The Jubilee in Lahore

First publication: Civil and Military Gazette, 29 January 1887


Sussex Scrapbooks 28/3, pp. 79-80

The official jubilee of Queen Victoria was on 21 June 1887, but out of deference to the Indian hot weather the ceremonies in Lahore were considerably advanced. Sir Charles Aitchison, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, presided.

Another side of Kipling’s response to the jubilee is expressed in the conclusion of the verses called ‘What the People Said’, originally published in the CMG, 4 May 1887, as ‘A Jubilee Ode. (Punjabi Peasant’s Point of View)’:

And the Ploughman settled the share
More deep in the sun-dried clod: —
‘Mogul, Mahratta, and Mlech from the north,
‘And White Queen over the Seas,
‘God raiseth them up and driveth them forth ‘As the dust from the ploughshare flies in the breeze.
‘But the wheat and the cattle are all my care
‘And the rest is the will of God.’

As for what the soldiers said on the occasion, Kipling gave a somewhat different account in a sketch he contributed to the regimental magazine of the Fifth (Northumberland) Fusiliers some fifteen years later. The regiment, he recalled, had been hit by fever:

When they trooped the Colours at the First Jubilee, outside
Fort Lahore on a February morning in ’87, there were many blue-gowned invalids hanging over the rails and explaining with the proper nicknames the merits etc., of their company officers. Thus (for it doesn’t matter after fifteen years): ‘Collars and Cuffs is a good little man, but I do wish ’e didn’t smell ’is sword so, at the salute. There ’e goes, as if it were a bloomin’ posy.’ Or judicially: ‘The Major’s running to belly something shockin’. ’E’s ’ad that old tunic let out again,’ or pathetically to a friend: ‘That’s Amelia! ’Im an’ ’is pet Sergeant ’ave been persecutin’ me for the past three months; an’ look at ’im now — trailin’ ’is company ‘alf over the maidan like a kite with the string cut’
(“Quo Fata Vocant”, St George’s Gazette, 5 November 1902).

As well as his feeling for the Army in India, this sketch expresses Kipling’s delight in the great city of Lahore. See also “The City of Dreadful Night” written for the CMG two years before, in 1885. When, in 1913 he visited Cairo, another great Muslim city, the sights and smells reminded him vividly of the Lahore of his youth. (See “A Return to the East”).


The Article

(From our own Correspondent)
Lahore, Wednesday, Feb. 16th

The Fort guns at dawn woke the City, and in their salute, sounded the keynote of the day. There are ways and ways of rejoicing. The Capital of the Punjab had chosen for its first day’s merrymaking the pleasure of a review; had decided, rightly and justly, that the Army of the Empress should be the first great feature of the hour.

Even the troops themselves — and by troops I would refer to that very faithful servant of Her Majesty, Private Thomas Atkins — though they grumbled with exceeding fervour at their share in the Jubilee, recognized the propriety and necessity of this.

They were to parade — the 5th Fusiliers, three batteries of Artillery, K—3, 0—4, L—1, the 5th Bengal Cavalry, the 24th Native Infantry, and the 32nd Punjab Native Infantry at midday on the maidan in front of Fort Lahore, between the tomb where the one-eyed Lion of the Punjab sleeps among his eleven wives, and the nobler structure where Jehangir lies under the red minars of Shahdera.
Meean Meer parade-grounds lack dignity, however convenient they may be; but the plain outside the Huzuri Bagh, between the Fort and the river, is rich in historical associations. It was good that our troops should come there; and evidently all Lahore thought so, for the city people turned out in thousands, and the station went [as] one man to see the show.

Skilled by past knowledge and experience, the Police and the Municipality alike had done everything to handle the crowds and the carriages comfortably and without confusion; for a flustered native, be he driving or walking, promptly loses his head, and is a helpless stumbling-block for ever afterwards. Stands had been built, enclosures roped off, and temporary roads run off the Fort road on the maidan, so that every one might come in peace to and depart with dignity from his allotted place. But dignitaries are not interesting. They lack originality, and their opinions on the Jubilee are monotonous. It was among the crowd of natives, melting and reforming at the wave of the constable’s baton, that one heard the amusing things; and it was among the ranks of Her Majesty’s very faithful servant — Private Thomas Atkins — on duty at the Fort, and on leave to watch his comrades in the Fifth march and countermarch — that one felt most thoroughly the spirit of the day. Native and Private are the foundations whereon the pillars of the Empire are put, and there is small fear of either proving unsound. (see our notes on “To T.A.”: Ed.)

‘This tamasha (show)’ explained an enlightened gentleman with a wave of his hand to the empty plain — for the troops had not come yet — ‘is because the Queen of England is now fifty years old. That is the true talk.’ ‘No! It is because she has been Queen for so long’ — a gentleman in a skull cap shot himself into the discussion.

The argument became heated, and another bystander in a flowered dressing gown assured the disputants that the tamasha had been ordered by Sir Charles Aitchison (Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab) to please the Queen, and all the lamps in the City would be lit that night for the same reason. The first speaker seized on the weak point triumphantly. ‘Why should the Queen want to be pleased for nothing? I tell you this is because she is fifty years old. They are having tamashas everywhere; even at Delhi and Umballa!’ Said the skull-cap angrily: — ‘Ask the Englishman. It is because she has been queen so long.’ And the Englishman gave it as his verdict that the skull-cap was right. But, you see, everyone in that group knew that the day was in some way connected with our Queen.

The ticca-gharri drivers knew, the bhisties watering the parade-ground knew, a municipal meh — Sub-Assistant Director of Conservancy — captured as he flew by on some mysterious errand — knew; the students of the schools knew (they are, by the way, running the sentence ‘Most Gracious Majesty’ into one long hydraulic word that will become naturalized in the Vernacular if the Director of Public Instruction does not look to it), the clerks of the Public Offices knew — everyone knew except the outstation visitors, the ‘huge thighed Jats’, in blue turbans, speaking strange tongues. They said, referring to the highest power they knew on earth, that perhaps the Deputy Commissioner had ordered the entertainment, and were with difficulty restrained from flocking like sheep on to the parade-ground.

Then in the middle of the babble the guns swept on to the ground with a jingle and clatter, white with the dust between Mian Mir and Lahore, and took up their position on the extreme left. Thomas of the Fifth at the ropes said, apropos of nothing in particular and the army in general, ‘wait till you see us’. Then he looked to the far right, where two hundred of the 3rd (Railway) Punjab Volunteer Rifles were drawn up under the shade of the trees, and hinted condescendingly to a friend that they would ‘pass muster — leastways as they stood’.

Then the 5th Bengal Cavalry, very dusty, came along the Fort road and filed in two by two, and behind them marched a hundred and twenty of the 1st Punjab volunteer Rifles, also dusty. ‘We’ explained Thomas, with an air of one who had been reared in a C-Spring barouche, ‘comes in by train’, and he pronounced ‘train’ with a long drawn, Northern burr that endeared him at once to a north countryman. Sure enough ‘we’ did come in by train — a long train at the Badara Bagh Station, which was only at the other side of the ground. With ‘we’ came the native regiments, the 24th and 32nd — or at least the three turned up together on the far side of the ground mysteriously — and moved from the little station platform into the open; the Fifth taking up ground on the left of the guns.

Now the Fifth are a thousand and some odd strong, and allowing for the men in the Fort and contingencies, came in something over eight hundred strong — a long, red-backed, black-legged caterpillar moving its myriad legs with dizzying regularity. Familiarity, which is supposed to breed contempt, can never lessen the admiration one feels at the appearance of a regiment of British Infantry — that unfortunate arm which, having been logically proved to be badly recruited, weak, infamously-armed, expensive and the daily newspapers only know what all besides — illogically persists in winning victories that by all the lore of the schools it could not have won, and doing things which it is theoretically impossible for it to do.
At this point the spirit of the day asserted itself. Thomas felt it for he spat vigorously, knocked out his pipe and leant against the ropes while the flag at the saluting-base was being fixed — not run up for it was larger than the staff — and the Lieutenant-Governor came in as the brigade wheeled into line across the ground, and the batteries on the far left opened with the royal salute and the horses got ready, after their amiable wont, for the feu de joie (rifle salute). The Native Infantry Regiments formed up on the left of the Volunteers behind whom were the 5th Bengal Cavalry and the 5th Fusiliers were on the right of the Volunteers; making a broad band of colour — red, khaki, red and white, red.

Then came the salute and the triple feu de joie, a high chill wind driving off the smoke: and next the trooping of the Colours (march past with regimental flags) — a thing, here Thomas at the ropes explained, ‘you don’t see done every day’. Decidedly it was with the British Infantry that the lion’s share of the work and the interest rested, for it was their Colours that were trooped and on them everyone’s eyes were turned.
And here an apology. If through the poor account that follows, it should seem that the writer has slurred over and set aside mention of the other troops and has confined himself more specially to the British Foot Regiment, let him be forgiven; because surely the thoughts of such a day as to-day turn to the oldest arm of the state — the power through which the Empire was made in the beginning when ‘the guns that can go anywhere, the Cavalry can and’ — how does the Gunner’s unofficial motto run? — were ‘fireworkers’ beginning to write their name in history. (the motto of the Royal Artillery is ‘ubique’ – ‘everywhere) And further, because the ceremony he saw that day was strange and vivid, and touching beyond words — a presentment of all the dignity and honour, and devotion of all our little army. May be, the military eye — though it is hard to think so — sees otherwise. This must be an excuse for dwelling at undue length on one part of the Review.

The Fifth came forward, the Volunteers and Native Infantry forming at right angles on the left and right of the regiment making three sides of a square open at the corners — the Colours on the left on the regiment under sentries, the drums in front of the colours, the regimental band on the right of the regiment; and the officers for duty standing near the saluting base. Then, to avoid being unnecessarily technical, eight non-commissioned officers marched out to near the saluting base; turned inward to the line, and the drums marched from left to right beating the ‘assembly’ while the officers fell in with the sergeants, and, divers orders being given, marched slowly to their men; the band playing meantime. Here the band and drums moved across the face of the regiment from right to left playing a slow march, till they reached the colours; came back a second time to the right and their original station, while the drums beat for the escort — one company — for the Colours. That company moved out clear of the line and, preceded by the band, wheeled left and marched to the Colours which they took over in the prescribed form; for the colours are a great and sacred charge with which there can be no light tampering. The ritual of the ceremony, the dead immobility of the troops in front, the plaintive wail of the fifes as they marched and re-marched, the slow throb of the band, even the stately step of the Drum-Major at the head of the band, all combined to impress and even to startle an on-looker. It seemed as though one saw the great heart of the Army beating, and through that wall-like line of red and black, were privileged to catch the whole essence of the institution — pride of country, pride of service, pride of tradition, past honour, and glory to be won hereafter. Beyond that, too, looking at the strange country, with the Shadera minars behind, came an overwhelming sense of the pathos of the whole, and thoughts of the thousands of men who in two hundred years, had died in the regiment — that immortal ‘we’ Thomas by the railing referred to, who never dies.

And the escort halted and the Colours were saluted, and guard and Colours moved up from the left to the left of the line and carried the Colours along the length of the regiment, between the first and second ranks, that all men might see them. Every military man knows the order, and the unmilitary man would not understand an explanation made profoundly mysterious by that singularly lucid publication with the red back and the brass clasp.

Perhaps this was the most impressive part. But it is hard to say. All was strange and sobering in this rite born of many years.
The day of all others was best fitted for it and it was good for a time to wax wildly enthusiastic over the sight. Thomas is Thomas, whether he is hanging his legs out of an ekka (two-wheeled cdarriage) on a shooting expedition, or spotless, white gloved and pipeclayed, taking his part in the dust and heat of a review; but for that little space while the band wailed, and the slow stately marches and salutes were being ‘got through’ — profane and irreverent expression! — it seemed that Thomas was another and a glorified Thomas and he was, in the presence of the alien, praying to his God and his Queen.
But it is not good to gush nor would it be wise to troop the colours too often — as the finest Mass (relgious service) loses its effect through mere repetition. Still that particular ceremony was grand and did most effectually dwarf what followed. Even the march past, the trot, and the thunder of the guns — three batteries make a very respectable little earthquake — seemed stale in comparison; and the blown dust was an intrusion on a sumptuously loyal strain of thought bred by the spectacle. Thomas by the railings said again as the Volunteers went by that they would ‘pass muster’ and made unflattering and personal remarks about his particular company of the Fifth — most likely because he was in the stalls, so to speak. Indeed another Thomas wondered sarcastically how the ‘General’ got on without him; and offered introductions to the Lieutenant-Governor.Then came more dust and more marching, in mass of quarter columns, I think; but the dust hid everything until the Lieutenant- Governor rode out and spoke to General Murray and the officers of the Staff, and the Brigade dispersed, and Thomas-by-the-ropes went away apparently not in the least impressed. He said he wanted something to eat — the Philistine!

This was about half past two o’clock, and the Durbar near the site of the new Town Hall would take place at four. That was the civil element of the day, the popular coming at night, and was not imposing. Native States know how to manage durbars, and to splash colour and gold and brocade with proper lavishness; but the Englishman, in his heart of hearts, takes no delight in these functions. Therefore his carpets are devoid of gold, and his shamianas (tents) like unto mess-tents;nor is he particular about the beauty of his chairs. Five hundred native gentlemen attended the Durbar which was enlivened by the Jubilee honours being proclaimed, and a flow of congratulations for those whom the Government had honoured. Further, very many native gentlemen were presented with gold-printed certificates and lengths of khinkhab (gold brocade) for services rendered to the State, as notified elsewhere. They bowed and retired as the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab smiled upon them, and the Secretary read their names and stated what they had done to render themselves amenable to — deserve the favour of the Government.

At the conclusion of the Durbar, His Honour passed out and laid swiftly a slab of red marble, coins and a copy of the Civil and Military Gazette buried below, which is the foundation stone of the Town Hall to- be built late on. Then he departed, and the Artillery saluted — time, 55 minutes for Durbar and foundation-stone under a hot sun. A Lieutenant-Governor in a Jubilee is much to be pitied. His Honour had just time to breathe before turning round again and coming down the Mall at seven o’clock to drive round the city and inspect the illuminations prepared in honour of the day. The Police — well, the Police had no time to do anything at all except marshall people from noon till eight.

Everybody who could come, came to see the illuminations; and at one time at least six hundred carriages must have been stacked on the Mall, pointing
Anarkullee-bazaar-wards. The programme, which was adhered to, was a drive from the Telegraph Office, via the Museum, the Secretariat, through the Anarkullee Gardens, past the University, the Deputy Com-missioner’s Kutcherry, down the Cemetry road, round the Fort, and so round the city to the Railway station, and then home as you pleased. Thanks to the Municipality, any man might get earthen chirags (lamps) — gratis, as many as he pleased, provided he filled them with oil and set them on his house. Of this privilege, Lahore had availed itself largely: there were no fireworks, few set pieces, nothing but lakhs (many thousands) of chirags.

And the effect was superb. Of all ugly buildings, the Accountant General’s Office is one of the ugliest, but the myriad twinkling chirags transformed it utterly into a fairy palace, a wonder of art and perspective. So with all the other buildings — mean and sordid as they looked in the day time. The Museum was adorned with transparencies in addition to chirags — a really beautiful picture of the Queen’s head, flanked by English and vernacular mottoes in floral borders, which attracted a great crowd by day as well as by night. Artistically, this was undoubtedly the best decoration, being popular with the people; but the whole city was changed beyond knowledge by the lines of flame. It rose out of the darkness a thing of wonder and mystery. Little bits of walls, or house-tops, too insignificant to be noticed by day-light, showed, in lines of fire as parts of one great whole; came forward as the last touches in some marvellous perspective drawn in golden lines against the night. The face of the Huzari Bagh, the Fort, and Runjeet Singh’s tomb were, but for a most prosaic smell of oil, sublime, and above the walls, towered domes, indicated more than outlined, suggesting a huge city of illimitable distances.

If Lahore is to be shown to a King, he should see it, beautiful as it stood last night, between the dusk and the dawn. The harshness of the new buildings, the squalor of the old, and the narrowness of the ways were gone; and in their place was neither a town in Fairy Land, for that is trivial, nor a roaring city in the Land of Darkness, for that is terrible: but something between the two, a place to dream of, royal, unapproachable. But it was Lahore, with so many miles of drains and paved roads, and the North-Western Railway had used thirty thousand chirags and two tons of oil for their decorations, and some-one else had used ten thousand, and some one else seven; and the dust of the long gharri procession was choking, and it was better to go home than to stay out in the stench and the glare.

But afterwards, when most people had gone to help His Honour through with the loyal and lengthy addresses that were his portion that night, what a city our city was! The dust had settled, the streets were full, and the lamps were shining faithfully; while from the dark heart within the walls came the roar of powder-gurrahs (fireworks) exploded in honour of the Empress. Surely no one of this generation will forget the sight. From the Delhi to the Taksali Gate, from the Taksali to the Delhi Gate, and far away in the Civil Station, the fire-lines ran in and out of the trees, and the domes of the mosques blazed in the still night-air. Over the city itself played a pale golden light turning the darkness into deep violet; such a light as one sees at night playing over Brighton from far away on Lewes Downs. There were lights twinkling on the Shadera side of the Ravee, and along the Mian Mir road, and from one distant village shot up a single rocket.

As the fire broke and decayed, and the great city dropped
back into itself, again, with the falling lights, a muezzin from a mosque began the call to prayer.

Here follows the sermon, if any reader have patience to work it out for himself.