The Ballad of Ahmed Shah

This is the ballad of Ahmed Shah
Dealer in tats in the Sudder Bazar,
By  the gate that leads to the Gold Minar
How he was done by a youth from Morar. 

Ahmed Shah was a man of peace—
His beard and turban were thick with grease: 
His paunch was huge and his speech was slow 
And he swindled the subalterns high and low, 
Scores of subalterns came to try
The tats that he sold—and remained to buy, 
Scores of subalterns later on 
Found that their flashiest mounts were 'gone'— 
Some in the front and some behind 
Some were roarers and some went blind—
Scores of subalterns over their 'weeds' 
Cursed old Ahmed and all his deeds. 
But Ahmed Shah in his gully sat still—
And ever he fashioned a Little Black Pill!  

Yet a judgement was brewing for Ahmed Shah, 
Like a witches cauldron, in far Morar 
And the youth that brewed it has eyes of blue 
And his cheek was beardless and boundless too. 
Softly he mused o'er a trichi thick:—
'By the Beard of the Prophet I've got the trick!' 
Then he rose from his chair with an artless grin 
And  called the Battery Sergeant in—
'Sergeant' he said 'Hast aught for me
In the way of a "caster" with lots of gee ?' 
The sergeant pondered and answered slow 
'There's a red-roan gelding that's bound to go
At the next Committee. 'E ain't no use 
Excep' for kickin' recruits to the deuce, 
'E's chained in the sick lines.'  
                                              The subaltern's brow 
Was puckered with thought for a moment. Then 
The sergeant was richer by rupees ten. 
'When the next Committee sits' quoth he
'O Sergeant buy up that brute for me.'  

So the plot was laid and the long weeks passed 
And the red-roan gelding was duly cast. 
They led him in chains to the subaltern's stall 
And gave him his gram' through a hole in the wall. 
The subaltern mixed it. When morning came 
The red-roan gelding was strangely tame. 
He bit not nor kicked nor essayed to slay 
And he and the sub went north that day 
Till they came to the gully of Ahmed Shah
The man and the horse from far Morar. 
The subaltern stated his funds were low
And he came—mehrbani—to 'sell karo'. 
Then Ahmed Shah with his eyes agog 
Broke the Tenth Command in the decalogue, 
For the roan was a monster in size and thews
And stood over sixteen hand in his shoes. 
'Sahib kitna mangta?' With brow serene 
The subaltern softly answered 'Teen'.  
He haggled an hour, that dealer thrifty 
Till the price was lowered to do sow fifty 
And the money was paid in greasy rupees
While the red-roan gelding drowsed at his ease. 
The subaltern left him—and Ahmed smiled—
'By Allah, how mad is this pink-faced child
I will stuff that ghorah with attah and goor 
And sell him again to some English soor
For a clear eight-fifty!" ... and e'en as he spoke 
The devil they'd drugged in the red-roan woke ! 
Then the head-ropes snapped and the heel-ropes drew
And the stallions squealed as the roan went through 
And the syces ran as men run for life 
And the yard was troubled with equine strife 
Till the berserk-rage of the beast was o'er 
And he dropped to slumber at Ahmed's door!  

Then a veil was lifted from Ahmed's eyes 
And he raised the eyelids and punched the thighs 
Felt the tense pulse slacken—the muscles still—
And fathomed the Trick of the Opium Pill! 
His own old dodge that had brought him pelf 
Had the subaltern turned against himself! 

Did he swear, though his three best tats were lame 
And half of the city would hear of his shame ? 
Did he seek the law courts? With downcast eye  
He hailed an ekka that jingled by, 
And drove to the station, where filled with peace 
The subaltern counted the greasy rupees.  

What passed between them? I cannot say, 
The subaltern turns the question away 
With an innocent laugh: but the men of Morar 
Say he still gets ponies from Ahmed Shah. 
Ponies to bet on—but not to buy—
Weeds to look at but devils to fly 
And once in a while comes a tiny pill-box. 
Which the subaltern puts in his private till-box,
The Doctor abets him...Whenever I'm able 
I plunge to my last clean shirt on their stable!

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