12 Nov 2011

Notes of a Young Sepoy

We anchored by the riverbank nearly midnight. Maharaja Lela’s men were nowhere to be seen. They must have thought that Sir Birch would only be arriving on 3rd November.

“All ashore,” ordered Mat Arshad, translating Sir Birch’s orders. “Tuan Birch wants to sleep.”

We – ten sepoys and twelve Malay shipmates – complied. Quietly we went up to the riverbank and took a spot to lie down and sleep. Everyone was tired after a long day distributing notices in the villages downstream.

“Are you sure?” I asked Ramu who was lying beside me.

He had told me the night before about the notices which Sir Birch distributed earlier that day. According to Ramu, Sir Birch had forced Sultan Abdullah to put down his signature on the notices.

“Is it true that Tuan Birch forced the sultan?” I asked.

“That’s what I was told. You know about the tussle between Raja Yusof, Raja Abdullah and Raja Ismail, right?” He asked with his eyes still closed.

“Yes, yes,” I answered anxiously.

“Raja Abdullah was made sultan by the British through the Pangkor Treaty. I heard all this from some of my Malay buddies,” Ramu explained, now wide awake. “So, when Sultan Abdullah refused to sigh a letter asking for protection offered by the British, Tuan Birch threatened to replace him with Raja Yusof as the legitimate Sultan of Perak.”

“Oh!” I responded while nodding.

Ramu closed his eyes again. He was lying while using his arm as a pillow. I looked around. The other sepoys must be asleep, I guess. As for the Malay shipmates, they were talking to each other in a muffled voice.

Mat Arshad, Sir Birch’s translator, must have dozed off long ago under a tree. Sir Birch himself was probably fast asleep in his special room aboard the Dragon.

The past few days had really worn out everybody. We have been circulating the notices in a few places downstream. If I am not mistaken, there were two notices related to tax collection. The rest were about the declaration of the British Empire’s control over the state.

(Translation © Chris Arjun 2011. The above extract is a translation from Uthaya Sankar SB’s “Catatan Sipahi Muda” which appears in Kathakali. The original story in Bahasa Malaysia was first published in Panglima Hitam. Please CLICK HERE for more articles in English.)