This piece was written to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Indian Mutiny.

It was performed in the planetarium of The Royal Observatory, Greenwich in August 2007

I had been invited to choose an object from the National Maritime Museum as a stimulus for a discussion on the relationship between India and Britain.

The object I chose was a lead bullet that had been cut from an officer's leg.

The following script is for a hybrid event, part theatre performance, concert, radio play, planetarium show, theme-park ride, museum exhibit and art gallery exhibition.

I worked with resident astronomer Dr Claire Thomas to programme a view in the direction of planet earth from a distance of 150 light years away. The audience watched this glittering starmap while listening to multiple voices around them, and the rustling sounds of shakers made of dried seed pods. Entadas Gigas is the botanical name of Sea Hearts, seeds which travel around the planet on ocean currents.

 

 

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Entadas Gigas

 

Good evening. Welcome to the external viewing area on board this Stellar Sailing Vessel, The Greenwich. As you’ll be aware the SSV Greenwich is mainly an archive vessel carrying what treasures were able to be rescued from earth in its last few habitable years.

 

My name is blue37rahu. I am the chief cybernetic systems officer on board this ship.

 

A number of vessels in this Heritage Class have now been constructed with these bubbles or Pods. Because it stands slightly proud of the surface of the ship we have a clear visual impression of our surroundings unobstructed by the stellar sails. The sails themselves stretch out to either side about six miles or so, catching cosmic winds to propel us through space.

 

Through the clear viewing area you’ll see the direction from which we’ve come although at this distance of course Earth is invisible. But you’ll have heard enough from your elderly relatives to be able to visualise that barren, storm-ravaged rock, covered in cockroach swarms…

 

These viewing pods have been found to be very useful in a new method of travel we have been developing at the cybernetics and robotics lab. This method relies on an openness to the resonances of particular objects in the ship’s holds, and a certain metabolic harmony, which we have found to be engendered by exposure to weak starlight.

 

Repetitive auditory stimulation and deep muscular relaxation have also been found to be useful.

 

The initial thrust in this case is provided by two objects. The first is a small lead sphere. There is a card with it, on which is inscribed:

‘Lead bullet extracted from the leg of  PO Walter White after brief skirmish with "Budmashes" during the march on Lucknow, India 1857.’ That’s approximately 1,150 solar years ago.

 

The second item is a rare example of a purely biological object, a seed pod from earth’s legendary forests. Entada gigas, commonly known as the monkey ladder vine. The seeds of this legume would have descended from the tropical forest canopy, been washed down rivers to the sea and then carried on ocean currents all over the planet. It was designed to float and survive for years until it landed again on hospitable soil and could begin to grow into a new organism.

 

With this bullet and this seed I invite you now to embark on a journey.

 

[Sound]

 

Each star is a seed

Flung playfully into the flesh of space

 

Each seed floats in an ocean of influence

Wind water and mind twirling it around

 

In the seed is the fruit

And in the fruit is the seed

 

On the tree of human life,

The gun is a flower

From the Enfield 1853 Rifled Musket

Comes a sweet perfume

And a seed at 900 feet per second

 

The germ of life is its assertion against the cold emptiness

 

On a flower the Pistil is made of ovary, style and stigma.

 

A cartridge is 68 black grains and a Burton-Minie´ball wrapped in greased paper.

 

By capillary action xylem and phloem entwine in the barrel of a poppy.

 

Fat is deposited in the liver of the pig and the cow.

Lard is collected from the pig’s loins, from its back,

Or from its internal organs.

The patient cow gives us soft tallow.

And drills us in Home County accents.

 

But the bitterness in the mouths of sepoys grows maddening

Until it is forced into a ball of spit

And the spit is dry and hard and heavy

Like a ball of lead

 

And inside the ball of lead is trapped a sense of dignity which seeks to rise to the stars on plumes of fire.

 

And this finds roots in the ground, in white flesh, in brown flesh

Drinking blood and sending tendrils of itself through networks of nerves.

 

The seed does not negotiate. It is the essence of life. It knows no hatred, only the love of life. And in loving life the seed must smother the life of others.

Because there is only so much space.

 

Fundamentalists have always needed each other. The venom of one provides the lifeblood of the others.

A deadly caduceus twining around a rifle barrel

 

The paroxysms of stars invent the world.

Invent the symbiosis of violence

Invent biology.

 

Invent jungle canopies glistening in their light.

And in the nodules of legumes of the monkey ladder vine

Prokaryotic nitrogen fixation converts nitrogen gas into ammonia. And more bacterial colonies eat

And spit out nitrates and nitrites as gifts to the trees.

 

And the strata of atmospheric gas glide and sink to create weather.

 

In the balmy comfort of confidence

Power feels a delicate weakness cooling it

And small lead nodules form.

 

The ‘Minnie Ball’, designed by Claude Etienne Minie was introduced in 1847. The bullet was conical in shape with a hollow cavity in the rear, which was fitted with a little iron cap. When fired, the iron cap would force itself into the hollow cavity at the rear of the bullet, thereby expanding the sides of the bullet to grip and engage the rifling – the grooves inside the barrel. In 1855, the British adopted the Minié ball for their P53 Enfield rifles.

 

‘at 15 yards the bullet was able to penetrate two boards of poplar wood, each two-thirds of an inch thick and separated by 20 inches. Soldiers spread rumors that at 1200 yards the bullet could penetrate a soldier and his knapsack and still kill anyone standing behind him, also killing any person in a line of 15’

 

This is the drill:

 

Bite open the cartridge

Pour the gunpowder down the barrel

Push the cartridge paper down the barrel as a wad

Ram a musketball down the barrel

Pull the ram-rod

Shoulder the rifle

Position a percussion cap

Fire.

 

Bite Pour Push Ram Pull Shoulder Position Fire

 

The sea heart may drift at the whim of the open ocean for many years and thousands of miles before reaching a beach where it may cut the earth with its soft finger.

 

The first rebellious shots were fired by Mangal Pandy on March 29th at Barrackpore. He shot at a British sergeant-major and a lieutenant and then engaged them in a sword fight. H ;ater tried to kill himself by propping the rifle against his chest and using his toe to pull the trigger. But he only managed to wound himself.

 

Through night and day, rain and sun, hot and cold, the sea heart bobs at the exact edge of water and sky.

 

On the 11th July 1857 the news reached London of the mutiny of the Indian sepoys at Meerut on 10 May, and their capture of Delhi the following day. A telegram was at once dispatched to the Queen’s Bays, informing them that they were to proceed to Liverpool immediately en route for Canterbury, before embarking for India as part of the reinforcements. Nine troops embarked on the 25 July in the transports Blenheim and Monarch, with strength of 28 officers, 47 sergeants and 635 other ranks.

 

The voyage took four months and the Bays did not reach Calcutta until the 25 and 27 November. On arrival the Bays were informed that they were to go Allahabad with the utmost speed to join Hope Grants Cavalry Division in Sir Colin Campbell’s force. This meant a 500 mile journey, 400 miles of which entailed marching across India with their newly issued horses. Most of the men had probably never before been out of Britain, let alone seen service in the East, the Bays being one of the first British heavy cavalry regiments to serve in the East India Company’s forces,

 

About 10am we came on bodies of cavalry and infantry of the enemy. Bays were ordered to the front to ‘charge and pursue’! Away we went as hard a possible Major Smith and I leading. We did not stop for three miles, cutting down, pursuing and cutting up the Pandies right up to Lucknow, and across the river. We were told the most gallant, smartest, though somewhat rash thing that has been done before Lucknow. Mr Russel (Times Correspondent) perhaps will tell you how many we cut down, though he had not been with us! Alas! However, we lost our best officer, shot dead alongside and within five yards of myself, the nearest of all, with some 15 men, to Lucknow. Poor Major Smith. The recall had just been sounded all over the place for us, and we had just been polishing off some 50 infantry that we had got in a body. He fell without a groan, and I and four of my troop tried to bring his body off, but their cavalry bore down on us in such numbers that it was impossible. We, however did manage to get his Helmut, sword, pistol and medals, which I cantered off with, the last but one to leave the spot; the remaining one being a corporal of my Troop, whose horse would not let him get up again-this poor fellow was cut into ribbons! I returned without a scratch, though my charger got a nasty sabre wound on his off foreleg, which will prevent my riding him for some time. The charge captured an elephant, and killed between sixty and seventy mutineers.

 

Lashed by rainstorms and monsoon winds the jungle vines release their seeds to be washed into the rivers and out to sea.

The seeds belong to no-one but themselves.

The essence of life.

And after the spit comes the Devil’s Wind.

 

"To the steady beat of drums, the captured rebels were first stripped of their uniforms and then tied to cannons, their bellies pushed hard against the gaping mouths of the big guns. The order to fire was given. With an enormous roar, all the cannons burst into life at once, generating a cloud of black smoke that snaked into the summer sky. When the smoke cleared, there was nothing left of the rebels' bodies except their arms, still tied to the cannons, and their blackened heads, which landed with a soft thud on the baking parade ground."

 

 

 

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Links

http://waynesword.palomar.edu/pldec398.htm

http://www.seabean.com/symposium/2002/defuniak_07-25-02.htm

http://waynesword.palomar.edu/plmay97.htm#draped

http://www.qdg.org.uk/pages/1857-to-1858-106.php

http://www.britishempire.co.uk/forces/armycampaigns/indiancampaigns/mutiny/mutiny.htm

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/india/index.htm

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/07/15.htm

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/08/14.htm

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/09/16.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_East_India_Company

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Mutiny#_note-11

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern_1853_Enfield

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capture_of_Lucknow

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullet

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minie_ball

http://www.daylilies.org/ahs_dictionary/pistil.html

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