I went near the room in which the king was staying. The door was closed but the bolt hadn’t been drawn. I lingered for a while, then pushed the door slowly and went inside. The king, kneeling on the mat facing Kaaba, had just finished praying. On the wall facing him was a big picture of Mecca and Medina, beside which was a portrait of Nawab Haider Ali Khan – the king was staring at it.
In difficult moments, he must have reminisced about his parents. Haider Ali Khan’s dark and sharp eyes appeared to be focussed on his son sitting before him. On his head was a turban. There was a long feather of an eagle stuck on its top. The king was contemplating the future course of action with regard to the conquests of the Company. He removed his turban, rubbed his bald head and his drooping moustache.
I bowed in respect and said, “You have removed your tabalique, bad thoughts may overpower your wits.” “Yes.” Taking the headgear in his hand, he continued, “I am a nawab as long as this is on my head. This sets apart the common people from the king. I feel I cannot bear the weight of this headgear anymore. I have no enthusiasm left in my mind as my body has lost its strength. I want to walk to a place where nobody calls me nawab. I want to live in anonymity far away from the palace and the harem.” He sat down, forgetting to wear his headgear.
Immersed in thought, Khavand said, “I think there isn’t any possibility of a truce with the Company, is there?”
I looked at him. There was no need for me to answer.
My silence spoke volumes – we had no protector. He too was clearly aware of the fact that the Marathas and the Nizams didn’t trust us, let alone the British.
“In politics, trust or being trustworthy is similar to a cat lovingly licking its newly born young one to death.”
“Sepoy, who will protect us? The palace soldiers, Hakima Nanjunda, the math of Sringeri...I wonder how the kings of our neighbouring states are silent as though it is not our motherland that this Company is trying to confiscate. They have become traitors, conspiring with the Company and showing them ways in which other states can be confiscated. I guess they have a plastic mouth, such clever and flattering words flow out of them...I worry about what else they will swallow. My education is of no use compared to my father’s experience. Even the French have let us down. If the palace doesn’t unite, how can we expect a country, and the world to unite? All dreams are broken. It is our lot to look at our faces in the broken mirror and feel happy.”
“What if we shift our capital to Chitradurga? Considering that it is surrounded by rocky mountains. Here, we are in the middle of Cauvery.”
“Khavand, the danger is upon us and we have no time to shift our capital.”
“Yes, you are right. We should have done it during the times of my father. Mir Sadiq dreamt of an easy end for me here. But now we are in such a situation that our kingdom cannot be saved.”
“Shifting the capital now means that we have to transport elephants, horses, commanders and their families. We need not worry if the citizens refuse to come. At least people who are connected to the palace should be able to travel that far. Everyone should be fed on the road. What if we encounter the Company’s army there! What can we do on the road with bare hands in the middle of the journey? We even failed to retain the faith of the Nayaka, the king of Durga who helped us to conquer districts in and around his territory.”
Khavand accepted my advice. He said, “True, Sepoy, no fort can save us. Nature knows everything. It has thunder, lightning, and lava in its womb. What do I have? A sword and powerful arms? With the sword becoming blunt and my strength waning, how long can I go on? I might lose my arms any time. How long can I twirl my moustache? We are in a state of disorder. This is the time for us to decide on the future course of action and the decision is left to fate.”
“If my father were here now, he would have shown me the way. He never went to school, but how he could win the toughest fort of Durga with his intelligence!” He slipped into memories. Only memories brought him relief during times of distress...
I kept quiet.
The alacrity that Nawab Haider showed at Chitradurga is still ripe in my mind. Because it was my first ever journey to wage a war. Even though we waited for days at end, we couldn’t penetrate the fortress. It appeared as if the entire kingdom was within the walls of the fort. The gunpowder house, the reservoirs, treasury, granary, soldiers were all deployed in the first circle of the fort. The only option left to us was to crawl alongside the walls like snakes do. There wasn’t a single entry point.
After a long silence, the khavand said, “In politics, one cannot say how long friendship stays or enmity lasts. Our lot is to face enmity from all ends. In my dreams, the waves of the sea, like snakes, spread their hoods and were falling over me. Even if you cry for help, who can rescue you from the middle of the sea?”
I was silent.
“I called for you, for a different purpose though.”
“Give me your orders,” I replied.
Sometimes even arrogance can manifest as a peculiar form of humility.
“I believe that in the southern part of the capital, Haradanapura, Kanakagiri, a religious disturbance has broken out. The disturbance is between two communities. Do not meddle with the leaders responsible for this. See if the palace can confiscate the land which has been the origin of this dispute. Arrest and bring all of them in, irrespective of the numbers. The ones who took part in this dispute and the innocents who stayed away. Let us teach them what universal religion is all about. Don’t get involved in any matters related to the rich. Meet and pay my respect to the religious heads without fail. On the same day, take ten or fifteen soldiers along and hurry towards Haradanapura. Deal with caution. This is a religious disturbance.”
“It is all right for emperors to build empires but what about these religious heads who acquire land, construct a temple and build a cupola to cap it?” I felt that I should unburden the king’s mind a little. The king smiled in anguish. “There was another important matter I had to discuss, Khavand.” And he looked at me as if to ask what. “Only the day before, the soldiers have returned from the battle of Coimbatore...” I said.
The nawab said, “I know no one is in a condition to travel again. Tell them there are incentives. Cajole them and tell them that on the way there is an opportunity to collect corn and a small amount of money in the form of taxes...”
Let alone corn, the soldiers wouldn’t have agreed even if they could kidnap and bring home a beautiful maiden of the village. I was standing with folded arms with my head tucked into my shoulders.
Then he spoke the final words, “You must leave the city tomorrow with the soldiers. Give me the names of those who refuse to come.”
I mumbled to myself that I was the first among those who were unwilling to go and was, at that moment, thinking how I could shrug off this unwanted responsibility.
Excerpted with permission from Agnyatha: The Memoir Of Tipu’s Unknown Commander, Krishnamurthy Hanuru, translated by LS Shankar Swamy, Bee Books.