We're delighted to present an extract from The Tainted, the new novel by Cauvery Madhavan, published by HopeRoad.
It's spring 1920 in the small military town of Nandagiri in southeast India. Colonel Aylmer, commander of the Royal Irish Kildare Rangers, is in charge. A distance away, decently hidden from view, lies the native part of Nandagiri with its heaving bazaar, reeking streets, and brothels. Everyone in Nandagiri knows their place and the part they were born to play -- with one exception. The local Anglo-Indians, tainted by their mixed blood, belong nowhere. When news of the Black and Tans' atrocities back in Ireland reaches the troops, even their priest cannot cool the men's hot-headed rage. Politics vie with passion as Private Michael Flaherty pays court to Rose, Mrs. Aylmer's Anglo-Indian maid, but mutiny brings heroism and heartbreak in equal measure. Only the arrival of Colonel Aylmer's grandson Richard, some 60 years later, will set off the reckoning, when those who were parted will be reunited, and those who were lost will be found again...
In this short extract, the regimental chaplain, Father Jerome, tries to persuade the enlisted men, begging them to give up all foolish talk of mutiny against the Crown. He's too late however, only a few soldiers pay heed, the rest are fired up with nationalist sentiment, with news of Black and Tan atrocities having stirred a revolt from which there was no turning back.
'That's futile talk, Tom, and the men know it. And you, for God’s sake, you should know it better.’
‘There’s nobody here being forced, Father. These men, these brave men, are patriots of their own volition. Ask them! Lads, listen up. Are you present here in this wet canteen of your own free will?’
Father Jerome shouted over the roar of assent, ‘You’ll be shot, don’t you know? This is the Army and mutineers will be shot. That is the penalty for mutiny.’
A deathly silence fell in the room. Father Jerome was shaking uncontrollably. He looked at the men one by one, trying to make eye-contact with as many as he could. ‘Sergeant Nolan here, Tom, he’s a good man but this is no way to fight for Ireland. Think of your families, lads, think of the honour and glorious name of this Regiment you serve. Think foremost of the solemn pledge of allegiance, the sacred oath you made before God Himself.’
Tom Nolan jumped up onto the table before him. ‘Father Jerome has asked for you to think hard, so do that, lads. Leave if you wish, and you have my word that no ill will be directed towards you.’
A few men shuffled to the door and the crowd parted to give them way.
Tom Nolan called out to them as they left. ‘It’s all right, lads, every man must do what he thinks best. You were with us all along and we know you’ll be with us in spirit.’
The priest began to walk amongst the men. He knew each of their personal circumstances and he reminded them of their obligations, clasping them by the shoulders and holding their hands in his. Some were unwavering but fell on their knees and asked to be blessed, some turned away guiltily as he approached them, and a few men took heed and quietly left the room. Finally, he confronted Tom Nolan once again. ‘Why in God’s name did you have to get Michael Flaherty involved in this madness?’
‘He was with us from the start, Father, and fair is fair, he drew the shortest straw, and Tadhgh the next, to take the train to Salem to inform the Fusiliers down in the plains of our plans. The Fusiliers will come on board for sure, as will the rest. No Irishman could refuse.’
‘Michael had much to live for, Tom, and you’ve put all that in jeopardy.’
‘Michael will live on for Ireland.’
‘You’re talking nonsense, man - you’ll have the blood of many innocents on your hand. This talk of freedom for Ireland has no place in India. For God’s sake, Tom, it’s not too late. I beg you again to give up this foolishness! Revolting in India isn’t going to get Ireland anything - it’s just going to get good Irishmen killed and all for nothing.’
But even as he said it, Father Jerome knew he could plead no more. He hurried back to Colonel Aylmer's office, aware that he would have to inform the Colonel of the two men - the emissaries, Michael and Tadhgh - who had slipped out of camp and taken the train down to Salem where the Fusiliers were now in eminent danger of being encouraged to revolt. But of greater urgency was the need to make a case to the Colonel and his officers for a calm and considered reaction.
Father Jerome was aware that at the top of the list of Colonel Aylmer’s immediate concerns was the potential danger to all Europeans if the Indians in the cantonment got wind of a mutiny. The massacre at Amritsar in the Punjab was still a raw wound, and if events turned ugly at the barracks in Nandagiri Cantonment, the news would be eagerly seized upon by the leaders of the Indian insurgents; there were plenty of that ilk who didn’t care for the half-naked Gandhi’s insistence on peaceful protest. God forbid the Indians should find out that the Colonel was not in complete control of his men: the consequences were unthinkable.
The Tainted by Cauvery Madhavan is published by HopeRoad Publishing