumed, Indian workers often asked each other. “Drive themselves into poverty.” was the answer that a few Portuguese were finally able to understand. Mountains of hemp filled warehouses at “call-centers” all over India. So little money was made in such exchanges that gradually missionary work gained influence while huge hanks of hemp just sat there. Missionaries set such good examples of pious rectitude that those in the southern part of the country largely converted to Catholicism. Most of the northern inhabitants stayed with their ancestral faith, a religion whose source will be discussed.
Decades after the collapse of the Portuguese hemp market, a powerful English fleet arrived. Huge British warships, each manned with five to ten thousand jolly tars, carried as many as twelve to fifteen banks of guns. A hundred massive, long-range cannons bristled out from the top decks, two hundred feet above the sea. They were powerful enough to fire red-hot cannonballs twenty-five to thirty miles, so far over the horizon that their source was invisible. The Portuguese, unnerved when most of their ships and many “call-centers” mysteriously burst into flames, were quickly overpowered.
English clergymen accompanied the sailors and marines. They attempted to impose a debased form of Episcopalianism on much of the country, confusing the former Catholics in the South while completely bewildering the peoples of Northern India. Much of that vast land’s earlier faith was originally developed by an extreme and early schismatic, named “Pastor Mack”, who lived centuries before John Wesley, the man widely believed to have been the founder of the Methodist faith. Wesley, as recently discovered histories suggest, quickly realized the theological possibilities of Pastor Mack’s writing, and turned the best of his teachings into the extraordinarily respectable denomination that would evolve into modern Methodism.
To be sure, Wesley did have to severely edit some of Pastor Mack’s beliefs to turn them into something more plausible than Mack’s notion that the true temple of the true religion was a dome to be built at Stonehenge out of hollow copper blocks filled with vermiculite. He had, further, developed various ceremonies to celebrate the celestial happenings he believed would unfold on the schedule he’d imagined to be in effect. Pastor Mack thought that time and space would meet as one, which event would culminate in the peoples of the Northern Hemisphere being assembled magically on Salisbury Plain beneath the giant dome of hollow copper blocks at a date soon to be revealed.
At that point, Pastor Mack was supposed to be elevated to a position of such power that the ancient Catholic Doctrine of The Trinity was to be expanded by one, which new Personification of Divinity would be no other than, of course, Pastor Mack. Peace and prosperity would be lavished on humanity to such degree that “even the poorest Christian would have a coach and four”. This, of course, required each country to expand its geographical boundaries to provide for so many new roads. On top of that, increased pasturage for the hundreds of millions of horses, four of which for each coach, that would appear required more land than many countries had, so Pastor Mack’s conclusion that the very size of the earth would be inflated, much like a huge balloon, did infuse a certain amount of consistency into his remarkable cosmology.
Elaborate, and endless, calculations showed how many horses and carriages, stables, barns, pastures, would be necessary. Since the number of coachmen would also increase, and since many would become Christians in order to get their own horses, carriages, and coachmen, a planet somewhat larger than Jupiter was quickly envisioned. Needless to say, John Wesley allowed many of Pastor Mack’s writings to languish in the obscurity they so richly deserved.
After trying, and failing, to work effectively with the Catholic Portuguese, who refused, again and again, to lobby for replacing the Holy Father in Rome with whomever happened to be sitting upon the British throne, the English were soon driven to driving the remaining Iberians out of India by the least expensive means possible, which began by asking repeatedly, “Really, we just can’t understand why our Queen can’t be Pope. Isn’t she good enough?”
Too polite to simply say “No.”, the Portuguese explained all about Jesus, and the all-male make-up of the apostles He chose. When the holy fathers explained that “By the laying on of hands, Jesus passed on His authority to the Apostles. That laying on of hands continued in and through the Roman Catholic Church, and, of course, there is no record of any on them laying their hands on anyone immediately connected to the current occupant of the British throne.”
British negotiators found their eyes glazing over as the Portuguese arguments for the historical validity of their faith simply went in one ear and out the other. They especially did not enjoy pointed reminders of the teachings about “He gave Catholic priests the power to forgive sins, too.”
“How can we reason with people like you?”, they asked. “That religion of yours has destroyed your ability to think.”
“It was the religion of England for more than a thousand years.”one of the good friars replied. “Surely, you are not descended from a long line of people incapable of thinking?”
“Hmmph!” was the only reply that any of the English could think of making, and they learned to make that reply so pompously that it quickly replaced rational analysis of theological considerations. “We simply can’t deal with people like that.” they decided as they began to simply tell the Portuguese at every opportunity, “Really, you would be ever so much more comfortable somewhere else.” while snickering about the quality and style of their clothing.
The holy friars shook their heads sadly and went on with the important work of saving souls. Finally, the English just rounded up the last Portuguese traders, the few remaining hemp processors, all the Roman Catholic clergy, put them on one of their giant ships, and sent them to the Philippine Islands. From that, both the present Catholicism and advanced rope-making skills of that devoted archipelago originated.
With the tearful wailing of their flocks echoing in their ears, the holy Catholic clergy disappeared beyond the sea. A new religion, known locally as “Debased Episcopalianism” was imposed in the formerly Catholic areas. The rapidly dimming memories of Pastor Mack’s theological endeavors provided many of the religious beliefs for the rest of the country. Debased Episcopalianism expanded with the growth of British-held territory. Sadly, that already government-controlled faith was to be so manipulated and corrupted by the most influential man in the history of India, Lt. Montgomery “Monty” Wiggins that, soon, Debased Episcopalianism could, only with the greatest difficulty, be called a “religion”.
That bright, personable Sandhurst graduate was the youngest son of a Scottish Lord who’d nearly squandered the family’s vast and ancient fortune by building a chain of remarkably underutilized ventriloquism schools throughout the lowlands of Scotland, the highly subsidized operation of which by Lord Wiggins brought his family near bankruptcy. What little credibility and modest financial return the operation could have had was considerably diminished when Lord Wiggins insisted that his schools, mostly rented attic rooms in unfashionable residential areas, be called the “Wiggin’s Worldwide University of Ventriloquism”.
Realizing that the future fortune of his large, and, by now, nearly impoverished family was up to him, Young “Monty” purchased, if trading in several suits of old hunting togs, a spavined roan mare, and a few decrepit foxhounds to a morphine-addicted commissary sergeant can be deemed a “purchase”, a commission in that most fearsome of Scottish Regiments, The Queen’s Own Torpedoes.
It must be admitted that “Monty” did sense a family-saving financial opportunity when he was told, on reporting to duty, “We have to give these poor people something to believe in.”
“They can’t read English, of course.” Col. Stout, the highly decorated Torpedo Commander, further explained to “Monty”.
“Still, they do need some sort of sacred book. Something comforting to carry about. Holy writing, and all that. Nice costumes for the clergy. You’ll know what to do.” were the vague instructions of his commanding officer.
“Holy writings? Where am I going to find ‘holy writings’ in this place?” were only a few of the questions that young Lt. Wiggins asked himself. The closest thing to “scripture” he could discover were the countless reams of supporting documents attached to the officially recorded minutes of endless British East India Company board meetings. Soon, those reports, and supporting documents, were being read aloud each week to largely mystified Indians surprised to find themselves herded by the millions into tens of thousands of quaint-looking chapels, converted from the bark-covered Quonset huts previously used by the Portuguese for hemp storage, for hour-long ceremonies each Monday for hundreds of years.
There, sitting on pews (actually, endless hanks of unsold hemp), they listened to texts that included incomprehensible, nearly hour-long passages beginning with something like, “In the Year of Our Lord 49 . . . , (Young “Monty” gave the “Holy Readings”, and a great many other things, an aura of great age by the simple expedient of leaving off the first, second, or third digit of whatever year it actually was, leaving the calculation of Indian chronologies in a state of confusion that may never be cleared up.) seven thousand bales of cotton, forty thousand yards of #2 rope, four hundred boxes of Ceylon tea, a thousand firkins of butter, seven hundred young bullocks, seventy two casks of rum, . .” and went on for nearly an hour.
In precisely fifty minutes, each sermon concluded with something like, “nine thousand, seven hundred gross of musket balls, six hogsheads of sherry, and ‘God bless you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay’.” the invariable conclusion of each weekly “sermon”.
The Indian people came to enjoy listening to the “long lists”, as they were eventually discovered to be. Brief insertions of London show tunes were much appreciated by congregations that could afford a fife and/or small drum, many of which were purloined from nearby military units, and whose absence was to later have regrettable consequences.
Moving what had been a Sunday “day of rest” to Monday was young “Monty’s” most popular idea. Until then, reporting to the office or parade ground early on Monday morning had been a burdensome chore. Thanks to young “Monty”, the British in India could sleep until mid-afternoon on Monday, before briefly attending what they persisted in calling a “church”. For the English, “attendance” quickly came to mean strolling by one of young “Monty’s” bark Quonset huts at a leisurely pace and waving toward the many, many natives who might, or might not, be inside.
“Thank God for ‘Monty!'” became the most common, and, heartfelt words every Englishman uttered every Monday morning that he didn’t have rise for work. “You mark my words. That young man is going places!” summed up the universal approbation of that sterling young officer.
Monday Services were made especially memorable by a clergy whose robes and hats differed from the very latest London ecclesiastical fashions only in that they were not made of cloth but of highly polished steel. For regular services, the robes were approximately as thick as the top of a sardine tin. For battle, they were made of steel so thick as to be actually bullet-proof.
These cone-shaped suits of light-weight “tropical armor” were custom-tailored, peened, pleated, polished, padded, and pop-riveted together by legions of the recently unemployed hemp processors who magically appeared at the first sign of gainful employment. Those skilled craftsmen quickly became the new religion’s biggest supporters. “These will rust away and have to be replaced every year.” they would tell each other, snickering wildly, while hoping that even more lucrative lunacy would arrive upon their shores from a Europe that seemed to be fairly bursting with it.
The clergymen loved their conical steel robes. “We can stand up for hours, even on parade! ” And, it was true. A clever arrangement of straps allowed the clergy to suspend a small, but quite comfortable, chair inside the frusto-conical robe, out of which their heads poked, like grapes resting on short-stemmed, inverted funnels. This provided them with what appeared to be the miraculous ability to stand, without appearing to tire, for hours, an entire day if necessary, even on the hottest parade ground. The miraculous effect of his religious breakthrough on the apparent stamina of the human body was further magnified when Lt. Wiggins ordered that each clerical “robe” be provided with a small chamber pot.
When the clergy had to move quickly, as when inspiring troops on the battlefield, a pair of pedal wheels replaced the suspended chair. On attack, the Debased Episcopalian Clergyman was the first to move toward the enemy, first in a slow and stately manner, then, as he picked up speed, he fairly flew toward the opposing lines. Naturally, enemy snipers found the shining costume a great target. English troops very much appreciated the diversion of fire that minimized their own casualties. The musical “pings” and “gongs” of harmless hits on the shining armor made the battlefield a more cheerful, and far safer, place than ever before.
“Up and at ’em lads! Got to keep up with the padre!” the Sergeants-Major would command before the Rolling Padres got too far away. Long lines of the Queen’s Own Torpedoes with bayonets firmly fixed, would follow the freewheeling Debased Episcopalian clergy into battle at a remarkably rapid rate.
Field commanders quickly discovered that, when attacking an enemy at the bottom of a steep slope, (for obvious reasons, those were the forces they could attack most effectively, the Rolling Padres being unable to move uphill with the remarkable speed that characterized the rapidity of their downhill movements) their forces were near-irresistible as their infantry built up such unstoppable momentum keeping up with their nearly bullet-proof Rolling Padres that they invariably swept over enemy entrenchments, often before even one well-aimed volley could be discharged at them. After a few, wild shots were let off, mostly at angles that made their attackers safer than their own distant villages, the frightened enemy, so fearful of the shining, clanging, helmeted “Conemen”, as they called the Debased Episcopalian clergy, preferred to drop their own weapons and race from the field.
The frightful aspect of the Rolling Padres was magnified when it was discovered that beating upon their conical robes from within made a frightful, reverberating, ear-splitting racket that caused actual panic among the enemy. Plunging, wall-eyed horses often threw their riders before galloping wildly from the battlefield. Stampeding elephants lurched madly in utterly unpredictable directions, but always away from the loudly clanging Rolling Padres, and did more damage to their own troops than to the English forces. Following the shining, cone-shaped, and nearly bullet-proof “Rolling Padres” into battle quickly established a combat record for the Torpedoes that was the envy of the Empire.
Weekly variations of “The Queen’s Own Torpedoes, Once Again, Into the Breech!”, became such a frequent headline in English newspapers that young men enlisted in droves to serve amongst such august heroes. Young boys in their games fought for the opportunity to play the role of young “Monty” Wiggins, whom a whole generation of young Englishmen idolized. Not surprisingly, applications to be ordained in the Debased Episcopalians, previously a despised segment of that most pretentious of denominations, increased remarkably. The Debased Episcopalians’ only seminary, then in the basement of a Liverpool row house, was expanded to surroundings more conducive to the reflective thought and study required by such a remarkable theology. By an amazing coincidence, that move involved leasing a large number of garret properties from Lord Wiggins’ Worldwide University of Ventriloquism. “Thank God for ‘Monty'”, his family echoed so much of India, and England, in repeating each time the growing bits of rental income rolled in.
It soon became established custom that British personnel would report to work sometime on Tuesday, and that their work-week would conclude by Thursday teatime or Friday noon, depending on whether or not armed combat was taking place. India soon became the most popular post in the Empire, thanks largely to the shortened workweek provided when “Our ‘Monty’, bright lad that he is, simply moved the day of rest up one.”
Even moving at the new, leisurely pace brought on by Monty’s reduced work week, the British finalized consolidation of their hold on India by the mid-1840s. By an extraordinarily bizarre coincidence, just as the sub-continent was safe enough to consider a Royal visit, Prince Albert quite literally dropped in.
He’d accidentally made the long journey from London to Delhi in record time in a gas balloon he was “trying out” at Kew Gardens. Nervous about his very critical royal passenger, the balloon’s builder, a fidgety Frenchman named Henri Gaseaux, tried to make His Highness comfortable, even while the impeccably dressed Prince was pointing out the unfortunate choices Henri had made in selecting the colors, patterns, and fabrics of his clothing.
While arranging pillows to put Prince Albert at ease, and possiby bring an end to what Henri finally understood was an unending insult of his clothing, the already nervous balloonist was so jittery that he tripped and fell completely out of the basket, unfortunately impaling himself on an espaliered pear tree in the gardens a hundred yards below. That unhappily freakish accident, illustrated worldwide in newspapers and magazines with far more gruesome drawings of Henri, the tree, and the protruding espalier than necessary, provided a rare gift to the headline writers of many nations. Henri’s mystifying last words from the pear tree, which translated, seemed to be “And what, Your Majesty, is so wrong with brown corduroy?” provided fodder for countless column inches as a thousand pundits tried to decipher the meaning of that cryptic, final message.
With the sudden reduction in weight, the balloon shot skyward, breaking its moorings, much to the surprise of Prince Albert, and the Queen, who was watching from her carriage. “Be careful, my love!” she cried. “I shall, my darling Queen!” he called back, as the prevailing westerlies into which he’d unexpectedly shot, whisked him toward Europe.
After crossing the Alps, and seeing Europe disappear behind him, to be followed by Turkey and Iran, he surmised that some “divine power” (he knew nothing of the jet stream) was bearing him toward his wife’s vast Indian possessions. He knew he was right when he saw the huge British ships patrolling the Indian coast, and paid a bit more attention to the land beneath, toward which inevitable gas leakage was slowly bringing him as he was blown, due East, across the middle of the country.
He was fascinated by what he saw. “A little like visiting the Cotswold’s, with all the little cottages and villages and whatnot.” he said to himself as he used Henri’s telescope to observe the country. In the days after landing, fortunately near the headquarters of his wife’s Own Torpedoes, he became appalled on discovering that even though India looked very much like England from the air, on the ground it was obvious that the Indian men wore no neckties.
“There’s not even a decent-looking ascot in the place.” he was heard to say with some asperity, before continuing his observations with obvious disappointment, “Really, no cravats at all. Not one. What is the point of all this? What good have we really done?”
Prince Albert’s deep concern was properly interpreted as a command. Colonel Stout quickly ordered into being a project to dragoon Indian men into their “churches”, which, during the week were quickly renamed “fashion centers”. There, the most stubborn of them were hog-tied while various forms of neckwear were forcibly knotted around their necks if the brief, and usually useless, lessons in “proper knotting” were not effective. Needless to say, the ties were ripped off and discarded at the first opportunity. The “tie campaign” met with utterly unexpected resistance. Worse, the Indians scorned any substitutes.
Many of them flat-out refused to even paint a tie on their chest or shirt, after they’d made their reluctance to wear a real necktie into a battle royale. The mere mention of “tattooing different colored neckties on them”, which, according to Col. Stout, “would solve the problem, once and for all” was enough to provoke actual rioting.
One Indian, a Mr. Nicholas “Big Nick” Gandhi, was especially outraged. “These neckties look ridiculous!” he bellowed at Col. Stout in front of the entire regiment as a thousand Indians, forcibly pressed into displaying their new neckwear, were marched in front of the reviewing stand upon which Prince Albert, himself, was made completely aghast after finally comprehending that “Big Nick”, the screaming man in front of him, had dressed himself in nothing but a giant diaper. “If you think my giant diaper looks ridiculous, you surely see how much more ridiculous a necktie is.”, “Big Nick” Ghandi screamed at the top of his outraged lungs. Prince Albert remained calm as “Big Nick” ranted, “Your precious necktie is nothing more than a tiny diaper wrapped ’round the neck!”
Prince Albert was hurried away, sputtering in indignation. The Officer Corps was embarrassed. “That’s what you get when you let people go to law school. Someone dressing up in a giant diaper and embarrassing the regiment.” they complained in the Club that night. But, many Indians agreed with “Big Nick” Gandhi. For the first time since the English came and made them listen to the gleaming, clanking Debased Episcopalian clergy deliver endless sermons reciting lists of commodities so arcane that few knew what they were, millions of Indians declared their “Haberdashery Independence” in what came to be known as the brief “Diaper Mutiny” of 1848.
The Prince, himself, was in danger. Lt. Wiggins had a hurried conversation with Col. Stout. “Sir, there’s dirty work afoot. They’re plotting to kidnap Prince Albert, burn all of his neckties, dress him in a giant diaper, and hold him for ransom! We’ve got to get him out of here!”
“Good Lord, Wiggins, our careers will be ruined!” At sunrise, a surprised Prince Albert found himself back in his balloon, saluted by the Regiment, and sent back into the atmosphere to the strains of “God Save the Queen” on a balloon freshly re-gassed with canisters that the Dental Corps had on hand as the result of a now-happy mistake that had caused nitrous oxide to be replaced with helium. Rather than being blown to the West, toward England, where he wanted to go, he was blown straight East. That was a surprise to all, simply because, until that intrepid explorer rose into the air, no one knew that the jet stream existed, let alone knew which way it blew. In England, the jet stream is still known in meteorological circles as Prince Albert’s Breeze, or P.A.B.
Prince Albert did make a quick descent in Hong Kong to have some suits made at a very good price before having the balloon re-gassed, this time with a foul-smelling air that bubbled up from the sea floor outside the city. He was pleased with his purchases. “I like those Chinese tailors! They don’t argue with me when I want something.” he said to himself several times as he admired his new, silk kilts with heretofore unknown triangular patterns and hues that referenced no known Clan in all of Scotland. After packing away his new clothing, he rose again into the skies. He ballooned clear across the Pacific, passing low over the Hawaiian Islands just as Congregationalist missionaries were confiscating their first pineapple fields. They pointed out the ballooning, bearded white man sailing above as “an obvious appearance of an approving God”, a conclusion made more tenable by his glowing silks.
Prince Albert came to earth for the last time near San Francisco shortly after the gold rush had begun. Caught up in the excitement of it all, he miraculously picked up a twenty pound gold nugget in a nearby stream. While he was distracted, a band of renegade Indians stole his balloon.
“Indians, you say?” he said to the sheriff when told that a band of them had been seen dragging his balloon up a remote valley. “They followed me here. Blasted Indians have been after me ever since I made ’em wear neckties. No taste at all. Absolutely, none.”, he informed the bewildered officer. From that time on, Prince Albert maintained very exaggerated views of the aeronautical skills of the Indian people, but one that future events would soon show to be quite reasonable, if not prophetic.
A somewhat irritated British citizen working in a tattered tent, in sign in front of which proclaimed the oft-patched piece of canvas to be the “British Embassy”, recorded Prince Albert’s ruminations on that, and several other subjects. The young man’s diplomatic career had begun several months previously. He’d jumped ship to get to the gold fields, made a small strike, and paid enough money to a passing British Naval Officer of middle rank to obtain a Provisional Appointment as Queen’s Envoy to California, all within the space of six months.
The meteoric speed of his rise from sailor to deserter to Queen’s Envoy, a hitherto non-existent title obtained illegally, had set a record for promotion in the British Diplomatic Service, which, frankly, was no more aware of the man than the title. Notwithstanding, Benjamin Disraeli had become discontented with the rank of mere “envoy” and now called himself “The British Ambassador in temporary quarters”. The imaginary ambassador wrote down what he thought to be an imaginary report from an imaginary Prince Albert. He thought the irate man pontificating endlessly in front of him was just a pretender like himself, but with a vastly better imagination.
It was the only mistake that Benjamin Disraeli was to make in this, his first of many dealings with the Royal Family. But, “Dizzy”, as Prince Albert dubbed him, obediently wrote down, for about the hundredth time, a long list of “all the wretched things that happen to people who just want to see other people looking a bit better, dash it all. “
By that time, Benjamin Disraeli had compared the visage on a can of pipe tobacco to that of the chronic complainer who insisted that he was the husband of Queen Victoria, and concluded, “Good Heavens! This man actually is Prince Albert!”
Alone, except for Benjamin Disraeli, and balloonless in a strange country, Prince Albert had filed papers on, and hired several miners to work his claim near Sacramento. In a week, he found over a thousand pounds of gold that he packed in the trunk that held his Hong Kong suits. “First money I’ve ever made in my whole life.”, he said, wonderingly. “Great country, what, Dizzy?”
From the gold fields, Prince Albert took a stagecoach across North America, accompanied by Benjamin Disraeli, who heard him repeat wistfully every time the coach thundered past a large herd of buffalo, and, every time a large herd of buffalo thundered past the coach, “Wish I’d got one of my guns with me.”
He purposely avoided Canada. “Not going there, Dizzy. Ghastly place, Canada. Cold. Very cold.” was all he said, and, all he knew, about the largest country, except for maybe Australia, India, China, or the big chunks of Africa, that made up so much of his wife’s vast domains. For the last leg of the journey, he, his Hong Kong suits, his half ton of gold, and “Dizzy” took a clipper ship, on which he won a huge amount of money playing whist for very high stakes with wealthy New Yorkers who spectacularly underestimated both his identity and his intellectual abilities after evaluating his never-ending comments about the shortcomings of whatever neckwear they happened to have on. “You don’t like my tie? What about those kilts you’re wearing?”, one New Yorker asked, but was silenced by the Prince’s reply, “You just can’t get silk kilts with triangles in complimentary colors unless you have a tailor who’ll do things up right. Had to balloon clear to Hong Kong to get these.”
At the conclusion of the last game before disembarking, one of the New Yorkers told Prince Albert what a pleasure it had been to play cards with him. The Prince’s reply was less than gracious. “If things had turned out differently, I’d still own New York, and I wouldn’t have to play cards to get money from people who wear ties like yours. I’d just have someone send ’round a few good men with bayonets.”
Benjamin Disraeli was surprised to find he’d lost quite a bit of money to Prince Albert, as well. Losing didn’t bother him a bit. When the two disembarked, Prince Albert had several new suits, a thousand pounds of gold, and nearly half a million American dollars from his games of whist. Disraeli helped him carry the fortune to Windsor and wangled an invitation to join the Royal Couple for dinner. “Just get a decent tie on, if you would, Dizzy.” a feat accomplished with a bribe, soon turned into a lifetime pension, that Benjamin Disraeli was able to have given Prince Albert’s third valet, which ensured that any neckwear, eventually, any clothing at all, discarded by the Prince would immediately be sent straight around to the man who was, by then “Minister Disraeli” and whose neckties never again disappointed his Royal sponsor. “Not a bad tie, Dizzy, not bad at all.” was ever the compliment as Prince Albert admired that which he had forgotten he once owned. As time went on, “Dizzy” rarely spent an entire day out of their sight, nor did he ever again wear a tie that fell short of the Prince’s high standards.
“Albie, tell me again about how men ‘make’ money. I’m so very, very impressed with what you’ve done.”
“Quite easy, really. Just balloon to California, file a claim, and hire some stout lads who know a bit about digging, and whatnot. It’s as easy as picking up pebbles.” were the last words “Dizzy” heard as he bowed his way out of the room on that first evening back home, well on his way to a magnificently successful career.
A land aloft.
Prince Albert hadn’t even drifted out of sight, in fact, people were still waving to him, when the East India Company cancelled the necktie campaign inspired by the Prince’s disparaging comments about the “pitiful state of the local costume”. Hundreds of thousands of barely mollified Indians were immediately released from the “fashion centers”.
“Sorry ’bout all this trouble, men. But, the bad man who had this done to you is gone, thank the Great Mother!” the released, and relieved, Indians were told. Though the bad feelings slowly dissipated, real intra-country damage had been done to the quickly-formed Windsor Knot faction by the emerging Four-In-Hand Boys. The bad feelings, once aroused, would never completely disappear.
By then, many men had seen the advantages of, and had grown attached to, the giant diapers that “Big Nick” Gandhi had invented. Serious diaper enthusiasts focused most of their energy on designing even larger, better, multi-purpose diapers. Many had secret pockets. Some had layerings of waterproof material. Other diapers were designed that could be turned into sleeping bags, tablecloths, fishnets, and tents when not actually being worn.
Giant diapers rose in popularity when that most brilliant of Indians, Ramjet Singh, in a burst of inspiration, turned his own giant diaper into a parasail. He would rise into the air and sail along, hundreds of feet in the air, when towed behind one of the trains that the British, for reasons unknown, even to themselves, were building all over the country. “Have to do something, what Monty? Might as well have them build a few railroads, even though there’s really nowhere to go.” Col Stout would say to his bustling adjutant every hour or so. Regardless of the purposelessness of laying track across the uncharted wilderness of the sub-continent, endless miles of workers would stop what they were doing and stare with admiration, if not actual adoration, as Ramjet Singh gracefully flew by. Millions began the difficult work of turning their own giant diapers into parasails, as well.
India paid a great price in life and suffering. Ramjet, it appeared, was far from being the aeronautical genius he at first thought he was. He had, only by the most fortunate of accidents, decided to hem a thin rope around the edges of his giant diaper before launching himself into space from the fast-moving train. This overlooked reinforcement was the only thing that kept the stressed edges of his giant diaper from unraveling and dropping him unceremoniously from the clouds.
Other would-be Diapermen were no more fortunate than Henri Gaseaux. Many millions died. Millions more were permanently crippled when their diapers came undone and they plunged to the unforgiving earth beneath.
Most of his countrymen, like Ramjet himself, had failed to see the significance of the strong reinforcing rope that he’d sewn in his giant diaper’s hem. “I did it, really, quite by accident.” he testified at several thousand of the coroner’s juries called to investigate a comparative handful of the countless diaper-related deaths along railroads from Ceylon to Nepal.
He was not held responsible because unreinforced; unhemmed diapers had left long trails of crippled, dead, and dying Diapermen along India’s tracks. “Not intentional.” ruled every jury, and Ramjet’s fame grew with each absolution. Soon, of course, everyone understood the importance of Ramjet’s rope-reinforced hem, duplicates of which were soon being sewn around the edges of every giant diaper. Hundreds of millions of Diapermen took to the bright, blue Indian skies, secure in the knowledge that their diapers were “just as good as Ramjet’s.”
Ramjet patented his reinforcing technique, earning for himself the famous Nation of India Patent #2. For many decades, his discovery was the most important invention, as well as being the only other patent, in all of India. Ramjet Singh was the most famous man in the land. Statues portraying Ramjet throughout various phases of his life, beginning with “The Humble Birth of Ramjet”, lined the heavily traveled “path in the dry season, river in the wet” that led to India’s Patent Office. More than one boulder was sculpted into a form reminiscent of Ramjet Singh’s famous profile, which became more familiar than ever after it appeared on the new, and very popular, 10 Rupee notes being printed and circulated by the British East India Company.
“One rupee for each finger.” owners of the new bills proudly explained to admirers, counting aloud off their fingers one by one until, with the sound of obvious triumph in their voice, they called out “Ten!”
“A rupee for each finger.” each person in the audience would admiringly repeat as they slowly absorbed the wonder of it all by repeating the count and wondering how they, too, could get themselves a 10 Rupee note or, maybe, two.
“Look, that is the statue showing Ramjet sewing the reinforcing rope into the hem of his giant diaper.” was the kind of oft-heard comment from wide-eyed crowds walking sideways, in order to stare more uninterruptedly at “The Hundred Statues Showing The Stages of Ramjet Singh’s Life”, along what was hoped would soon become either a road or a canal, lined with statuary depicting similarly brilliant heroes inspiring all who would approach the Patent Office. When it was finally agreed that the royalties earned by Ramjet’s Patent of India #2 would go to families that suffered diaper-related deaths, many families saw to it that their more expendable members were encouraged to “try diapering”. Ramjet Singh, if only Lt. Wiggins had thought to make provision for it, would have been canonized.
“Must be something in this flying diapers business. Monty, see what you can make of it.” Col. Stout instructed as Diapering became more popular. “Monty” soon had hooks for Diapermen bolted every few feet along the top of every railcar. Each train could then pull hundreds of men, rather than just one or two behind the caboose. Quick to see an even greater profit opportunity for the heretofore useless railroads, Lt. Wiggins decreed through his clanking clergy that admission to an eternal “Parasailing Paradise” was guaranteed to those who purchased the tickets that would allow them to parasail clockwise around the entire nation. Further revelations made it clear that each successive circumnavigation would raise the successful circumnavigator even higher in the esteem of the same Great Mother of India whose larger-than-life portrait stared down at them in every “church” during every Monday’s service.
At the same time that Lt. Wiggins gave so many so much to do, he also provided a reason to go on building railroads, the need for which was beginning to cause questions to be asked. “If they think the Great Mother wants them to ride clear around the country, they have to have more railroads.” a statement often made and never contradicted.
Most historians overlook the contribution that “Monty” made to India. Without the fees generated by millions of Diapermen, the great railroad network that would serve the country so well in its future wars with marauding Malays might have never been built. While Indians are loathe to put “Monty” on the same, exalted plane as Ramjet Singh or “Big Nick” Gandhi, the most knowledgeable historians, looking back from a vantage point nearly two hundred years in the future, know that without his ingenious “tickets to paradise” schemes, India’s future success would “have been a close thing”. There is still, of course, hardly any place for the railroads to go, and even fewer reasons to get there, but as India’s most brilliant philosophers agree, “A trip is so much more important than a destination that it is a destination.” That wise saying was quickly emblazoned on nearly every vertical surface owned by the British East India Railway.
Recently muckrakers have alleged that Col. Stout was allowed to assign both himself and “Young Monty” a small royalty on the vast sums that changed hands as a result of these startlingly lucrative theological breakthroughs. While no proof of any money changing hands exists, it is a fact that, about this same period, ventriloquism suddenly and quite inexplicably became the most popular pastime in the Scottish lowlands. It remained so until the remaining campuses of Lord Wiggins’s Worldwide University of Ventriloquism had been purchased for a sizable sum by the British Government and its copyrighted curricula made into a required course of study for the diplomatic service.
But, what was most important about that turbulent period is that a Nation had conquered gravity. A great country had taken to the skies. It was as if America had produced ten millions, nay, fifty millions, of the brothers Wright and flung them gloriously into the air.
To this day, one of the most beautiful sights in all of India, if not the entire world, are the moonlit clouds of glowing, translucent, giant diapers being pulled behind and above the special trains along the Ganges. Their noctilucent loveliness, glowing with a special brightness beneath full moons in the fall, has inspired generations of Indian poets to share their rapture with the world. Often, beneath the white, bright moon that fills their souls with swelling joy, the thousand parasailers pulled by a train will break into the chorus of India’s most popular song:
“Like clouds in the moonlight,
We sail, and we sing.
And remember the genius
Of the great Ramjet Singh.”
Accompanied by the haunting strains of fifty sitars playing alongside in the open, opera cars below, the famous Hundred Virgins of Calcutta sing the famous song, bringing tears to the eyes of those who watch and hear, often weeping with joy, as the singing Diapermen, the sitars, and the harmonious Hundred are pulled past by the giant, silent locomotive, its powerful engines muffled for the occasion.
But, all was not poetry and song. The giant diapers had a dark side. The love of diaper-sailing brought nearly all meaningful work to a standstill. First, remote farms; then whole villages; soon, entire cities fell into disrepair. Millions of unmaintained homes, along with the giant shopping malls that had sprung up around the most popular parasail production areas, were eaten away by India’s huge, ravenous tropical termites.
These foot-long insects, the carbide-hard chitin of whose mandibles chewed through the walls of houses as quickly as chain saws, multiplied with amazing speed once their rapid reproductive rates were unchecked by those of the Exterminator Caste, who, like most men in the Debased Episcopalian areas, had gone “a-diapering”. Indeed, if they had not been found to be edible, when prepared according to recipes Lt. Wiggins modified from those for similar-sized grouse and pheasants in his native Scotland, Giant Termites would have deforested the entire nation after devouring the homes and buildings.
Diapermen also caused serious moral issues to arise. It goes without saying that many were offended by the sight of naked men parasailing overhead. Such critics were right. It was not a pleasant thing to look up and see all that dangling. When confronted with demands for modesty, the reply was universal. “We can either wear our diaper or sail beneath it. We cannot do both.” the Diapermen explained. “We are allowed to have but one diaper.”
“I say, Wiggins!” said a flushed and embarrassed Colonel Stout after complaints from a self-appointed committee of officers’ wives took up the better part of an unpleasant morning, “Can’t you come up with a way to stop all that flapping about?”
The following Monday, a brightly shining, clanking clergy announced that the Mother of India, whose face and form “Young Monty” had, early-on, commissioned to be painted for each church, in larger than life-sized detail, from photos of his middle-aged, maiden aunt, a bird-watching, monocled noblewoman named Lady Gertrude Wiggins, his father’s sister, would have something to say.
This large, imposing woman was fond of wearing clothes upon which large squares formed the most prominent part of the design, features that she was once told were “slimming”. That, and her flashing monocle, became important parts of each painting and caused no end of talk among the theologically inclined as to the importance of “squaring circles”, “circling squares”, and “the eye that sees all”. The shiny buckles on her remarkably sturdy shoes caused much speculation, as well. “Are they little belts around her feet? Or, is she wearing the tanned skins of tiny people with leather belts?” the more imaginative among them wondered, vaguely remembering the polished buckles their own ancestors had also once worn on their own magnificent belts.
At those services, each clergyman took off his gleaming helmet, a sure sign that “something important was up”, and announced to countless thousands of congregations that the being portrayed in the large painting before them, the Great Mother of India, had decreed that all Diapermen should wear truncated trousers when in the air, “like the jockey’s wear, but not as long.”
The following week, millions of Indian Diapermen took to the skies wearing the very first jockey “shorts”, the manufacture of which is still the most important, and in some areas, the only, staple of that country’s economy.
As the number of diaper enthusiasts grew, much of India, outside of the diaper weavers, makers of reinforcing rope, train crews, and those who sewed jockey shorts, came to a virtual standstill. Soon, even the richest people could barely afford to live in grass huts, and even those lacked both doors and windows. Everyone else lived in bulbous, mushroom-shaped tents made by draping their giant diapers over frames of bent bamboo. The fascination with giant diapers took up so much time that people even stopped bathing.
Worse, health declined as many Diapermen stopped eating regular meals. “The lighter we are, the faster and farther we fly!” they had discovered, manifesting one of history’s first epidemics of anorexia, and certainly the only useful one. Mountains of uneaten food moldered in the markets, and unwashed Diapermen brought an odor of something less than sanctity wherever they went.
“Put some sort of recurring baptism in the religion, Wiggins.” Col. Stout suggested. “Clean ’em up a bit.”
“Young Monty” instructed his clergy to order the Diapermen to make monthly pilgrimages to the Ganges, or some other large body of water. There, they were to parasail three times into the water, thereby making it “holy”, and enhancing their status with India’s Holy Mother.
It was about this time that Lt. Montgomery “Monty” Wiggins’s maiden aunt made her only journey to India to see how her favorite nephew, “Young Monty”, was doing. Suddenly able to afford again the luxuries which she’d once taken for granted, now that the family fortunes had been restored by the miraculous sale of Wiggins
s Worldwide University of Ventriloquism, Lady Wiggins hired a train to take her and her bird-loving companions to see and to study the birds of India for a month and a half. She also planned to visit the nephew she had virtually raised since his own mother’s unfortunate disappearance in what, at the time, was thought to be a naturally occurring river in a naturally occurring German cavern, a story far, far too long for this narrative.
Both she and her traveling companions, who included the officers and many members of The Royal Geographic & Ornithological society, were thoroughly mystified when entire trainsful of Indians would bow deeply to Miss Wiggins as they backed away from whatever train she got on, explaining in their pidgin languages that “We are not good enough to share a car with The Great Mother of India.”
Every time Lady Gertrude Wiggins walked down a street, or rode in a carriage, thousands of people, literally everyone in sight, would fall to the ground, pressing their foreheads fervently against the soil while repeating “Great Mother! Great Mother! Great Mother of India!” in languages totally unknown to the bewildered British travelers.
Train crews, too, on becoming aware of her august presence, would disappear into the ever-present underbrush if they weren’t corralled at gunpoint and brought to the window nearest Lady Wiggins’s to be “monocled”. In that comforting ceremony, the monocled Lady Wiggins would have the window thrown up and from it she would stare intently at them while reciting, “Mary had a little lamb” as the engineer, firemen, and train crew fairly shivered with either fear or delight.
“Really, Gertrude. I don’t know why you have such an effect on these people.” her fellow bird-watchers said, over and over again, each time with growing asperity. They were far more than a little jealous that she seemed to have been chosen to be quite literally idolized by nearly a billion people. Their puzzlement increased every time that Diapermen, flying above their train, would see her, and begin pointing to their private areas, while crying out, “Jockey shorts! Jockey shorts! How we love our Jockey shorts!” in similarly unknown languages.
Her many friends, truth to tell, were so jealous of Lady Gertrude Wiggins’s status among the native peoples that they missed seeing the extraordinarily rare appearance of albino kites and hundreds of the nearly extinct alabaster egrets, the sighting of only one of which in that locale would have ensured the undying fame of its observer among birders of the world. These exotics had taken up residence near the railroads and delighted in soaring alongside and among the soaring Diapermen, to whom they softly sang their ancient songs of love.
Things Begin to Run Amok.
Many Indian men were disgusted as the ancient civilization increasingly known only from rapidly dimming memories appeared to rot away before their eyes. Despite great efforts, the ancient customs supplied by Pastor Mack were disappearing. They claimed, for instance, that they missed wassail at Christmas, little knowing what either was. They claimed to have lost forever their happy Yuletide caroling from village to village, knowing not what was meant by “Yule”, “tide”, or “caroling”. The fact that they really didn’t know what they were talking about when referencing nearly every word in their memory seemed only to exacerbate their collective misery.
The primitive theology with which their forefathers had been provided had adopted such bizarre practices that the otherwise respectable denomination came, over time, to make the theological structures invented by “Monty” Wiggins appear to be quite reasonable by comparison. “Old” India was dying.
India’s huge, eight-elephant stagecoaches, except those used by Diapermen to test new, low-speed parasail designs, slowly ceased to thunder across the country. So did the many millions of ox-pulled tea wagons that used to take afternoon refreshments to the old and infirm. Coaches and wagons, if they weren’t eaten by giant termites, rotted away from disuse. Livestock from abandoned farms wandered freely. That practice, the Diapermen claimed, was in obedience to one of the early passages in Pastor Mack’s “Testament G” that supposedly translated: “Can’t you see them? Let them be them.”
No one knew to whom, or what, “you” or “them” referred, but believing that “them” meant farm animals provided a good excuse for the Diapermen to avoid all the very hard work of building fences and pens, rounding up the animals, keeping them enclosed, feeding, and watering them when it was so much more fun just to go a-diapering.
Peterby Nehru moves up from obscurity.
A Mr. Peterby Nehru was particularly disgruntled. He formed and led a political party composed of the angry, bitter Indians-Who-Want-To-Return-To-The-Old-Ways. Despite the fact that few, if any of them, knew what the “old ways” were, the thought that such knowledge was possible encouraged no small amount of support in and of itself.
Since the Diapermen were too busy flitting about and working on diaper improvements to bother casting ballots, Peterby Nehru was easily voted into office by the sizable number of those in the Nehru family, along with a few political supporters who’d been promised, someday, that they might be given their own rice paddies in far-off Bangalore. Peterby Nehru quickly passed laws that made it illegal for men to wear giant diapers. Whips were given to newly sworn-in deputies empowered to compel men to return to their jobs and factories. Then, he made the brief announcement in which all of the new laws were included:
“You are to go back and mow your lawns. You will fix your fences and your barns, and you will put your livestock back into your fields and barns. You will rebuild your termite-eaten houses. Then, you will paint them. Then, you will return to your work. And, you will wear these new jackets, instead of your giant diapers.” As he spoke, he proudly modeled his “outerwear for progressive Indians” which was quickly named, after Mr. Peterby Nehru, himself, the Nehru Jacket.
“We will not wear that! It looks too English!” complained the Giant Diaper wearers.
“It most certainly does not look English!” replied an outraged Col. Stout, speaking for most, if not all, of his fellow countrymen. “It doesn’t look English at all. Look at the fool thing! It has way, way too many buttons, and they go all the way up to the top. That’s not right! Look! There are no lapels! Looks quite ridiculous, really. It’s certainly not English. And, there’s no place for a tie. No place, at all.
“And, that hat! The silly thing can’t even keep the sun out of your eyes. Why, the whole outfit is too ridiculous for words. Thank goodness Prince Albert isn’t here to see this. It would kill the man! “
Soon, though the Diapermen did receive moral support, and some supplies from the English, they fought, essentially alone, in bloody battles with the Nehru Jacketeers. The only thing that saved both sides from mutual destruction was the English army. British forces struggled manfully, on the ground and in the air, for three, even four days a week, to keep the Diapermen and the Nehru Jacketeers from destroying each other.
Even young “Monty” was pulled into some of the heavy action near Madras. There, Diapermen had surrounded a brigade of Nehru Jacketeers between intersecting lines of the D&M (Delhi and Madras) Railroad. Diapermen had taken to the air, and were about to drop ten thousand coconuts upon the unprotected heads of the lead battalion of Nehru Jacketeers, led by Peterby “Pete” Nehru, himself. They’d have been wiped out to a man had Lt. Wiggins not bravely ripped a portrait of the Great Mother from a nearby “church” and carried before him one of the thousands of paintings of his own Aunt Gertrude, whose sacred image even the most profane Diaperman dared not attack. “Monty” escorted the Nehru Jacketeers “at great personal danger”, his V.C. citation read, to an abandoned tunnel, the only place for miles around safe from the deadly hail of well-aimed coconuts. As a result of having been saved, “Pete” Nehru was so grateful that he appointed Lt. Wiggins as “Ambassador Plenimagnapotentatesupremo” to negotiate a settlement with the Diapermen.
“Made you a ‘Plenimagnapotentatesupremo’, did he?” Colonel Stout remarked, chuckling as the treaty was signed. “Won’t let it go to your head, I don’t imagine. ‘Plenimagnapotentatesupremo’ indeed. Only a pompous nit who’d cobble up a jacket like that could come up with such a silly name.”
The few picturesque villages that remained were destroyed as the fortunes of war surged first one way, then the other. Every state between the Himalayas and Ceylon was reduced to utter and abject poverty. The whole country, Nehru Jacketeers in the north, Giant Diaper wearers in the south, never really recovered.
The Sik Join Together the Jacket and the Diaper.
One group prospered mightily amid the near-destruction of the land. The Sik people sought a middle road between those who wore the Giant Diaper and their sworn enemies resplendent in Nehru Jackets.
“Let us be the wearers of both and bring peace to the land!” proclaimed Ram Abul. “Impossible!” his people cried. “No one can wear both the Giant Diaper and the Nehru jacket. It will be too wide in the hips.”
Ram Abul stood up before them. Carefully, he pulled from his pocket (“Look! He has a pocket!” shouted one awe-struck Sik as the others could only stare mutely at Ram, wide-eyed in stunned shock as the life-improving implications of having a “pocket” of their own slowly sank in) and unrolled a bright spool of wide, white Christmas ribbon. He wrapped it around, of all things, his head. He wrapped it higher even as he wrapped it wider.
The people looked at him as blankly as pole-axed steers. “It is as if he is wrapping a very, very long diaper ’round his head!” his people told each other, whispering in awe at the wonder unfolding before their eyes. When Ram finished putting the first turban on the first Sik, he went behind a screen in the center of the stage. He took off his own Giant Diaper, and threw it into the air so that when it fell, it draped over the top of the screen, accidentally obscuring the upper portion of the Great Mother of India’s face.
Many women, and not a few men, truth be told, not knowing what was coming next, screamed in fear. Others fainted. They could not see behind the screen to observe that he had taken off his Giant Diaper only to replace it with an iridescent pair of mid-thigh Jockey shorts and a Nehru jacket.
“You are a God!” shouted thousands of the always fashion-conscious Siks when he re-emerged upon the golden stage from behind the picture, upon which he carefully draped his giant diaper to frame the face of the Holy Mother of India. From the gleaming turban on his head to the glistening jockey shorts, Ram Abul was, by far, the best-dressed man in the history of the Sik.
“No, I am not a God.” announced Ram Abul, putting that rumor to rest with the beginnings of the calculated, practiced humility that would fool not just his own nation, but, someday, much of the rest of the world, as well. “I am merely a poor and humble man who loves peace.”
Then, after holding up his forefinger as if to say, “Impossible as it may be to imagine, there is more to come!” he made the move that firmly cemented his place at the head of the great pantheon of Sik heroes. Ram Abul went again behind the screen upon whose front was painted the Holy Picture. There he pulled a pair of trousers over the jockey shorts. He emerged to the slack-jawed, wide-eyed stares of thousands. “For winter wear!” he announced, strutting up and down the runway as his fellow countrymen fairly shrieked in uncontainable joy. He could not help but point at the wide, shining belt that held them up.
“Belt! Belt!” chorused the people, remembering that ancient article of clothing from the myths and tales of their childhoods.
As the gathered Siks recovered from the new styles that brought them farther into the forefront of fashion than they’d ever dreamed of being, they practiced the complicated wrapping involved in putting “narrow diapers”, or “turbans”, as they came to be called for reasons beyond the scope of this brief history, atop their heads.
In the midst of their first “turban practice”, Ram suddenly appeared to have been seized with an overwhelming religious euphoria. He, stood up, cried out loudly, stopped breathing, and collapsed upon the very stage on which he had, mere hours before, unveiled the most history-making costume change in the history of the sub-continent.
Not for the first time were his followers to be concerned about his health. Instantly, every Sik prayed to the Great Mother, who, even in those distant parts, resembled no one, so much as the Lady Gertrude Wiggins. Slowly, as if responding to their heartfelt prayers, Ram Abul came out of his trance.
“H”, he cried to the mystified crowd. A long minute of silence followed. “H”, he cried again, as the half-turbaned throng began to murmur. Finally, he appeared to gain the necessary strength to launch himself to his feet and finish his impassioned speech: “Today, our new turbans divide us from all other people on earth. Now, since we are a New People, we must separate ourselves from our own forefathers while still respecting them! We will do that by putting a silent ‘H’ after our name. That will separate us from our ancestors, even as it shows our love and admiration for them. We must never speak the ‘H’, but we must always have it there.”
It took only a few minutes for his followers (the Sik, even before being “H’d”, were widely believed to be among the world’s most brilliant people) to understand. “We are Sikh!” his people proudly began to proclaim. “Sikh! Sikh! Sikh!” began the everlasting chant. And, thus has it since been.
Interestingly, the addition of the final, silent “h” was soon adopted by others who wanted to show how superior they, themselves, were to their own ancestors. First among them was the Sha of Iran. After he had “H’d” his name, Sikh missionaries urged him to have himself and his people “turbanified”. His immortal reply was carved in large letters on the face of a huge cliff facing the Sikh people on the side of a trail to their holiest shrine where they could not help but see the utterly unnecessary insult inscribed:
“The Sha’s new ‘H’ is nice and easy.
Sikhs’ turbans look both dumb and sleazy.”
This vicious insult to a great nation did not go unchallenged. Cliffs in the turbanified areas of the Sikh began to be emblazoned with sentiments that were as childishly simple as they were heart-felt: “Turban-wearers are better!” The source of the far more mystifying, “No turban, no peace!” was never discovered. While there is, today, some communication between the people of the Shah and the highly turbanified Sikh, an underlying suspicion colors the dealings between them.
Ram Abul’s new clothing, and the syncretistic theology expressed thereby, did soothe some of the inflamed emotions of India. He knew his religion was not able to anticipate every question, so Ram founded the great Sikh University in suburban Bhutan. There, wise scholars could consider difficult theological questions before they led to schism and the bloodshed that still invariably follows even the slightest religious differences in the region. One ongoing issue concerns whether or not an “s” must to be added to form the plural of Sikh, or if the ‘h’ signifies both singular and plural. “We may never know.” has been the conclusion of at least one hard-working Sikh theologian after a lifetime of diligent study.
Despite the positive effects of the hard-working Sikh (this writer ascribes to the school that teaches the ‘h’ forms both singular and plural), most people of the sub-continent still live in windowless huts that they rebuild when necessary with grass and leaves. Those who cannot afford Diapering have developed a great love of chewing betel nuts. They enjoy seeing how far various forms of facial contractions can propel the scarlet expectorant. Other recreational pastimes center upon smiling broadly at each other to see whose teeth and gums have turned the reddest. It is the honored goal of elderly men in such villages to be asked to act as “The Crimson Referee”, a phrase twisted to fit the present need by Lt. Wiggins after his Aunt Gertrude sent him a copy of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” for Christmas. They are simple joys, but make for happy times, nonetheless.
In many areas, giant termites have become the prey of a well-paid trapping elite. Many are smuggled to the wealthy countries of the West where they are served in exotic restaurants after a long par-boiling in pressure cookers half filled with red wine. Still others profit from the huge insects by capturing and training the giant termites to replace cats and dogs as pets for people with excessive woodlands and wood products at hand. Not a few ambitious Indians have become millionaires in the great land-clearing operations along the Amazon. There, ten thousand of the securely leashed giant termites can chew away a mile or more of dense rainforest for new railways in a day.
India’s mission today: Planning for tomorrow.
Many of India’s most dedicated and selfless intellectuals, and there are many such in that idealistic land, have taken on the thankless, Herculean task of getting the rest of the world to stop demeaning their nation by describing it as a mere “sub-continent”. Their universal desire to expunge the inherent, hurtful insult of “sub-continent” from every language of the world has done more to draw that diverse people together than any turban, portrait of Lady Wiggins, railroad, or giant diaper.
“India is not a sub-continent! The rest of Asia is mere ring of base metal that holds our great diamond of a country in place for all to see and admire!” is a sentiment expressed by every Diapermen, every band of Nehru Jacketeers, and every clan of Sikh. That is the one unifying belief in all of India. It gives those in that diverse land a common purpose summed up in the Great National Poem of India.
The hatred of mere “sub-continental” status has been turned into a short poem. It is recited, nay, often shouted out at the top of their lungs, by each patriotic Indian at the beginning, middle, and end of each day in support of their belief that to demean their nation by calling it a mere “sub-continent” is the gravest of insults.
“To the north, there are mountains. Then deserts, then ice.
To the East, there are giant walls, rodents and lice.
To the South, first there’s water, and then, there’s more ice.
To the West are the Arabs, and they are not nice.”
Despite the clear meaning of the words, scholars and linguists claim that the Poem of India insults neither their Russian, Chinese, nor Arabian neighbors. They insist that it was written by the “Great Mother of India” in order to both symbolize and describe the isolated spiritual state in which the people of India, surrounded by inferior peoples to teach them humility, must live. “It is not so much that our neighbors are ‘inferior’, it is more that we are so much better that we have been chosen to bear the honored burden of humility.”
In support of their great unifying cause to eradicate the hated “S-word” from the vocabulary of the entire globe, many travel widely while repeating whichever line, or lines, of the Great National Poem when traveling through those areas in which it, or they, would be most appropriate.
Other concerned Indians continue to search in vain for their Arcadian past in their own land, jammed into train cars while waiting their turn to diaper from atop the cars. It is, alas, a lost cause. Ever fewer of them speak even the remnants of the purer, Very Old Armenian tongue with their ancestors wrote the sensitive odes which, today, cannot be understood by anyone.
It is true that old writings do exist, but no one remembers how to pronounce the words, let alone knows what any of them mean. Many scholars have taken heart because excavations have discovered secure storage vaults beneath the First Methodist Church of Bristol, possibly that eminent denomination’s oldest structure in continuous use. Trained investigators have found that some of Pastor Mack’s first writings that Wesley, himself, perused, or, locked away in disgust, are still there. Any one of them may hold the Rosetta Stone of their language and religion. Each day scholars from the great Diaperman seminary in the central Punjab leave their modest, rented rooms at the Bristol YMCA, and disappear within 1st Methodist’s subterranean vaults. There, a few low-wattage bulbs hanging from old wires light their way as they they labor mightily to comprehend what the great Pastor Mack meant by such thoroughly perplexing pronouncements as “Time when it is oh when is it time” followed by a symbol that can most reasonably interpreted as a “floating question mark, period, or comma to be inserted where, and as often, as believed to best fit”.
At least one theologically inclined Diaperman has gone home, utterly burned out. “Another one’s gone off ‘is nut.” say the insensitive Bristoleers, when they see another sad “snap” of a first-rate Indian mind. Others, purely disgusted after spending decades, and failing to make sense out of thousands of such passages by punctuating them in every possible way with what appear to be a wide variety of new, and extremely flexible, punctuation marks, give up, as well.
Once the thought that Pastor Mack may have been no more than a drunken lunatic with a penchant for writing down his soused meanderings crosses their mind, their faith cannot help but be shaken. More than one scholar has left the ancient faith of the Diaperman to join the Nehru Jacketeers, or, worse, yet, become a Debased Episcopalian. Not a few have re-connected with the ancient, underground Catholic faith the Portuguese had left with their ancestors. “It’s the most bizarre of the religions,” they report, “but it does hang together.” Worst of all, some have slid into complete apostasy. Those lost and embittered souls tend to gravitate in and around India’s newly appeared, and extraordinarily large”call centers” many of which are constructed around the ruins of the far more ancient bark covered quonset huts where Portuguese traders would “call” people to trade hemp for perfume. There, they throng about the gates and “call” loudly for admission to what they hope is a greater contentedness within.
In the meantime, not one of the many searchers has been able to find even one village to remind them of what India once was. This frustration causes them to complain ever more loudly about how bad things have become. They no longer take the trouble to voice the words of their complaints in any sort of recognizable linguistic pattern, but use; instead, whatever noises are the easiest for those tortured souls to emit. Some howl like wolves, other screech like banshees, even while a third group of the utterly discontented stands alongside airport runways inexplicably hooting as loudly and persistently as owls while flapping their elbows.
Increasingly able to understand each other, and somewhat influenced by the tiny handful of English speakers and peace-loving Sikh, hostility between the Nehru Jacketeers and the Giant Diaper People has waned. Vestigial dislike remains, but it cannot overcome the tiredness and ennui that has overwhelmed both groups. Their old enmities are dimly recalled by the fact that the cars of every train are divided down the center of the aisle. Diapermen must always sit on the most southerly side of the train, Nehru Jacketeers upon the northerly.
When the train changes direction on curving tracks, a compass mounted at the front of each car informs the Seat Conductor which way the train is heading and if the sides have shifted toward the opposing pole. If such a directional change has been made, the Seat Conductor stands, rings a bell, and motions for both Nehru Jacketeers and Diapermen to stand up, bow deeply to each other, and exchange their seats for those on the other side of the aisle so that each group may be always on its proper side of the Pullman. On winding, serpentine routes, as those found along some stretches of the upper Indus, the two sides will solemnly rise, exchange bows, and swap seats dozens of times in a few miles.
If the traveler is fortunate enough to run into an English speaker on one of the trains, and there are still a few, mostly on their way to the mysterious, and heavily fortified “call-centers” that have reappeared, often on the very sites that, half a millennium ago, the Portuguese had established their first call-centers, you will hear much of the above history, and how it led to their present condition. The tale is passed on from father to son-in-law’s brother, one of many remnants of Pastor Mack’s notions about how inheritances should pass from one generation to the next, a legal custom that still, on rare occasions, surprises some far-off Indian with a handsome bequest from an utterly unknown “ancestor twice-removed”.
The call-centers are much discussed in modern India. Even the dullest observers have noticed that many, many young Indians have entered those walled and gated grounds, never to be seen again. “What do they do, in there? What?” concerned Indians cry out in their endless quest for knowledge.
Wild accusations of endless and improper activities abound, but no one can see inside. The call-centers are always built far from railroads, so not even the highest-flying Diaperman, currently Ramjet Singh V, a direct descendant of that first, heroic founder of an airborne dynasty, can observe the goings-on within. Relatives of those who have disappeared behind the cold, concrete exteriors are reported to have money mysteriously deposited in accounts accessible to assigned family members. Many surprised recipients of sizable monthly annuities that appear to come from the “call centers” worry that their relatives have been enslaved or sold into prostitution.
Other questions are as important as those concerning call-centers. Will things change? Will India ever live up to its potential? Will there be love and respect among its peoples? Will the Great Mother, Herself, reappear to wipe out the awful stigma whose sting is felt anew every time that proud, proud people is demeaned by being told they live on a mere “sub-continent”?
Rumors abound that answers to these questions have been found within the huge, well guarded call-centers that have magically appeared across India. Whitewashed concrete walls, wrapped in blankets of barbed wire, hundreds of feet high, and thick enough for six elephants to race abreast along the top, are said to hold the secrets of India’s future success within their gleaming walls.
The new “call centers”, largely run by aggressive young Kumars and Patels descended from India’s brilliant Old Nobility, combine modern technology with time-hallowed ways. The elephants, for instance, that are raced daily around the tops of the walls, are used inside, as well. The contents of special wastebaskets that conform to the size and shape of an elephant’s foot are mashed down daily as these highly portable trash compactors gingerly lumber amidst the cubicles and computer stations of each call-center, reducing huge piles of waste into manageable, compressed log-like lumps that are lovingly “recycled” during the few days that auxiliary heat is needed. Paint sprayers, hooked up to their trunks, allow the call-centers to be whitewashed more quickly than ever before. And, when local natives appear to be unhappy about something, the “Young Maharajahs” who rule the call-centers are quick to costume themselves as hunters of the Old Nobility. In air-conditioned platforms atop their elephants, they send the mighty beasts beneath them careening through the homes and gardens of those who might “make trouble” as the triumphant trumpeting drives fear into the hearts of any who may otherwise summon the courage to fight against what the always-complaining-about-something Nehru Jacketeers call “Tyrants of Technology”.
Many of those denied entry to the call-centers feel they will never find the fulfillment they think can be found only within those hallowed walls. The finality and resignation with which many of the rejected accept their fate is clear. “Thus it will ever be. We will never find and adequately punish those who broke the bicycles we proudly pedaled when the rest of the world was walking.”
As bitter and unhappy as leftists everywhere, the Nehru Jacketeers are especially angered. They doubt that the “call centers” will find meaningful solutions. “Just as our ancestors had the brilliance to invent guns, but not gunpowder, just as they could invent parasailing, but not the means to get themselves off the ground, so it will be with the call centers.” say the Nehru Jacketeers. “And”, some of the bitterest will hiss, “our pitiful ancestors never had bicycles. Not even one.”
“You are as bitter and unhappy,” reply the Diapermen and Sikh to the Nehru Jacketeers, “as you are wrong. We know that inside the call centers, it is always cool and spring-like. They are the places where new maps are being drawn, maps that prove conclusively that we are not the second-rate inhabitants of a (you have to hear them to appreciate the disgust with which they spit out the word) ‘sub-continent’, but dwellers within a heretofore unrecognized land mass whose sole purpose in being is to elevate India, the very jewel of all the world, so that it may be eternally admired by all men as is The Great Mother of India, Herself.”