There were once three brothers and their names were Badrudin, Sadrudin and Kamrudin. They were the sons of a noble soldier who had fought bravely in the Battle of Ali Masjid.
In the seedy and secretive underworld of spies and smugglers, of military mercenaries, of gunrunners and arms dealers all along the Khyber Pass, there were few who matched the reputation and instilled as much fear and respect as these three brothers. The eldest brother, Badrudin, was the ringleader and the decision maker and held authority over his younger brothers.
It was Badrudin that handled the money in armament transactions and banked the profits from these deals with local banks in India, far and safely removed in distance from the Khyber. Badrudin was the strategic thinker and the ruthless businessman that the underworld feared, respected and needed. When there was a tribal feud or skirmish that required guns and bullets, one or both parties in the feud would have a secret meeting with Badrudin and then secure an arms deal with him. Badrudin never even blinked at the thought of supplying guns and bullets to both sides of a bloodbath, because for Badrudin, Sadrudin and Kamrudin, it was all business and all about making a profit.
Wars and vendettas, battles and skirmishes, blood feuds and tribal conflict, clashes and combat, appeared to be embedded deep within the soul of the inhabitants of the Khyber such as Badrudin and his brothers. It was ever thus, as the Khyber had been an arena of conflict and conquest throughout a history that reached back to Darius of Persia and to Alexander the Great of Macedonia, to Duwa the Conquer and to Genghis Khan.
Feuding remained to this day, within the living and present history of the men of the Khyber who often learned to wield weaponry at tender ages.
When Badrudin was just eight years of age, his father had presented him with his first weapon, a revolver. It was the same British Bull Dog Webley pocket revolver and matching holster that Badrudin carried with him to this day, into adulthood. When, at the age of eight, soon after he had received his revolver, a teacher in Badrudin’s school disapproved of his schoolwork in front of the entire classroom, Bardudin respectfully asked to meet the teacher after class when the classroom was empty of the other schoolchildren. Once student and teacher were alone in the classroom, Badrudin calmly produced his British Bull Dog Webley pocket revolver from underneath his flowing white long sleeved khat shirt, and pointed the gun directly at his teacher’s head. Badrudin then calmly explained to the teacher that he did not wish to be humiliated in front of his classmates. The teacher, whose name was Mr. Khaldun, nervously promised that it would never happen again and humbly apologized to young Badrudin.
On this particular day, Badrudin thought back to that childhood memory so many years ago, when he had intimidated and threatened his teacher, Mr. Khaldun. Badrudin mildly smiled to himself. He was, at this very moment, striding out of the tailor shop of Mr. Warnakulasuriya on Rawalpindi Road.
Badrudin had traveled to India after many days on the Indian Railway, traveling southward from the mountainous region of the Khyber Pass.
He had come to India to transact an arms deal in order to supply guns to a bloodthirsty warlord in the Khyber. Badrudin had also come to speak to his bank manager with whom the latest profits from this current arms deal would be banked. Having been refitted in his attire by his tailor, Mr. Warnakulasuriya, Badrudin now felt more at ease to walk about town in the guise of a well-dressed and seemingly benign businessman, rather than the ruthless and savvy smuggler and shrewd gunrunner that he really was.
Mr. Warnakulasuriya recalled how relieved he had felt earlier in the day, when Badrudin had finally strode confidently out of his tailor shop, fully attired in one of Mr. Warnakulasuriya’s knock-off Saville Row suits, shiny black wingtip shoes and of course, the hidden compartment within the inside of Badrudin’s suit jacket, which concealed Bardrudin’s beloved British Bull Dog Webley pocket revolver.
That had been a rough morning for Mr. Warnakulasuriya, as a visit from the formidable Badrudin always gave Mr. Warnakulasuriya the shivers and the sweats at the same time. He would perspire on the outside as a result of being intimidated by the presence of Badrudin, while on the inside, Mr. Warnakulasuriya’s blood ran cold and sent shivers up his spine. His hands would become clammy as he readjusted Badrudin’s inside suit jacket with his needle and thread, in order to accommodate Badrudin’s revolver. He had to periodically dry his hands with his white handkerchief and dab and dry his sweaty brow in the presence of the frightening Badrudin.
It was thus a relief for Mr. Warnakulasuriya that his appointment with his client Badrudin had been a success and was now behind him. He had been filled with dread for days in anticipation of Badrudin’s visit. Now that the visit was over, many hours ago, Mr. Warnakulasuriya enjoyed a refreshing cup of chai, together with the Chaiwalla’s son, and the Chaiwalla himself, who had come to visit Mr. Warnakulasuriya’s tailor shop to collect his son and take him back home via the Indian Railway, to their residence in the tea plantations near the Sacred Forest.
Although Mr. Warnakulasuriya had no family of his own and lived alone, the one joy in his life was to protect and apprentice the Chaiwalla’s ten year-old son, who the Chaiwalla had entrusted to Mr. Warnakulasuriya. The Chaiwalla had asked for Mr. Warnakulasuriya to be his son’s godson, which was a great honor that made Mr. Warnakulasuriya glow with pride.
The Chaiwalla was a man of such gentle character and demeanor and such sparkle, that, Mr. Warnakulasuriya often thought, The Chaiwalla and his son seemed to not only light up the tailor shop of Mr. Warnakulasuriya , but beyond this, to light up the entire vicinity of Rawalpindi Road, dispelling the entire area, if just but for a moment, of all the darkness and deviousness, the demons and devils, that seemed to lurk and linger in the air. Perhaps, Mr. Warnakulasuriya often thought, this was because the Chaiwalla and his son had brought the gentle spirit of the Sacred Forest tea plantation with them, and carried that gentle spirit wherever they ventured.
When the Chaiwalla and his son were in Mr. Warnakulasuriya’s tailor shop, there was such a sense of serenity, such a gentle state of grace, that one could almost see in the mind’s eye, the misty morning clouds of the Sacred Forest tea plantations, through which the orange and crimson dawn glowed, and the shafts of yellow sun fell beautifully upon the rolling green hills of the tea plantations and illuminated the women tea pickers with their multi-colored saris, and their backs laden with woven baskets and smiling babies, all greeting the day with a quiet respect and an inner reverence.
As Mr. Warnakulasuriya and the Chaiwalla and the Chaiwalla’s son, sat in the tea drinking area of the tailor shop, and sipped upon their second cup of chai, they chatted about many things.
News had already spread all along the Rawalpindi Road, of the mysterious and magical reconciliation between the redeemed and repentant Mr. Bhattacharya and rightfully reinstated Mr. Chatterjee.
Mr. Warnakulasuriya explained to the Chaiwalla and the Chaiwalla’s son how, at this very moment, Mr. Chatterjee, at the invitation of Mr. Bhattacharya, was taking tea at the Colonial Club as part of a special afternoon tea gathering that Mr. Bhattacharya had arranged for Mr. Chatterjee, which included many of the club members of The Colonial who had missed the warm and chatty presence of Mr. Chatterjee.
Mr. Bhattacharya had made a special effort to ensure that Kumar, Mr. Chatterjee’s beloved former student, was also in attendance at this commemorative afternoon tea to celebrate the induction of a lifetime membership of rightfully reinstated Mr. Chatterjee to the Colonial Club.
As Mr. Warnakulasuriya and the Chaiwalla and the Chaiwalla’s son, sat in the tea drinking area of the tailor shop, and now sipped upon their third cup of chai, a man entered the tailor shop unexpectedly and startled the surprised Mr. Warnakulasuriya.
It was Badrudin. Badrudin had returned.
Badrudin was standing tbefore the Chaiwalla, the Chaiwalla’s son and Mr. Warnakulasuriya, straight as a plank, formidable as ever, while clutching in his right hand a large briefcase the size of a small suitcase.
With his reputation for brevity intact, Badrudin uttered a short sentence:
“I want to buy school.”
The flustered and flummoxed Mr. Warnakulasuriya stood up ungracefully and shakily and presented an already clammy and sweaty outstretched wobbly hand to Badrudin in a hesitant and unsteady greeting. Badrudin did not shake Mr. Warnakulasuriya’s hand and instead asserted once again with an even firmer conviction and a slightly louder voice.
“I want to buy school.”
The fumbling and fidgety Mr. Warnakulasuriya reached nervously for his white handkerchief and dabbed with it at his perspiring and dripping brow, while tremulously constructing in his quivering mind a polite way to encourage Badrudin to elaborate upon his brief manifesto of needing to purchase a school.
It transpired, as Mr. Warnakulasuriya with the help of the calming presence of the Chaiwalla, spoke further with Badrudin, that Badrudin’s intention was to build a school for boys in the mountainous Khyber region, and that he was wanting to purchase the services of a schoolmaster who could advise him on how to go about building this school since Badrudin was not, as he himself described it, ‘in the school business’, and thus needed to purchase some expertise.
Almost immediately, Mr. Warnakulasuriya thought of Mr. Chatterjee, who, at this very moment, was having his celebratory afternoon tea at the Colonial Club, courtesy of Mr. Bhattacharya. As soon as Mr. Warnakulasuriya mentioned this as an option to Badrudin, the precise and decisive Badrudin insisted that he and Mr. Warnakulasuriya march right over to the Colonial Club and talk with Mr. Chatterjee.
Mr. Warnakulasuriya then made a precursory phone call to Mr. Bhattacharya at the Colonial Club, to prepare him for the upcoming meeting. Gopal answered the phone, and promised to convey the message to Mr. Bhattacharya and Mr. Chaterjee, as Gopal put it to Mr. Warnakulasuriya on the phone:
“Poste haste and in no uncertain terms!’
When Mr. Warnakulasuriya whispered on the phone to Gopal that he was bringing over a gunrunner and arms smuggler by the name of Badrudin to meet with Mr. Chatterjee at the Colonial Club, Gopal responded: “Oh my golly gosh, isn’t it?”
Mr. Bhattacharya’s spacious General Manager’s office at The Colonial, was now occupied by several standing and some upstanding gentleman that included Badrudin, still clutching at his outsized black leather briefcase: Mr. Warnakulasuriya, Mr. Chatterjee, Mr. Chatterjee’s former school student and former benefactor Kumar, Mr. Bhattacharya’s clerk and secretary Gopal, who had arranged the meeting at Mr. Warnakulasuriya’s behest, and Mr. Bhattacharya himself.
As the other men stood and gazed nervously at Badrudin, Badrudin stared back at each of them with his piercing black eyes, as if to silently interview them all and vet them before telling them why he had moved Mr. Warnakulasuriya into requesting this gathering.
Badrudin then asked that all the standing men walk over with him to Mr. Bhattacharya’s large and wide desk, upon which Badrudin placed with a quiet thud, his oversized briefcase. He clicked open the briefcase and flung back the lid and all the men gazing and widened their eyes in bewilderment.
The briefcase contained a small fortune in large banknotes.
Badrudin explained that he had gone to the local bank and withdrawn all the ill-gotten gains from the arms dealing and smuggling business that he and his brothers Sadrudin and Kamrudin, had been profiting from for many years. He further explained that he would now like to reinvest all of this money into building a school in the Khyber region. He further planned to retire him and his brothers from the weapons business, and for him and Sadrudin and Kamrudin to spend the rest of their days as armed security guards, protecting the school he was going to build with all the money in this briefcase.
Finally, Badrudin explained that he had determined to install his own former schoolteacher when Badrudin was eight years old, Mr. Khaldun, as the headmaster of this new school Bardrudin was building, which was to be named after the father of Badrudin, Sadrudin and Kamrudin.
Mr. Chatterjee was moved by the authentic conviction of Badrudin to begin a new chapter in his life and build a noble legacy for his brothers and his father.
Mr. Chatterjee and Kumar became very enthusiastic about Bardrudin’s proposition and they rapidly put together a plan for Bardrudin that Badrudin approved and went forward with. It was agreed that Kumar, as a businessman who understood how to go about constructing a school, would accompany Badrudin back to the Khyber and help Badrudin with the operational and business logistics of building the school for boys in the Khyber region. It was further agreed by Bardrudin, that Mr. Chatterjee and the new headmaster that Badrudin was to appoint to head up the school, Mr. Khaldun, would correspond with each other. Mr. Chatterjee would advise Mr. Khaldun on the logistics of implementing an educational curriculum for the new school, in the Khyber region, including the selection of books to be stocked at the school library, in the subjects of history and literature.
Kumar went back to his own office after the meeting with Badrudin, to organize his affairs and hand over his management duties to his staff for the next month. Kumar then met with Badrudin at the India Railway station and together, Kumar and Badrudin boarded an India Railway train in the direction of the mountainous Kyber region, to begin their journey and their task of building a school for boys.
Click here for Chapter Six, Day Two of the Great Trek.