Monday, 22 February 2010

The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell

Farrell’s British Empire satire isn’t exactly subtle, but the Siege of Krishnapur is still a brilliant book. Humorous as well as chilling, it follows the fortunes of the besieged community in the fictional town of Krisnapur during the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

In the calm before the storm, George Fleury arrives at Calcutta. Quickly travelling to Krishnapur, he has a brief moment to savour the whimsical, sheltered existence that the British possess in India. Naturally, there’s plenty to drink, and when Fleury pays a visit to a house near the residency, it’s obvious that the other guests have been at it all afternoon. The host, Rayne, slurs his way through the introductions:

“We have Ford and his ilk but I’m hanged if the railway will ever reach Krishnapur,” jeered Rayne, who was evidently somewhat drunk. “Where’s that damned bearer. Ram, bring the Sahib a drink... Simkin! That means champagne, old man. We don’t drink tea in this house.”

The peace and quiet is disturbed the arrival of Lieutenant Cutter, who rides his horse Beeswing into the house and vaults the sofa, demanding a drink:

“No thanks, Rayne, you can keep your Calcutta champagne. I only drink Todd and James, my horse drinks that rubbish. Monkey, bring brandy pawnee!” But Monkey was evidently familiar with Lieutenant Cutter’s tastes for he was already hastening forward with a tray.

Of course, his horse must be watered as well:

“Does Beeswing really drink simkin?” Mrs Rayne wanted to know, for it seemed that Cutter had given his horse the name of the celebrated Calcutta mare. At this, Cutter, who had sunk despondently on to the feather-strewn sofa with his boots and spurs dangling over the end, started up again with a roar and nothing would do but that Beeswing, who all this time had been standing patiently by the window and occasionally dropping his head to try and crop the Persian rug on which he was standing, should join the party too and drink his fill. Ram hurried in with another bottle and a bowl, but Cutter ignored the bowl and seized a solar topee from a side table; into this he splashed the contents of the bottle, guffawing and shouting encouragement to his horse.

All jolly japes, but as the Sahibs drink themselves silly on fizz, the locals are getting restless...

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