I had schemed to memorize a number of expressions in the Kafir language and surprise Hugh when we met up with the people, but, in the midst of all our other preoccupations, the book had been lost in one of the innumerable sacks; now with Nuristan just over the mountain, it was discovered in the bottom of the rice sack, where it had been ever since I had visited the market in Kabul.
Reading the 1,744 sentences with their English equivalents, I began to form a disturbing impression of the waking life of the Bashgali Kafirs.
‘Shtal latta wōs bā padrē ū prētt tū nashtontī mrlosh. Do you know what that is?’
It was too late to surprise Hugh with a sudden knowledge of the language.
‘In Bashgali it’s “If you have had diarrhoea many days you will surely die.”’
‘That’s not much use,’ he said. He wanted to get on with Conan Doyle.
‘What about this then? Bilugh âo na pī bilosh. It means, “Don’t drink much water; otherwise you won’t be able to travel.”’
‘I want to get on with my book.’
Wishing that Hyde-Clarke had been there to share my felicity I continued to mouth phrases aloud until Hugh moved away to another rock, unable to concentrate. Some of the opening gambits the Bashgalis allowed themselves in the conversation game were quite shattering.
Inī ash ptul p’mich ē manchī mrisht wariā’m. ‘I saw a corpse in a field this morning’, and Tū chi sē biss gur bītī? ‘How long have you had a goitre?’, or even Iā jūk noi bazisnā prēlom. ‘My girl is a bride.’
Even the most casual remarks let drop by this remarkable people had the impact of a sledgehammer. Tū tōtt baglo piltiā. ‘Thy father fell into the river.’ I non angur ai; tū tā duts angur ai. ‘I have nine fingers; you have ten.’ Ōr manchī aiyo; buri aīsh kutt. ‘A dwarf has come to ask for food.’ And Iā chitt bitto tū jārlom, ‘I have an intention to kill you’, to which the reply came pat, Tū bilugh lē bidiwā manchī assish, ‘You are a very kind-hearted man.’
Their country seemed a place where the elements had an almost supernatural fury: Dum allangitī atsitī ī sundī basnâ brā. ‘A gust of wind came and took away all my clothes’, and where nature was implacable and cruel: Zhī marē badist tā wō ayō kakkok damītī gwā. ‘A lammergeier came down from the sky and took off my cock.’ Perhaps it was such misfortunes that had made the inhabitants so petulant: Tū biluk wari walal manchī assish. ‘You are a very jabbering man.’ Tū kai dugā iā ushpē pâ vich: tū pâ vilom. ‘Why do you kick my horse? I will kick you.’ Tū iā dugā oren vich? Tū iā oren vichibâ ō tū jārlam. ‘Why are you pushing me? If you push me I will do for you.’
A race difficult to ingratiate oneself with by small talk: Tō’st kazhīr krui p’ptī tā chuk zhi prots asht? ‘How many black spots are there on your white dog’s back?’ was the friendly inquiry to which came the chilling reply: Iā krũi brobar adr rang azzā: shtring na ass. ‘He is a yellow dog all over, and not spotted.’
Perhaps the best part was the appendix which referred to other books dealing with the Kafir languages. One passage extracted from a book by a Russian savant, A M. Terentief, gave a translation of what he said was the Lord’s Prayer in the language of the Bolors or Siah-Posh Kafirs:
Babo vetu osezulvini. Malipatve egobunkvele egamalako. Ubukumkani bako mabuphike. Intando yako mayenzibe. Emkhlya beni, nyengokuba isenziva egulvini. Sipe namglya nye ukutiya kvetu kvemikhla igemikhla. Usikcolele izono zetu, nyengokuba nati siksolela abo basonaio tina. Unga singekisi ekulingveli zusisindise enkokhlakalveni, ngokuba bubobako ubukumkhani namandkhla nobungkvalisa, kude kube igunapakade. Amene.
‘It does not agree with the Waigul or Bashgalī dialect as recorded in any book which I have seen,’ the Colonel wrote rather plaintively. ‘There are no diacritical marks.’
But later in a supplementary appendix he was able to add a dry footnote to the effect that since writing the above a copy of the translation had been submitted by Dr Grierson, the distinguished editor of the Linguistic Survey of India, to Professor Khun of Munich who pronounced that it was an incorrect copy of the version of the Lord’s Prayer in the language of the Amazulla Kaffirs of South Africa.