THE FEARLESS CHATTEE -MAKER It all began on a dark, rainy night when the chattee- maker who made
chattees - red clay water pots that he loaded every day on to his old grey mule to sel l - swayed home from a party in a neighbouring village. Some would have said he hadn’t much to sing about; he and his wife were as poor as church mice as he earne d barely enough to eke out a livelihood. Still, he was a chirpy man, and was eve n perkier that evening, since he had drunk just a little too much toddy, and tod dy, made from palm juice, is a very intoxicating drink even in small shots. In f act, he was so befuddled that it wasn’t before he had reached the edge of the jung le that divided the two villages that he noticed that the mule had disappeared. ‘I’ll have to try the jungle, he’s gone off track,’ burped the chattee- maker. The jungle had its inhabitants too, and that night a panther was roaming through it. Lightning flashed, thunder cracked, and when the panther chanced upon a lit tle mud hut in a jungle clearing, he made straight for shelter behind it. Inside the hut was a little old woman, running to and fro with buckets and cans and sa ucepans to try and catch the rain driving in from her leaking roof. ‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ the panther heard her mumble, ‘all I need now is for a rogue elep hant or a lion or panther to pounce on me on a night like this.’ The panther licked his lips. ‘Two minds with but a single thought!’ he whispered to himself and crept even closer to the hut. The chattee-maker singing at the top of his voice weaved unsteadily through the jungle till he stumbled into the clearing. A great zig- zag flash of lightning lit the jungle like daylight, and just for an instant he glimpsed the shape of an animal crouching behind the hut. Then it was pitch-dark again, but the chatte e- maker meandered towards the hut. ‘Hurrah! I’ve found my mule.’ He blundered across to the panther, grabbed him by the tail, and gave him a few sharp smacks. ‘You’re a wretched brute,’ he remonstrated, ‘dra gging me on a detour in this filthy weather. Up on your feet at once or I’ll leav e you to perish of pneumonia.’ The panther had never been taken so unawares in all his life. Dazed, he stagger ed along backwards through the jungle behind the chattee-maker, who dragged him by his tail all the way to the village, singing lustily all the while. Once he h ad reached home, the chattee- maker tethered the panther to the mule’s post in t he back yard, threw a frayed blanket over him, and rolled off to bed, still sing ing. Early next morning, the chattee-maker’s wife got up and peered out of the window. She nearly fainted with shock when she saw the panther tied to the mule’s post. ‘You cannot be serious!’ she shrieked, shaking her husband awake, ’just look what you br ought home last night.’ ‘What do you mean, you silly woman?’ grumbled the chattee-maker, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, ‘what else could I have brought back but our stupid mule — it’s the o nly thing we’ve got even though it’s not worth much, dead or alive.’ His wife hauled him out of bed, shoved him towards the window and pointed. And a very angry panther he was by this time, rather stiff and extremely hungry. He snarled and jerked at his ties; he glowered at the chattee-maker. The chattee- m aker was speechless. He felt himself all over to see if the panther had injured him in any way but there wasn’t a mark to be seen. The news spread like wildfire. The village Elders agreed that the Maharajah shou ld be informed of the chattee-maker’s feat; they composed a letter and despatched it by special messenger. When the Maharajah read the letter he was delighted, fo r the panther, which was a particularly ferocious man- eating one, had been plag uing the village for a good many years. ‘I want to thank the intrepid fellow personally,’ decided the Maharajah. So he summ oned hi s carriage and courtiers and set off in processional splendour to the vi llage. When they arrived, the Maharajah saw the panther, which had once terrorised folk for miles around, cowering behind the post. ‘This deserves a reward,’ the Maharajah announced. He made a gift to the chattee-mak er of all the land surrounding the village and the command of ten thousand horse s.
‘And this time last week,’ said the chattee-maker to his wife, ‘we only owned a tiny p atch and a decrepit mule.’ Not long after it so happened that the Nawab (another Maharajah) of a country ly ing to the south of the chattee- maker’s country proclaimed war on the first Mahar ajah. He sent word to say he had mustered his army and was heading towards the b order. Some reports put the invasion at only hours away. The Maharajah was at a banquet ogling the dancing girls when the news was brough t to him. He hurriedly dismissed his guests. ‘We must mobilise our forces,’ he cried and ordered the chiefs of his armed forces to appear before him before rushing away to don his battle dress. It wasn’t long before the generals and admirals assembled. ‘Listen up,’ said the Maha rajah, ‘whilst I remain behind to guard this town which is a key position, one of you must take overall command and set out with the infantry and the cavalry to v anquish the enemy. Which one of you do you wish me to nominate?’ The chiefs went into a huddle and conferred for a long time shaking their heads and looking very doubtful. Then one of them spoke. ‘Sire, our country is totally unprepared for war. Weapons are out dated as we’ve not been involved in a conflict since your great grandfather’s time. Most of the horses are used for playing pol o now and don’t know what fighting means and as for the infantry, the last occasio n on which it was in action was when it paraded in honour of the Emperor of De lhi when he made a State visit and that was...’ he broke off to think, ‘more than te n years ago. None of us is willing to take command in such a hopeless situation and with such poorly equipped, ill trained soldiers.’ Then one of the admirals bristling with medals stood up. ‘Sire, you have just appo inted the chattee-maker to the command of ten thousand horse,’ he said. ‘A man who c an subdue a panther is surely likely to be more devious than most. Why not make him Commander –in- Chief of war operations?’ ‘Indeed and why not? What an excellent idea and let’s just say I thought of it,’ excla imed the Maharajah. ‘Get him here immediately.’ On arrival the chattee-maker was ushered into the throne room. ‘I place in your charge,’ said the Maharajah gravely, ‘the whole conduct of this war. You are now Commander- in - Chief and we rely on you to rout the opposition.’ There was very little else for the chattee-maker to do but to obey. ‘Yes, sire,’ he nodded, his pulses racing ‘but first, before I take the army into the field, let m e make a preliminary exploration to assess the potential of the Nawab’s forces and where exactly they’re stationed.’ The Maharajah nodded. ‘Time spent in reconnaissance is time well spent. Off you go then and report back to me without delay.’ The chattee- maker returned home to his wife. ‘It’s very bad news, I’m afraid. The Ma harajah has appointed me Commander –in-Chief and you know what that means. I shall have to ride at the head of our forces and you know as well as I do that I can’t abide a horse let alone ride one. But I’ve managed to delay things a bit by gettin g the Maharajah’s consent to survey the enemy camp first before I lead our conting ent into battle. What I want you to do is to cast around for an old, very quiet mare so that I’m ready to start in the morning.’ But the Maharajah was quicker off the mark and sent him the most wonderful speci men of horseflesh imaginable. There it stood, with flaring nostrils, fiery black eyes, a flowing mane and a long tail; a very grand warhorse indeed covered with a glittering saddle; very frisky and alert and champing to be on its way. What was the poor chattee-maker to do? He was terrified of this beast that tower ed over him. He couldn’t very well refuse it for the Maharajah would be very vexed , confiscate his land and probably permanently exile him. ‘You’ll just have to write a loyal letter of appreciation to the Maharajah,’ advised h is wife, ‘and then do the best you can.’ She began to giggle when she saw what a mud dle the chattee-maker had got himself into. ‘Better you than me.’ The chattee-maker pulled a face. ‘It’s all very well for you to joke,’ he said sourly, ‘but you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face when the Maharajah pours sh ame on me and deprives us of our title and property. Oh me, oh my, this creature looks so powerful that I’m sure I won’t be able to hang on, assuming, of course, th at I manage to mount it in the first place.’
His wife flew indoors and fetched a long length of clothes’ rope. ‘Now,’ she put on a school teacher’s voice, ’all you have to do is to climb into the saddle. Once you’re o n, I’ll tie you to it securely so that you can’t possibly be tossed off and if you s tart your journey while it’s still dark, no one will be any the wiser.’ The chattee- maker was relieved, not for the first time thanking his lucky star s he had got himself a clever wife. ‘That’ll do the trick’, and so while his wife cook ed supper- mutton curry and rice - over an open fire, he sat down to plan his ca mpaign. Soon after they’d eaten, the chattee- maker’s wife led the horse - who was docile in her hands- round to the back, far from the eyes of prying neighbours. ‘I’ll never make it up there,’ groaned the chattee-maker, ‘he’s very tall’. ‘Nonsense,’ said his wife briskly, ‘all you have to do is to take one giant leap.’ So he jumped and fell back - thump - into a rose bush. Again he tried and this t ime he jumped too wide and landed over on the other side. ‘You must do better,’ said his wife impatiently as she was tired of holding the rop e. The chattee-maker was sweating with his exertions. ‘I always forget,’ he panted, ‘whi ch way I should be facing.’ ‘Turn your face towards the horse’s head and you’ll find it easier,’ she suggested. So once more the chattee-maker launched himself into the air and hurray! landed in the saddle but this time he found himself facing the horse’s tail. He was back to front! His wife shook her head and doubled up with laughter, ‘you’ll have to try again.’ In the meantime, the horse thought the chattee- maker was a real wally and, det ermined to show who was boss, he started to frisk around making things all the more difficult for him. ‘Where does my right foot go once I’ve put my left foot in the stirrup?’ enquired the chattee-maker anxiously. ‘Why, in the other stirrup, of course,’ replied his wife, thinking that her husband was being more than usually stupid. It was a good few hours before the chattee-maker finally managed to mount the ho rse. ‘Hurry up and secure me’ he urged his wife, ‘or I shall lose my nerve and slide off.’ His wife took the rope and swung it triumphantly over her head. First she faste ned his legs firmly to the stirrup irons and then she tied a length of rope roun d his shoulders and another section round his neck and waist and fastened them a ll to the horse’s body. By that time the horse was extremely irritated by all the se antics. ‘Wife, oh wife,’ called the chattee-maker desperately, ‘you’ve forgotten to tie my hands .’ ‘No problem,’ she said stepping back hastily as the horse kicked up its hind legs, ‘j ust grab hold of its mane tightly,’ and she gave the animal a wallop that sent it flying over the hedge. They were off! Nothing could stop the horse in its frenzied flight — through the thick jungle it galloped, the chattee-maker clinging on to it for dear life, th rough every muddy puddle of water and over every ditch, hedge and bush. The cha ttee-maker’s heart was beating nineteen to the dozen as he bounced along. He wasn’t enjoying it at all, and when he saw how close they were to the enemy lines, he w as sure that enemy spies would detect him and send word to their forces to attac k. He determined to try and dismount if he could. As they flashed past a peepul tree he made a long arm for it hoping he’d come off the horse’s back but instead up came the tree by its roots and horse and rider scorched ahead rather like a Formula 1 racing car, the chattee-maker holding the tree aloft like a spear. When the enemy saw him thundering towards them, they thought he was the advance party and panic set in. ‘Watch it,’ they cried, ‘they’ve sent their most formidable warrior. He’s so bellicose h e can uproot trees with his little finger. Look how he charges towards us. If he’s only one of the opposing army we’re done for if the entire force is anything like him. The rest of the cavalry can’t be far behind.’ Nearer and nearer hurtled the chattee-maker. The generals sped to the Nawab. ‘Sire
, run up the white flag or we all risk being slaughtered,’ they begged. A white fl ag means they’ve surrendered. ‘Their army seems unassailable and we’re guaranteed to l ose if we engage with them’. And even before waiting for the Nawab’s final orders, t hey and the rest of their men stampeded in terror back across the border. At last the horse and chattee-maker reached the enemy camp. The horse halted abr uptly. Off tumbled the chattee-maker, as the ropes had loosened themselves in th e headlong flight. He expected to be seized and summarily beheaded but to his am azement found the camp deserted. There wasn’t a soul to be seen. In their panic th e enemy had left behind all their provisions and ammunition and even some of the ir precious horses. And in the Nawab’s tent the chattee-maker found a declaration of surrender, all signed and sealed, proclaiming the retreat of the invaders and offering a peace treaty. The chattee-maker snatched up the declaration, wolfed down the enemies’ food and knocked back several glasses of whisky then putting his horse on a leading rei n as he couldn’t remount without help, he staggered back home as fast as he coul d. ‘Honey, I’m home!’ he hiccupped as his wife ran to meet him at the door. ’Well, dear what happened?’ ‘It was all very odd. As soon as I got in sight of the enemy, the lot of them fled—j ust like that— as if they’d seen a ghost. Anyway, I looked round and found this,’ an d he handed her the declaration of surrender. ‘Take it to the Maharajah and, oh do n’t forget to return old Dobbin there’, he jerked his head at the horse who snorted with annoyance when he heard himself addressed as such. ‘Say I’m exhausted and that I’ll pay my respects to him first thing in the morning. Then I won’t have to get bac k on that thing again tomorrow.’ He gave a sigh of relief, kicked off his boots an d was soon snoring in the chair. The next morning the chattee-maker awoke to the sound of trumpets blasting victo ry through the streets. Pennants and bunting were hung across the dusty roads an d a national holiday was declared in his honour. Remembering his appointment wit h the Maharajah, he swiftly dressed and accompanied by his wife he made his way on foot to the palace besieged by flag waving and cheering crowds. ‘Hail the conquering hero comes!’ they bellowed. ‘And his modesty matches his bravery. Any other person would insist on riding in pomp to receive the Maharajah’s thank s but the chattee- maker walks humbly without an armed escort like an ordinary m ortal.’ The Maharajah, clad in his most resplendent clothes, strode out to welcome the c hattee-maker and his wife. First he was invited to inspect a ceremonial guard of honour. Next they made their way through gilded chambers of the palace where me n in cream and blue livery trimmed with heavy silver braid saluted them as they passed. Last of all, they arrived at the magnificent jewel bedecked throne room where, against a volley of cannons, the Maharajah invested him with the Lordship of a hundred villages and the noblest and highest honour in the land – the Order of the Bravest of the Brave. In the evening, the Maharajah threw a lavish feast to mark the occasion. ‘This is the best part of all’, grinned the chattee-maker and after he had drunk ra ther too much of the vintage royal toddy, he led them all in a rousing song. THE END