To Meet the Ameer (1)

First publication: Civil and Military Gazette, 31 March 1885


Sussex Scrapbooks, 28/1 p. 11. Diary 27 March 1885.
Late in March of 1885 Kipling was sent to Rawalpindi, on the northwestern frontier, to be the CMG’s special correspondent at the meeting between Lord Dufferin, the Viceroy, and Abdur Rahman, Amir of Afghanistan. The British purpose in the affair was to secure the support of the Amir against the Russians, whose manoeuvrings in central Asia were then and for long afterwards a thorn in the side of the Empire. The Rawalpindi assignment was the most important ‘special’ work that Kipling had yet done and was a good test of his enterprise in finding stories and in filling space under difficult conditions. His father wrote in March of 1885 that ‘Ruddy goes to Pindi as a special. He has started his pony and turn-turn (dog cart] thither, and although a little nervous about his first big thing, I think he will do well. He has done some capital special correspondence’ (to Edith Plowden, 16 March 1885: MS, Sussex).

Despite miserable conditions — the rain came nearly every day and the Amir delayed to come day after day — Kipling doggedly supplied his paper with copy: thirteen articles, on the order of 30,000 words all told, came from his pen and were duly published between 24 March and 14 April. After sending his first article from Rawalpindi, Kipling moved on to Peshawar, closer to the Khyber Pass, through which the Amir was making his provokingly slow way. After several days at Peshawar he ventured even further, to the mouth of the Pass at Jumrood (it was here that he maintained, in later years, that he had been shot at by an overzealous skirmisher in the Pass). He then went back to Peshawar, and, the Amir having at last crossed out of his territory into India, Kipling returned in the wake of the Amir’s train to the durbar at Rawalpindi. See also “Her Majesty’s Servants”.

The article that follows is the fourth of the series.[T.P.]

The Article

From our Special Correspondent
Peshawur, March 27th

[….] At last the comedy seems to be approaching its end. Touched, doubtless, by the thought of Colonel Waterfield waiting in the rain at Lundi Kotal, our only Ameer has consented or condescended to put in an appearance at Peshawur on Monday next — the 30th instant. Add to this a couple of days’ stay here, and our excellent Viceroy will only be detained for the better- part of a week, amid the dust and confusion at Rawal Pindi. One of the Ameer’s many intentions was to stop at Dhakka for a day, and to go on directly to Ali Musjid. Accordingly, he halted for four and twenty hours at Gardi Sharkhani. He will spend the 28th, to-morrow, at Ali Musjid; the 29th at Jumrood; and arrives here the next day. This has endeared him to all concerned.

Two of his Sirdars arrived in camp this morning, and are at present enjoying their mid-day meal. Neither Kazi Kootb-ud-din nor Aga Hyder-Shah were pleasant to look upon, as they squatted on their charpoys and asked all manner of questions regarding the arrangements of the camp. The Aga was clad in a camel’s hair garment adorned with gold stripes, and his lower limbs were encased in what looked remarkably like European trousers. He was short, thickset and of a florid countenance, laughing and talking a good deal. The Kazi, who lounged about picturesquely in a corduroy waistcoat with brass buttons and a pair of snowy white pyjamas, was meagre, red-haired, and much lined and seamed with exposure. Both wore the Tartar cap of black Astrakhan fur, and both talked loudly and quickly. It is difficult to interview Kizilbashes satisfactorily, but, with the help of an interpreter, something — not much it is true — was extracted from Codlin and Short. A complimentary allusion to their silver mounted swords and belts — magnificent pieces of workmanship — was ‘cornered’ promptly by the remark, that in their part of the world ‘arms were the ornament of a man. Nevertheless Peshawur was a great city’. This somewhat inapposite codicil was thrown in, possibly to soothe the feelings of the degenerate white man who walks about with a cane. Did they know when the Ameer was coming? ‘The Amer was a Bads hah and could come in when he liked.’ And with this significant answer, the conversation, as a novelist would put it, became general. Kazi and Aga plunged into the gulfs of their own strange speech, and the interview, if one may so style it, was at an end. The question as to the Ameer’s arrival had been asked, I believe, previously by one of the officials in charge of the camp; and the answer then given had been almost identical with mine. Decidedly Abdur Rahman will come down imbued with a proper idea of his own importance.

The details of his Court, by the way, are rather interesting. I give below the list of his personal friends, councillors, attendants and the like, who will be most with him during his stay in Peshawur: — Mahomed Nahin; Nazir Safed Mahomed; Sirdar
Nur Mahomed Khan; Mahomed Omar Khan; Mahomed Jan; Mir Mahomed Husein, ex-Mustafi; Jan Mahomed Khan, brother of the present Governor of Jellalabad; Kazi Shahb-ud-din, brother of Kazi Kootb-ud-din, at present in camp; Mahomed Khan, Chessplayer to His Highness, and a prophet of considerable honour in his own country; Dilawer Khan; Shere, Afghan Khan; Kurban Ali Khan, whose duty it is to attend to [the] Ameer’s Samovar among other things; Syed Ahmed Khan; Jamma Khan; Mahomed Akbar Khan, water bearer (perhaps the only equivalent in the English language to this is the title of Groom of the Chamber) Mahomed Sirwa Khan, Chamberlain; Mahomed Alum Khan, door keeper; Golam Hyder, Commander-in-Chief; Mahomed Azim — the deaf and dumb painter of the Ameer’s court; Ahmed Jan Khan, Councillor; Mirza Abdul Raschid, Doctor; Jan Mahomed Khan, Court tailor; Faizulla Khan, personal servant; and Mahomed Nubbi Khan, writer to the Ameer.

These the Ameer had with him at Dhakka; and unless he has made some sudden and unexpected change there, these will accompany him to this station. Everything, as I have already told you, is prepared for his reception, down to a cretonne bordered teapoy in the drawing room of the bungalow — and we can henceforward only possess our souls in patience, until the worthy gentleman actually arrives. Lieutenant Leigh, of the 60th Rifles, has gone on to Lundi Kotal with the Government carrier pigeons; but these useful birds have so far brought us no certain news about anything in particular. When Abdur Rahman has actually set foot within the limits of Peshawur, we may be certain of his arrival. Till then anything that may be written, rumoured or telegraphed, is of less than no value.
The unsettled state of the weather — among other things — is supposed to have delayed our illustrious visitor. For the past four days the sky has been gloomy and overcast, with heavy thunder and rain at night. At three this afternoon, a hailstorm broke, which would have stripped the trees of Peshawur had it lasted. Luckily it was all over in five minutes, after having whitened the ground with hailstones of from half an inch to one and a half inch in diameter. Some took more than ten minutes to melt.