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Of John Brown and Mangal Pandey

Sabyasachi Bhattacharya

Edited by Rajmohan Gandhi
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2009, pp. xiv + 402, Rs. 599.00


This book begins with an engaging dedication to the memory of Ramu Gandhi (1937–2007). Ramu was seen at the India Interna-tional Centre day in and day out, a part of the scene, a friend to most members of the club and to the author of this review. I am happy to be able to record my tribute to him. What is, as they say in film-land, the ‘story line’ in this book? Rajmohan Gandhi’s aim is to connect two historic events, the uprising of 1857 in India and the Civil War in the USA in 1860–64. Beginning with the question, what leading Indians and north Americans knew and thought of these events, the accomplished author leads us to an interesting attempt to ‘compare and connect’ these events in the last chapter. Those who have read the author’s Mohandas, may find that he has less ambitious an agenda in the present work, but his skill in weaving a narrative makes it a highly readable account of nineteenth century men and opinions in England, India and the United States. To begin with, we have W.H. Russell, reporter of The Times of London. He seems to have had the luck to be among those present at most of the happening places. On 29 January 1858 we see him meeting Lord Canning, Governor-General of India, deep into the task of stemming the rebellion as well as the vengeful spirit among his compatriots—who resentfully nicknamed him ‘Clemency Canning’. And on 27 March 1861, we see Russell meeting President Abraham Lincoln at the White House, not exactly dressed up to the standards of Russell the club-man from London, but ready to appear on the stage of history to perform his great role. Throughout his career as a news man, Russell’s Irish origin showed in his sympathy for the underdogs, the Indian natives, the black slaves in America, and later the Zulus in Africa (while reporting on the Zulu War). At the same time, his bosses in London and his instinct of self-interest did not let him go too far in supporting the brown and black people over whom, he said, England was ‘empiring’. With all his ambivalences and prevarications, Russell is a great reporter and he happens to become the link-man between the two quite separate stories in this book. That is why the author uses him ‘as the entry point’ (p. x). And again in the concluding ...

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