George Scott Robertson.

The Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; online

. (page 17 of 38)
Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 17 of 38)
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wanted interfering with my tent. The poor Malik was so
terribly nonplussed at hearing this, that there was little
doubt left in my mind that he had been instigated to
annoy me by the Kafirs themselves, in order to prevent
me from prolonging my stay in Narsut, and to compel me
to hurry back to Kamdesh. However that may be, our
late turbulent host became at once extremely civil, not to
say servile, and almost enthusiastic in his helpfulness.
We met several times afterwards, and were always very
good friends.

Nari is a Gabar village on the left bank of the Kunar
river. It contains a hundred houses, and is built on the
same plan as Birkot, except that the lanes between the
houses are broader, and require rough bridges of boughs
across them. i\.s the important Gicha festival was ap-
proaching, we left Birkot on our return journey to Kc4m-
desh on the 14th of January, and the next day reached
Mergrom. On the road rain fell in torrents, drenching
us to the skin. The Baltis trudged along bravely. V\ e
were delighted when the abominable wooden bridge


To face pat^e 270.


which there spans the Bashgiil river at Mergrom came in
sight. Our pleasure was effectually lowered, however,
when w^e heard that — thanks to the inoculating which
had been carried out there — no single house in the vil-
lage was without one or more people suffering from small-
pox. The rain had now turned into snow, and we were
in a sad plight. The tent w-as put up, but the heavy
snow soon knocked it down again. At this juncture I
inquired if there were no stable we could take shelter in.
A little reflection told the bystanders there was such a
place. On going to inspect it, we found the most delight-
fully dirty cow-stable it is possible to imagine. Two
men and one w^oman slept with the cows, so in one corner
there was a lively tire, in front of which several big
calves were standing warming their tails in a comicallv
human way. "NA'e all crowded together round the fire,
thankful for the heat and shelter. Soon a mighty steam
from wet garments arose, which added another poignant
odour to the many others in the place ; but w^e were all
happy and contented. We made our arrangements for
the night. I vacated my place at the fire, and occupied,
with my bed, a distant corner of the stable. The com-
plaining calves were driven behind a barrier which ran
down the centre of the building. The top of this barrier
was surmounted by a long hewn plank about a foot broad,
upon w^hich the cow-keepers slept. I imagine that no
one but a Kafir would have selected such a sleeping-
place, where the slightest movement might result in a
bad fall. Partly by persuasion, and partly by keeping
our backs against the door, Ave managed to exclude tlie
female human element. She went oft' indignantly to
some other house. Then all was peace. In tlie morning


our stable was invaded to overflowing by inquisitive vil-
lagers, until it was almost impossible to move. One
youth stared at me fixedly and stolidly for at least an
hour. At length I stared at him .unblinkingly until
he was compelled to alter the direction of his eyes. In
reply to my question why they continued to stare at
me so intently after they had had sufficient time to learn
and remember my features, a Mergrom man promptly
and politely assured me that it was because they con-
sidered me a very good man ; they never permitted them-
selves to see the faces of those they thought wicked, but
upon the good they could not gaze too long.

The terrible bridge was hidden in deep snow, which
had to be cut away before we could cross. We all got
over safely enough, but two of the Baltis had to be helped,
besides having their loads carried for them. The march
up the Kamdesh hill was extremely arduous for the poor
Baltis. They kept slipping off the narrow hardened track
which ran between snow-walls breast - high, and each
slip meant disappearance in the soft snow, and a great
hauling and pulling to get them on to the'path again. They
were, however, very pleased at getting home once more,
and they persevered like heroes. We reached Kamdesh
about three in the afternoon, wet through and steaming,
as it had begun to snow heavily again. The Kafirs had
their oldest inhabitant brouo;ht to assure me that never
within his memory had there been such a terrible winter.
The toothless old creature was full of senile cheerfulness,
and mighty proud of being called upon to relate his ex-
periences. We found we had arrived in time for the
Gicha festival. During my absence Torag Merak had
lost a little son. He was really in the greatest distress,


To face page 274.



but nevertheless he sent over word to say, that when such
events happened, " brothers " were expected to bring over
a goat and pay a visit of condolence. Having no flocks,
I compounded for the ceremony by a money payment,
w^hich, with my excuses, was very kindly accepted.

After my return to Kamdesh, I noticed that the com-
mon people of the village were much less cordial in
their manner, while several headmen, notably the priest,
made various determined but unsuccessful efforts to over-
awe me.

About the same time also the Mehtar of Chitnil recom-
menced his intrigues, but he worked so clumsily, that
although he undoubtedly increased the general distrust
of my intentions, yet he contrived at the same time to
awaken the suspicions of the Kafirs against himself; so
that at length it came to be generally believed that the
Mehtar wanted me to be killed or badly injured, so that
he might have a pretext for invading the Bashgul Valley,
with the help of the Government of India. It is possible
tliat he had some such design in his head at this time,
but Colonel Durand at Gilgit seemed to have some pre-
science of my position, for about this period he wrote one
or two firmly worded letters to the Mehtar, which caused
liim to pause and reconsider the matter. At any rate,
sliortly after receiving them the Mehtar changed his plans
altogether, and his sole remaining desire was to get me
out of the Kafir country as safely and as quickly as pos-
sible. This sudden change of front from bribing men to
do me injury, to impressing nervously on the same men
the absolute importance that no harm should liappon to
mo, bewildered his hearers. They whipped round also,
and to many my remaining in Kamdesh now seemed a


matter of vital importance ; not because they believed in
the honesty of my intentions more than they did before,
but because they believed the Mehtar had been warned
from Gilgit not to do anything which might endanger my
personal safety, and on no account to attack the Kafirs
until after my departure from the country. Consequently
the headmen thought that the date of my leaving Kafir-
istan might be the signal for a Chitrali invasion of the
lower Bashgul Valley. My short journeys were in each
instance believed by many to be my actual departure from
the valley, although the majority of the people trusted
my word, and raised only a tacit resistance each time to
my leaving the village. They all, friends and opponents
alike, always seemed greatly relieved at my return.

On the 14th of January it was seriously debated
whether it would not be advisable for the Kc4m to
keep me a strict prisoner for at least three years. It
was argued that by so doing the tribe would not only
secure a valuable hostage, but would also be in a position
to apply the screw, and compel me to send to India for
rifles, or whatever else the Kafirs wanted. This last con-
sideration had a great hold on the national conservative
instincts of several of the headmen. News of what was
going on was brought to me. Although pretending to
laugh it to scorn, it was, at the same time, necessary for
me to take the precaution of sending for the instigators
of the notable scheme, to talk it over seriously with such
as answered mv summons. After remindins: them of the
sacred rights of hospitality, after instancing once more the
way in which Shermalik had been treated in India, and
after assuring them yet again that whenever I left Kam-
desh it would be openly, in broad daylight, and never


as a thief or a prowling animal, I finally disclaimed all
intention of going away in the spring, and challenged
any one present to say that he doubted my word. There-
upon every one gave me his assurance that he believed
me implicitly. At the termination of all these inter-
views, my guests invariably parted from me with cordial
expressions of friendship.

After a few^ days the clouds appeared to be slowly drift-
ing away, when a formidable intriguer appeared on the
scene in the form of Mian Gul of Mirkani and Arandii,
the man who once caused me so much anxiety about
Shermalik at Srinagar. This individual, as already men-
tioned, had met me in Chitral, with some kerosene oil he
had brought, at my request, from Peshawar. He had
been most liberally recompensed, and was also given a
monthly salary for acting as my nominal agent in the
Kunar Valley ; but Rusala had excited him greatly by
untrue stories of the enormous wages my servants re-
ceived, until Mian Gul became firmly convinced that he
liimself vras most badly treated, because he only received
a certain number of rupees a montli for doing little or
nothing. He always maintained that, because he had
carried information to the Peshawar missionaries about
the Kafir tribes, he held the gates of the liashgul Valley,
as he phrased it. Sincerely believing himself to be a
thoroughly ill-used man, he became an active intriguer
against me, and attached many of the Kamdesh head-
men to him by promising them a large share of the
money he intended to force me to pay — for his avowed
object to his friends was simply to blackmail me. His
tactics were so similar to those employed by Rusala, that
the inference that he inspired the latter is almost irre-

28o Till-: kAfirs of the hindu-kush

sistible. Mi.iii (iul was an abler man than Rusala, but
resembled liini in the fact that he was wanting in real
pluck. lie began craftily, and there was no indication
of what was going on until it was discovered that some
letters of mine, given a month previously to Mian Gul to
send to Peshawar, had never been taken farther than
Mirkani, at the mouth of the Ashrath Valley, where
they were detained in his house. Unfortunately, this
man always had some personal fear of me ever since an
interview we had together in Srinagar, on which occasion
it had been necessary for me to speak my mind to him
freely, so that when he came to Kamdesh to press his
imaginary claims, he opened his attack through certain
of his Kafir wife's relations and through his own personal
friends, instead of coming straight to me to tell his griev-
ances, and in doing so give me the opportunity of explain-
ing matters to him. Every one in the village knew what
was being attempted, and eagerly awaited the result of
this flagrant attempt at blackmailing. It was announced
that my letters for the time being must remain where
they were, and it was plainly hinted that Mian Gul must
be propitiated. To this undisguised attempt at bullying
my reply was that unless the letters, which by tacit agree-
ment were made a test question, were produced on a
particular day, Mian Gul must consider himself as dis-
missed from my service, and would never be employed by
me again in any circumstances. It was added that no
excuses of any kind would be accepted ; that my deter-
mination to dismiss Mian Gul if the letters were not
produced at the time mentioned was fixed and unalter-
able, no matter what happened — sickness, falls of snow,
or anything else. The letters were not produced, and Mian


Gul was formally dismissed. A deputation of headmen at
once waited upon me to ask, or rather demand, that Mian
Gul should be reinstated in his old position. I declined
to comply with this request, giving my reasons in full.
Then we had a very bad time indeed. The air was full
of threats. Every single headman of any importance in
tlie tribe had attached himself to Mian Gul's cause, and
every kind of menace was conveyed to me, often by very
circuitous roads. Shermalik became thoroughly fright-
ened, and with tears implored me to leave the valley
secretly and at once, before worse befell mo. He said
he had made his own arrangements to go away also, for
he had now become so obnoxious to the tribe from his
connection with me, that it was no longer safe for him to
remain in the valley ; but there was nothing for it but to
remain firm and pretend to ignore the possibility of any

For several days no Kafir came near my house. V^'e
were regularly boycotted. Then, on January 23, I was
summoned to Torag Merak's house to meet, or one might
more truly say to appear before, the chief headmen, who
were assembled there. This was the first time such a
request had ever been made to me, for it had been the
invariable rule for a deputation of Jast to wait upon me
whenever there was anything for us to discuss together ;
but as it would not have been safe to refuse to go, and as
my chief anxiety was to get at once into close contact
with my opponents, I waived all ceremony and started as
soon as the summons from the headmen was deli vend
to me.

On my arrival, the most important of thi> -last were
already collected together in Torag Merak's house, and

2S2 Till'] kAfIRS of THP] HINDU-KUSH

Midn Gill was lying half concealed upon the roof close to
the smoke-hole, from which position he could see and
hear all that went on below. On entering the room
where the Jast were collected, I affected cordiality, and
tried to appear unconcerned and genial, and partook of
a meal which was in progress. As soon as the eating
was finished, the Kafir batteries were opened on me.
Cajolery, arguments, threats, all were in turn employed.
They told me of the danger involved in disobeying the
orders of the Jast, the mildest of which, it was explained,
comprised the burning of the delinquent's house and the
plundering of his goods and chattels. To this my answer
was, that it was most right and proper that the authority
of the headmen should be strictly maintained, and this
led me to remark on the different customs among Eng-
lishmen and Kafirs, and to explain how remarkably law-
abiding the men of my race were ; but I refused to accept
any suggestions which tended to support the idea that I,
a guest, must necessarily submit my strictly private affairs
to the authority of the Jast. My contention was that as
Mian Gul was my servant, paid with my money, my right
to dismiss him if he failed in his duty to me was un-
doubted ; that he had so failed, and that consequently he
had been dismissed. I added that my decision on that
point was irrevocable. Torag Merak then got very ex-
cited and abusive, but 1 particularly noticed that Dan
Malik, Lame Astan, and the others, tried persuasive
methods only, after the failure of their attempts at coer-
cion. After about three hours' incessant talk the Kc4firs
got exhausted and bored to death. Observing this, and
assuming a rage I was far from feeling, I sprang to my
feet, declaiming against Mian Gul, his treachery and dis-


loyalty, and concluded by stating positively that nothing
on earth would move me from my position, nor would my
gaze ever willingly fall on the face of such a rascal again.
Torag Merak came in for a share of my invective also,
in that he, my brother, had openly sided against me.
The headmen present looked at first doubtful, then sur-
prised, and finally they applauded, while my interpreters
had their work cut out to follow my rapid speech ; but
my gestures no doubt helped my hearers to understand
my meaning. The victory so obviously remained with
me, that Mian Gul sent down word from the roof that
he would accept my decision if he were paid a preposte-
rous sum of rupees, which he declared was still due to
him. Even the Kafirs shouted with laughter at this im-
pudent demand, while, taking advantage of their humour,
I brandished my stick and threatened Mian Gul with all
sorts of calamities in English, which, though not under-
stood, was evidently accepted as the outpourings of natural
indignation. This was practically the end of what at one
time promised to be a troublesome if not dangerous
business. The Kafirs became most friendly again, as
was shown by their once more urging me to marry and
settle down amongst them for good. In the evening
Utah came to my house to make a last appeal for Mian
Gul, so that he should leave no stone unturned in getting
some of the promised presents out of him. Utah's re-
quest had also to be refused. It appeared from his re-
marks that he had purposely abstained from being present
at the meeting at Torag ISIerak's house, because, he said,
he was sure the Jast would be defeated, and he could not
bear to witness such a dreadful sight. From this obser-
vation it seems possible that the Kafirs had only been



Online LibraryGeorge Scott RobertsonThe Káfirs of the Hindu-Kush; → online text (page 17 of 38)