To view this media, you will require Adobe Flash 9 or higher and must have Javascript enabled.

Duration 00:14:33

‘Smile’: a play about Indian soldiers at the Brighton Pavilion Hospital during the First World War

Three Indian soldiers recover at the iconic Brighton Pavilion hospital. Every detail is provided for but something isn’t quite right. The soldiers question why the plentiful food and high quality care is served in the shadow of guards and bars across windows. Will they be honoured as heroes as the British had led them to believe, or are they merely prisoners being readied again for war?

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: Melanie Pennant

Directed by: Anthony Simpson-Pike

Performed by: Peter Singh, Naveed Khan, Jag Sanghera and Jim Conway

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 ‘Smile’, a play by Melanie Pennant.
Stage directions for this play are marked with square brackets.
TURA BAZ [to Shahab]
See you’ve got everything then?

HAKIM ABDUL
And you?

TURA BAZ
Two legs, arms, hands, all my fingers, my eyes.

SHAHAB
A head.

TURA BAZ
Yes a head. Everything, except a broken leg but it can mend. [To Hakim Abdul] And you? You have everything?

HAKIM ABDUL
Everything.

TURA BAZ
Then we must thank God that we are all whole and complete men here.

HAKIM ABDUL
But the, the real question is why are we here?
[English soldier enters with a camera and tripod]
ENGLISH SOLDIER
Right. Come together now chaps. Get together. That’s it. Squeeze in now. Right. When His Majesty enters you will say…

SHAHAB
This English hospital is beyond belief.

TURA BAZ
Not even my own mother and father could have done more. This is freedom. This country compared with others is like Heaven/

HAKIM ABDUL
Hell…
[The English soldier’s attention is aroused]
of a country. It’s always raining. It never stops.

ENGLISH SOLDIER:
Very good. Be at ease. I just need to…
TURA BAZ
How long have you been here.

HAKIM ABDUL
Seven weeks.

TURA BAZ
I’ve been here five days.

HAKIM ABDUL
What was the first thing you noticed, when you arrived?

TURA BAZ
The nurses!

HAKIM ABDUL
No. What did you see?

HAKIM ABDUL
The bars on the window? The barbed wire on the gates? The armed guards at every entrance? This isn’t a hospital. This is…

SHAHAB
A prison. All around the walls cave in and they are burying us alive. We are broken and we can’t hold up all their foreign soil. Our backs aren’t strong enough.

TURA BAZ
What’s wrong with him?

HAKIM ABDUL
They call it hysterical spine. When the trench collapses in on them. It drives them…

TURA BAZ
He looked fine to me.

HAKIM ABDUL
Looks can be deceiving.

ENGLISH SOLDIER:
Right. That’s it boys. Fall back in now and look this way. Look at me. Look like you are enjoying it. And?

SHAHAB
Our duty is to die in battle. Everyone who is born has to die some day. Who remembers a man who dies in his own bed?

TURA BAZ
We thank your Majesty again and again and pray that your Majesty may rule over us for ever and ever.
SHAHAB
Amen.

ENGLISH SOLDIER
Look this way.

HAKIM ABDUL
Every detail is taken care of. There are nine kitchens. Meat is slaughtered according to religious practices. Food is stored and cooked by men of the same caste. How happy we are that the English should be so concerned with the contents of our Indian stomachs. Shame they couldn’t put such efforts into preserving the contents of the Treaty.

ENGLISH SOLDIER
Did you say Treaty?

HAKIM ABDUL
No Sir. Meaty.

ENGLISH SOLDIER.
Perhaps we should stick to English. Easier for all concerned.

ENGLISH SOLDIER [To the audience]
Yes Your Royal Highness, they speak English very well. But still you must consider that these Indians
are a simple and ignorant breed. They have what I’d call “oriental fatalism”. [Laughs] For them death is fated. Much depends on the weather though – an Indian looks unfit on a cold wet day. He would look fit if he had arrived on a sunshiny day. “Thin?” Oh no Your Majesty, they are well fed. Food in abundance.
[To the Sepoys] Fall back then. At ease.

Food. I should have thought of that. Back in a jiffy.
[The English solider leaves. Tura Baz and Hakim Abdul relax.]

TURA BAZ
What time is it?

HAKIM ABDUL
5:30.

TURA BAZ
The nurses will be along soon then.

HAKIM ABDUL
In India our sun rises.

SHAHAB
At 6 GMT they said prepare for attack. We waited.

SHAHAB
And then it came – it had no face.
[Hakim Abdul makes noises of shelling – he whistles then makes an explosion noise.]

TURA BAZ
The food is nice. All you can eat. Nine kitchens.

HAKIM ABDUL
He’s gone now. So you can stop. Where were you based? Your regiment?

TURA BAZ
Fifty seventh Rifles. Ypres. I had ten of the finest men our country has produced.

HAKIM ABDUL
Our country.

TURA BAZ
I know those men like the back of my hand.

HAKIM ABDUL
Our strength is in our men and our women.

TURA BAZ
Their sleeping habits, how they eat, what they think.

HAKIM ABDUL
We can think. For ourselves.

TURA BAZ
We are closer than family.

HAKIM ABDUL
And united we can rise.

TURA BAZ
No other man would you want to be at your side as you enter the breach, in this Great Great War.

HAKIM ABDUL
Say their names.

TURA BAZ
Muhammad Usman. Ahmad Khan – a man who makes you laugh out loud even as the pain from your shattered leg makes you cry. Abdullah Khan – would give up his own life to save yours….These are…
Finds it hard to say…Were.. my brothers.

HAKIM ABDUL
What did you see?

TURA BAZ
Things a man should never have to. The insides of men worn like clothes.
SHAHAB
A head.

TURA BAZ
Yes….

HAKIM ABDUL
Then you have seen it. The bloody systematic slaughter of our men, and you must know the answer.
Why are we here?

TURA BAZ
We do not speak the same language and I do not choose to see what you see.

TURA BAZ
I understand that we may go sightseeing Sir? I would like very much to see where the King and Queen reside.

ENGLISH SOLDIER
Well of course old chap.

HAKIM ABDUL
If they are minded they will take you to an organ recital.

TURA BAZ
Actually, I would like to meet the Brighton people.

HAKIM ABDUL
Heaven forbid you speak to anyone outside of these walls. Heaven forbid you speak to their women.

TURA BAZ
I have come to like very much speaking to their women.
SOLDIER
Old chaps, would you mind talking in English? I can’t understand what you’re saying.

TURA BAZ
There is this one pear in particular. The finest pear I’ve ever seen.

ENGLISH SOLIDER
I like pears too.

SHAHAB
Big juicy plump ripe pears. Makes my mouth water.

TURA BAZ
I’ve never tasted pears of this kind before.

ENGLISH SOLIDER
English pears are very good.

[Tura Baz bites into the pear. English soldier bites into his pear.]

TURA BAZ
It is so sweet and succulent and in my five days here.

[Hakim Abdul roars with laughter. Shahab laughs a manic laugh. English soldier a bit perplexed
joins them.]

HAKIM ABDUL
You haven’t heard.

SHAHAB
Red Pepper don’t want their fruit near our death beds. There is no more fruit in the garden. The tree has stopped bearing. It has been cut down and its roots poisoned.

TURA BAZ
You’re mistaken.

ENGLISH SOLIDER
Actually, that’s right. The picture looks much better without.

HAKIM ABDUL
[Hakim Abdul pretends to be an English soldier. Stands upright]Orders received from the very top echelons of the very top echelons of the British War Office: “To whom it may concern dot dot dot, we’ve changed our minds. No more Pears to enter the Black Pepper hospitals, our Pears are being bruised, take them away yours sincerely by the order of the Red Pepper etc etc etc.” They don’t want our black bodies being touched by their women and us experiencing their flesh for fear of
contamination. What is it? You can always try to find your white woman. Well, what is stopping you?
Just step past the guards with their arms. Over the six foot gates and the barbed wire, and into the town that you are forbidden to go to except under escort. Go then. Go and find your precious pear.
Those are not our women. This is not our war.

TURA BAZ
This is my war. This is Muhammad, Abdullah, Ahmad’s war. This Great war is what they held in their hearts as they drew their last breath. Those ten…

SHAHAB
Eleven, five hundred, fifty thousand.

TURA BAZ
Brave brave soldiers. This is our war. This is our war.

HAKIM ABDUL
They, you and I will be forgotten.

TURA BAZ
We will be remembered! Celebrated.

HAKIM ABDUL
Not with equality.

TURA BAZ
No one will forget what we have done for this country.

HAKIM ABDUL
An after thought. If that.

TURA BAZ
Our white brothers, their kings and queens and their sons and daughters will stand next to ours at cenotaphs and chant our names.

HAKIM ABDUL
And what if they don’t? What will it mean if they don’t?

TURA BAZ
Risaldar Badlu Singh, Sepoy Chatta Singh, Naik Darwan Singh Negi, Rifleman Gabar Singh Negi, Lance-Daffadar Gobind Singh, Lance-Naik Lala, Khudakhad Khan… In war men die. All men die.

HAKIM ABDUL
But Black Pepper die first.

ENGLISH SOLDIER
What’s the noise?

ENGLISH SOLDIER
Right. Now come on chaps. Let’s really show His Majesty your fighting spirit.

ENGLISH SOLDIER
And all around there is good cheer and the men are most delighted to be called upon and so grateful for the wonderful building which reminds them of their heritage and let us not forget the nine kitchens, Your Excellency. Food in abundance. The Indians are contented, cheery and smiling. There is wonderful camaraderie. They really do believe we are all in this together.

SHAHAB
Then we are deceived.

HAKIM ABDUL
When we are on their land they lock away their daughters, and lock us away. Then they tell us to.

SHAHAB
Smile.

ENGLISH SOLIDER
English.

SHAHAB
I have my own land. A wife. A child waiting to be conceived. A mother who mourns me. Men ready to replace me. I have soil under my feet waiting to bury me. A grandfather who died. In his own bed. I do remember him. I have a broken back that cries out for the warmth of my hot sun. I just want to go.

TURA BAZ
Home.
SHAHAB
….Home.

HAKIM ABDUL
……..Home.

ENGLISH SOLDIER
English.

SHAHAB
But they patch you up and send you back again. Did you now that? They send you back into the fire.

TURA BAZ
They send you back?

HAKIM ABDUL
They send you back.

TURA BAZ.
…..I can’t. I….

SHAHAB
Only way to get home is to become half a man, a quarter of a man, an eighth of a man. You have to.

ENGLISH SOLDIER
English!

SHAHAB
Cut away at your hands, and your feet, chop off your own fingers – you have to become…..no man at all.

HAKIM ABDUL
That’s it. That’s the answer.

ENGLISH SOLDIER
Come on boys get together. Here we go, one last time. This is your legacy.

TURA BAZ
What’s the answer? We don’t exist. We die in vain.
TURA BAZ
We don’t! We do exist!

TURA BAZ
[To the audience] You can’t forget us. You won’t forget us will you?

SHAHAB
We are just outside the frame. In the space between the click and the image and in between the lines at WO 32 oblique 5110.

TURA BAZ
Come and find us…..Please.

ENGLISH SOLDIER
And three, two, one. Smile.

THE END.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We will not be able to respond to personal family history research questions on this platform.
See our moderation policy for more details.