An Interruption to the Ritual of Tying on of the Cummerbund during the hot weather in N. India
Image and text excerpted from:
Officers' Mess Life and Customs in the Regiments, by Lt. Col. R.J. Dickinson, Essex Regt and RAOC; with illustrations by Lt. Col. Frank Wilson, Parachute Regt and Queen's; Chapel River Press, 1977
This delightful volume wonderfully describes officers' mess to the middle decades of the 20th century. It is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the regimental life of the British Empire officer of this period.
Officers in India wore white mess jackets and cummerbunds in the hot weather. Some regiments wore white drill overalls, others trews or overalls of blue serge.
The officer revolved gracefully like a ballet dancer. His bearer, large safety pin clenched in remaining teeth, then secured it behind his 'master.'
In the Indian Cavalry the cummerbund was usually the full dress lungi (turban) of a Sowar (trooper) of his regiment. In the British Army it was often shorter, and of the facings of the regiment.
The scene shows an officer of the Indian Cavalry who looks disturbed although looking forward to his iced soup in the garden of the mess, even if it contains the wings left by flying ants.
The Regimental Orderly arrives with a secret message from the Adjutant Sahib Bahadur. It states 'C' Squadron will march at 21.00 hours down the Grand Trunk Road to Fort Govindgarh, outside the walls of Amritsar for communal riot duty. Details to follow.
The Orderly knows all this as the office Dafadar, Mubhab Ali, comes from the same village north of the Jhelum River, and married his uncle's daughter.
He assures the officer who had just taken over command of 'C' Sqn. that Risalar Sultan Khan Sahib, the senior Indian officer in the squadron, has everything under control. He is also a relation and knew, in his wisdom, that this would happen. Horses will now be watered and fed, feed bags filled and Chaupatis are now being cooked for haversack rations. Water bottles have been filled, arms and ammunition will be issued from the rifle kote at a time suggested by the Captain Sahib Habadur.
The orderly has also taken the liberty to call at the officers' mess on the way to inform the mass Dafadur that the captain sahib would need sandwiches and two bottles of beer 'sharab' – to be iced, till called for.
This is not news to Sowar Sher Khan, the captain's orderly. He knew what was brewing from chat he heard in the bazaar that afternoon.
The captain's charger is ready and saddle prepared. He himself is equipped to happily destroy either side and delighted to have a change from schooling the captain sahib's polo ponies.
The captain's bearer, Gulab Mohd, a Pathan who looked after the 'chota sahib's' father, a really splendid man, who became a 'burra sahib', is not pleased. He will have to lay out his marching order, tke down the mosquito net, pack his bedding roll, keep the creditors at bay and see that his 'Shaitan' (devil) of a dog is alive on his return.
A British regiment of foot is also going to march, but not so fast.
No Officers of the army were so well cared for by their men as those of the Indian Army. For 'sowars' and 'sepoys' reasoned that if their officers were 'kush' (happy) then they would not be cross with their soldiers. they were also trusted and were fond of their officers, for in time of trouble they were 'man-bap' (mother and father) to them.
1. The only telephones in a regiment were usually to the colonel's bungalow, the second in command, the adjutant and the mess.
2. Invitations to tea and tennis 'The Dancants' at the club, lunch, dinner or cocktail parties, were sent by 'chit' by hand of the Mali, Masalchi or some unimportant servant.
3. This was a good practice, as the recipient in the cold weather had time to make out an excuse, i.e., not to meet 'some jolly girls', who he knew were plain and dull and had come out from England with the 'fishing fleet'. The one excuse that never worked was 'I am afraid I am orderly officer'. The mem-sahibs knew who was orderly officer.
4. Dogs in India had their miniature charpoys (beds) to keep the creeping insects away from them. They lay stretched out to keep their stomachs as cool as possible.
A busy stream of ants goes back and forth in military procession to collect bits of cake dropped by the captain sahib, as he had his tea before a few chukkers of slow polo with other officers and their orderlies.
The rains have broken and outside, and in, it is hot and humid. Flying bugs are everywhere, especially around the lights.
5. The room in a bungalow, shared with other officers, is large and high. From the ceiling there would be an electric 'punkah' or fan.
6. All furniture, charpoy (or Indian bed), dhurrie (carpet), curtains, tables, table fan, etc., are hired from the 'suddar bazaar', the only extras the officer owns is the dog's bed, a rug he bought from a Kabuli carpet wallah, his pictures, some heads of wild animals he shot, tushes of a giant pig he got as 'first spear' out pig sticking, his bedding and clothes --- and probably a few debts to friendly money lenders in the bazaar who lent rupees at 3% a month, or 4% is sahib was in England on leave.