book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

Sita Ram Pandey and James T. Norgate (tr) and James D. Lunt (ed) and Frank Wilson (ill)

From Sepoy to Subedar: Being the Life and Adventures of Subedar Sita Ram, a Native Officer of the Bengal Army Written and Related by Himself

Pandey, Sita Ram; James T. Norgate (tr); James D. Lunt (ed); Frank Wilson (ill);

From Sepoy to Subedar: Being the Life and Adventures of Subedar Sita Ram, a Native Officer of the Bengal Army Written and Related by Himself

Vikas Publications 1970 / James Lunt London, 1873, 187 pages

ISBN 9382420134, 9789382420132

topics: |  history | biography | india | british-raj | 1857 |

A rich life - lived for the colonizers

Sita Ram Pandey was a sepoy who served in the Bengal Army under East India Company. He came from a village near Rae Bareilly, where his father was a respected man, owning 150 acres of land. As a child he had the opportunity to learn to read and write as an acolyte of the village priest.

He served in the Bengal Army for nearly 50 years, from 1812 to just before 1860. In this period, he is shot at close range by a Maratha (Pindari) soldier, is captured and sold as a slave in Kabul, is blown up from a magazine explosion in which his entire regiment is killed, and is captured and nearly lynched by the mutinying sepoys for suggesting that they should not go against the British. He also finds love in a woman he rescues from the Arabs manning the fort at Asirgarh, loses his caste (twice) and has to pay heavy compensation for being taken back into the fold, and as a final tragedy, he finds his son among the captured mutineers at Lucknow, who are to be shot by his own firing squad.

Several times, his family is informed that he has been killed.

In 1858, even as an old man, sixty years old, he was fighting in the
mutiny, recovering Lucknow from the rebels, under lt Gen J T Norgate.  He
eventually retired as a subedar - a non-commissioned officer, the highest
rank that a sepoy could aspire to.  He seems to be very grateful for having
been granted a pension.

Sita Ram could read and write in Hindustani and Persian, and was apparently
a good raconteur.  Presumably, Norgate had heard many of these stories, and
encouraged Sita Ram to write up his story after retirement.  This is the
work that resulted, written by Sita Ram at the age of 66, in 1861.  Norgate
translated the work with the help of some Hindi speakers and had a small
edition published in 1863 (now untraceable), and a second edition was
brought out from Lahore in 1873.  For some years in the early 1900s, this
text, in an Urdu translation, was required reading for British officer

A rare story - the sepoy perspective

Though the Company recruited several hundred thousand native troops, we have
no other narrative comparable to Sita Ram's.  Other Indian voices, such as
Durgadas Banerjee's writings from Bareilly in 1857, or Maajha Pravas, the
Marathi recollections by Vishnu Bhatt Godshe Versaikar, who was caught up
in Jhansi when it fell, are from civilians and even the account of Muinuddin, 
kotwal of Delhi, is from a city official.  This is perhaps the only account
we have of a sepoy's life in (almost) his own voice.

The book also has much to tell us about the attitudes of the Indian
peasantry at the time.   The "Sahib" was a mythical entity for the
villager.  One widespread belief claimed that sahibs were born from eggs on
trees, and about memsahibs there was the wildest speculation.  The rituals
of losing caste and regaining it via hefty compensations to the priests, is
something that continues even to this day...

One thing that struck me reading this book is the high mortality rate among
the sepoys.  Almost everyone we meet does not live to retire whole, as Sita
Ram did. No doubt it was not much different in any of the other armies of
the period (or earlier). It is indeed surprising that so many otherwise
capable individuals could be recruited to so dangerous a profession.

Original manuscript never located

Unfortunately, the original Hindi manuscript has not been found.  What is
surprising is how it could not be located from Norgate's archives - and
reading the introduction by James Lunt, it is clear that some serious
effort in this direction has been made since the early 20th century.

The story of the work as is known is that James T Norgate was in command
of the 12th Punjab Infantry in 1858, and perhaps this is the regiment
that Sita Ram was assigned to in the turbulence of 1858.  Norgate,
who joined the Bengal army in 1843, at age 21, and retired as an
honorary Major General in 1880.  This work was given to him around 1861,
and he had translated it in 1863, but even this early translation is

The absence of the original Hindi has made this work somewhat
controversial; the veracity of a translation by an his English officer has
been brought into question.  The only other reference we have to such an
original having existed is in a remark by Girja Shankar Bajpai who
mentioned having read Sita Ram's memoirs in Hindi in his family archive.
However, this was said to the noted linguist GA Grierson
in an ICS interview panel, and was not pursued through right then.
Much later, attempts to trace such a manuscript within Bajpai's family
yielded no trace of it.

However, reading through the book, my assessment is that it would be very
difficult for an English officer to describe many of the situations such
as the Kabul slavery, the "Thakurin" episode, interaction with corruption,
and much else.  So the story on the whole definitely has a ring of truth
about it.

Doubts about authorship

In the absence of the original text, all we have is the story as it appears
here. How much of it is Sita Ram's and how much is the translator's

While some have doubted the veracity of the translation, Patrick Cadell],
author of "History of the Bombay Army" (1938), after many years of study,
concluded that the memoirs were genuine:

	That the story is absolutely genuine, and Sita Ram's own, cannot, I
	think, be doubted, The little hits at the Mohammedans and the
	Punjabis, the occasional criticisms, shrewd but friendly, of his
	officers, the references to Hindu customs, would have required the
	pen of a Kipling or a Morier to invent, and there is no reason to
	believe that Norgate possessed this.

Of course, Norgate would have substantially edited - perhaps shortened many
references and added some details of names, regiments etc as he saw fit.
So for example, when he joins Norgate's regiment, he must have
mentioned some remarks mentioning Norgate himself -such details have been
omitted by Norgate for the sake of propriety.  There must have been many
other omissions and accretions, but on the whole, the text has the ring of

I must be my son's executioner! Such is fate!

It is one of the few texts to record the views of a sepoy, though one who remained with the British during 1857. It is one of a handful of narratives from the Indian side, but on the whole, it is more informative about the sepoy's life - particularly in the years of the Bengal Army under the Company - than about the mutiny. Nonetheless, it is clearly an important document and deserves to be better known.

Translation back into Hindi

In 1910, the book was translated into Urdu by D.A. Phillott, and used as a
text for language courses by British Officers.  [possibly because it gives
some insight into the native mind]

Interestingly, it has now been reverse translated into Hindi by Madhukar
UpadhyAy under the title (rAmkAhAni sItArAm_, रामकहानी सीताराम), by मधुकर
उपाध्याय [Vani Prakashan, 2007]

On an aside, Sita Ram's remarks show up the ineffectiveness of such
"language training" for English officers:

	In those days the sahibs could speak our language much better than
	they do now, and they mixed more with us. Although officers today
	have to pass the language examination, and have to read books, they
	do not understand our language.  I have seldom met a sahib who could
	really read a book or letter although he had been passed by the
	examining board.

	The only language they learn is that of the lower orders, which they
	pick up from their servants, and which is unsuitable to be used in
	polite conversation.


		Khabi sukh aur khabi dukh
		Angrez ka naukar.
				Sometimes pleasure, sometimes pain,
				In the service of the English.
				(marching song of the old Bombay Infantry)

from Introduction by Norgate

We are still too close to the actual events for an unbiased judgement to be
made on British rule in India. When in due coUrse such a judgement .can be
made, one aspect of British rule is certain to surprise historians. This is
that so vast a country, containing so many warlike people, could have been
conquered by so few soldiers, and thereafter have been held in subjection by
a military garrison composed chiefly of natives of the country.

[The book was written with the English audience in mind.  It is
interspersed with many footnotes, where the editors explain the nature of
a hookah, or how Brahmins cannot take food from other castes, etc.  He
also reports stories of the times, such as the "mismanagement of Awadh"
under Wajid Ali Shah, and the evils of thuggee as mythified by Sleeman,
and tries to justify negative attitudes towards Sepoys after the mutiny
based on the slaughter of men and women at Cawnpore.]


		Defender of the poor! Obedience, etc., etc

according to your desire, I now send your Lordship, by the hands of my
son, the papers containing all I can remember of my life during the fortyeight
years I have been in the service of the English Nation in which I have
suffered seven severe wounds, and received six medals, which I am proud
to wear.

In those days the sahibs could speak our language much better than they do now, and they mixed more with us. Most of our officers had Indian women living with them...

I trust what I have now written, and what I have before at different times related to your Honour, may prove that there were some who remained faithful, and were not affected by the Wind of Madness which lately blew over Hindustan; for my belief is, it was this which blighted the army. My Lord knows I am not much of a Munshi, although I have been taught Persian; therefore my language must be excused. And without doubt, I have forgotten the English years in some instances; but what I have related to you, and what I have here written, it is true. To say more would be overstepping the bounds of propriety.

		May prosperity ever attend your footsteps!
			Your slave,

			(signed) Sita Ram, Subedar
			Tilowee, Oudh, 1861 Pensioner

[At the time of Sita Ram's birth, Oudh was an independent kingdom with its
capital at Lucknow, and it was from Oudh that the East India Company
recruited the bulk of its soldiers for the Bengal Army, and a lesser number
for the Bombay Army. It had originally been a Mughul province, ruled by a
Nawab appointed by the Emperor, but the Mughul empire was fast disintegrating
by 1797, when Sita Ram was born, and viceroys of provinces had set themselves
up as independent princes. The notorious misgoverment of Oudh led to its
annexation in 1856 by the East India Company, resulting in much discontent
among the soldiers enlisted from Oudh who lost under the Company the valued
privileges they had formerly enjoyed in the civil courts when Oudh was
independent. The annexation of Oudh by Lord Dalhousie was one of the
contributory causes for the Indian Mutiny in 1857.]

Birth : The village of Tiloi

I was born in the village of Tilowee, in Qudh, in the year 1797. My father
was a yeoman farmer, by name Gangadin Pande. He possessed about 150 acres
ofland which he cultivated himself.  My family when I was young were in
easy circumstances, and my father was considered a man of importance in our

   [The book has a map which shows Tilowee well N of the Ganga between
   kanpur and allahabad.  This map of Amethi  district shows "Tiloi", on the 
   road from Rae Barelli to Faizabad,, abt 35km from Raebareli. - AM ]

I was about six years old when I was placed under the care of our
family priest, Duleep Ram, in whom my father and mother placed implicit
confidence, and they never did anything of importance without his advice
and consent.

That the story is absolutely genuine, and Sita Ram's own, cannot, I think, be doubted... - Patrick Cadell

By him I was taught to write and read our own language; also a slight knowledge of figures was imparted to me. After I had acquired this I considered myself far superior'in knowledge to all the other boys of my age whom I knew, and held up my head accordingly. All other castes were far below my notice. In fact I fancied myself more clever than my preceptor Duleep himself, and if it had not been for the high respect he was held in by my father, I should on some occasions have even dared to tell him so. Until I was seventeen years of age I attended my father in the management of his land, and was entrusted to give the corn to the coolies he sometimes employed in cutting his crops, drawing water, and so on.

Uncle Hanuman, the Jemadar

My mother had a brother, by name Hanuman, who was in the service of the
Company Bahadur, and was a Jemadar in an infantry battalion. He had come home
on leave for six months, and on his way to his own home, he stayed with my
father. My uncle was a very handsome man, and of great personal strength. He
used of an evening to sit on the seat before our house, and relate the
wonders of the world he had seen, and the prosperity of the great Company
Bahadur he served, to a crowd of eager listeners, who with open mouths and
staring eyes took in all his marvels as undoubted truths. None of his hearers
were more attentive than myself, and from these recitals I imbibed a strong
desire to enter the world, and try the fortune of a soldier.

Nothing else could I think of, day or night. The rank of Jemadar I looked on
as quite equal to that of Ghazidin Hydar, the King of Oudh himself; in fact,
never having seen the latter, I naturally considered my uncle as of even more
importance. He had such a splendid necklace of gold beads, and a curious
bright red coat, covered with gold buttons; and, above all, he appeared to
have an unlimited supply of gold mohurs.  I longed for the time when I might
possess the same, which I then thought would be directly I became the Company
Bahadur's servant.

Uncle Hanuman, the Jemadar, holding forth in the village
(as imagined by Frank Wilson).

[There were three grades of native officer. The junior was Jemadar; the next
was Subedar. or Rissaldar in the Cavalry. The senior was Subedar - or
Rissaldar-Major, of which there was only one in each infantry battalion or
cavalry regiment.]

My uncle had observed how attentive I was to all his stories, and how
military ardour had inflamed my breast, and certainly he did all in his power
to encourage me. He never said anything about it before my father and mother,
or the priest; still, he repeatedly told me privately that if I wished to be
a soldier, he would take me back with him on his return to the regiment. How
I longed to mention this to my mother, but dared not for I well knew her
dearest wish was for me to become a priest.

However, one day when I had been reading with Duleep Ram about the mighty
battles fought by the gods, I fairly told him my wish to become a
soldier. How horrified he seemed! How he reproached me, declaring that all
the instruction he had so laboured to impart to me was thrown away, and that
half the stories my uncle had told me were false; that I might be flogged,
and certainly should be defiled by entering the Company's service. A hundred
other terrors he conjured up, but these had no effect on me.

Opposition by the priest and mother

The priest immediately went to my parents and informed them of my
determination, and thus broke to them the subject I had not the courage to
tell. To my great surprise my father made no objections; these all came from
my mother, who wept, scolded, entreated, and threatened me, ending by
imploring me to give up the idea, and abused my father for not preventing
such a catastrophe. At this particular period of which I now write a lawsuit
was impending over my father, about his right to a mango grove of some 400
trees, and he thought that having a son in the Company Bahadur's service
would be the means of getting his case attended to in the law courts of
Lucknow; for it was well known that a petition sent by a soldier, through his
commanding officer, who forwarded it on to the Resident sahiba in Lucknow,
generally had prompt attention paid to it, and carried more weight than even
the bribes and party interest of a mere subject of the King of Oudh.

Shortly after my parents had been informed of my desire to take service with
Company Bahadur my uncle left them to proceed to his own home ftfty miles
away. Although my mother never expressed any wish for him to pay another
visit when he was about to return to his regiment on the expiration of his
leave, he told her that he intended to do so, and that he should take me with
him if I were still of the same mind. I walked the first few miles with him
on his journey, and made him tell me all about the service I wished to enter,
over and over again.

Upon my return home I had to sustain the united attacks of the priest and my
mother. They tried every inducement to make me give up the idea. My mother
even cursed the day her brother had set foot in our house, but all they could
get from me was a promise that I would think over the matter. This I did, and
every day became more and more determined to follow my uncle. I now felt
idle, and did very little else than learn to wrestle or play with
sword-sticks, and consequently neglected my father's ftelds, which caused me
to fall under his displeasure. However a threat from him that I should never
be allowed to see my uncle again had the effect of bringing me a little to my
senses, and my father had no occasion to find fault with me afterwards.

Setting off with uncle

The months passed away, and the rainy season had ended.  I was engaged in
cutting sugar-cane, with my back. towards the road, when I was called by name
by someone on a pony. I soon recognized my uncle and flew to his
embrace. After inquiries for my father and mother, he asked me if I wished to
be a soldier still, and looked pleased when I answered so decidedly,
'Yes'. He told me I was a fme young fellow and that I should go with him.

My uncle remained a few days at our house, during which time, having my
father to back ~im up, he in a measure succeeded in bringing my mother to
think' it was my destiny to be a soldier, and her fate to part with her
son. The priest was requested to look at my horoscope and discover the lucky
day for my departure, which he informed us, in the evening, would be at six
o'clock in the morning of the fourth day from that day, if no thunder was
heard during the period.

How anxiously I watched the clouds during those days! How I prayed to the
gods of the rain and clouds! And in the evening of the third day, when some
dark clouds came up, I was in despair lest rain should fall, and fate be
against me.  Duleep, the priest, who really loved me, gave me lots of advice,
and made me promise never to disgrace my brahminical thread.4 He also gave me
a charm in which was some dust a thousand Brahmins had trod at holy
Allahabad, and he assured me that this charm was so powerful that as long as
1 kept it no harm could ever befall me. He bestowed on me likewise a book of
our holy poems. My father bought me a pony, but gave me no money, as he
considered I was now under my uncle's care, and that he could well support

The morning came unclouded. It was 10 October 1812, and at six o'clock in the
morning I and my tmcle left my home to enter what for me was an unknown
[FN. Sita Ram is inclined to be hazy over dates, which is not surprising in
view of his age when he was writing his memoirs, and the fact that the
Christian calendar differs from the Hindu. He probably means 1814, not 1812,
since he says he was seventeen years old when he set off to join the army.]

Just before starting, my mother violently kissed me, and gave me six gold
mohurs sewn in a cloth bag. but being convinced that it was her fate to part
with me, she uttered no words but moaned piteously. My worldly baggage when I
left home consisted of my pony, my bag of gold mohurs, a small brass bowl and
string [to draw water from a well], three brass dishes, one iron dish and
spoon, two changes of clothes, a smart turban, a small axe (for
self-protection), and a pair of shoes. My uncle's baggage greatly exceeded
mine; it was rolled up in a large bundle and' carried by a coolie from
village to village.  This poor man considered himself amply rewarded for his
day's work by our giving him whatever bread was left over after the daily

2 Joining the Regiment

My uncle. and I went one march in the morning. We rested during the heat of
the day under a tree, and in the evening we marched the same distance as we
had in the morning. For the night we always put up at a -.seraj2 whenever
this was possible.

On the third day we arrived at a village called Dersungpor where two sepoys
of my uncle's regiment, whose leave had finished, joined us. One was called
Tillukdaree Gheer, and the other Deonarain. They appeared delighted to meet
my uncle and treated him with great respect. Deonarain was accompanied by his
younger brother, who was hoping to enlist. They were all carrying swords, and
Tillukdaree also had a blunderbuss, called a 'young tiger'.  We looked a
rather formidable party, and felt secure against the bandits and thugs who
then infested the roads.

Companions of the road

After about three' or four days a party of itinerant musicians came up with
us and begged that we should join forces for the sake of protection. They
consisted of two men with drums, four men with sitars,3 two men with cymbals,
and one with a kind of trumpet. They told us that they were on their way to
attend a marriage festival at a town which lay on our way.

For several days everything went smoothly, and the musicians enlivened our
march by playing pretty airs. But during the night of the fourth day my
uncle, happening to be awake, discovered that all the musicia.ns had
collected together and were in some earnest debate, speaking in a low tone of
voice and in a tongue which he could not understand.  Alarmed at what he
saw, he immediately aroused the other sepoys and told them he believed that
the musicians were in reality thugs. He then appointed one of our party to
watch them while the rest of us again laid down to sleep.

The next morning my uncle told the musicians that he was obliged to make long
marches, and that therefore they would be unable to keep up with us. They,
however, begged to be allowed to accompany us, and at the same time expressed
great fear of being robbed on the road. Nevertheless my uncle marched very
early the next morning, leaving them behind. We went some eight miles on the
high road, and then branched offby a side path, intending to join the road
again some thirty miles farther on.


The next four days passed without incident. At the evening's halting-place on
the fourth day we were joined by a party of about twelve men, carrying
bundles of bamboos which are used for making pipe-stems. These men begged to
be allowed to join us for protection, as the musicians had done. In the
morning, when it was light, I fancied that one of these men was remarkably
like one of the former party, and mentioned this to my uncle who went to them
and entered into conversation.  But their language was different from that of
the musicians, their clothes were very dirty, and they looked like
coolies. Still he was on his guard, and appointed one of the sepoys to keep
awake and watch the movements of these people.

During the night, after we had halted, I could not go to
sleep for a long time, as I believed these men were also thugs. However, in
spite of my endeavours to keep awake, I fell asleep eventually, but was
shortly afterwards awakened by a noise like a cock crowing close by.6 I sat
up. and in a moment one or two of these men were by the side of the

I shouted loudly, and my uncle jumped up with his sword drawn, and rushed at
them. Although this was the work of a moment, the fiends had managed to
strangle the brother of Deonarain with a silk cord, and had rendered
Tillukdaree senseless. He was just saved by my uncle who cut down the thug
standing over him. The others disappeared immediately, leaving their bundles
of sticks behind them. However, in this short space, the thugs had managed to
steal my uncle's gold beads, worth 250 rupees, and Tillukdaree's
blunderbuss. He had fallen asleep when he was supposed to be on watch.

After all this had happened, we went to the village nearby and roused the
entire population, but no-one showed the slightest inclination to pursue the
blood-thirsty murders. We passed the remainder of the night on the outskirts
of the village, having carried with us the dead body of Deonarain's
brother. In the morning we found the bamboos still at our former camping'
place, and my uncle sold them to a tobacco merchant for 46 rupees, but not
without an altercation with the village headman who claimed that they
belonged to him, by right of their having been left on his ground. We stayed
a complete day at the village in order to perform the funeral rites for
Deonatain's unfortunate brother. Fortunately for Deonarain's comfort we were
only a few miles from the holy Ganges, and he had the satisfaction of seeing
the priest cast his brother's ashes into the stream, thus securing his
brother rest in our Hindu heaven. Tillukdaree was so weak from the effect of
the thug's cord round his throat that he was obliged to hire a pony cart, and
we proceeded, now a mournful party, on our way.

My uncle now allowed no parties of any kind to join us, although several
begged hard to do so since they saw we were armed.  Nothing of any
consequence took place during the rest of the journey so far as I can
remember, until we arrived at Agra, where my uncle's regiment was then

Arrival at Agra : Meeting the first Sahibs

We arrived there on 14 November, and when we came near the lines we met
several sepoys of the regiment going down to the Jumna to bathe. They all
embraced my uncle, and, before we came to the lines, some thirty men of his
Company came running out to meet him and asked a thousand questions. My uncle
went to his own house, which had been kept neat and clean by a havildar who
had lived in it during my uncle's absence.

After bathing, and eating the morning meal, my uncle put on full regimentals
and went to pay his respects to the Adjutant sahib, and Commanding
Officer. He took me with him. I was rather dreading this because I had never
yet seen a sahib and imagined they were terrible to look on and of great
stature-at least seven feet tall! In those days there were only a few sahibs
in Oudh; only one or two sahib Residents in Lucknow, where I had never been.
In the villages of my country the most extraordinary ideas existed about
them, and anyone who had chanced to see a sahib told the most curious
stories. In fact nothing was too far-fetched to be believed. It was said
that they were born frbm an egg which grew on a tree, and this idea still
exists in remote villages. Had a memsahib come suddenly into some of our
villages, she would, if young and handsome, have been considered to be some
kind of fairy, and would probably have been worshipped; but should she have
been old and ugly, the whole village would have run away to hide in the
jungle, believing her to be a witch. It is therefore hardly surprising that I
should have been so terrified at the prospect of seeing a sahib for the frrst
time in my life.

Myths about sahibs : born from eggs on trees

I remember once, when I was attending a fair at the Taj Mahal in Agra, an old
woman said she had always believed that sahibs came from eggs which grew on a
tree; but that morning she had seen a sahib with a fairy by his side. The
fairy was covered with feathers of the most beautiful colours, her face was
as white as milk, and the sahib had to keep his hand on her shoulders to
prevent her from flying away. All this the old woman had seen with her own
eyes, and she swore it was true. I am not so ignorant now, of course, but I
would have believed it when first I arrived at Agra. I afterwards often saw
that sahib driving out with his lady. She wore a tippet made from peacock
feathers, and the old woman had mistaken this for wings.

[note by Norgate: Agra, which stands on the banks of the River Jumna,
about three hours' drive from Delhi.

Writing in 1870s, Norgate surely must mean the train when he says "three
hour's drive". Interestingly, it is a three hours drive even in the 21st
century. ]

We went to the Adjutant's house, which was four times the size of the
headman's house in my village. He was on the verandah, with a long stick,
measuring young men who were recruits. He was very young, not as tall as
myself, and had no whiskers nor moustache. His face was quite smooth and
looked more like a woman's than a man's.

This was the frrst sahib I had ever seen, and he did not fill me with much
awe. I did not believe he could be much of a warrior with a face as smooth as
that since among us it is considered a disgrace to be clean-shaven; in fact a
smooth-faced soldier is usually the butt for many jokes. However he banged
those young recruits' heads against the wall in a manner which showed he had
no fear, and they looked as if they thought he was about to kill them.

After he had finished with the measuring, the Adjutant took notice of my
uncle, and to my surprise spoke to him in my own language. He seemed glad to
see him, asked after his welfare, and touched his sword.  He then asked who
I was, and on being informed that I had come to enlist and was my uncle's
nephew, he told my uncle to take me to the Doctor sahib, to whom he wrote a
letter. 13

I was astonished at the speed of his writing; in less time than I
could have put water to the ink and written one line, he had filled a
page, which he then doubled up and gave to my uncle, and we Went to the
Doctor sahib's house.

The Doctor's house

This was even bigger than the Adjutant's. My uncle told me that the Doctor
was married and had several children. He was at home and we were ordered
into his presence. A chair was provided for my uncle, but no notice was
taken of me so I squatted on the ground. My uncle made me stand up, and
told me afterwards that it was bad manners to sit down in the presence of
a sahib.  14

After reading the note, the Doctor ordered me to strip, but I was so
ashamed I could not move, for there was a memsahib in the room. She was
sitting at a table covered with a sheet, and feeding two children with
eggs - those unclean things!

I began to regret having followed my uncle, and remembered the priest's
warning about being defiled.  However I was ordered sharply to take off my
clothes, and both the children began calling out - 'Papa says you are to take
your clothes off! Don't you understand? Donkey, pig, owl!' - and the Doctor
joined in, saying I was a fool and an ignorant villager. Then the children
cried out - 'Oh, mamma, is he covered with hair?'  I was so ashamed that I ran
out onto the verandah, but my uncle came out and told me not to be afraid. No
harm would be done to me. The Doctor then pushed me into an empty room and
examined me, by thrusting his hand against my stomach, which nearly made me
vomit. Then he opened my eyelids with such violence that tears came into my
eyes, and he thumped my chest. After this he pronounced me fit and ceased
tormenting me - to my great relief.

Three Sahibs in one day

My uncle next went to pay his respects to the Colonel sahib. We were kept
outside for an hour, and then ordered to approach. I was now in such a
state of terror, not knowing what horror might next befall me, that my
legs knocked together. I imagined that the Colonel sahib must be terrible
to gaze upon - he commanded one thousand men- his wish was law! Judge my
surprise when I saw an old man, very short and stout, without a hair on
his head or face, and with a skin of a bright red colour. He was smoking a
magnificent hookah.  He got up to welcome my uncle, and after I was
introduced spoke very kindly to me, telling me to be a good boy and
imitate my uncle in everything.

I have said this was the first time in my life I had ever seen any
sahibs. I had now seen three, and, how different they were to my ideas of
them. I could not believe they were so brave as they were reputed to be;
they were all smaller than my uncle and did not look half as strong. And
what a number of curious things they had in their houses. I could not
imagine what they did with them.

In one corner of the Colonel's room was a table full of glass cups of all
sorts and sizes, and in another corner a stand with seven or eight
guns. The walls were hung with the heads of animals - tigers, stags,
antelope, and other deer. The sahib was wearing a tight blue coat,
buttoned up to the throat with big brass buttons, and with two lumps of
what I then thought was gold on his shoulders.  He wore white pantaloons,
and long black boots with golden tassels on either side. Although I was
not struck with his size or strength, still there was something in his
eyes which I shall never forget; they were like the eyes of a hawk and
seemed to look through and through one.  After we had left, my uncle told
me that the Colonel was a renowned sportsman who had killed as many as
nine tigers.

Starting the drill : Havildar-major

In a few days I was sent to begin my drill. It is a day I shall
always remember, for is it not impressed for ever on my mind? The
parade-ground was covered by'parties of six or eight men, performing the
most extraordinary movements I had ever seen, and these to orders in a
language of which I did not understand a single word.  I felt inclined to
laugh, and stood astonished at the sight. However a violent wrench of my
ear by the drill havildar [sergeant] soon brought me to my senses.

I had to attend drill for many months, and one day I happened to forget how
to do something and was so severely cuffed on the head by the drill havildar
that I fell down senseless. I complained to my uncle who was very angry with
the drill havildar.  Although he never dared to strike me again, from that
day on he bullied me in every other way and used to abuse me at every
opportunity.  As I had gone to great pains to learn my duties, I resented
this treatment very much and had almost made up my mind to run away. The
drill havildar told the Adjutant that I was obstinate and stupid, and would
never make a soldier.

I told my uncle of the treatment I was receiving, and said I repented of ever
having come with him. But he encouraged me, and one day the Colonel sahib
came to inspect the recruits and I managed to do my drill to his
satisfaction. He ordered the Adjutant to test me in the whole of my drill,
and the Adjutant told the Colonel that I was fit to join the ranks.  I so
longed to wear a red coat, and to have a musket of my own. Besides
which, I had only been eight months at my drill, and out of a party of
seventy-eight recruits, many of whom had enlisted before me, I was the
only one selected to join the ranks. Few were ever sent to do this, unless in
war-time, until they had been at drill for a year, and often for even longer

3 Gurkha war 1814-16

I took my place as a regular sepoy in my uncle's company, Number 2, eight
months from the day I had entered the Sirkar's service.  But my annoyances
did not cease here. Through some influence of the drill havildar, the
European sergeant of my company took a dislike to me and was continually
finding fault and getting me punished. I discovered that I had never given
the usual present to the drill havildar when I had passed my drill, and I
determined never to do so after his bad treatment of me.  This fee was
sixteen rupees, of which five or six went to the European sergeant of the
company to which the recruit was posted.

At this time there was a European sergeant with each company of sepoys. Some
of them knew the language quite well, and on the whole were kind to us, but
others did not know our language, or could not make us understand their
meaning, and instead resorted to low abuse. Numerous complaints were made to
the Adjutant, but he nearly always took the side of the European sergeant,
and we could obtain very little or no redress.

The sepoy's uniform

At first I found it very disagreeable wearing the red coat; although this
was open in front, it was very tight under the arms. The shako was very heavy
and hurt my head, but of course it was very smart.  I grew accustomed to all
this after a time, but I always found it a great relief when I could wear my
own loose dress. The uniform of the British was always very tight and
prevented the free use of arms and legs. I also found the musket very heavy,
and for a long time my shoulder ached when carrying it. The pouch-belt and
knapsack were a load for a coolie.

[shako: This smart but not very practicable headdress had been copied from the
British Army, as indeed had most of the uniforms of the Company's Army. Very
little concession was made to the climate, incl. the thick and tight-fitting

A sepoys uniform from the 1800s (Bombay Grenadiers).

English Officers - Tiger hunts at Bharatpore

There were eight English officers in my regiment, and the Captain of my
company was a real sahib-just as I had imagined all sahibs to be. His name
was 'Burrumpeel'. He was six feet three inches tall, his chest as broad as
the monkey god's,lo and he was tremendously strong.

He often used to wrestle with the sepoys and won universal admiration when he
was in the wrestling arena. He had learnt all the throws and no sepoy could
defeat him. This officer was always known among ourselves as the
'Wrestler'. Nearly all our officers had nicknames by which we knew them. One
was the 'Prince' sahib, and another was known as the 'Camel' because he had a
long neck. Another we called 'Damn' sahib because he always said that word
when he gave an order. Some of the officers were very young, mere boys, and
when they were not on duty they were always hunting and shooting.

The Colonel sahib owned four elephants and often organized
tiger hunts. At the time I am writing about there were tigers in
abundance in the jungles around Agra, near Bharatpore, and on the road
to Mutthura.  These jungles have since been cleared away and there is not
a tiger to be seen, but Colond 'Estuart' sahib seldom returned from a hunt
without two tigers. He was well-known all around and the villagers came
from as far as thirty miles away to inform him where the game was; they
were certain of receiving a good reward. Nowadays the sahibs do not go
out all day during the hot weather, but formerly they bore the heat just as
well as we do, and sometimes even better.

[FN. There are still tigers near Bharatpore, but they are few and strictly

Indian women with the Company officers

Most of our officers had Indian women living with them, and these had great
influence in the regiment. They always pretended to have more influence thari
was probably the case in order that they might be bribed to ask the sahibs
for favours on our behalf. The sepoys themselves were sometimes instrumental
in persuading the officers to take their female relations into their service,
but such men were usually of low caste, or else Mahommedans.

In those days the sahibs could speak our language much better than they do
now, and they mixed more with us. Although officers today have to pass the
language examination, and have to read books, they do not understand our
language.  I have seldom met a sahib who could really read a book or letter
although he had been passed by the examining board.

The only language they learn is that of the lower orders, which they pick up
from their servants, and which is unsuitable to be used in polite

The sahibs often used to give nautches for the regiment, and they attended
all the men's games. They also took us with them when they went out hunting,
or at least all those of us who wanted to go.

Nowadays, they seldom attend nautches because their Padre sahibs have told
them it is wrong.

These sahibs have done, and are still doing, many things to estrange the
British officers from the sepoys.  When I was a sepoy the Captain of my
company would have some of the·men at his house all day long and he talked
with them. Of course many went with the intention of gaining something-to
persuade the company commander to recommend them to the Colonel for
promotion, or to obtain this or that appointment in the regiment-but far more
of us went because we liked the sahib who always treated us as if we were his

Changes in the Sahib's attitudes

I am a very old man now and my words are true. I have lived to see great
changes in the sahibs' attitude towards us. I know that many officers
nowadays only speak to their men when obliged to do so, and they show that
the business is irksome and try to get rid of the sepoys as quickly as
possible.  One sahib told us that he never knew what to say to us. The sahibs
always knew what to say, and how to say it, when I was a young soldier. If I
am speaking too boldly, your Honour must forgive me!

The officers of the Royal Army since the Mutiny do not treat us in the same
fashion as they used to do. I am fully aware of the execration my unworthy
brethren deserve for their brutal conduct during the Mutiny, but surely this
should come from their own officers, and not from officers of the Royal
Army. Even when it was known that I had served with the force which relieved
Lucknow, I can nevertheless remember being called 'a damned black pig' by
more than one officer of the Royal Army. And yet I can recall that officers
of the 13th and 41st Foot, when I made chappatis for them in Kabul, told me,
'Jack sepoy is a damned good fellow!' I have not served forty-eight years
with English officers without knowing the meaning of all this. It can largely
be attributed to hastiness of temper, and who can struggle against fate?

I always was good friends with the English soldiers, and they used to treat
the sepoy with great kindness. And why not - did we not do all their work?
We performed all their guard duties in the heat. We stood sentry over their
rum-casks.  We gave them our own food.

Well, English soldiers are a different breed nowadays. They are neither as
fine nor as tall as they used to be. They can seldom speak one word of our
language except to abuse us, and if they could learn polite expressions as
quickly as they can learn abusive ones, they would indeed be apt scholars.

I have noticed that a regiment new to India, both officers and men, always
abuse us Indians more than an old regiment. The 17th Foot always called us
brothers; the 16th Lancers never walked near our cooking places nor spat on
our food, and we served with them for years.

I have heard it said, and once I asked a Colonel sahib who could understand
me a little whether it was true that the Sirkar's best soldiers were all
killed by the Russian cannon [in the Crimean War].  He told me that very few
were killed, but that thousands died of cold and sickness as they did in
Kabul. However, it was thought during the Mutiny that the Russians had
killed all the Sirkar's soldiers and that only boys could be recruited in
Britain. Some of this must be true because I have seen only boys in many
red-coated regiments in recent years.

[FN. There was probably a great deal of truth in Sita Ram's criticism of the
changed attitude of the British troops, but it must be remembered that he is
writing in the immediate aftermath of the Indian Mutiny, when such incidents
as the massacre of women and children at Cawnpore had aroused an ugly spirit
of revenge. No one struggled harder against this than the Governor-General,
Lord Canning, who was rewarded for his efforts by the contemptuous nickname,
'Clemency Canning'.]

An aside on the Mutiny of Vellore, 1806

Orders soon arrived and we marched from Agra to Mutthura in two
days.  There we were attached to General 'Gilspy's' force. There was also
another force under General 'Loneyackty'. [Ochterlony]

[Gillespie had achieved fame for putting down the mutiny in Vellore
in 1806, which I had never heard of.  I add some details here for the
Indian reader unaware of the many mutinies that preceded 1857.

The Vellore mutiny was caused by an order forbidding Hindus to wear
'Tilak', while Muslims were required to shave their beards and trim their
moustaches.  The commanding officer, Gen. John Craddock, had just arrived
in India from Naples, and was unfamiliar with Sepoy mores.

As Sita Ram notes, the newer officers were typically far less informed
about native ways.

Beginning at 2 a.m at night, Indian sepoys of Vellore fort rose in a
bloody revolt against the East India Company's garrison. ...  The sepoys shot
at English officers, fired into the European barracks and massacred the sick
in their hospital, leaving 14 British officers and 100 soldiers dead.

In the counterattack unleashed at 9 a.m. by Colonel Robert Rollo
Gillespie's men, who rushed from Arcot 14 miles away, 350 Indians sepoys
were put to death. Some British accounts place the figure at 800.

In S. Anand's narrative, he mentions some of the

According to Secret Despatches, Vol 33, "Six convicted mutineers were blown
away from guns [canons], five were shot with musketry, eight were hung."
These executions took place in the western part of the fort.

In the Manual of the North Arcot District (1898) magistrate Arthur C. Fox
notes with unrestrained glee that the execution by blowing away from the guns

	produced the profoundest impression. A spectator describes how
	numbers of kites accompanied the party to the place of execution,
	flapping their wings and screeching as if in anticipation of the
	bloody feast, till the fatal flash which scattered their fragments
	of bodies in air, when, pouncing on their prey, they caught in their
	talons many pieces of quivering flesh before they could reach the
	ground. At sight of this the native troops employed on duty,
	together with the crowd assembled to witness the execution, set up a
	yell of horror.

---end of aside on Vellore]

[In the Gukha campaign, Captain 'Burrumpeel' sahib is struck by an arrow.
Miraculously, he recovers, but has to return to England,] and the regiment
lost its champion.

He was so loved by the men of his company, and was such a universal
favourite in the regiment, that his absence was hard to bear.

[After many losses, the morale of the morale is at ebb.  His uncle is
injured in the knee by a matchlock ball. At this point,] we received news
that 'Loneyackty' sahib had beaten Amar Thapa and that peace had been made.

[Ochterlony was given command of all the Company's troops. He outmanoeuvred
the Gurkhas, capturing their supposedly impregnable fortress at Chiriaghati
after a daring night approach-march which could equally easily have resulted
in disaster.

The Gurkhas capitulated in order to avoid the occupation of Kathmandu. A
peace treaty was signed at Sagauli in 1816.  By this the Nepalese lost Simla,
Dehra Dun, parts of the Terai, and Sikkim, but retained their
independence. They agreed to accept a British Resident in Kathmandu and
allowed the Company to recruit Gurkhas for the Bengal Army.

Elephant rampage

One night, when we were near a place called Peithan, the alarm was
sounded. A dreadful uproar took place in the camp and at first we could not
account for it. A herd of wild elephants had entered the camp and were
attacking our transport elephants, which had broken their chains and were
running wild. They ran among the tents, screaming and roaring, upsetting
tents, and trampling to death a European soldier and two officers'

The European soldiers wanted to open fire on the elephants, but in the dark
it was impossible to tell which were wild, and which were the Commissariat
elephants. The officers had great difficulty in preventing their men from
opening fire. Had the soldiers done so, no-one can say what damage would
have been done; the musket balls would doubtless have killed some of our own
men. After a while the wild elephants moved off and quiet was somewhat
restored. The mahouts succeeded in recovering all their elephants except
two, and these were never seen again.

I was on sentry duty that night and never shall I forget it.  I had never
been so frightened before. I expected to be trampled on at every moment and
yet I dared not leave my post, Even my uncle admitted to being afraid
because he had not yet recovered from his wound and was unable to run. The
guyropes of one tent became entangled with an elephant's feet and the tent
was torn down before the occupants could get out.  They were enfolded in the
tent like fish in a net and were dragged for some distance. The sides of the
tent saved them from being seriously injured, but they were frightened as I
had never seen men frightened before. p.30

4 Pindari Wars

		[Pindaris was a colonial term applied to irregular troops of
		cavalry affiliated with the Marathas.  The Pindari wars
		(1817) constitute the first salvo of the Third and final
		Anglo-Maratha war at the end of which in 1818, the Peshwa was
		dethroned and exiled to Bithur.] 

My company was sent in pursuit of some of the enemy who had been
dismounted. While chasing one of them, my foot caught in a bush and I was
thrown headlong into a deep ravine. I lay at the bottom stunned for a while,
and when I recovered I saw a man with a matchlock taking aim at me from a
range of less than twelve yards.

I covered him with my musket, but unfortunately the flint had been knocked
out during my fall and naturally the musket would not fire. The Pindari got
round behind me and fired from above, hitting me in the back near the left
shoulder. I rolled farther down into the ravine and remember nothing
until it was dark. Then I awoke with a burning thirst to fmd myself
covered with blood, not only from my wound, but also from the thorns
that had lacerated me. My face and hands were dreadfully cut. I was unable
to move and lay there till dawn in terrible pain. I then managed to crawl
up the bank, but was so exhausted by the effort that I fell back into the

[eventually he is given some water by a girl, and is then sheltered by a
holy man, and manages to return to the regiment, who have given him up for
dead.  He is sent home to recuperate.]

When my mother came out to draw water I called to her, but she did not recognize me. News had reached home that he had been killed.

5 Return to the Village

I arrived safely in Agra with the regiment to which I was attached and
bought myself a pony for 11 rupees. I then set off for my village in the
company of four or five sepoys who had also been given leave.

I arrived at home early one morning before it was light and waited outside
until daybreak. When my mother came out to draw water I called to her, but
she did not recognize me. During the four years I had been away I had grown
from youth to manhood, and I had also grown whiskers and a moustache. In
fact I considered myself a rather handsome sepoy. My mother seemed so
alarmed when I spoke to her that I also became frightened, but my father
told me later that my uncle had written home to say I had been killed, and
my mother therefore thought she had met my ghost.

However my father now appeared from the house and I was pleased to learn
that none of my family had died during my absence. Everything was exactly
the same as when I had left home. I also had the great pleasure of
experiencing some ease for the first time for many months. My health rapidly
recovered. I also satisfied my ambition by seating myself on the same bench
in front of our house wher~ my uncle had sat and recounting stories of my
own escapes to the crowd who came every evening to listen· and gossip, as
they had previously done when my uncle was with us. I soon became a man of
some importance in my village. The old priest was still alive and greeted me
most warmly; he prided himself on the efficacy of the charm he had given me
when first I left home.


While I had been away my mother had arranged my betrothal with the daughter
of a local landowner. You will be aware, your Honour, that betrothals are
arranged by our parents, and we are not allowed to see the faces of our
wives until our wedding night.

I did not much want to be married while I remained a soldier, but it was all
part of my fate so what could I do about it? The priest fixed the auspicious
day which was six months ahead. I often tried to get a glimpse of my
betrothed's face during this time, and asked her nurse about her. All I
was told was that she had a neck like a dove, her eyes were like doe's, her
feet like a lotus leaf, and that she was consumed with love for me, and with
this I had to be satisfied!

I only saw her once while getting into a bullock-cart, but she was a long
way off and I could not see her face. My mother and the priest told me that
my wife's dowry would be quite enough for us to live on and there was
therefore no longer any need for me to remain in the army.  She nearly
managed to persuade me to write to my uncle and obtain my discharge.

However my father was not so keen for me to be married because the priest's
marriage fees would cost him a lot of money. He also did not wish me to
leave the service because his lawsuit about the mango orchard had not yet
been settled. Now that I had returned home he wanted me to act as his agent
in the courts, since my being in the Sirkar's service would give me an
advantage over the other claimant who was now urging his suit.

I employed my time as formerly in looking after my father's farm, and my
wound quickly healed; however it gave me great pain whenever it rained.

Losing caste

One evening, when I was telling the story of how I was wounded, I happened
to mention the incident of the little girl who was looking after the cows in
the jungle, and who gave me water which saved my life. A Brahmin priest who
was listening said that from my own description the girl must have been of a
lower caste than even a sweeper.  and that therefore I must be defiled from
having drunk water drawn by her.

I protested in vain that I drank the water from my own brass bowl, but he
talked so loudly, and reviled me so much, that the news was all over the
village in no time at all. Everyone now shunned me and refused to smoke with

I consulted Duleep Ram, our priest, who heard all my case and decided that I
had broken my caste. He could no longer associate with me, and I was not
even allowed to enter my father's house. I was plunged into despair. Through
my father's influence a panchayat,ll or court composed of five persons, was
assembled to sit in judgement over me. After the priests had performed many
ceremonies over me, and ordered me to fast for many days, I was declared
clean and was given a new Brahminical cord. I had to give feasts for the
priests and also gifts, and all the money I had saved during five years'
service was spent. But who can struggle against destiny?

After the marriage

on the first night my bride's face was allowed to be seen by the members of
my family. Her nurse's description of her turned out to be false. How could
the moon be beautiful if it had suffered from small-pox?  Moreover my wife's
dowry was mostly property settled on herself.

As my leave was soon finished I decided to rejoin my regiment, leaving my
wife in the care of my mother.

6 The Lovely Thakurin

	[In 1818, the British laid siege to the last Maratha bastion at the
	fort of Asirgarh,  which was manned by a group of Arab mercenaries.]

I surprised an Arab in the very act of killing a girl who was kneeling at
his feet and imploring him to spare her life. The moment he saw me he
shouted out, 'Not yet!', and rushed at me like a tiger. He came so
frantically that he transfixed himself on my bayonet before I could recover
my surprise. I then fired my musket and blew a great hole in his chest, but
even after this he managed in his dying struggles to give me a severe cut on
my arm. These men live like jackals and they fight like Ghazis.

The girl threw herself at my feet and embraced my legs.  She was in reality,
with regard to beauty, what my wife's nurse had described my wife to be! I
asked her who she was, and where she came from, and where her friends and
relations were? She told me she was the daughter of a Thakur in Bundelkhand,
by name Mokum Singh.

She had been carried off by the Pindaris who had sold her to this Arab, who
had forced her to become his mistress. Her father had been killed, and many
of her relations also, while defending their property. She also assured me
that the survivors would never receive her back as she was disgraced beyond
redemption, and she ended her sad story by telling me that I was her Lord
and now her only protector.

The village had been set on fire and smoke was coming in dense clouds into
the enclosure. I hastily bound up my arm with the turban of the dead Arab,
and taking his sword as proof that I had slain him, I led the little fawn
through the unburnt part of the village and rejoined my company. But I did
not know what to do with the girl since I knew I should not be allowed to
keep her with me. Our force retired some miles after the fight and camped
behind Ahanpura.

I told my uncle about my adventure and he advised me to abandon the girl and
not encumber myself with a woman in these times of war. But how could I have
left her in the village to be burnt to death? I went to my Captain and told
him of the affair. He praised me very much and ordered the girl to be placed
in the care of the man in charge of our followers.

This young creature rode my pony but remained in the
care of the head follower. I saw her every day and my heart became inflamed
with love, for she was beautiful to look on and always called me her
protector. I am an old man now but never before nor since have I seen any
woman like her, not even in Delhi.

For a week or more no notice was taken of me nor the girl, but at the end of
this time the Adjutant sent for me and told me I could not keep her because
women were not permitted to accompany the forces.

At this my mind was filled with sadness and my heart became a target for the
arrows of despair. I pleaded that if she remained with the followers, the
girl could give no trouble, nor put the Sirkar to any expense. The Adjutant
then proposed to give me one hundred rupees for her, and ended by offering
four hundred rupees7 if I would give her up. But I cpuld not bring myself to
part with her although I now foresaw that I should soon lose her.

My uncle strongly advised me to get rid of her as she would only bring
disgrace on me. For the first time my uncle and I nearly had a quarrel. How
true was the warning given me by the priest Duleep Ram: 'More men are
entangled by the wiles of a woman than fish in the net of the most skilful
fisherman. The arrows from their eyes wound more than the poisoned arrows of
the Bhil.'

If I had been in cantonments nothing would have been known, and no one
would have cared about my keeping this girl. Many of the sepoys constantly
had women living with them, and the sahibs never forbade this because the
women Were all put down as relations. 

Had 'Burrumpeel' sahib asked me for her, it might have been different, but
he never did this. He praised me for my kind action, took me to the
Colonel, and told him about my killing the Arab. I presented the sword to
the Colonel who was graciously pleased to accept it. At the same time he
promised me promotion as soon as possible, and ordered me to be made a
lance naik at once. This gave me no increase of pay, but I now had command
of four men, and wore a stripe, and of course felt more important.

Blown up on a mine

[In the siege of Hasser (Asirgarh), his regiment is charging forward when
they are blown up on a magazine.]

When I recovered consciousness I found two European artillerymen pulling me
out of the rubble by my legs, and one of them forced sonie rum down my

They took me to a sahib, and I was sent back to hospital to die. My legs
were not broken, but my left arm hung powerless by my side, and I had four
severe cuts on my head from bricks or flying wood. I consider that I may
count these as wounds, and this means that I have been seven times wounded
in the service of the Sirkar.

I cannot say how many days I lay in that tent. The guns continued to thunder
day after day, but one morning they ceased and on the day this happened I
partially recovered my speech. I asked about my uncle and the fate of my
company; and was horror-struck to be told by a wounded sepoy of my regiment
that every man had been killed except for myself, Tillukdaree Gheer, Kadir
Bux, and Deonarain. There were also four men away on guard duty who escaped,
but forty-seven men were killed by this terrible explosion.

I could have got sick leave again at my home but for certain reasons I did
not want to go just then. I was allowed to live in a hut by myself and the
young Thakurin lived with me and looked after me. I was happier than I had
ever been in my own home, and within a few months I had recovered
sufficiently to be able to walk.

Marriage to the Thakurin

[Subsequently the regiement settles at Meerut.] I had spent a lot of money
in order that the Thakurin could regain her caste, and I was married to her
by the ceremony called gardab [FN. a second marriage, but not as binding as a
first marriage.]

While we were at Meerut 'a joy of the world' was born to me - a son!

[rest of the book - he goes on the ill-fated afghan expedition, and is
captured and sold as a slave, and manages to return after three years.
Manages to return, and to pay a ransom. ]

The Government's disasters in Afghanistan had become a common topic of
conversation all over India. Many declared that the English were not
invinCible, and this was particularly the case in Delhi. I imagine it was
from this time that the Mahommedans began to feel that one day they would be
able to drive the Sirkar out of the country. 

The sepoys were discontented, for they found they were liable to be sent
across the Indus at any time. They complained that the Sirkar had not
fulfilled the promises made to induce the sepoys to go to Afghanistan; and
now they had returned without gaining anything, neither promotion nor
reward.  The Mahommedans boasted that they all came originally from Kabul
and Persia and could fight the English just as well as the Afghans. Several
emissaries from the court of the Badshah at Delhi came into our lines and
tried to discover the temper and general feeling of the army. 134

[Eventually joins the Sikh wars and then the mutiny.]

14 The Wind of Madness

After the fall of Multan and the total defeat of the Sikhs at Gujerat, the
English took possession of all the land of the Punjab, or Five Rivers. The
mighty power of the Sikh nation became as dust and the mantle of rule
descended upon the Sirkar, the great Company Bahadur.  The sirdars were all
taken prisoner and their troops, deprived of their weapons, were disbanded
and sent to their homes. English regiments were_ stationed all over the
Punjab-at Lahore, Wazirabad, JhelU111, Rawal Pindi, Attock, Peshawar, and
many other places-without any further opposition. Truly, the English are a
remarkable people; within six months barracks rose out of the ground as if
by magic. The sahibs built houses, police were organized, and the country
appeared as if it had belonged to the Sirkar for many years.

My regiment was now sent to Jullundur. Two regiments of old Sikh soldiers
were enlisted for the Sirkar and young Sikhs were taken into the native
regiments. This annoyed the sepays exceedingly, for the Sikhs were disliked
by the Hindustanis who considered them to be unclean and were not permitted
to associate with them. Their position was very uncomfortable for a long
time but after a while this dislike to some extent disappeared.

However, these men always kept to themselves and were regarded as
interlopers by the older sepoys. They were never as smart as we were on
parade and their practice of using curds to clean their long hair gave them
an extremely disagreeable odour, but many of them became like Hindus after
they had been away from their own country for a long time.

No wars took place for several years in Hindustan and nothing particular
occurred apart from several innovations which were introduced into the Army,
and into the Civil Courts, which caused great offence among the people.

Travel to Calcutta : The steam engine

In 1855 a small war broke out in Bengal with some jungle people called
Santhals and my regiment formed part of the force and was stationed near
Raniganj, not far from Calcutta.

It was there that I first saw the iron road and the steam monster and this
was more wonderful than anything I had ever seen before. When I asked the
people about it they said they believed that the English put some powerful
demon into each iron box, and it was his efforts to escape which made the
wheels turn round.

However I saw the water put in, and the coals lighted under it, but I am
so ignorant of how it works that if an officer had not told me that it was
all the force of steam, I might easily have believed that this demon fed
on wood, coal, or stones, and drank gallons of water.

I went down to Calcutta in the train but it went so fast that it nearly took
away my senses.  As it neared Calcutta all kinds of low caste people entered
the train and behaved as if they were equal to everyone.  This is not good
and caused gre'at annoyance to many.

I was amazed by what I saw in Calcutta but what is the use of describing it
to you, my Lord, who know it so well?  The ships - what can I possibly say?
They were a hundred times larger than I had expected. No wonder the sahibs
can travel all over the world. Each ship could carry a regiment. The Lord
sahib's house was very big, and if every nobleman in England lives in a
house as big as that, what a wonderful country England must be!

I noticed in this magnificent city that the sahibs seldom spoke to each
other and I was told they did not know one another. But can this be
possible if they all come from such a small island?

Santhal wars : Disaffection with the moneylenders

The Santhals used bows, arrows, and large sharp axes, but they always
dispersed when we fired on them. At first it was reported that they used
poisoned arrows, and for this reason they were much feared, but we soon
discovered that this was not the case. Mter a good deal of marching through
thick jungle, and after guarding the main road by the Sone river throughout
one hot weather, the rebellion was put down..

I was told by some of the Santhals that they rebelled because they could
obtain no justice from the Civil Courts.  They had no money with which to
bribe the native officials and their complaints were all against the rich
landlords and moneylenders, who had managed to get these simple folk into
their clutches. I cannot vouch for the truth of this but it was certainly a
curious war. In one part of the jungle we were firing at them, while in
another the Sirkar was providing them with cart-loads of rice.

There was now a rumour that the Sirkar was going to take Oudh from the
Nawab. This led to great excitement within the army.  which was largely
composed of men from Oudh.  Many of them did not much care whether the
Sirkar took Oudh or not but these were men who owned no property there.

Nevertheless an undefined dislike and disquiet took possession of all of

The occupation of Oudh

During the year [1856] the Sirkar removed the Nawab to Calcutta and
took over the government of the Kingdom of Oudh. Regiments of local
infantry and cavalry were formed, officered by English officers, and a
number of Assistant Commissioner sahibs were brought in. Many of these
officers came from the Bombay and Madras Armies and were totally ignorant
of the language, manners, and customs of the people, and the same was true
of all the sahibs who came from Bengal from the college.
[FN. Sita Ram is presumably referring to the junior officials of the
Company's Civil Service who were sent to Oudh straight from their training
in Calcutta.]

The occupation of the country was effected without any open resistance at
the time. It took place so quickly that the people did not have time to
combine against it but the minds of all the Taluqdars and headmen were
excited against the Sirkar, which in their view had acted dishonourably, and
had been unfair to the Nawab.

There were plenty of interested people to keep this feeling alive. They
assured everyone that the estates of the rich would soon be confiscated by
the Sirkar, which could easily manipulate the law courts to show that the
present owners had no right to these estates. The truth was that so many
people in Oudh had acquired property by methods which the Government would
never recognize that they began to fear an inquiry. Since all these people
had large numbers of relations, retainers, and servants living with them,
who were all interested parties, it explains the great excitement prevailing
in Oudh at the time, and consequently throughout the Sirkar's army.

It is my humble opinion that this seizing of Oudh filled the minds of the
sepoys with distrust and led them to plot against the Government.  Agents of
the Nawab of Oudh and also of the King of Delhi were sent all over India to
discover the temper of the army. They worked upon the feelings of the
sepoys, telling them how treacherously the foreigners had behaved towards
their king. They invented ten thousand lies and promises to persuade the
soldiers to mutiny and turn against their masters, the English, with the
object of ~estoring the Emperor of Delhi to the throne.  They maintained
that this was wholly within the army's powers if the soldiers would only act
together and do as they were advised.

It chanced that about this time the Sirkar sent parties of men from each
regiment to different garrisons for instruction in the use of the new rifle.
These men performed the new drill for some time until a report got about, by
some means or other, that the cartridges used for these new rifles were
greased with the fat of cows and pigs.

The men from our regiment wrote to others in the regiment telling them of
this, and there was soon excitement in every regiment. Some men pointed out
that in forty years' service nothing had ever been done by the Sirkar to
insult their religion, but as I have already mentioned the sepays' minds had
been inflamed by the seizure of Oudh. Interested parties were quick to
point out that the great aim of the English was to turn us all into
Christians, and they had therefore introduced the cartridge in order to
bring this about, since both Mahommedans and Hindus would be defiled by
using it. 

I reported this curious story to my officer but no notice was taken. He only
told me not to talk about it. Some time later an order was read out to the
regiment from the Commander-in-Chief, or Governor-General sahib, saying that
the Sirkar had not used any objectionable fat but that in future the men
could make up their own cartridges and use their own grease.
They could then be satisfied that the Sirkar had no intention whatsoever of
hurting their feelings or breaking their caste.

However the very reading out of this order was seized upon by many as proof
that the Sirkar had broken our caste, since otherwise the order would never
have been issued. What was the use of a denial if it had not been the
Government's intention originally to break our caste?

1857 April : On leave to the village

It was the time of year for furlough - that is the month of April - and it
was my turn to go on leave. Before I went I told my Commanding Officer what
I had heard, and I warned him that great madness had possessed the minds of
all men. I could not say what shape the discontent would take, but I never
thought the entire army would mutiny -- only those men who might have
suffered as a result of annexation of Oudh -- and at present only a few of
the really bad characters were disaffected.

The Colonel sahib was of the opinion that the excitement, which even he
could not fail to see, would pass off, as it had often done before, and he
recommended me to go to my home.

I arrived at my own village without hearing anything out of the ordinary on
the road, but shortly afterwards we heard that the troops of Meerut and
Delhi had risen and killed their officers, and had proclaimed the King of
Delhi as Emperor. They were excited to revolt because a complete
regiment had been cast into jail, having been loaded with irons which
destroyed their honour.

This was such an extraordinary story that I refused to believe it,
considering it a story invented to inflame the minds of the populace, but
the rumour gathered strength daily, so I went to the Deputy Commissioner to
enquire whether it was true. I could not do this openly without arousing
suspicion, for at this time all the office staff were on ~he watch for all
who came to the office. I went to the Deputy Commissioner's house with a
petition, but the chaprassi refused to take it in to the sahib, saying the
orders stated that no-one would be received except during office hours.
However I managed to see the sahib, and I told him the tale I had heard and
asked if there was any truth in it. The sahib said neither one thing nor the
other but asked me a number of questions to discover how much I knew and
what effect it was having on the minds of the people in my district.
Finally the sahib admitted that he had heard the rumour -- as I had known
from the beginning by the questions he asked me -- but said that the reports
were very vague.

By the time I returned to my village the whole place was talking about the
news. In a short time the entire country was in a fcrment, and every
regiment was reported to be ripe for mutiny. Reports came in every day that
the regiments at the different stations had risen and killed their
officers. I went again to see the Deputy Commissioner and offered to collect
the furlough men of my own regiment, as well as any pensioners who could use

He thanked me and promised to let me know if I would be required to do
this. Shortly afterwards the regiments at Lucknow, Sitapore, and other
stations in Oudh broke out into open mutiny, and the country was overrun
with sepoys from these regiments.  Many of these men returned to their homes
and had nothing further to do with the mutiny, other than having been in a
regiment which had mutinied.

I now discovered that I was being watched. I was suspected of giving
information to the' civilian officials.

Captured by mutineers

One day a large party of sepoys from one of the mutinied regiments came
through my village, and I tried to persuade them to go quietly to their
houses. I explained to them the folly of going against the English
Government, but these men were so intoxicated with the plunder they had
taken, and by their hope of reward from the Emperor of Delhi, that they
turned on me and were about to shoot me on the spot for having dared to
speak out in favour of the English Government.

They called me a traitor, and ended by taking me prisoner. They put heavy
irons on me and a chain round my neck, declaring they would take me to
Lucknow where they would receive a large reward for having captured me, and
where my punishment would be to have molten lead poured down my throat for
having dared uphold the English rule under which I had served and eaten salt
for so many years.

I was treated with every possible indignity. My captors boasted of the deeds
they had done -- how the sahibs had been so easily killed, or terrified into
running away into the jungles like hares -- and they were convinced that the
English rule had ended throughout India. I never saw men behave in such a
shameless fashion -- not even during Holi· They all believed they would be
made princes for what they had done, and debated among themselves about the
offices they would be given by the King of Delhi. I could not discover what
they had done, other than that they had shot down their officers on the
parade ground, looted the station without any resistance, and set it on

While we were on the march some people informed them that there was a
European regiment not far behind, and their boasting was redoubled. They
would immediately annihilate it! This was what they said in public but
inwardly they were terrified of coming up against the English. The European
regiment never materialized, nor indeed was there the slightest truth in the
report. I was relieved to hear this since they had told me that I should be
shot at once if any Europeans appeared on the scene.

The Badhsah's proclamation

The leader of this party was a sepoy, although there were two subedars with
it. He came one day and showed me a proclamation from the King of Delhi. It
called upon all the sepoys to rise and destroy the English, promising great
rewards and promotion if the men of any regiment would mutiny and kill
their officers. It stated that the English Sirkar intended to make all
Brahmins into Christians, which had in fact been proved correct, and in
proof of it one hundred Padres were about to be stationed in Oudh.

Caste was going to be broken by forcing everyone to eat beef and pork. The
sepoys were exhorted not to allow this to happen, but to fight for their
religion and drive the detested foreigners out of the country.

It also stated that the king had received information from the Sultan of
Turkey that all the English soldiers had been destroyed by the Russians;
there were only left the few regiments remaining in India; and these were
all separated by great distances and could easily be surrounded and
destroyed. This proclamation was printed on yellow paper and was said to
have been issued by order of the king. Every man who heard it believed every
word of it. Even I was impressed by it. I had never known the Sirkar to
interfere with our religion or our caste in all the years since I had been a
soldier, but I was nevertheless filled with doubt. I remembered the
treatment of many regiments with regard to field allowance -- how it had
first been promised and then withheld. I could not forget that the Sirkar
had seized Oudh without due cause.

I had also remarked the increase of Padre sahibs during recent years, who
stood up in the streets of our cities and told the people that their
cherished religion was all false, and who exhorted them to become
Christians.  They always maintained that they were not employed by the
Sirkar, but how could they have acted like this without the Government's
sanction?  Everyone believed that they were secretly employed by the
Government; why else should they take such trouble?

The successes of the rebellion

Then I remembered how the Sirkar had been my protector, and that I had eaten
its salt for over forty years, and I was determined never to betray it so
long as it continued,to rule but to do aq that I could to support it. But,
my Lord, you must not forget that I was bound with chains at this time, and
to all appearance being taken to a terrible death.

As each day passed and I heard that city after city, garrison after
garrison, had fallen into the hands of the local population, I must confess
that the thought passed through my mind that the mighty Company's rule was
passing away.  All its guns had been captured, and also all its arsenals --
how could I help thinking otherwise?  However I still had faith in the
incredible good fortune of the Sirkar, which had always been so wonderful
and marvellous. I also believe that those who had broken their word and
committed such crimes could not expect to have good fortune for long.

Rescued by the British

When the party of sepoys with whom I was drew neat to Lucknow, from some
orders they pretended to have received direct from the Nana of Bithur, the
route was changed and they marched towards Cawnpore and crossed over the

While on the march, however, our party was surprised by a troop of
mounted sahibs.

It was early morning, just before the dawn, and we were attacked so suddenly
that these brave warriors, so far from attempting to fight and annihilate
the Europeans, fled into the jungle. Luckily for me, they forgot to carry
out their threat to shoot·me. I was pulled out of the pony trap in which I
was travelling and narrowly escaped being shot by one of these trooper
sahibs who thought I was a wounded or sick sepoy. He had not noticed my
chains and could not understand Hindustani.

Luckily there was an officer nearby who came up, heard my story, and saw my
chains, which were very convincing proof of my story. He gave orders for my
chains to be knocked off and took me to the officer commanding who wrote
down my statement, my name, and my regiment. He was also very anxious to
learn of the conditions in Oudh, and whether I had seen or heard of any
sahibs or ladies in the jungles. The last English officer I had seen was the
Deputy Commissioner, who was, when I left, carrying on his work as usual but
this was a month ago.

As I was not a very good horseman, the Captain sahib could not turn me into
a trooper but when he found out that I could read and write Persian, he made
me interpreter for the Troop. He also gave me a certificate of the account
of my recapture etc. I went about with this rissalah for about six weeks,
during which time it destroyed several bands of mutineers and one day had a
hand-to-hand fight with a party of regular cavalry.

They fired off their pistols and made off as hard as they could although
they were three times the size of our party. Nineteen sowars were
killed and twenty-one of the best of the Government's horses were taken.
We lost five men killed and seven wounded. After this our Troop returned
to Cawnpore, which had been re-taken twice by the English. 

Joining the Punjab Regiment

Through the kindness of my Captain -- may the shadow of greatness always
surround him -- he took me to the officer commanding a Punjab regiment, and
I was taken on the strength of this corps as a supernumerary Jemadar and
attached to it.

This regiment was engaged in several actions, and also before Lucknow. We
pursued the mutineers right into Nepal and I passed the old place again
where I had been so frightened by the elephants forty years previously.

In no fight that I was in - and they were not a few - did I ever see the
mutineers, be they Hindus or be they Mahommedans, ever make a good stand and
fight. Usually they stood the first discharge and then took to flight - if
they could not find shelter behind walls or trees.

I am told it was tough work at Delhi. I was not there, but the sepoys could
not have fought well to have allowed an English force of under 10,000 defeat
70,000, with the latter in possession of all the houses and fortifications.

Heading a firing squad at Lucknow

One day, in one of the enclosed buildings ncar Lucknow, a great number of
prisoners were taken. These were nearly all sepoys. They were all brought in
after the fight to the officer commanding my regiment, and in the morning
the order came that they were all to be shot.

It happened that it was my turn to command the firing party. I asked the
prisoners their names and their regiments. After hearing some five or six,
one sepoy said he belonged to a certain regiment which was my son's. I
naturally inquired whether he had known my son, Ananti Ram, of the Light
Company. He answered that that was his own name. However this is a very
common name, and because I had always imagined that my son must have died
from the Sind fever, since I had never heard from him, it did not at first
strike me. But when he told me that he came from Tilowee, my heart leapt in
my mouth. Could he be my long lost son? There was no doubt about it, for he
gave my name as his father, and fell down at my feet imploring my pardon. He
had mutinied with the rest of his regiment and gone to Lucknow. Once the
deed had been done, what else could he do?  Where could he have gone, even
if he had wanted to escape?

The prisoners were to be shot at four o'clock in the afternoon and I must be
my son's executioner! Such is fate! I went to the Major sahib and requested
that I plight be relieved of this duty as a very great favour. He was very
angry and said he would bring me before a courtmartial for trying to shirk
my duty. He would not believe 1 was a faithful servant of the English
Government - he thought my real sympathies were with the mutineers-and he
would not listen to me any further.

At last my feelings as a father got the better of me and I burst into floods
of tears. I told him that I would shoot everyone of the prisoners with my
own hands if he ordered me but I confessed that one of them was my own
son. The Major declared that I was only making up an excuse to avoid having
to shoot my own brethren but at last his heart seemed to be touched. He
ordered· my unfortunate son to be brought before him and questioned him very

Funeral rites for his executed son

I shall never forget this terrible scene. Not for one moment did I consider
requesting that his life should be spared-that he did not
deserve. Eventually the Major came to believe in the truth of my statement
and ordered me to be relieved from this duty. I went to my tent bowed down
with grief which was made worse by the gibes and taunts of the Sikhs who
declared I was a renegade. In a short time I heard a volley.  My son had
received the reward for mutiny!

He showed no fear but I would much rather that he had been killed in
battle. Through the kindness of the Major I was allowed to perform the
funeral rites over my misguided son. He was the only one of the prisoners
over whom it was performed, for the remainder were all thrown to the jackals
and the vultures.

I had not heard from my son since just after my return from slavery.  I had
not seen him since I went to Kabul, and thus I met him again, untrue to his
salt, and in open rebellion against the master who had fed his father and
himself.  But I have said enough - more is unnecessary.

He was not the only soldier who mutinied. The Major told me later that he
was much blamed by the other officers for allowing the funeral rites to be
performed on a rebel but if good deeds wipe away sins, and I believe some
sahibs believe this as we do, then his sins will ,be very white.-Bad luck
never waits upon the merciful! May my Major25 soon become a General.

15 The Pensioner

After my return from my second campaign in Nepal, fought this time not
against the Nepalese but against those men with whom the Sirkar had formerly
defeated the Nepalese, I was promoted to Subedar after forty-eight years of
hard wear and tear in the Sirkar's service. I entered the army under the
flag of the Company Bahadur, and I ended under the flag of the Empress of
the World.

I was an old man of sixty-five years of age and had attained the highest
rank to be gained in the Native Army, but I would have been much better
fitted for this position thirty years earlier. What could I do now at the
head of my Company?  How could I double-march, or perform Light Infantry
drill? But I was expected to be as active as ever and no allowance was made
for my forty-eight years' service.

No one bothered to remember that I had carried a musket for thirty years and
'had been present in as many battles as most of the officers had lived
years. I was shouted at by the Adjutant as if I was a bullock, and he a mere
boy, young enough to be my grandson. I was abused by the Commanding Officer,
and called a fool, a donkey, and an old woman! Finally I was taken before
the Commander-in-Chief and reported on as being utterly useless -- a man the
Commanding Officer could do nothing with.

I was taken before the Invaliding Committee which agreed my discharge, and I
acquired the pension of a Subedar. Had any attention been paid to my rights,
I should have received this pension years before.  I wanted this pension
more than anything else in the world and yet I did not like to ask for it;
and when I was, as it were, discharged compulsorily, of course I was not

I do not doubt that the Company Bahadur would have wished me to have my
pension earlier and the delay was not the Company's fault. It was due to the
new hard regulations. The time it took to become a Subedar was far too long
for most sepoys to aspire to, for this promotion was seldom given until
after forty years' service. In recent years some men have become Jemadars
and Subedars more quickly, and many of them were immediately promoted if
they brought young men for enlistment during the Mutiny.

Our learned men had told us that the Company's rule would come to an end in
1857, since this was one hundred years after the Company's first great
battle, but they did not tell us that another kind of English rule would
take its place.

This rule was far harder and much harsher. The Company Bahadur and its
officers were much kinder to the people of India than the present
Government. If it were not for the old servants of the Company, it would be
even worse than it is.

In my last regiment there were five or six young sahibs who came to us from
some European regiment. Several of these commanded companies but it was
obvious that they hated the sepoys. They always spoke severely and
sneeringly to us. In my opinion this is not calculated to endear them to the
sepoys. Very few of these officers could speak to the men, and when they did
so it was in unpleasant fashion. They may have learned how to command
European soldiers but they did not know how to command sepoys.  My Lord,
sepoys will not fight well for those they do not like, or for a Government
which is not kind to them. They used to be treated kindly, but then they
turned against their master. They will never find as good a master again.

The Mahommedans were the ·first instigators of the Mutiny, and the Hindus
followed like a flock of sheep over the bank of a river.  The principal
cause of the rebellion was the feeling of power that the sepoys had, and the
little control the sahibs were allowed to exert over them.

It is obvious that all officers are now afraid to trust the sepoy, and this
must be so for many years to come, but it is unjust to condemn everyone.

I know the sahibs. Nothing pleases them more than a
straight answer to a plain question but the Indian does not usually understand
this. He will always try to answer a question in such a fashion as will
please the asker -- exactly the answer he imagines the asker desires.

I never could feel myself again, nor hold my head as high as formerly, after
the death of my son. The fact that he had fought against the giver of his
salt brought great disgrace upon me. My chief solace today is thinking over
the many years of my service, during which I was never punished, except for
the single instance I have already mentioned. I have given my entire life to
the service of the Sirkar. I have one son left, by whom I send your Lordship
my papers, and I have two daughters who are married and have large families.

I have not acquired any fortune but I have my paternal estate and the
pension of a Subedar. This is enough for me. The people in my village seem
to respect me, and are now fully satisfied with the ease and benefits they
enjoy under English rule.  The man who sows now knows that he will
reap. which he never could reckon on doing in the old days.

Corruption in the system

The people are still sometimes oppressed by the subordinate Indian officials
but redress can often be obtained, and in any case this oppression gets less
and less each year. If the District Commissioner sahib goes about himself
and personally inquires into all complaints, as our good sahib does (may his
office last for ever!) and takes an interest in our welfare, there will be
little inclination to resist the Sirkar's authority. But if everything is
left to the Indian officials, as is sometimes done through the inability of
the sahib to understand what is said to him, the people become dissatisfled,
talk against the government and long for a change.

My Lord, the Indian officials are all corrupt, whether they be Hindus or
Mahommedans; in this respect there is no difference between them. There may
be one man who would not take a bribe of five rupees, but I have never yet
heard of him.  The principal reason for this is the poor pay provided by the
Sirkar, but if it was only half as much, there would still be hundreds of
applicants who would make up by bribes what was deficient in their
wages. This was always the case in former times-the man who could give the
biggest bribe would always win his case.

A British official is always very angry when he learns that a petitioner has
given a bribe.  He asks him why he did it.  Perhaps he does not know that the
man firmly believes that part of the bribe went to the sahib himself!
Therefore he does not dare to say anything, because all the officials have
told him this, from the office runner to the head clerk. I have never yet
heard of an office where the petty clerks did not make out somehow or other
that the sahib was amenable to a bribe. Since they live by bribes
themselves, it is of course in their interest to maintain the system.

The head Patwari in my village told me one day that it must have been my
own fault that promotion was so slow in coming.  When I replied that I had
never done anything wrong, he laughed and said I was not wise, even though I
had been so much in the world. He meant of course that I had not paid for my
promotion, thinking that prQmotion could be bought like everything else.

I have known very few cases of English officers taking bribes.  I have been
told that many did, but I have never believed it since I know their personal
honour is very strict. However I have seen no difference where bribery is
concerned between the Indian and the European soldier of subordinate rank. I
know the sahibs do not take bribes but I also know that many much better
educated than I am firmly believe that the sahibs do so. Since this is part
of their own nature, how can they believe anything different?

I remember I once nad occasion to go to the Deputy Commissioner's office on
some petty business of my own: I was in Hindustani dress and imagined I
could walk straight in, as I had been told it was an open court of
justice. Immediately two or three chaprassis came to me to know what my
business was. I told them it was with the sahib, not with them.

They then said it was very difficult to see the sahib for he was engaged,
and a hundred other excuses were invented. They ended by telling
me that one of them would take the petition himself and lay it before the
Commissioner if I gave him five rupees. I answered that I had no petition.
I was then prevented from entering the sahib's presence for a long time and
only because I would not produce a bribe. At last a head clerk came but
and spoke to me. He told me the sahib's temper was very bad that day, but
if I particularly wished to see him, some other official would dare to brave
his wrath by mentioning the fact to him, but this would cost me ten

Tiring of these attempts at extortion, and also not believing the man's
story, I entered the office, but the chaprassis and clerks did their best to
prevent me. They all began talking against me, saying 'what a mannerless
person I was to intrude in such fashion', and they spoke out loudly in order
to attract the sahib's attention. I walked straight up to him, gave him a
military salute, and requested permission to speak but he ordered me to be
thrown out and also abused me.

The office runners tried to throw me out but I would not allow them to touch
me. Since the sahib himse1f had ordered me to leave, I went outside, after
giving him my name, regiment, and rank. One of the chaprassis who had first
accosted me then trumped up a case that I had resisted authority. The entire
office swore that I had beaten the man dreadfully. He showed his face all
covered with blood, which he must have had ready for the purpose, as I only
pushed away those who were attempting to lay hands on me. I was fined ten
rupees for resisting authority.

When I returned to my regiment I reported the whole case, just as it had
occurred, to my Commanding Officer. He was very angry and wrote about it but
I never received any redress for this great insult. If a District
Commissioner sahib is easy of access, and will take the trouble to listen to
the complaints of the poor, bribery can in large measure be prevented. The
subordinate officials will then be afraid that the sahib will hear the
rights of the case and the people will then realize that there is no use
offering bribes.

Editorial note : James D. Lunt

Sita Ram Pande, the author of these memoirs, was one of the many Indian
soldiers who helped the British to conquer India, and thereafter to hold
it. He enlisted in 1812 as a sepoy into an infantry regiment of the Bengal
Native Army, and he remained a soldier until he went on pension in 1860 after
forty-eight years' service. During the intervening period he had taken part
in the campaigns against the Gurkhas, the Pindaris and Mahrattas, and the
Sikhs; he had been present at the storming of Bharatpore; and he had taken
part in the ill-fated First Afghan War. He remained true to his salt during
the Mutiny. He rose from Sepoy to Subedar, but only attained the latter
rank when he was too old to be able to perform his duties. He claims that
he was wounded seven times, taken prisoner once, and was awarded six
medals. At the end of this long and interesting career, and at the behest
of his last Commanding Officer, he set down in writing the story of his
'experiences in the service of the always incomprehensible British.

Doubt has been cast on the authenticity of Sita Ram's memoirs by several
authorities, and most recently by J. A. B. Palmer in his The Mutiny
Outbreak at Meerut in 1857 (1967). Lord Sidmouth, a military historian of
distinction who has closely studied Sita Ram's narrative, found it hard to
account for the fact that it has proved impossible to establish with
accuracy the regiments in which Sita Ram served.

The fact that it has been impossible to trace the original Hindi
manuscript, or Norgate's first English translation which he claims to have
published in 1863 or thereabouts, has added to the doubts. However, the
late Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, one of India's most distinguished public
servants, told Sir George Grierson in 1915 that he had read the Hindi
version. Grierson, who was conducting the final examination of
probationers for the Indian Civil Service, asked Bajpai to what copy he
referred and the candidate replied, 'Sita Ram gave my grandfather a copy
of his book, and it is still in our family. I used to read it as a boy and
knew it off by heart.'

Unfortunately action was not taken to establish whether Bajpai had read
Sita Ram's original manuscript, or merely Norgate's translation. His father
said later that he did not possess Sita Ram's manuscript.  Mr U. S. Bajpai,
son of Sir G. S. Bajpai, has similarly denied any knowledge of Sita Ram's
manuscript in a letter to me dated 22 August 1968. He went on to say that
most of his grandfather's papers had been destroyed, and he could not
recollect his father ever having mentioned the book to him.

[To me, the Bajpai story seems unlikely since Sita Ram probably did not
make a copy to keep himself.  However, the Bajpai family were local
landlords, and it is not impossible. ]

Sir Patrick Cadell, the historian of the Bombay Army, who devoted many
years to a study of Sita Ram's memoirs, came to the conclusion that the
memoirs were genuine. 'That the story is absolutely genuine, and Sita Ram's
own, cannot, I think, be doubted,' he wrote. 'The little hits at the
Mohammedans and the Punjabis, the occasional criticisms, shrewd but
friendly, of his officers, the references to Hindu customs, would have
required the pen of a Kipling or a Morier to invent, and there is no reason
to believe that Norgate possessed this.'  Of course Cadell may be regarded
as a prejudiced witness, and it is by no means unlikely that Sita Ram
embroidered his narrative, and introduced as his own experiences he had
been told round the camp fire.

Sir Charles Oman wrote in his Wellington's Army (Edward Arnold).

	Unfortunately in old age the memory often finds it hard to
	distinguish between things seen and things heard, It is not uncommon
	to find a writer who represents himself as having been present at
	scenes where he cannot have been assisting, and still more frequent
	to detect him applying to one date perfectly genuine anecdotes which
	belong to another. One or two of the most readable narratives frankly
	mix up the sequence of events, with a note that the exact dating can
	not be reconstructed.

It is partly on account of Sita Ram's haziness about names and dates that
his story rings true for me.  He certainly could not have kept a diary from
which to refresh his memory, nor is it likely that he wrote many letters,
since most of those with whom he might have wished to correspond could not
read.  His chronology is often at fault; he mentions regiments as
participating in a campaign at times when they are still in their peacetime
garrisons, but he is correct in so far as they did take part at a later
stage in the operations; he confuses the names of his British officers, but
gets near enough to, the vernacular rendering of the English to make it
possible to trace many of them.  Even his grouses and complaints ring true;
they are those of an old soldier who is convinced that the' old days were
the best days'.  Surely most old soldiers think the same?


	Preface by Translator 						xiii
	Editorial Note (James Lunt) 					xv

	Introduction 							xxi
	Foreword by Sita Ram 						xxix

	 1 The Beginning 						2
	 2 Joining the Regiment 					8
	 3 The Gurkha War: 1814-18r6 					18
	 4 The Pindari War 						32
	 5 Return to the Village 					44
	 6 The Lovely Thakurin 						54
	 7 The Bulwark of Hindustan 					66
	 8 The March into Afghanistan: 1838-1839 			80
	 9 Ghazni and Kabul 						94
	10 The Retreat ft;om Kabul: January 1842 			106
	II Escape from Slavery 						II8
	12 The First Sikh War: 1845-1846 				130
	13 The Second Sikh War: 1848-1849 				146
	14 The Wind of Madness 						156
	IS The Pensioner 						170

List of Maps

	I India					 1
	2 The Gurkha War I814-1816		20
	3 The Pindari and Mahratta Wars		34
	4 The Afghan and Sikh Wars		82


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This review by Amit Mukerjee was last updated on : 2015 Oct 29