Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Tony Deyal | Blade Runner

Published:Saturday | December 9, 2017 | 12:00 AM

"You like knives so much, why don't you write a column about them?" my wife asked pointedly. "I'll take a stab at it," I answered sharply, "and try to make it a cut above the rest."

It is like when the rumour went around about an actress who had stabbed herself. I asked, "Witherspoon?" and my friend answered, "No, with a knife."

But to cut to the chase, I am not sure when my fascination with knives started, but it was different from how the comedian Red Foxx (Sanford and Son) acquired his. He explained in an ironic comment about American preconceptions, "I carry a knife now because I read in a white magazine that all black people carry knives. So I rushed out and bought me one."

The other comedian who might have been talking about my days at Picadilly E.C. School in the heart of Port-of-Spain, Emo Phillips, quipped, "In our school, you were searched for guns and knives on the way in, and if you didn't have any, they gave you some." It was the kind of area that Rodney Dangerfield boasted that he grew up in: "I came from a real tough neighbourhood. Once a guy pulled a knife on me. I knew he wasn't a professional, the knife had butter on it."

The cinema came to the little country village of Carapichaima when I was about six and the first movies were mainly Westerns with cowboys and Indians fighting to the death. What we enjoyed and acted out in school were the knife fights. In the movies, an Indian with a knife attacks a cowboy, who is also armed, generally with a Bowie, they grab each other's wrists and the cowboy invariably wins after what one would call a close shave.

In those days, we carried rulers to school, and these were the knives in our cowboy wars and swords when we ventured into Ivanhoe or Three Musketeers territory. Then, when I was 10, I saw what for many is an ordinary western, Four Guns to the Border, starring Rory Calhoun. What stuck with me despite the more than 50 years that have passed is a bit of knife-throwing by Jay Silverheels, 'Yacqui' in the movie and 'Tonto' in the Lone Ranger.

In those days (and perhaps even now), we found it difficult to differentiate fact from fiction, and that scene remains in my mind.

I believe that it released an ancient memory. My grandmother was of Nepalese descent, and I believe that her father was a Gurkha.

According to Johnny Renn in The Telegraph, until 200 years ago, the British were at war with Nepal in the Anglo-Nepal wars. However, the two countries joined forces after being so impressed with the fighting spirit of Nepalese hill soldiers of Nepal. He revealed, "All Gurkhas, to this day, live an incredibly austere life before they sign up. And this hardiness, from living in the Himalayan homelands, is key to what makes these soldiers key members of the British Army ... . Gurkhas have grown up in an extremely difficult environment in the hills of Nepal, and as a result, their bodies are simply on a different plane to our own.




"There is an annual race across the South Downs called the Trailwalker 100km, and the quickest a British team can hope to complete it in is around 12 or 13 hours. Gurkhas, who win it every year, can do it in eight and a half." However, according to Renn, what helps to make the Gurkhas unique and special, apart from their courage and determination, is their special weaponry, a knife called a 'khukuri' or 'khukri', which is incredibly sharp and which the Gurkhas use for everything.

Renn, who served with a Gurkha regiment, wrote, "I first realised how handy my khukuri was when I used it to hack through the jungles of Borneo ... . Some of the hardest-earned Gurkha Victoria Crosses (of which there are many!) could not have been won without the aid of the trusty Khukuri. One thing's for sure, you don't want to be the enemy when the Khukuris are out of their sheaths!"

One of the more recent examples of Gurkha courage and the potency of their kukris is the story of a retired Gurkha, Bishnu Shrestha, who alone and armed only with a kukri defeated 30 bandits who attacked a passenger train he was on in India. He was reported to have killed three of the bandits, wounded eight more, and forced the rest of the band to flee. This is why Britain's Prince Harry, who served alongside Gurkhas during his 2007 to 2008 tour in Afghanistan, said there was 'no safer place' than by the side of a Gurkha.

The Mail Online says, "Few sights can be more terrifying to an enemy than that of Gurkhas charging, kukris raised, yelling their battle cry of 'Ayo Gurkhali!'- 'The Gurkhas are coming!" Researchers trace the origins of the blade back to the domestic sickle (or grass knife at which my family were adept whether in cane or rice field) and the prehistoric bent stick used for hunting and later in hand-to-hand combat.

The kukri is effective as a chopping weapon, because of its weight, and slashing weapon, because the curved shape creates a 'wedge' effect, which causes the blade to cut effectively and deeper. The design enables the user to inflict deep wounds and to penetrate bone.

During action in North Africa, one Gurkha unit reported, "Enemy losses: ten killed, ours: nil. Ammunition expenditure: nil."

There are other knives from Asia that are also famous. The 'parang', which is like a machete, the Indonesian 'golok' and the 'bolo' from the Philippines are also famous and utilitarian knives, as well as the sword-like 'falcata' of the Romans and Spanish, the 'khopesh' or Egyptian sickle-sword and the sharpest knife in the drawer, the 'Husa' or 'Achang' knife made by the Achang people of China. Yet, among all of these, the kukri is the one that speaks to me.

Fortunately, the Gurkhas are able to speak four languages, including English, so we understand one another very well, especially since my sharp wit and sometimes even sharper tongue make up for any of my other shortcomings.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the Gurkhas' sharp knives are what give them an edge in hand-to-hand combat, but wonders what the Swiss army does with their little red knives.