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“Son, we’ve been over this a thousand times, you will not be attending medical school! You will join the military, just as I did and my father did and his father did before him.”
“But I have no desire to be in the army. It is like sending an Indian to literacy school. I want to study medicine, it’s my passion! Why can’t you accept that?”
“You will obey me. Think of the shame it will bring on the family if news of your refusal gets back to England. I, and the whole family, would be a laughing stock.”
“Bu- …” My sentence was cut short by a sound at the tent entrance. In stepped Mr Lingley, one of my fathers (few) good friends.
“Hey, hey, hey! What’s all this racket about? You’d swear there was a battle going on in here!”
“I don’t wa- …”
“My fool of a son thinks that it would be better going back to England and attending medical school than staying here and joining the army!”
Mr Lingley looked at me curiously and then said, “What’s all this about Jack? Don’t you want to shoot yourself some Indians, boy?”
“No, I want to be a doctor. I want to cure the wounded, not make them!”
“There’s no shame in that, John,” Mr Lingley said to my father. “Let the boy be a doctor. He obviously has no desire to be a soldier.”
“Think of the shame it would bring to my family if my son went off to be a doctor. It would be breaking tradition. What will people back home think? The family’s military reputation would be in tatters!”
Mr Lingley seemed to consider this for a long time before finally saying, “A game!”
“What?” said my father and I simultaneously.
“A war game, a battle of wits, father versus son!” gesticulated Mr Lingley very excitedly, toppling over a chair and throwing down his hat.
It was then that I realised what Mr Lingley was going on about. He wanted me to take on my father in a strategic game of war. He was already setting out the soldiers for us. The chair and hat were obviously high ground, which meant it would be easier for the person occupying these places to eradicate the opposing troops from a distance. I knelt down on the carpet and took position behind my troops. My father did the same. Neither of us did anything.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Go ahead Jack, you first. Roll the dice!” said Mr Lingley.
I picked up the dice and rolled. A six and a four. I moved most of my troops on to the high ground of the hat and left the rest where they were. I was still too far away to shoot at my fathers forces, so I handed him the dice. My father threw double six and immediately, took the chair. Because he got to go again (doubles means extra turn), he also managed to shoot at my troops, killing one. (Shooting was done by rolling a number higher than your opponent when you are in range). The game progressed and my father was getting the upper hand when suddenly Mr Lingley said, “A problem! A third of your troops come down with scurvy. What do you do?”
“Dig different toilets for the infected and keep them away from the other troops,” was my father’s immediate response.
“Hmm… not bad. Lose a quarter of your troops.” Mr Lingley swept a few of my father’s forces off the playing surface. “And you, Jack?”
I thought a while before answering. “I’d dig extra latrines for the infected too, but I would also give them daily protein and nutritional supplements.”
“Very good,” said Mr Lingley, “you may keep your forces.”
We resumed play again, the odds now evened out.
Unfortunately, my father being a much better tactician, he again took the upper hand and again, Mr Lingley intervened. This time the question was, “What would you do if some of your troops suddenly started coughing and got red boils on their faces?”
My father said that he would keep them cordoned off from the other troops and get a field doctor to diagnose them.
Again, he lost a quarter of his troops.
I answered that I would get my army out of the area immediately because it sounded like the symptoms of tracherialitis, the notorious, highly contagious disease that was in some of the air here in India. I also said that I would treat the patients with boiled, salt water, which combats the virus.
I lost none of my troops but was forced to move off the high ground. I had many more men than my father now, and soon had the upper hand. Just when it seemed certain I was going to win, Mr Lingley interrupted us once again.
“The enemy have captured your son and will slit his throat unless you surrender your forces by midday.”
My father looked at me long and hard for what seemed ages, and I could tell what his response was going to be.
“Let him die, family must not interfere with the cause,” my father quoted.
“If they had your father under similar circumstances, what would you do?” Mr Lingley looked at me.
With tears running down my face, I knocked my troops over and looked across the room, blurry eyed at my father.
“You win,” I choked.
“You must join the army,” my father said softly.
“No,” said Mr Lingley, “can’t you see, he’d make a disgraceful soldier, sacrificing a whole battalion for one family member. For Pete’s sake man, rather let him be a doctor. Your reputation may end up being at stake here.”
My father sat in stunned silence, realising what Mr Lingley said was true.
“Go, get out,” he said, “be a doctor!”
I left and became a rather ordinary doctor while my father continued a high profile military career. My needs and ambitions seemed so unworthy once I had been rejected by my own father.