Udham Singh became a villain in Britain, and a hero in India

Legend has it Udham Singh, a low-caste Sikh boy from Sunam, who, after his railway crossing watchman father’s death was taken in by the Central Khalsa Orphanage at Amritsar, was present at the at the massacre site.
Author Anita Anand(HT)
Author Anita Anand(HT)
Published on Apr 10, 2019 02:05 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByNirupama Dutt

“The moment he pulled the trigger, he became the most hated man in Britain, a hero to his countrymen in India, and a pawn in international politics. Joseph Goebbels himself would leap upon Udham’s story and use it for Nazi propaganda at the height of the Second World War. In India today, Udham Singh is for many simply a hero, destined to right a terrible wrong.”

This is how author Anita Anand sums up patriot Udham Singh (1899-1940), who indeed is a hero to Indians for avenging the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 in Amritsar, as she traces his dramatic journey from the east to the west to avenge a grave wrong in her latest book ‘The Patient Assasin: A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge and the Raj’, due to be released in India of April 13, the centenary of the blood-drenched Baisakhi a hundred years ago. It has already been released in the UK and is making ripples.

Legend has it Udham Singh, a low-caste Sikh boy from Sunam, who, after his railway crossing watchman father’s death was taken in by the Central Khalsa Orphanage at Amritsar, was present at the at the massacre site. However, Anand argues “whether he was there when the bullets started to fly or not, the massacre in Jallianwala Bagh was transformative for Udham Singh. He was both forged and destroyed by the events of 13 April 1919. The massacre became the catalyst turning him from a hopeless, faceless member of India’s oppressed masses into a man who would strike one of the most dramatic blows against the empire”.

The author also points out in the deeply-researched book that the British authorities wanted to separate Udham’s assassination of Sir Michael O’ Dwyer, governor of Punjab in India from 1912 until 1919, and described the Jallianwala massacre as a corrective action, from the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. The reason for this was that a large number of troops from India, more so Punjab, were engaged on the side of the Allies in the war.

While telling the story of Udham Singh who waited 21 years to take his revenge, the author goes into the stories of the two Raj as well as the immigrants from Punjab to the US and the UK giving them a rare personalisation and readability. She also takes the reader through the world as Udham Singh travelled finding some anchoring in being associated with the Ghadar Party. The sense of defeat the Udham felt when General Reginald Dyer died in July 1927 till his killing of O’ Dwyer at Caxton Hall in London of March 13, 1940, by shooting at him twice is narrated in minute detail, so also his trial and execution. What makes this book so intense is that it is almost as though the author knows the way to this of history by heart and takes the reader along.

This is explained when the author says: “The massacre was indeed monstrous, and I have grown up with its legacy. My grandfather, Ishwar Das Anand, was in the garden that day in 1919. And was to live with survivor’s guilt the rest of his short life.” She adds that her husband’s family history was also woven with this event as his ancestors were salespersons from Punjab who settled in England in the 1930s. One of them shared a room with a man called Udham Singh. She says, “The happy-go-lucky Punjabi would turn out to be the ‘Patient Assassin’ of this book, deified in India, the land of my ancestors, but largely unknown in Great Britain, the land of my birth.”

Anita Anand, a radio and television presenter, made her mark by first writing the biography of Princess ‘Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary’ on the grand-daughter of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (2015), then co-authored with William Dalrymple ‘Kohinoor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond’ in 2019, and now brings alive the little known facts of the martyr’s life in the ‘The Patient Assassin’.

Blurb: The dramatic saga of the patriot’s angst and revenge is re-created dramatically by London-based Punjabi author Anita Anand

Caption: Anita Anand and the book cover of ‘The Patient Assassin’ authored by her.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021