‘Blood for our Blood’ is the true story of my mother’s cousin, a brilliant young surgeon, who was stabbed to death in the Lady Reading hospital in 1932 by a hospital orderly. Although the orderly was arrested and hanged with undue haste, the true reason for the murder was never discovered. Reading through the letters and documents of the time I became convinced that the investigation was deliberately curtailed for political expediency. In 1996 I went out to Pakistan to do my own investigations. A new organisation called the Taliban was in the process of establishing itself. The reason for the murder turned out to be complex and far more intriguing than simply burying the truth. It bore uncanny parallels with the situation in contemporary Pakistan.
Chapter 7 (extract)
… He is a lying little swine but luckily he was so obviously in the wrong that he couldn’t, even in these days, get away with it …
I’m sitting in the garden of Dean’s rereading Bill’s letters and I can hear his outrage, tinged with a degree of apprehension, after his row with the ‘Congress Wallah’.
Dean’s is on the edge of the military cantonment and not far from the Lady Reading Hospital. The hotel, as yet unmodernised, is a fossil from my past and, of course, Bill’s. There’s a lingering smell of roast beef and overcooked cabbage. The rooms I’ve been assigned have dusty balding Indian carpets on the floors and faded chintz curtains, along with badly painted white furniture and drawers that stick. Everything is what would have called a bit kutcha; knocked together and slightly grubby. But then the pukka sahibs and their memsahibs considered those sorts of things unimportant.
In the distance I hear voices and look up half expecting to see a peppery colonel and his demure wife in a flowered frock and a hat, worn fashionably on the slant, walking round the garden. Instead a woman in a smart shalwar kameez comes towards me with a husband in a perfectly laundered waistcoat over his shirt and baggy cotton bottoms. They smile, greet me in English and move on. This hotel is now, I’ve discovered, for the Pakistani elite.
‘It must be a political murder’ I write in my notebook. ‘The ‘Congress Wallah’ has to be behind it … But why did he chose the orderly, Abdul Rashid to do the dirty deed. Did he already know him?’
I reread Sister Green’s letter again. She was on duty with Bill on the day of the murder. Although in her mind she’d elided it with the quarrel with the ‘Congress Wallah’ she remembered the sequence of events on both occasions well.
I wish it was not of Captain Coldstream’s assassination that I have to write … she’d said. Even after all these years I remember this with great sorrow … Clearly, she’d been very fond of him. She could even have been in love. His wife, Pamela had been up in Simla with the other wives at the time. May I say … Sister Green had gone on … that we all adored C.C. [Captain Coldstream] He was always so cheerful and mischievous … I well remember one of his tricks… The wards for Asians were single storied buildings connected to each other by covered passageways. Often C.C with Matron, or an Indian doctor and Sister would be walking in one of these passages. Sometimes we followed a patient going to his ward with his ‘roti’ which he had collected from the kitchen tucked under his arm. C.C. would creep up behind and break a bit off which he popped into his mouth. He chewed happily whilst being scolded by Matron for being unorthodox and not caring for hygiene. This was just one of ‘the little things that made him so popular with the Sisters …
I’m not sure why that should make him popular with the Sisters. Perhaps it was because Bill doesn’t appear to have pulled rank as so many surgeons did in those days. Nor, evidently, did it make any difference to him that Sister Green was mixed race. In her letter she talked about her acute awareness of her colour. All her life, she says, she was dogged by three things: Class, creed and the colour-bar … Whether consciously or not, Bill didn’t care about those. She was a pretty woman. He’d even taken her out to dinner at that bastion of British conservatism, the Peshawar club.
All the staff were in the habit of taking a coffee break in the Duty Room half way through the morning. Normally he’d have finished his ward rounds, but, on the day of the murder, he’d been running late and by the time he and Sister Green got to the Duty room the rest of the staff had left. While they were drinking their coffee there was a knock at the door and Sister Green answered. It was an orderly, Abdul Rashid. He said he was looking for Matron. Sister Green told him, rather curtly, that she wasn’t there.
Having drunk her coffee, she watched Bill run down the stairs. ‘See you at five’ he yelled turning to wave. Sister Green then left to get on with her work. Bill, in the meantime, went into his office to check on the list of operations he had to perform that day. Coming out of the office, he paused for a quick smoke before going to the theatre. He was just tamping down the tobacco in his pipe when Abdul Rashid jumped out from behind a potted palm tree. Before Bill had time to react Rashid had plunged his knife into his neck. Bill fought back and managed to wound the orderly but, before he could do any real harm, he collapsed.
Hearing a noise, the babus, clerks, whose office led directly into the hall, came out to see what was happening. By this time Bill was lying on the ground, blood was spurting from his neck like a fountain. While they were momentarily transfixed by the arc of red, Abdul Rashid, still carrying his bloody knife, made his escape through the front door. He was pursued by two of the clerks; a couple stayed with the body while the others ran and shouted for help.
Sister Green was on her way along the corridor when she heard a commotion outside in the grounds. Hurrying to the balcony, she saw Abdul Rashid being pursued by the babus … Then hearing shouts of ‘Sister! Sister! Come quickly!’ she ran to the top of the stairs. She saw two babus half way up. They were carrying Bill. His coat was drenched in blood. When they got to the top, she realised that he was dying … his carotid artery and jugular vein had been severed … I had got a towel and was trying to staunch the flow from the neck … “What happened?” I asked. “We rushed to him. ‘Take me upstairs I’m dying; he told us.’ We heard a commotion in the corridor and when we looked out we saw C.C on the floor.” These were his last words because when I saw him he was unconscious. He died a few minutes later in the theatre …
So that evening … Sister Green goes on in her letter … instead of playing golf with him, in company with Matron and the other Sisters, I walked behind his coffin to the cemetery.