AN UPRISING OF ONE
PIECING TOGETHER THE FACTS AND MYTHS THAT MADE UP UDHAM SINGH’S LIFE, THIS BOOK IS MUCH LIKE A GIANT JIGSAW
OOn the bloody Sunday of April 13, 1919, a cold-blooded massacre took place in the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered his men to fire on a motley crowd of protesters, peasants and pilgrims—1,650 rounds of .303 marks fired for 10 minutes. He issued no warning and directed fire where the crowd was thickest and at the exits as people ran towards it. Of the estimated 15,000 people present, over 600 died and
1,500 were wounded. Dyer left as abruptly and swiftly as he had arrived. No arrangements were made to rescue the wounded who lay soaked in their blood all through the curfewed night.
Naturally, an event of this magnitude sent seismic tremors through the country. Rabindranath Tagore renounced the Knighthood that had been conferred upon him in 1915. Gandhi declared the British presence in India morally untenable hereafter. Writers and poets wrote in white heat. A low-caste orphan, supposedly present in the Bagh and injured in the firing, swore vengeance as he lay among the dead and dying: “He took a handful of bloodsoaked earth in his hand, heavy and black, and rubbed it against his forehead...and he swore a terrible vow .... No matter how long it took, no matter how far it took him...he would track down the dogs who did this to his people and he would kill them...with as little mercy as they had shown his countrymen.” It took that boy, Udham Singh, 20 years and a tortuous journey across Asia, Europe, the USSR, USA and the UK, to track down and kill Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the lieutenant-governor of Punjab under whose watch the massacre took place and who, unlike Dyer, continued to defend and glorify the role of the colonial administration in India. Immaculately researched and brutally honest, The Patient Assassin is like a jigsaw puzzle with author Anita Anand inserting fiction where actual facts are either unavailable or unclear. The above quote, for instance, is part of the legend that has grown around Udham Singh. Anand is at pains to clarify: “Only Udham Singh knows the truth of where he was on the day of the massacre and during his life he told so many people so many different versions of events that it is impossible to know which, if any of them, is true.”
What is true, however, is the effect of the massacre on the Indian psyche. In telling Udham’s story, Anand throws new light on the bloodiest chapter in the history of British rule in India.
Udham Singh (second from left) being arrested for assassinating Michael O’Dwyer
THE PATIENT ASSASSIN A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge and the Raj by Anita Anand SIMON & SCHUSTER `599, 373 pages