The cast of characters — ‘Gateway to Gandamak’
An English family, caught in a Cosmic Game, struggles to survive through 900 years from the Norman Invasion to the British Raj in India, the Second World War, and present-day Afghanistan.
The Main Protagonists
Krishna — in the guise of “The Traveller”. He is the principal Narrator of the tale. Sri Krishna is well-known in Hindu mythology, principally these days for his instruction to Prince Arjuna before the Battle of Kurukshetra. This teaching has become enshrined in the famous and revered ‘Bhagavad Gita’, which forms part of the epic devotional and philosophical Sanskrit poem the ‘Mahabharata’. He’s been around for much longer than that; find him in a quiet university Common Room, hotel lounge or coffee bar looking contemplative. He likes travelling, in time as well as space, but is most comfortable in a First-class compartment on a long train journey — just for the sake of it, and whom he might meet. You?
James Quartermaine — an English engineer. As a young man, he is a soldier in Her Majesty’s Corps of Royal Engineers. Later, he provides his perspective on the events, much of it biographically. James and Krishna meet, possibly by chance, perhaps a meeting arranged as part of a broader Game in which Krishna seems to be reluctantly involved by his rival, Lord Shiva.
Principal Supporting Cast
Quatremain — is a Norman soldier and Sergeant-at-Arms in the household of Roger “Barbatus” de Beaumont, William the Conqueror’s closest advisor. Quatremain rises in Roger’s entourage by being capable. He has a head for money, and he can fight. A quiet, square-set, dark man in his late 40s. Since he speaks Latin, perhaps he has been a monk. The ordinary soldiers say this about Quatremain, “He’s military more than most of them wot call they’sen knights. An’ he knows more’n them. Knows farming and cattle and horses. Catches hold of His Lordship when he’s drunk, pulls a rope when his vessel lands… He can forge a sword or axe and nurse the hounds gored in the hunt. Even reads.”
The Shaman — One of Krishna’s human friends. They banter back and forth like an old married couple, and she chastises him for his cynicism. Occasionally, he pulls rank and snarls back, but it’s a mutually supportive relationship. The Shaman bridges a gap between two realities helps restrain Krishna’s digressions, and explains his more esoteric ramblings and rants. Their conversations appear in the story as “Interludes”; out of time (literally).
William Joseph Mountforde — “Will” to his wife, Violet May, his colleagues and few friends. A cold but irritating genius in the emerging technology of telephones and networks, he served in World War One and gained a position in the Indian Civil Service in the 1920s. His daughter, Barbara Quartermaine (nee Mountforde), is James’ mother. William encourages Barbara to join the army during the Second World War and brings her to Bletchley Park, where she meets Alan Turing. He plays a small but essential role in the Ultra Programme that cracked the Nazi Enigma Code
Barbara May Quartermaine (nee Mountforde) — James Quartermaine’s mother. As a young ATS Signals officer during World War Two, she meets and marries Major Edward Quartermaine. She embarks on an adventure at the Government Codes & Cyphers School at Bletchley Park, working closely with the Father of Modern Computer Science, Alan Turing. Later, long-retired from the spy game, she tells James the events leading to Turing’s death and how that death affects him.
Major Edward Quartermaine — James’ father. The strong, silent type. He meets Barbara Mountforde during World War Two. They remain together thirty-six years. During that time, Barbara never tells him of her secret work at Bletchley Park. James follows his father into the Corps of Royal Engineers, though with somewhat less success.
Alan Mathison Turing is the iconic figure of the computer world, known for his unique vision of “thinking machines” that ushered in what we now call artificial intelligence — AI. His war service at Bletchley Park helped shorten the War. A martyr to his sexuality, it seems he is driven to suicide when “indecent behaviour” was the euphemism for homosexuality. The picture is more complicated; there is no doubt that he made a significant contribution to the mathematics of computation. With many others, he cracked the Nazi Enigma Code. His sexuality is darker, and there is a mystery surrounding his death. Barbara investigates what happened to Alan with Joan Clarke, Alan’s ex-fiancee.
Lance-Sergeant Alexander Quartermaine Fair — in his own words: “I am retired these long years from Her Majesty’s 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot, now glad to be working as a jobbing gardener at the estate of Miss Ellen Willmott … In those days I was appointed as a temporary promotion as Acting-Quartermaster-Sergeant to the Regiment in Cabool.” Sergeant Fair is an eyewitness to the catastrophic defeat of the British Army of Afghanistan during the retreat from “Cabool” (Kabul) in January 1842. He fights at Gandamak
Players of the Game
Thea Sharada — Yamuna — the eponymous female avatar, sometimes appearing as Pallas Athene, perhaps stealing the identity of the Indian heroine, Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi. As Thea, she appears “as a tall woman, dark-haired, coffee-complexioned with astonishingly bright green eyes and a dancer’s figure. Beauty and brains, Thea is a mathematician.”
Lord Vishnu — Four-armed and handed. So the allusion will not escape the Reader. “Visnu” means “Pervasive” in Sanskrit. This iconic figure represents the idea of a Force or Will throughout South and Southeast Asia. It is a force that moves the world in all its many aspects. In Hindu art, Vishnu holds a conch shell, symbolizing existence’s spiral or cyclical thread. A Chakra — a weapon, a war discus — is used to restore equilibrium in the universe. And carrying the idea of using force forward, he holds a club representing the authority and power of knowledge. He has a lotus flower in the fourth hand, which symbolizes purity and transcendence. Vishnu plays the Game through avatars, of whom Sri Krishna is one.
The Thai name for Vishnu is ‘Narai’, and James Quartermaine lives in a town named ‘Lamnarai’ — ‘Vishnu’s Dance’. Coincidence? It’s true.
Lord Shiva — is a complicated being whose nature includes creation and destruction. He is depicted here somewhat terrifyingly as The Destroyer. Yet tradition also sees Shiva as a necessary transformational force. In this book, Shiva appears as an implacable foe to Krishna, but this reflects the Game. The reality is much more complicated.
Brahma — has no image since Brahma is the Ultimate Reality, and one would be a fool to try to depict that. Brahma may well be part of the Trimurti, the triple deity of supreme divinity, including Vishnu and Shiva. Yet as is said, “I am the Origin of this world and others and their Dissolution as well. Know Me to be the seed of all existences. All beings and things of the universes are created in Me, not by Me.”
Drawings by Apatsanunt Seiya Bastin
The ‘Gateway to Gandamak’ featuring these characters (and a few others) will appear mid-2022.