An extract from:

Charles H.G. Nida, Chota Sahib: you’ve had a busy day (2007), edited by Ian Clark

ISBN 978-1-898728-11-5

It was because of Tozer that I met Laura Peters.  Not that the two of them ever met, or even knew of each other.  But if I hadn’t been trying so hard to escape him, I’d never have landed up at the tiny native station where she lived and she would probably have spent the rest of her life in misery and purdah.

I’d just about “done” Jhansi, as the salesmen say.  My itinerary told me I was due to entrain for Agra and Delhi.  I was on the point of leaving town when I spotted a tonga driving towards the dak bungalow which I had just vacated, loaded with cases looking uncomfortably like my own.  My firm had warned me to be on the lookout for Tozer and to avoid him like the plague.  Tozer was constantly roaming the mofussil, battening onto our agents and stealing our best customers.  For some reason I never found out, he hated Colvin like the devil, so a concerted attempt on the part of my bosses to lure him to join us at double salary had had absolutely no effect.  In consequence an undercover war went on unremittingly between our chaps and Tozer, a kind of catch-as-catch-can all over the mofussil.

I halted and straightaway sent Sebastian over to find out who the stranger was.  Having discreetly consulted the other man’s servant he came back and confirmed my worst fears.  It was Tozer.  I knew I had to get away quickly and not be tricked into revealing my next port-of-call.  But Tozer was just as keen to identify me as I had been him, and a lot less devious.

“Hullo,” he thundered.  “Aren’t you Gore’s chap?  Fellow by the name of Nida?”

I reluctantly confessed I was.  He dismounted and hurried over, holding out a clammy hand.

“Well, I’ve heard of you, even if you haven’t heard of me.  I seldom get to see Bombay, so I don’t know many of the fellows at the Gym.”

He was about thirty-five years old, at a guess.  He was thick-set and funnelled his voice through a nose at least twice normal size.  His carroty hair, pugnacious pock-marked face and sticky-out ears, like an elephant with the wind behind him, did nothing to commend him as a sales personality.

He stuck his chin out and snarled, “How many days have you been here?”


He cursed juicily and spat on the verandah.

“Then you’ve just about ransacked the place.  You’ve no right to go trespassing on other people’s territory.”

At that I almost burst with suppressed laughter.  Keeping my face as straight as I could, I apologised and explained that I was only carrying out my instructions.

“Going to Agra, I suppose?”  he conjectured slyly.  He didn’t wait for a reply but abruptly turned his back on me.  My hesitation had sufficed to tell him what he wanted to know.

I was now in a quandary.  If I went straight to Agra, trying to keep one jump ahead of him, I would miss the stopover I’d promised myself at Gwalior to visit the famous sandstone fort of Raja Man Singh, not to mention the Man Mandir Palace.  Pride and self-interest prevailed.  I would not have my plans disrupted by anybody–least of all by Tozer, damn him.  So I left the train at Gwalior en-route for Agra.  The firm had mentioned no customers in the city, but defiantly I was determined to dismount there, if only to see its great fort which the guidebook described as “a castle from the Arabian nights”.

Strange to say I have never met another European who has paid Gwalior a visit.  Yet of all the lovely old cities of India it holds pride of place in my memory.  In part this was because it was the first such city of any size that I had inspected.  But mainly it was due to its links with the Moghul emperors, whose history had always fascinated me.  So I spent the day looking over its amazing sandstone fort, within which Raja Man Singh had created his Man Mandir Palace in the 15th century.  Of its architecture I had never seen the like, especially the six great gateways leading to its precincts.  Not understanding the finer points of its design, it was the size of the place which impressed me most.  Of course I was awestruck by the beauty of its carved peacocks and elephants, heavily moulded ceilings and the delicate tracery of the screens.  It was hard to believe that Gwalior was associated with such a bloodthirsty man as the Emperor Aurangzeb, who had his own brother Prince Murad beheaded in the fort to eliminate him as a rival.  It was a weekend and the winter tourist season well past, so in the end I stayed there two days.  Then, physically and mentally refreshed, I went on to Agra for a fateful second encounter with Tozer, which served to turn me–if only for a brief interval–into a knight in shining armour.

…to be continued.


See also:

Chota Sahib – Foreword

Vocabulary Of The Raj