Description

Published date: 1 November 2017

Arjun sits restless and scared as he prepares to enter the battlefield for the first time. Inspired by compatriot Vir’s legends of mighty Sikh warriors, Arjun becomes resolute in his determination to bring honour to his family. But with false reports of cowardice emerging, what story will history remember?

This podcast is one of five short plays produced in response to documents held at The National Archives relating to the experiences of people from South Asia at the time of the First World War. The series was created by five playwrights from the Tamasha Developing Artists (TDA) programme and funded by the Friends of The National Archives.

Written by: Amman Paul Singh Brar

Directed by: Anthony Simpson-Pike

Performed by: Peter Singh, Naveed Khan and Sid Sagar

Recorded, edited and sound designed by: Robbie MacInnes

Photo credits: Bettina Adela

With thanks to Iqbal Husain and Sara Griffiths at The National Archives, and Fin Kennedy and Mina Maisuria at Tamasha Theatre.

Transcription

This is a transcript for the audio recording of ‘The Radicalisation of Vir Singh’, a play by Amman Paul Singh Brar.
Stage directions for this play are marked with square brackets.
LIEUTENANT
Hindu and Mohamedian will be fighting side by side with British soldiers and our gallant French Allies! You will be the first Indian soldiers of the King Emperor who will have the honour of showing in Europe that the sons of India have lost none of their ancient martial instincts. From the banks of the Ganges to the mountains of the Himalayas to the plains of Hindustan. The eyes of your countrymen are on you. Hindu and Mohamedian will fight for your King Emperor and your faith so that history will record the doings of India’s sons.

LIEUTENANT
Now, await orders. We’ll be making a push shortly.

VIR
Oi.

ARJUN
What?

VIR
Sit.

ARJUN
I can’t.

VIR
I said sit. You’re like my wife. Walking, moving, shifting, worrying. You heard him. The eyes of India are on us. We must be strong. Be a man. Now come here and sit.

VIR
Oh for fff…

ARJUN
What?

VIR
Didn’t your father teach how to keep your mind still?
ARJUN
Did you notice? He didn’t say Sikhs did he?

VIR
What?

ARJUN
He said Hindu and Mohamedian he didn’t say Sikh.

ARJUN
Don’t you care that the people we’re fighting for don’t even call us by our own religion?

VIR
What’s the name of this Battalion?

ARJUN
That’s not the point.

VIR
Say it.

ARJUN
They think we’re Hindu. We’re not. We have a history. We have our own religion.

VIR
Why are you telling me this?

ARJUN
It’s not right.

VIR
What’s the name of this Battalion?

ARJUN
What have the German’s done to us anyway?

VIR
What’s the name of this Battalion?

ARJUN
The 47th Sikhs.

VIR
The 47th Sikhs. And why do they call it that?

ARJUN
Because it’s for Sikhs.
VIR
Good. Now shut up and let me do my prayers.

ARJUN
I’m just saying if they’re going to do a speech then they should at least.

VIR
Oh give me strength. What’s got into you? I said keep your mind still.

ARJUN
I can’t. I don’t feel like I have my mind anymore. I feel as if I’ve got ten minds. Ten heads like one of those Hindu gods. Each one going a different way.

VIR
Ok. Relax. Arjun. It’s OK to be scared. Now do like me.

VIR
Better?

ARJUN
A little. And I’m not scared.

VIR
OK. Fine. Now repeat after me ‘Satnam Sri wahe guru ji’, ‘Satnam sri wahe guru ji’

ARJUN
Satnam Sri Wahe guru ji, satnam sri wahe guru ji.

VIR/ARJUN
Satnam Sri Wahe Guru ji

VIR
Great is the guru who leads me from darkness to light!

VIR
So go on then. What’s wrong? You are scared right?

ARJUN
No. Yes, a little. But I want to go home. I don’t want to fight for the British. It’s wrong.

VIR
[imitating] I want to go home. I don’t want to fight for the British. It’s wrong.

VIR
Are you a man?!

ARJUN
Yeah I’m a man…with a brain.

VIR
Where is it then?

ARJUN
Why are you here?

VIR
What?

ARJUN
Did you want to come all this way here? Leave your family and your land and come to fight against these foreigners?

VIR
I made a deal. And so did you. We fight. They pay us.

ARJUN
Do we get the same pay as the British soldiers?

VIR
Well…umm…I err

ARJUN
Ummm…I er…have you forgotten how to talk?

VIR
You know what a warrior does?

ARJUN
His duty.

VIR
Oh so you are a proper son of Punjab then? Yes, his duty. And you know why?

ARJUN
Because God wills it.
VIR
Yes! And everyone knows it! All of India, your family, your village, all Punjab will know how Arjun and Vir Singh went into battle in Europe and when they say our names they’ll be like ‘oh those guys were proper warriors!’. We will have honour.

ARJUN
I heard some of the lads say that if you get wounded to put copper in it. Or drink led mixed with curd. Or use the bhilwa plant over coals and let it smoke over your skin and then you’ll get a rash.

VIR
And why would you do that?

ARJUN
Then they send you home.

VIR
Yes and put ear wax in your eyes too. I know about all that dishonourable bullshit. We’re not like that ok?

ARJUN
I don’t want to fight. I want to go home.

VIR
What like a dog with its tail between its legs?
ARJUN
No.

VIR
So stop talking like that then. It’s God’s will what happens to us not ours.

VIR
We all want to go home Arjun not only you, but you signed up to be a warrior right? A soldier like Guru Gobind Singh. Was he afraid of death?

ARJUN
No.

VIR
Course he wasn’t.

ARJUN
Have you heard of the Ghadar movement?

VIR
What about them? Is that where you have got all this foolishness from? You shouldn’t talk about them.
ARJUN
But I want to.

VIR
They won’t help you. And if anyone hears you talking about them…you’ll be in trouble.

ARJUN
They’re saying the British are using us to save themselves. Giving us a few rupees and sending us to our death.

ARJUN:
They’re saying we should fight for our own country, fight for our own freedom and not fight people who have no quarrel with us.

VIR
They will kill more of our men by bringing all this confusion to our minds. We need to be strong. And where are they now these Ghadars? Are they going to help you here?

ARJUN
I’m not scared to fight Vir. I will do my duty. But I want to fight the right fight. I don’t think this is the right fight. I want to die for my people. For my land. Not other people’s. Especially those who’ve already put us under their yoke. I want to die with honour Vir Singh. If I die here I don’t think it will be with honour.

LIEUTENANT
Ready yourselves men!

VIR
There’s a higher power Arjun. If people behave dishonourably then people will know. God will have the final say not us. We have our duty. We signed up as soldiers and if we die in battle so be it. But we will die with honour, we will do our duty for our brothers here. That is all we can do right now. Honour will out live us and so will shame. Now are you ready?

ARJUN
Yeah but…

VIR
I said Arjun Singh of the 47th Sikhs, son of Punjab are you ready to help your brothers in their hour of need.?! Will you stand with your brothers and fight!

ARJUN
Yeah. I will.
VIR
Good. Now come on!

LIEUTENANT
Come on men, let’s get back out there, let’s keep the momentum going. This is no time to hide. Your brothers need you. Patch up those wounds double quick.

VIR
Don’t worry it’s alright. In fact you are a lucky so and so.

ARJUN
What are you talking about? My hand’s been shot!

VIR
You’re lucky. I think it went clean through. Just make sure the bandage doesn’t get loose. Don’t want to lose blood. How’s that?

ARJUN
Good. Ow! How many did we lose?

VIR
Someone said it was eighty.

ARJUN
Eighty?

VIR
Yep two hundred injured.

ARJUN
This isn’t war Vir. This is like the end of the world. How can men do this to each other? So many being killed like ants.

VIR
How did it happen?

ARJUN
What?
VIR
Your hand.

ARJUN:
It just…happened.

ARJUN
I swear.

VIR
OK. Anyway on the bright side you my son are going to the best place in the world.

ARJUN
Yeah? Where?

VIR
Brighton!

ARJUN
Brighton? Where’s that?

VIR
England. You’re going to stay in the King of England’s home.

ARJUN
Shut up!

VIR
It’s true. OK, he doesn’t live there now. But it’s like an Indian Palace. And you’ll see England. All the beautiful pink English children. The clean streets. The pubs if you’re lucky. And the people will cheer you on.

ARJUN
Really? The British people like us?

VIR
They celebrate us. When I went the people wanted to touch me and my turban.

ARJUN
Did the English bathe you and feed you too?

VIR
No….they’ve brought in Indians to do that.

ARJUN
Oh. Aren’t there enough English nurses?

VIR
I don’t know. You know what I heard?
ARJUN
What?

VIR
The granddaughter of Ranjit Singh looks after our Indian soldiers.

ARJUN
Don’t bullshit me. I know I’m young but don’t take the Maharaja’s name in vain.

VIR
It’s true. On the life of the guru.

ARJUN
Wow. I’m looking forward to this.

VIR
Exactly. Now. Go and see the Doctor who will send you to the hospital. And I’ll see you when you get back.

ARJUN
Yes my brother.

VIR
Wahe guru ji ki khalsa (Sikh greeting)

ARJUN
Wahe guru ji ki fateh. (Sikh greeting)

LIEUTENANT
Vir Singh?

VIR
Yes sir!

LIEUTENANT
At ease.

LIEUTENANT
Arjun Singh asked that you send his things back to India.

VIR
Sorry sir?

LIEUTENANT
Am I not being clear?

VIR
Yes, sir I understand what you said, but I don’t understand why I have to do that.

LIEUTENANT
I see. You didn’t hear the news?
VIR
I’ve been on watch sir.

LIEUTENANT
Ah. Yes well. For his cowardice the medical officer instructed that Arjun Singh be made an example of and he was executed for dishonouring the regiment. Terrible business.

VIR
What? What did he do?

LIEUTENANT
I thought that was obvious. He shot himself in the hand. The command are onto this practice that a lot of the Indian troops have been doing, trying to get sent home. So they made an example of him. Make sure it sends the right message out. Stop it happening eh?

VIR
Sir he didn’t shoot himself in the hand.

LIEUTENANT
What? Did you see it?
VIR
I….yes. Yes sir I did. Arjun is not a coward. He was a man of honour.

LIEUTENANT
It’s too late now. What’s done is done.

VIR
But. Sir. He was young. This is a mistake.

LIEUTENANT
Keep your views to yourself. Unless you want to be court martialled for aiding a coward?
VIR
He was an honourable soldier.

LIEUTENANT
Did you hear me?

VIR
But his name, his family….

LIEUTENANT
This regiment is your family. Now that’s enough or else you’ll be on half rations. Understood?

VIR
Yes sir.

LIEUTENANT
Now is there anything else?

VIR
No sir.
LIEUTENANT
Good, get ready we’re about to make a push.

VIR
Yes sir.

THE END

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