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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Much to the delight and astonishment of the Sistanis


Major Benn is to be complimented on the wonderful work he succeeds in getting done with comparatively little expenditure for the Government, and there is no doubt that he manages to impress the natives and to keep England's prestige high. He imported from Quetta a flagstaff, in pieces, which when erected measured no less than 45 feet, and on this, the highest flagstaff in Persia, flies from sunrise to sunset the Union Jack. Except on grand occasions only a small flag can be used in summer, owing to the fierce winds which tear the larger flags to pieces the moment they are put up.

Major Benn scored heavily in the esteem of Sistanis when he had the bright idea of erecting a handsome little mosque within the Consulate boundary, wherein any traveller, whether Persian or Beluch or Afghan or any other Mussulman, can find shelter and a meal at the private expense of the Consul. People devoid of a house, too, or beggars when in real need are always helped.

The erection of this mosque has greatly impressed the Persians with the respect of England for the Mahommedan religion. On the religious festival day of the "sheep eat" the place is crowded with Beluch and Persians alike, the Mahommedan members of the British Consulate having raised a fund to feed all worshippers at the mosque during the day.

Major Benn, who has really the energy of half-a-dozen men taken together, has organised some weekly gymkhanas, with the double object of giving his Indian escort of fourteen men of the 7th Bombay Lancers and a Duffadar (non-commissioned native officer) a little recreation, and of providing some amusement to the town folks; exhibitions of horsemanship, tent-pegging and sword exercises are given, in which some of the Persian gentlemen occasionally also take part.

The Sistanis of all classes turn out in great force to witness these displays, and--for a Persian crowd--I was really amazed at their extraordinarily quiet and respectful demeanour. Each man who entered the grounds courteously salaamed the Consul before sitting down, and there was unstinted clapping of hands--a way of applauding which they have learnt from Benn--and great enthusiasm as the Lancers displayed their skill at the various feats.

The phonograph was also invariably brought out on these occasions, and set working near the flagstaff, much to the delight and astonishment of the Sistanis, who, I believe, are still at a loss to discover where the voices they hear come from. To study the puzzled expressions on the awe-stricken faces of the natives, as they intently listened to the music, was intensely amusing, especially when the machine called out such words as "mamma," which they understood, or when it reproduced the whistling of a nightingale, which sent them raving with delight.

Perhaps the most touching part of these performances was when loyal Major Benn wound up with "God save the King," scraped on the record by a tired and blunted needle--phonograph needles are scarce in Sistan and could not be renewed for the sake of only one and last tune--and we Britishers removed our hats. Now, to the natives of Persia removing one's hat seems as ludicrous a thing as can be done, just as their equivalent discarding of shoes seems very ridiculous to us; but the natives, to whom the meaning we attach to our National Anthem had been explained, behaved with the utmost reverence notwithstanding the trying circumstances, and many actually placed their right hands to their foreheads in sign of salaam until the anthem was over.


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