India Today - - LEISURE - —Rakhshanda Jalil

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.