By the Book, The Patient Assassin

When I think back to my visit to Amritsar a few years ago, there are three things that come to mind. The serene beauty of the Golden Temple, the mouth-watering rich food and the poignant visit to Jallianwala Bagh, the site of the horrific massacre of innocent people during the British Raj.

On April 13, 1919, British troops marched into the garden and started firing into the crowd with no warning. At the heart of Anita Anand’s Patient Assassin is the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It tells the story by analyzing the lives of three key people in this saga. Udham Singh, a man whose mission became revenge, Michael O’Dwyer who was the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab and General Dyer who earned the name the butcher of Amritsar for ordering the firing.  Through research based on interviews, historic documents and recently unsealed documents, the author pieces together the lives of these main characters.

The book discusses the many facets of the Indian freedom struggle and Indians’ overwhelming desire to drive the British out of the country. The book deftly discusses Gandhi, Saifuddin Kitchlew and Satyapal’s non-violent approach, the Gadar movement and other international influences. Whether you believe Udham was a freedom fighter or a radicalized person, you will stay interested in the twists and turns his life took as he maneuvered his way across the globe. In twenty years, he had travelled across four continents making friends, and also building a family during his quest for revenge.

The bullet marks still visible on the wall

As I read the book, I felt many things–sadness for Udham Singh and his life, sympathy for Dyer who seemed to repent what he had done in his own way. The author’s depiction of O’Dwyer’s high-handed attitude in his own words was particularly jarring.

It took Udham Singh more than 20 years to exact his revenge. After much political pressure, his body reached India after many decades. It was only in 2018 that a statue of Udham Singh was installed outside Jallianwala Bagh.

The Memorial

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