While I was with the Shikhari Mounted Rifles, we received a challenge from the Barking Mad Fakir of Ipi's younger brother Derek (Winchester, Balliol College Oxford and the Al-Jihad Madrasah, Peshawar) to a game of Bouzkashi. As any afficianado of the ways of the wily Pathan, moon-faced Sart or pointy-headed Turcoman can tell you, bouzkashi is basically a game without rules played by two teams of murderous nomads on ponies, using a goat as a ball.
Clearly the honour of the Indian Army was at stake, so we sent our acceptance off in a high-frequency cleft-stick pronto and scraped together a regimental team. Capt O.D "What" Canther-Matterby, Lt Douglas "Dark Satanic" Mills, Dacca Deakin, Belvedere and I were the only white officers involved, the rest of the team consisting of Havildar Prakash, Corporals Singh and Singh, and troopers Singh, Singh, Patel and Singh. The third trooper Singh, I should point out, was the Trooper Singh later decorated for bravery in Iraq, not the Trooper Singh who was court-martialed and scrattled for the incident in Quetta involving the theft of Mrs Blower-Bentley's unmentionables from a cantonment washing-line. Or was that the second Trooper Singh? Old men forget. The first Trooper Singh, of course, later became bandmaster and was noted for his performances of "The Surprise Symphony", for which he became known, inevitably, as the Haydn Sikh.
Where was I?
Oh yes - the Bouzkashi game.
The spectators - clearly partial to the local Pathan team, began by taunting us with a chant of
اور ایک بکرا بھی اگر آپ کو لگتا ہے کہ تم کافی محنت کر رہے ہیں
We were soon hard at it, and wreathed in dust. The confusion was indescribable, except as indescribable confusion. An hour passed without a point being scored on either side. I thought it was all going rather well, actually, and Trooper Patel and I succeeded in making a good run right up to the Pathans' five-yard line, when one of them let out an anguished shout of
وہ ایک بکری نہیں ہے. یہ میری ماں ہے.
Well, that certainly gave us a momentary pause for thought. But was it merely a ruse? As Trooper Patel responded with a quick-witted cry of "તમને કેવી રીતે કહી શકે?" I succeeded in "landing the goat" - not in the Welch sense, obviously - and the day was ours. The largely Pathan crowd did not see this as a desirable outcome, starting a chant of
تم کم از کم دو ایمبولینسوں میں گھر جا رہے ہیں
and as Matterby grabbed the trophy and put spurs to horse we followed in headlong cavalcade with Pathan musketry zipping past our accoutrements. Nightfall saw us well clear and settling around a campfire to eat goat curry.
At least, I hope it was goat curry.
Looking up at the myriad stars visible in the wilderness, away from the bright lights of civilisation, I recalled the words of the great Persian poet:
هر کسی که اذیت به ترجمه این به بزرگی یک احمق به عنوان مردی که آن را نوشتم