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Daily Archives: March 28, 2010

Uncle Underpants

aka An Explanation for My Continued Distraction:

Raipur’s closest claim to fame, indeed the one time it had justified its dusty existence, lay in its Grand Bazaar. A smelly, crowded, barely two-lane road crisscrossed overhead by ominously looped electrical wires that had a bad habit of falling down the moment the wind so much as sneezed in their vicinity or were touched by the merest hint of rain, not even a blind man would have thought it grand. But the citizens of Raipur were proud of it all the same and the reason for it stood immortalized in crumbling stone on one end of the street, at the equally ambitiously named Roundabout where all three of the town’s roads staggered to a stop to gaze dutifully at the glories of the past as captured in statuary and the glories of the present as conveyed by the ugly yellow building of the Municipality office.

Originally designed as a fountain before the realities of water shortage brought the town to its senses, the statuary in question depicted a soldier in British uniform on a plunging horse being brought down by a horde of angry Indians in peasant gear as one Indian raised aloft a flag with a charkha on it. Constructed in the belligerently hopeful period right after Independence, it stood as an ode to Raipur’s patriotic history.

The story goes that when the Indian soldiers of the Raj began their revolt in 1857, a scout from the British Army rode through Raipur, looking for an escape route for his trapped comrades and their families. He got as far as the Grand Bazaar before a brave native stopped him in his tracks by throwing the first stone. Within minutes, he was dragged off his horse, severely beaten and killed. Whatever routes the British army took, Raipur wasn’t a part of it.

That was the official version, the one recorded on the plaque hammered into the foot of the dysfunctional fountain. The Mayor who’d commissioned it, Malik Sahib of the Bari Haveli, had added the flag to update the legend and marry that tale of a rebellious Awadh to the new nation. Nobody minded because what did one extra spin of the polishing cloth signify when the legend had already been burnished beyond recognition?

Because the truth of Raipur’s defiance was this: an albino mutineer from Meerut, out liberating a nearby cantonment from the tyranny of the British, had decided to pay his ladylove back in his village a visit now that he’d proved himself a hero. Drunk as a drum from celebrating their victory and wearing most of his war bounty, which included an officer’s hat, he’d lost his way in the dark and showed up in Raipur in the morning rather than his village, which lay further southwest. Upon stumbling into the Grand Bazaar, he’d disturbed the peaceful slumber of old Underpants Pandey, the town drunk. The two had exchanged a volley of friendly insults about each others’ mothers and Underpants Pandey had had the final word by throwing a stone at his foe’s head. No doubt the soldier would have ridden down old Underpants and gone on to meet his village belle if the commotion hadn’t attracted the unwelcome attentions of several local hotheads who’d been talking themselves into a frenzy about the rising revolution just the day before.

To wake up the day after to find a man in British uniform try to murder their beloved Uncle Underpants was too much. If anybody had a right to thump Uncle Underpants until he was shitting blood, surely it was them – the ones who had to wash his puke off their doorsteps and whose mothers frequently had to step over his corpse-like body on the way to the temple. What right did an Englishman have to come stomping into their town like this and try to kill Uncle Underpants under their very noses? If it wasn’t just like them! Roused to fury, they rushed to the aid of the bewildered Underpants Pandey and immediately tore the albino hero of the revolt to pieces.

By the time a shaken Underpants could bring anyone to listen to his side of the morning’s adventure, it was too late. The town elders decided this victory over the “English” would keep the young rebels at home, convinced they had to patrol their hometown and keep it safe from the rapacious white soldiers who were sure to follow their deceased compatriot. And so Raipur found its pride and its mothers heaved a sigh of relief as their cocky young blades marched up and down the Grand Bazaar. It could be argued that the real winner of the whole episode was the family of Underpants Pandey, who became a teetotaler overnight.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Fiction, Personal