Tarini Khuro was a fictional character created by Satyajit Ray. Literally, it means “Respected Uncle Tarini.” Khuro in old colloquial Bengali means paternal uncle. The full name of Tarini Khuro is Tarini Ranjan Bandopadhyay. Tarini Khuro’s adventure stories have a touch of supernatural forces in them. He is central to about fifteen stories written by Ray. Tarini is an aged bachelor living in Beniatola Lane, College Street, in Kolkata (or what was then Calcutta).His audience consists of five, rather restless teenagers.
The range of the stories are varied — from ghost stories (many of which are not horror stories though) to comedy. Most of the stories portray the quick wit of Tarini in the face of imminent problems/dangers, and Tarini himself has had some close shaves by the stroke of luck. He has an unending stock of stories, full of strange incidents which can easily surpass two volumes of The Arabian Nights. There is a little exaggeration in his storytelling for the sake of art. He has not stayed in the same job for more than a year. At the age of 64, he settled down in a flat in Kolkata.
The Duel of Lucknow (Translated from Satyajit Ray’s Bengali short story, Lucknow-er-Duel)
“Do you know what duel means?” asked Tarini Khuro. “Of course I know what it means,” replied Napla. “Dual role – it means a double role in films. Santosh Dutta played dual roles in Gupi Gayin, King of Halla and King of Shundi.”
“I’m not talking about that dual,” Tarini smiled. “It’s d-u-e-l, not d-u-a-l. It means a fight between two people.” “Yes, yes, we know!” we all exclaimed together. “A few years ago, I did a study on duels for my own knowledge,” went on Tarini. “It all started in the 16th century in Italy, and this trend gradually spread to the whole of Europe by the end of the century. In those days, swords were regarded as an important part of a gentleman’s personality. Say, a person, for some reason, humiliated another, so in order to save one’s reputation, the victim used to challenge that person to a duel. There was no way of rejecting such challenges; as a result this, a sword-fight used to take place between the two. It is not that one could actually save one’s reputation through this, as the challenger might not be an expert in swordplay. But as bearing an insult was regarded as to humiliating in those days, challenges were to be thrown.”
“Later, in the era of firearms like rifles and pistols, the pistol became the main dueling weapon instead of the sword. This happened in around the 18th century. Many people died and got hurt in these duels, so attempts in declaring this trend illegal were also made many a times by the authorities. But if one ruler put a ban on duels, maybe it started all over again during the reign of his successors because of their ignorance. These duels had unending rules and regulations! The two had to use exactly the same weapon, both were supposed to have ‘seconds’ or umpires to minimize the chances of cheating, and when the challenger’s second cried ‘fire!’ both opponents had to fire at the same time. I’m not sure if you know about this, but a very famous duel was fought in our Indian sub-continent. In fact, it took place in Calcutta itself.”
Even know-it-all, Napla did not know about it, and he shook his head like everybody else.
“Of the person who fought this duel,” Tarini carried on, “One of them is famous all over the world. He was the Governor General of British India, Warren Hastings. His opponent was Phillip Francis, a Presidium Member of the Governor General’s Council. For some reason, Hastings wrote a very insulting letter to Francis. Francis then challenged him to a duel. An open field near the Alipur National Library was selected as the dueling spot. Francis was the challenger, so one of his friends had to arrange a pair of pistols, and he was the one who shouted ‘fire!’ The pistols also were fired at the same time, but only one person fell to the ground – the wounded Phillip Francis. But the good news is, that wound was not very severe.”
“Alright, we are done with history,” Napla replied, “Tell us a story now. If you are thinking so much about duels, then I’m sure that you have quite an experience regarding this, right?” “It’s not any experience like you all are thinking, but hearing about this incident will definitely make your jaws drop.” Khuro replied.
After a quick sip of a cup of raw tea, taking out a packet of export quality beeri and a matchbox, and keeping these items on the mattress, Tarini started his long-awaited story:
I used to live in Lucknow then. I didn’t have a regular job at that time – didn’t even feel the need of having one either. Two and a half years ago, I had won a generous sum of Rs 2.5 lakhs in the Ranger’s Lottery; the interest from this money was then enough for me to live on. I’m talking about 1951, when things were not as costly as today. Moreover I was a bachelor, and only Rs 500-600 a month was quite sufficient for me. I lived in a small bungalow in La Touche Road and wrote stuff like jokes for ‘The Daily Pioneer’. One of my hobbies then, was visiting an auction house in Hazratganj once in a while. Some antiques of the Nawabi era could still be found at the shop. If the price was favorable, selling this stuff to rich American tourists earned me a good profit. It’s not that I was not interested in antiques. Though my living quarters were small, most of the showpieces were bought from this very shop.
On a bright Sunday morning, I went to the shop and saw a brown mahogany box lying lazily along with other items. It was about a cubit long, a palm-stretch wide and about three inches thick. Despite trying hard, I couldn’t figure out what was inside, so my curiosity about this box increased. There were many other interesting articles in the auction, but what I could think of was only that wooden box.
At last, after waiting for about an hour, I saw the auctioneer pick it up. I sat up erect in rapt attention. As usual, he started praising the article in typical auction style, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I now have the pleasure of presenting before you a very interesting item. Look, I’m opening the lid now. Its about two hundred years old, but look! It still retains its old glory. We all can see the world famous producer of firearms, Joseph Manton’s logo on this magnificent pair of dueling pistols! You won’t find another pair like this!”
That was good enough for me; I had to buy those pistols. Even my imagination started soaring. I could see in front of my very eyes that the two challengers were standing 20 cubits away from each other, and when the second shouts ‘fire’ both shoot together, resulting in severe bloodshed. As I was thinking about these things, the auction had already started. When a Gujarati gentleman from Charbagh shouted out 700 rupees, I bid 1000 rupees at once. And that was all! No more price proposals for the day and the pistols were mine at last.
When I brought my treasure home, I observed that these were indeed an ideal pair of dueling pistols. The butts of the pistols were as glamorous as their barrels. The length of each pistol was about 17 inches. Both of them had the maker’s name engraved with great care – Joseph Manton. I had studied about guns before; in the end of the 18th century. Joseph Manton had been one of the most efficient in producing firearms.
It had been only three months since I had been in Lucknow. Very few Bengalis lived there, and I did not get the chance of associating with them much. I used to stay at home in the evenings; people who lived in my place included a servant, a cook and myself. A plot related to a duel was revolving inside my head from the moment I had bought those pistols, so I sat on the armchair with a notebook to jot it down. Just then, I heard a knock at the door. Who could it be? Maybe some foreigner customer of mine, I thought. I had earned quite a name as a supplier of antiques by then.
I quickly opened the door, and yes I was right.
The man at the door was indeed a foreigner. About forty-five years old, it was apparent that he has spent a lot of time in the sub-continent. Maybe he was born here too, an Anglo-Indian. ‘Good Evening,’ I greeted him. The Sahib said, ‘I need to have a word with you. May I come in please?’ ‘Of course’, I replied. The Sahib did not have a hybrid accent in his pronunciation. I showed him in to my living room. Now I got a better look at him in the bright light. He was quite handsome; he had blonde hair, a thick golden moustache, blue eyes and he was wearing a gray suit. I said, ‘Sir, I’m not in the habit of drinking, but may I get you a cup of tea or coffee if you like?’ The gentleman refused me very politely saying that he already had his dinner. He said, ‘I saw you at the auction house in Hazratganj this morning.’ ‘You were there too?’, I asked. ‘Yes, but you were too captivated to notice me’, he replied. ‘Actually, I was craving for something…., but you became its owner; a pair of dueling pistols, made by Joseph Manton. You are very lucky.’ I could not but ask him something.
‘Did they belong to someone you know?’
‘Yes, but it has been a long time since he passed away. After his death, I did not have the slightest idea where these pistols went. May I have a look at them? There is a story related to them, that’s why….’
I gave him the mahogany box with the pistols in it. The Sahib took out the pistols and looked at them with great awe. Taking them in front of the lamp for a better look, he said, ‘These pistols were once used for a duel in Lucknow, do you know about that?’ ‘A duel in Lucknow?’ ‘Yes. It happened about two hundred years ago, at the end of the 19th century. Actually, there are only three days to go for the 250th anniversary of this incident. On 16th October.’ ‘Really?’ I asked, ‘Yes indeed,’ He replied.
‘That’s very strange! But who are the people who fought the duel…?’
Sahib put the pistols back in their case and sat on the sofa, ‘I’ve heard the story so many times that I can almost see the things happening in front of my eyes. Dr. Jeremiah Hudson’s daughter Annabelle Hudson was one of the most renowned beauties in Lucknow. She was a girl of the robust type; she rode horses, was an expert in shooting- just like a brave man. On the other hand, she was a great singer and dancer too. At that time, a British artist named John Ellingworth went to Lucknow to make a portrait of the Nawab. But when he heard about Annabelle’s beauty, he decided to go to her house and make a portrait of her first. The portrait was well painted, but long before that Ellingworth was deeply in love with Annabelle.’
‘On the other hand, a few days ago Annabelle met a Charles Bruce at a party. At that time, there was a large part of the Bengal regiment in Lucknow, and Bruce was a captain of that regiment. Bruce too fell in love with her at first sight.’
‘Two days after the party, Bruce could not stand it any more. He just had to meet Annabelle, so he went to her house at once. What he saw there was an unknown man drawing Annabelle’s portrait. Though Ellingworth was not a very young man, he sure was good looking. Moreover, Bruce understood by his very look that he also had fallen for Annabelle. Charles Bruce used to have a strong disliking for people like artists, and in this case he called this artist a name or two in front of Annabelle.’
‘Ellingworth was a very artistic and gentle person. But such an insult in front of Annabelle was quite hard for him to swallow. He challenged Bruce to a duel at once, which the latter happily accepted. The day and date of the duel was also fixed: 16th October, 6 am.’ ‘I think you know that both the duelers need a second?’
I said, ‘I know. They work as umpires in the field; it’s their duty to ensure that the duel rules are followed properly.’
‘You’re right. In most cases, a friend or such of the challenger is chosen as the second. Though Ellingworth did not know many people in Lucknow, a government official named Hugh Drummond came to his aid as his second. Ellingworth also requested him to arrange a pair of quality dueling pistols, as according to the rule, both the weapons should be exactly alike. In the meantime Captain Bruce also chose a second, his friend Phillip Moxon.’
‘The day of the duel drew nearer and nearer. Nobody was at the least in doubt about its result, because Captain Bruce was an expert with pistols. Maybe Ellingworth was good with his paintbrush, but he had the least experience with firearms.’
After saying these words, the Sahib came to a halt. I could help asking him, ‘What happened in the end?’ The gentleman smiled, ‘Every year on 16th October, 6 am this incident is repeated.’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘I mean exactly what I am say, if you go there the day after tomorrow you can see for yourself.’
‘What are you saying! This is unusual and…unearthly!’
‘There is no hard-and-fast rule about going there. You can just go and see for yourself only if you wish to.’
‘But how can I find the place? I’m quite new over here. I don’t know much about the city…’
‘Have you heard about Dilkusha?’
‘Yes I know that place.’
‘I’ll wait for you outside Dilkhusha at 5:45 am.’
‘Okay then, see you at the dueling spot.’
With these words, the stranger bid me goodbye and left. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t even asked what his name was. Anyway, the name did not matter at that time; the thing that mattered the most now was the story he had told me. I just could not believe that such a romantic incident took place in this very city. Moreover, right then, I was holding a pair of pistols, which had played a vital role in this duel. But who ultimately won over this Annabelle Hudson? There was yet another question- of the two men who was the person Annabelle loved? I hoped this mystery will be revealed on 16th October.
16th October was soon knocking at the door. On the night of the 15th, I was returning home from a musical show. It was then when I met the Sahib again in the street. He said, ‘I was on the way to your house now, just to remind you,’ I replied, ‘It’s not that I’ve forgotten about it, I’m actually waiting very eagerly for tomorrow morning.’
The Sahib then bid me goodbye.
The next day, I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock at 5 am. After having a quick cup of tea and wrapping a muffler around my neck, I took a horse carriage and set off for Dilkusha. Dilkusha Kothi lies in the outskirts of the city, which was at one time, the pleasure garden of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan. At that time, there was a huge park surrounded by a wall where a large number of deer used to graze. Even a cheetah or two entered these gardens, once in a blue moon. Now only the remains of the house could be seen, and a garden is maintained near the house; people go there for evening strolls once in a while.
I reached the spot at 5:35 pm, and told the coachman to wait for half an hour so that I didn’t have to search for another carriage on my way home. As I knew Urdu quite well, the coachman took me to be an aristocratic man and agreed to wait.
Getting down from the carriage, I saw the Sahib standing under a tree at a stone’s throw away. He informed that he had just arrived before five minutes. I said, ‘Alright Sahib, lead the way and I’ll follow you.’ After about five minutes, we arrived at an open field. Very little could be seen because of the dense fog, maybe just the same kind of fog was there on the day of duel. The Sahib came to a halt in front of a ramshackle house, full of weeds and thorny bushes. Anyone can say from the first look that it was a house of the British period. Well, we did not go there to deal with the house. We turned away from it and faced the east. Though it was foggy, we could still see some tamarind trees in front of us, and to the right of those trees, there lay a large bush. The river Gomti was flowing serenely; we could see through the fog that there were no inhabitants on the banks. All these elements added a mystic feel to the scenario.
‘Did you hear that?’ the Sahib asked all of a sudden. As I tried to listen very carefully, I finally placed it to be a sound of hooves. I just could not deny that a chill ran down my spine on hearing it. Along with that, I had the strange feeling of excitement and curiosity of a new adventure. This time I saw two men on horseback. They finally stopped under a tamarind tree at our left. ‘Are these the people who will fight?’ I whispered to him.
He said, ‘Not both, only one of them will fight. The taller person is Ellingworth, the challenger. The other is his friend and his second, Hugh Drummond. Look! Drummond has the mahogany box in his hand.’ It was true then! Now I understood that my pulse rate was increasing rapidly. My heartbeat has increased at the thought of watching a 250-year-old incident in front of my very eyes.
In a few minutes, Captain Bruce and his second, Phillip Moxon arrived, riding their horses. After that Drummond, took out the pistols from their case and re-loaded them with bullets. He handed them over to the opponents, Bruce and Ellingworth, giving them a brief on the rules. The sky soon took a rosy hue, reflecting its colour in the river Gomti.
Bruce and Ellingworth were soon ready to face each other. They stood face to face and then moved fourteen steps back. They turned around to face each other once more. I could not hear a single sound till now, but now I saw the opponents pointing their pistols at each other, I clearly heard Drummond shout, ‘Fire!’ The next moment I heard a deafening sound of two pistols.I was shocked to see both the opponents fall to the ground at the same time.There was another thing that shocked me – from behind those bushes I was talking about, came out a lady. She ran and disappeared in the thick fog.
‘So, you saw the results yourself,’ the Sahib said. ‘In this duel both the challengers had to face death.’ ‘That’s okay, but who was the lady coming out from the bushes?’ I inquired.
‘That was Annabelle’
‘She understood that Captain Bruce would not die in Ellingworth’s hands, but she wanted both of them to leave this world. So she decided not to take a chance and shot Bruce herself when the command ‘Fire!’ came. Ellingworth’s bullet didn’t even touch Bruce.’
‘But why did Annabelle do such a thing?’
‘Because she did not love any of the men. She knew that Ellingworth would die, and Bruce would live and taunt her for the rest of her life. She didn’t want such a life, because she loved somebody else – the one she married afterwards and lived happily ever after.’
I noticed that the 250-year-old duel scene was rapidly vanishing in thin air. The fog was getting even denser then before. I was thinking about Annabelle in awe when I heard a voice. It was a female voice, which gave me the shock of my life.
‘Annabelle’s calling,’ whispered the Sahib.
The second I looked at Sahib, a chill ran down my spine. Who is this person standing right in front of me? He was wearing those ancient 250-year-old clothes!
‘Sorry I couldn’t introduce myself before,’ He said; his voice distant and unearthly, clearly coming from another world. ‘My name is Hugh Drummond, Ellingworth’s friend and Annabelle’s love. Goodbye.’
I watched with horror, as he proceeded towards that ramshackle house. He disappeared in the dense fog before I could say anything. After returning home by the carriage, I opened the mahogany box and took out the pistols once again. When I reached out for them, I felt that they were hot. I brought them close to my nose to smell them.
It did not take me long to recognize the smell of fresh gunpowder.