Riyaz reached the shade of a big tree and called out for Jawahar Singh.
“What’s the matter, Riyaz Bhaiyya?” Jawahar Singh asked as soon as he came out.
“Let’s go. Everyone must be waiting for us.”
“Yes, it’s useless to wait here any longer. Pandey Ji will safely escort those people to Lucknow.”
Jawahar Singh moved closer to him and said, “Pandey Ji is near a bunch of banana trees and is coming this way.”
“Pandey Ji is preparing food for us, but it will be a hassle to carry it.”
Before Jawahar Singh could say anything, Pandey Ji arrived and asked, “What’s the matter? Why didn’t you sleep? I already ordered the guards to be alert.”
“Pandey Ji, we’ll take your leave now,” said Riyaz. “Subedar Sahib must be waiting for us.”
“But Bhaiyya, I have had some food prepared for your journey. Why don’t you wait a little longer?”
Riyaz apologised profusely, but when Ram Tirath Pandey would not accept any excuses, he said, “All right, when we pass through here tonight, we will pick it up.”
Pandey Ji made him promise before allowing them to leave. Jawahar Singh called out to his companions, who emerged with rifles slung across their shoulders. Riyaz said, “Pandey Ji, remember that the firangs are at our mercy. There are women with them, and we must look after them and keep them safe.”
“Bhaiyya, don’t you worry,” said Pandey Ji. “I will personally escort them to Lucknow.”
As Riyaz and his companions were about to set off, Alice came out of the haveli.
The moment she saw that the men were ready to leave, she said something in English to the other firangs, and they came out as well. Pandey Ji, Riyaz and his companions all paused to look at her. Alice whispered something to her companions and then went to Riyaz and Pandey Ji.
“What’s the matter, Miss Baba?” Pandey Ji asked Alice. “I have come to thank these people.”
She looked at Riyaz with longing in her eyes and, without any hesitation, moved close to him and clasped his hands. “Mr Riyaz, I would like to thank you once more on behalf of my companions and myself. We would like nothing more than to be taken to Lucknow by you and your men. But of course, we don’t want to inconvenience you.”
The other English also came close to Alice, but she held on to Riyaz’s hands and kept speaking. “My name is Alice. Alice Harrison. My elder brother, Major John Harrison, is in Lucknow. I was in Shahjahanpur with my younger brother, Philip Harrison, who left for Hardoi.”
“May god ensure your safe passage to Lucknow,” replied Riyaz. “If there had been time and had circumstances permitted it, we would certainly have escorted you to Lucknow, but Pandey Ji will take you there.”
The Englishmen also thanked Riyaz and his men. Alice remained frozen in her place, gazing longingly at Riyaz’s face. He said to her, “Good. Now please permit us to be on our way.”
Alice leaned forward and kissed Riyaz’s hands. He got flustered and nervous.
Alice let go of his hand and said, “We are only alive because of you. May god reward and bless you for this.” She spoke in fluent Urdu.
Riyaz lifted his hand to say salaam.
“Khuda hafiz,” stuttered Alice, as if the words wouldn’t come out.
Riyaz said salaam to Pandey Ji and went to the chaupal. Pandey Ji followed him. The men had already prepared the horses. After thanking Pandey Ji, they all left the basti.
Jawahar Singh said to Riyaz, “Tell me, Riyaz Bhaiyya, can young girls from our homes speak to strangers like this?”
But before Riyaz could reply, a soldier shouted out, “Speaking to strangers is one thing. This one kissed Riyaz Bhaiyya’s hands!”
“Yes, Avtar Bhaiyya. I got very nervous. Even now I can hear my heart beating!”
Another soldier laughed and said, “Well, she is very beautiful.”
Riyaz turned to him and smiled. They chatted and soon reached their companions. Some soldiers were on guard while the rest of them slept in the shade of the dense trees. The subedar, too, lay under a tree. As soon as he heard their voices, he sat up and beckoned to Riyaz.
“I just heard that Captain Forbes, along with some women and children, has left for Lucknow and that every cantonment’s regiments are gathering near Nawabganj.”
“But we need to go to Mahmudabad. Raja Sahib is waiting for us.”
“Yes. That’s why I have called for you. I am going to Hardayalpur. Three companies of our battalion have already reached there. I am going to ride there and you bring that company also.”
After explaining some other important things to Riyaz, the subedar went his way. An hour later, Riyaz woke everyone up, and they set off for Mankapur. Pandey Ji had had four horses loaded with water and food for the soldiers. In another two hours, they were in Hardayalpur.
Three companies from their battalions were waiting next to a lake near the basti. Everyone ate and rested, and at midnight they set off towards Mahmudabad.
Early in the morning, they met 300 soldiers who were on their way from Khiri and Muhammadi to Nawabganj. By late afternoon that same day, they arrived in the grounds in front of the Qila of Mahmudabad. Raja Sahib asked them to rest in one of the orchards and called for the subedar to confer with him.
Apart from Raja Sahib’s special guards, around 2000 to 2500 locals had gathered there. They were all carrying swords, rifles and other weapons. The subedar emerged from the Qila after sunset. As soon as he reached the orchard, he sat down on the edge of a well and called for Riyaz, Jawahar Singh, Laxman Pandey, Shukla Ji and Maulvi Karamat Ali.
Maulvi Karamat Ali said, “I have heard that Thakur Loni Singh has started corresponding with the British.”
“Yes, that is exactly what Raja Sahib was saying,” said the subedar. “But the English won’t help him as there are fifteen or twenty English refugees in his Qila, whom he wants to send to Lucknow.”
Laxman Pandey interjected. “On reaching Lucknow, they will tell them everything about our movements, our location and our plans.”
Riyaz replied, “You are right. But we shouldn’t give them enough time for this. The fight will begin in Lucknow.” Shukla Ji said, “Before making any decision, we should send a man to Faizabad to ask Maulvi Sahib for his advice.” The subedar replied, “Raja Sahib thinks so as well. So tomorrow morning, we will send Jawahar Singh to Faizabad.”
Puzzled, Maulvi Karamat Ali asked, “But he has been in the firangis’ prison for the last month, hasn’t he?”
“He should have been freed by now,’ said the subedar, ‘because it had been decided that as soon as we take up weapons, we would free Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah. The fact is that he is leading our War of Independence, and we will await his instructions.”
Jawahar Singh turned to the subedar and said, “If you permit, I want to take two soldiers with me.”
“Of course,” replied the subedar. “Lalta Singh and Shaikh Ahmad will go with you. Both are good riders.”
“Please instruct them now that we shall be leaving at four in the morning tomorrow.”
“Right, I shall tell them now,” replied the subedar. “You go and rest.” At this, Jawahar Singh left.
Excerpted with permission from The Break of Dawn, Khan Mahboob Tarzi, translated from the Urdu by Ali Khan Mahmudabad, Penguin Books.
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