The Shadow of the Guru

To awaken to history was to cease to live instinctively. It was to begin to see oneself and one’s group the way the outside world saw one; and it was to know a kind of rage. When I was there last year India was full of this rage. There had been a general awakening. But everyone awakened first to his own group or community; every group thought itself unique in its awakening; and every group sought to separate its rage from the rage of other groups.

Every day the newspapers carried plain official accounts of events in the Punjab: so many killed by Sikh terrorists; so many terrorists killed by police; so many “intruders” from across the Pakistan border killed.

In the wide streets and traffic circles of New Delhi there were reminders of the trouble in the north. At night there were roadblocks. At places below the trees there were sandbags, guns, and policemen. In some areas there was a policeman every hundred yards or so. In the city which the seventy-year-old publisher Vishwa Nath remembered as being empty and sleepy when he was a child (and where the trees would have been little more than saplings: still only a dream of a New Delhi) terrorism had led to the creation of this new and effective police apparatus.

The British forces that the London Times correspondent William Howard Russell had seen at the siege of Lucknow in 1857 had been made up principally of Scottish Highlanders and Sikhs. Less than ten years before, the Sikhs had been defeated by the sepoy army of the British. Now, during the Mutiny, the Sikhs—still living as instinctively as other Indians, still fighting the internal wars of India, with almost no idea of the foreign imperial order they were serving—were on the British side.

During the assault on Lucknow an incident took place that sickened Russell, who was a tough man, and a hardened relisher of war. One of the Lucknow palaces—the “yellow house” on the racecourse—was being attacked by Sikh soldiers. The defenders fought back with spirit; at one stage they shot and killed one of the Sikhs’ British officers. When it was clear that the defenders intended to fight to the end, the attacking soldiers were withdrawn, artillery was brought up, and the yellow house was blasted with shot and shell. The defenders were brave men, Russell said; they should have been sung in ballads. But no mercy was shown them in Lucknow. Those who had survived the shelling were bayoneted by the Sikhs and quickly killed—all but one man. For some reason this man was dragged out by the feet, bayoneted about the face and chest, and then placed on a fire. The tormented man struggled; half burnt, he managed to get up and tried to get away; but the Sikhs held him down in the fire with their bayonets until he was dead. Russell, in a footnote, said—a characteristic touch—that he …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.