From Teopedia library
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Letter XXVI[1]

We are back in dark stuffy carriages. In five minutes the train will rush us with a deafening roar across the long bridge over the Yamuna, and in six hours we will be in Kanpur, where Anglo-India turned over the bloodiest page of its history. Our bare-footed friends, the Pandits, in gold-embroidered shawls, accompany us; they were joined by several Bengal Babus, in snow-white muslin togas, and every one with uncovered head. The “chief spy” often comes into our view at a distance; we see him getting into the next carriage, having a large basket filled with bottles of vodka and soda water and a box of ice. The Thakur and Narayan left the day before to prepare for us a place where “an Englishman has never set foot before – and never will” (he said). In the meantime, we must be content with this promise and not even question him about it, especially in the presence of Mr. W*** and Miss B***, who, although Theosophists and our friends, are still English. It can be positively said that in India none of this nation will be promoted to the rank of saints...

All the windows of the carriage have dark green panes, otherwise the passengers could go blind. When they are lowered, movable shutters of “khus-khus” on hinges rise in their place. Installed in the walls on both sides of the window frames, hydraulic machines pour water over the shutters at each turn of the train wheels, which make them spin like fans in the vents and supposedly let the cool air generated by the train in the carriage. But alas! We had not even gone two miles [3.22 km] away when, feeling the shutter with my hand, I almost burned my fingers: the water in the sun became very hot. Last year in June (a Frenchman, Moncutier, the owner of the Keller restaurant at the Allahabad station told us the story a few minutes before our departure) the family of a colonel arrived on a midday train. When the passengers began to go out onto the platform, two boys jumped out of the colonel's carriage, shouting and crying ... The colonel lay motionless in the carriage, dead drunk, and his wife, a sickly woman of about twenty-two, was dead. Doctors decided that death was due to heat apoplexy. As for Moncoutier himself, his two sons (twelve and fourteen years old) died on the same day, running out only for a few minutes in the sun. The poor Frenchman, with tears, was telling us about the death of his sons, fussing at the same time behind the counter, where he sold us cigarettes at exorbitant prices, constantly offering us un verre d'absinthe ou de vermout. “Ah, le gredin de pays! He repeated, choking with tears at the recollection of his children. – Un vrai enfer, quoi!.. Et puis, pas un de ces cochons d'Anglais qui sache un mot de français. Oh, que je voudrais donc voir un jour les Russes ici!...”[2]

We laughed, but thought it would be best not to take part in his dangerous wishes. Turning around, we saw behind our back our blond spy, to whom a servant was pouring a “refreshing” drink from a bottle of rum. This time poor Moncoutier must have been mistaken in his knowledge of the non-French speaking English. Returning to Bombay barely 10 months after that, we no longer found the Frenchman at the counter, the contractor Keller changed him and sent him to another and distant station for “chattering.”

On the eve of our departure, the Thakur brought us a bunch of fresh leaves and invited us to taste them. They tasted like sorrel, leaving a cool, mint-like sensation in your mouth. He made us take a formal promise to keep a small piece of these leaves in our mouth during the entire journey to Kanpur and in general during hot days. “As long as you chew them like betel, the heat will not have a harmful effect on you (he told us), and sometimes you will even be too cool.” Indeed, we have not felt the heat since then. But we didn’t manage to persuade W*** to keep this herb in his mouth, and Miss B*** spat it out all the time, and both almost got sick. I sincerely regret that I have no right either to describe this plant, or to send it to Russia for research: the Hindus are a strange nation, and even the Thakur himself, the best and noblest of all Hindus known to us and our most devoted friend, is not free from these oddities. He seemed to be hiding the knowledge of his homeland, especially the one that modern science regards as something fabulous. To our questions: why shouldn't he enrich Western science with an extra discovery, so useful in this sultry country, he somehow mysteriously smiled, noting that this herb grows only in India, and even here it is very rare, and that everybody cannot be saved. “Science in the West is rich even without our crumbs, and you, who have taken everything from us, leave us at least these crumbs,” he added.

Kanpur is a place with no history, and until the English chose it in 1777 as a forward post for their garrisons in India, it remained completely unknown. The railway station is outside the city and we were about to take two gilded garis with oxen, when the servant of the Thakur announced to us that his maha sahib (great master) had sent us a European carriage. It was a four-seat landau, upholstered in bright crimson velvet, with two saises[3], hanging behind like two large drops of blood, in red and gold caftans and the same turbans, and four of the same saises in livery, lanky and swift-footed walkers running ahead of the carriage ... Add to this the four mounted Rajputs, the bodyguards of Gulab Lal Singh, and you will understand why the colonel, getting into the carriage, remarked: “If we were transported by some magic to New York, we would probably be mistaken for visiting charlatans selling tooth elixir and magic powders.” But we were in India, and people, seeing us, almost threw themselves on the ground in front of such a bright grandeur.

The first structure that caught our eye was a huge, empty, dark red brick church with no windows or doors, with a high pointed bell tower. This building for more than three weeks served as an unsafe fortress for the subsequently slaughtered garrison, which settled in it when the rebellion started on June 6, 1857.

What was the first cause of this bloody rebellion? The Europeans read English reports and imagine that they are reading history. It does not even occur to them to ask if there is at least one history of rebellion written correctly and impartially among many others. The Hindus have never been asked how much truth there is in the testimony of their conquerors, which of the two sides is more guilty of great crimes and who has committed more atrocious crimes: is it the educated, humane European, or the savage Asian, driven to a frenzy? On this occasion, we collected facts not from one, but from many people who had no way of being in collusion with each other before answering us. Their testimonies in general agree, and therefore we believe them more than all the “stories” of the 1857 rebellion taken together. “Cartridges smeared with lard,” the cause of the Muslim revolt, and “cowhide belts” that angered the Hindus are nothing more than the final drop which overflowed the cup of bitterness...

Some time before the rebellion, in Bhurtpore, in a large settlement on the right bank of the Ganges, 12 miles [19.31 km] from Kanpur, there lived a Hindu from an old and noble family named Dhondu Pant, better known by his nickname Nana Saheb. He was an adopted heir of the last “peshwa” (a royal head of the Maratha confederation) Baji Rao, and after the death of the latter he inherited all his lands, treasures and estates. Some Englishmen, more honest, confess that this young man, a cousin of Maharaja Scindia, had every right to hate the Government. In his official report, Colonel Scherer writes, for example, the following meaningful phrase: “This man had a claim to us, which we the Britons, with the usual unsympathetic attitude of successful gentlemen, did not pay any attention to.” Adopted in 1832 as a child, Nana Saheb grew up fully confident that he inherited the title and position of “peshwa” – an honour, in fact, thanks to the English, more nominal than real, but still flattered the pride of one who had the right to it. Five years before the rebellion, old Baji Rao died, and after his death, the Government of Earl of Dalhousie immediately and without any reason announced that the title of “peshwa” had been abolished and that Prince Dhondu inherited only his father's private estates and property. As a result, the pension received by the old Rajah was terminated; the army was ordered not to give honour to the heir, and even several old, long unusable artillery pieces, generously left to the deposed Prince, with which the poor prisoner amused himself in his old age, were taken from Nana Saheb. For more than four years, the young Prince tried in vain to get the directors of the Company to reverse an unfair decision. Instead of firmly but affectionately drawing his attention to the futility of his troubles, the management showed him the door, threatening to take away even his private heritage. Meanwhile, Nana Saheb had two sisters, twelve and thirteen years old, the eldest was a beauty, and both were married. Once having gone on a pilgrimage with a nurse and servants, they were attacked by drunken officers who burst into the front courtyard of the cave temple when they had just stepped off, naked, into the sacred tank, and ... dishonoured both. The unanimous testimony assures that Nana Saheb killed both girls with his own hands and at their own persistent request; and having killed them, he drank a drop of blood of each and swore on it to take revenge on the wives and daughters of the English, or die himself.

Nana Saheb had a trusted and beloved friend, a Hindu forcibly converted to Islam, who, after fleeing Hyderabad and receiving shelter and protection from Nana Saheb, returned to the Hindu faith. The Hindu was known to the English by the name of Azimullah Khan. This Azim was the right hand and secretary of Nana Saheb. At the beginning of 1855, Azim was sent by his master to England to seek protection in the Parliament. Now the English present him as some kind of low servant and supplier for Nana Saheb’s harem, although the latter, after the death of his father, was ordained to the title of Brahmaсharya, that is, a secular monk, and he not only had no harem, but had no wife either. The English in their “stories” complain about Azim, calling him “a tiger in a human form,” accuse him of allegedly spying on them near Sevastopol and, having found out about their weaknesses, exaggerated them in the eyes of their compatriots, who therefore dared to rebel; finally, Azimullah Khan allegedly 3 into a conspiracy with the enemies of Great Britain in Turkey and even went secretly to Russia. But during the days of Azimullah's stay in England, his picturesque costumes, diamonds, shawls and jewelry fascinated not only English ladies who were crazy about him, but even famous dignitaries. He was received in the high society of London and Brighton, all the newspapers extolled the elegance of his manners and education ... How can one now call him “a vile lackey?” Several noble ladies were already going to keep their promise given to him in London – to visit his master, Prince Nana, at his estate in Bhurtpore, when a long-prepared rebellion broke out prematurely and Nana Saheb's plans collapsed.

We can probably say that Nana Saheb, like all the main conspirators, was much more guided by a feeling of revenge and hatred to the English than the hope of a political coup. Of course, if the plans of Nana Saheb succeeded, then the Mogul and Maratha Empires would be re-established in India. But the feeling of insatiable revenge, a passionate desire to dishonour England in the person of its noble wives and daughters, to dishonour so that (according to the person who transmitted these details to us) “this dishonour would become historical, and the tradition of the country would glorify the just revenge of the Maratha Prince up to the future pralaya,” was his main and first motivation. Azimullah Khan played his role so deftly that no less than 14 noble ladies at the London court (as mentioned above), fascinated by this Asian diplomat, were ready to voluntarily visit the lair of the beast that guarded them, and their arrival in Bhurtpore was to serve as a signal for the general uprising. Blind fate – kismet – saved them, of course, but did not save their Anglo-Indian sisters.

The motto of Nana Saheb became the saying of the defeated goddess of Virgil. Indeed, he, in the words of his biographers, “raised all of hell,” summoning in addition all the demons of eastern revenge to his services...

Having annoyed him from all sides, depriving him first of his sisters, and then of his title, honours, pensions, the English, with the credulity of innocence and a clear conscience, as a result of several skillfully planned feasts given by Nana Saheb, imagined that the heir of the “Peshwa” was their greatest friend... Expecting daily that the sepoys of his regiment would follow the example of their comrades and revolt, General Wheeler summoned Nana Saheb from Bhurtpore on May 26 to “help him calm down the sepoys and prevent the rebellion.” Nana appeared immediately and brought with him two hundred of his five hundred armed bodyguards and three or four of his remaining guns. He was assigned to guard the treasury and settled in his own house in Nawabgunj. He was aware of all the negotiations between the civil and military authorities, and together with the English he was preparing a “refuge” for women and children...

When the sepoys rebelled on June 6, and instead of, as usual, slaughtering the officers, plundered the regimental treasury, and then set off on the road to Delhi, wanting to join the corps of the main rebels, the English, established themselves firmly in the church and food barracks, generously transferred to the hands of Nana Saheb, who swore to them in “eternal friendship,” an arsenal, a powder store, an ordnance depot and all that remained of the treasury, charging his “faithful ally” to protect them from the people. Then Nana, finally throwing off the mask, returned the sepoys from the road, and on the very next day, that is, June 7, at first brought down fire on his “friends,” but immediately stopped it again: a hellish thought lit up the Maratha. Instantaneous death without long suffering is not a punishment. Like a cat and a mouse, he began to play with his captives: he knew how much food was left in the barracks, and began to starve them ... Two weeks later, out of 250 people who entered the fortification of the garrison, only 150 remained, and out of 380 women and children less than half. Corpses rotted almost on the surface of the earth, before the survivors’ very eyes. It was a long terrible agony...

Finally, Nana decided to do away with them. On June 26, he sent to tell them that if they trusted him, he would save the survivors. The garrison, preferring a short shrift to the pangs of starvation, agreed. Then the Prince, deprived of the throne, ordered the boats to be prepared, promising his captives to put them ashore in Allahabad, and on the morning of the 27th, some of them boarded thirty boats. Once they boarded, the boatmen lit the boats' thatched sheds, and the sepoys began shooting at the prisoners. Of the thirty boats, only two managed to extinguish the fire and sailed out to the middle of the river, which in that place was a whole mile wide. One of those two boats, pierced by cannonballs, soon sank, the other escaped by some miracle; but out of 28 people, only four survived that morning, hiding in the reeds. Those who had not drowned, were dragged out and brought back to the shore. Nana himself did not interfere with all this. They say that in the morning of that day he announced that he was leaving the captives in the hands of fate and the people: “whoever is saved he is lucky, and whoever perishes he cannot be saved even by him; moreover, he added that none of the “white” who had escaped death would fall into his hands again, otherwise he would be executed. All men who escaped from the water were shot; and the women and children were confined in another building called “Sawada Kothi,” not far from the station, and left alive for ten days. Perhaps Nana would have given them life, but the following happened: on July 10, passing Bhurtpore with a large party of both sex fugitives from Fatehgarh, Colonel Smith was seen on the river by sentries. The boat was seized and over fifty people, including women and children, were taken prisoners. In the morning they were driven in the terrible heat on foot to Kanpur and introduced to Nana Saheb. Instead of being silent and, submitting to their fate, waiting for life or death, the English (according to stories) began to terribly insult Nana Saheb, calling him, by the way, “the illegitimate son” – an insult that entails death among the proud Brahmins. Then the men were taken to the parade and shot, and the women and children were added to the former captives. All this terrible period is covered with a darkness of mystery. In general, none of the captives survived to tell what exactly happened, but something terrible, unheard of must have happened...

Probably, if Nana Saheb had been lucky, he would not have executed women or children, whom, as you know, he left alive until the last minute of his power. But on July 15, at Aong, he lost the battle and had to hide. In a moment of insane rage, on the last night of his power and stay in Kanpur, he avenged, they say, for his sisters: he let a crowd of the sepoys (Muslims and Hindus) drunk with opium rush into the house where European women were kept, a few hours before their death penalty. It is also said that four men, Judge Thorngill, Colonel Smith and two others, were deliberately kept alive to make them witnesses to this national dishonour. At dawn, the men were dragged out into the street and slaughtered, as well as 250 women and children. Their bodies were thrown into a deep and, since then, famous “well.”

To continue the story is in vain, because all of Europe knows the rest. I will add just a few details that it had never heard of. When the English recaptured Kanpur and silence reigned in it, Nana Saheb was no longer there: he disappeared without a trace. As you know, the English showed a prisoner in an iron cage for a long time, whom, in the absence of the original, they wanted to pose as Prince Dhondu, but were finally forced to release this man, since all of India laughed at this. Meanwhile, Nana Saheb is said to be alive, and there are still people who have not yet lost hope of seeing him in India. The collector, Colonel Scherer, tells the following about the prisoners:

“Having approached the house of murder and massacre, we found in it six vershoks [26.67 cm, 10.5 in] deep of caked blood ... We looked into the well, and the whole terrible truth flashed before us: there was no one to save. Before our eyes that horrifying picture opened up, at one thought of which even now in distant England, orphaned hearts are bleeding ... The well was deep, but narrow; looking into it, we found it filled to the brim with dead and completely naked bodies. There were 253 corpses, all counted.”

This is what an Englishman and an eyewitness tells. But he is silent about how the next morning the inhabitants of Kanpur were rounded up and every tenth person was shot; he is silent about the fact that, grabbing among them several hundred people (probably most of them innocent), they forced them to lick off the blood caked in the rooms; he is silent about the fact that up to five hundred people licked this blood without getting up during forty-eight hours, that two-thirds of them died of vomiting, and the rest of them were finished off by the English with rifle butts; Finally, he is silent about the fact that not a few dozen rebels were blown from guns (as English stories assure), but that several thousand of them died in such a death.

Lord Canning ordered all the white corpses, not touching them, to be left in the well and covered with earth and lime. The square was turned into a garden, and the famous “Memorial monument,” a monument of 1857, was erected over the well.

We went straight from the railway to this garden. The garden was shaded, filled with cypresses, weeping willows and other superb plants and flowers; but neither the architecture of the chapel, nor the walls of the garden, nor the monument itself above the well correspond to either the great tragic event, or to the sums donated to the fulfillment of Canning's idea. The statue represents some kind of vulgar-looking angel, with his hands outstretched, palms down, as if he is cold and he is warming them over the fireplace. The statue is by Baron Marochetti and, according to his idea, represents the “Angel of Mercy.” But why this is a pose of mercy and not something else is difficult to determine. The statue is placed inside a granite quadrangular fence with a cast-iron lattice on top; from the facade, marble steps lead to a gate embedded in this lattice, which is even funnier, since in a building without a roof, it would seem, a gate is not needed, especially as it seems to hang between heaven and earth. Anyone who wants to get closer to the foot of the statue has to go down the same steps again, inside the fence; and only then, finding himself in a square pit with a monument in the middle right opposite the pedestal, the “passer-by” can stop, but far from being touched by its sight. In front of him, across a pink field, the legend of the rebellion runs in white relief letters around the entire foot. This legend is a pure curiosity. It is, as it were, a stream of all the most selective, unprintable abuses and curses on the pagans ... The robbed prince Dhondu Pant (Nana Saheb), who was expelled from his hereditary possessions, surrenders in it to “eternal fire” as a “despicable and rebellious slave who dared to rebel against the legitimate rulers of God's chosen people.” The British are “God's chosen people!” All sympathy, all deep regret for such undeserved suffering, for these unfortunate children and mothers who died a martyr's death – all this disappears when you read an obscene abusive, extremely arrogant, pompous epitaph. One forgets of the martyr's dust resting under it; only an arrogant inscription remains before our eyes, from which the pharisaism of proud and cruel fathers, brothers and sons strikes the nostrils! In the whole garden, among the many dozens of gravestone inscriptions, there is not one, positively not one from the New Testament. The spirit of ancient Israelite intolerance, vengefulness, the spirit of the commandment: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” reigns despotically in this garden of death and Puritanism. But if so, then, in mourning the innocent dead, it is impossible not to see in this terrible tragedy a just “law of retribution”: “as you sow, you reap,” I heard in the rustle of every weeping willow over every grave, in the distant murmur of a brook. Great and terrible are the sins of Nana Saheb. But who would dare to say that his actions were not guided by the bloody tears and groans of a population of two hundred million, a people trampled under the feet of a conqueror, a people spat upon, dying of hunger by hundreds of thousands during the last long century? And will Christian readers believe that someone's hand has drawn on a multitude of tombstones the following meditation, which is so appropriate to the shrine of the place: “Justified is the pride of the race that shouts after every Asian: Hic niger est, hunc tu Romane, caveto.[4]

The colonel, the most humane of the liberals, who once shed blood for the liberation of real Negroes (of the “Ham tribe,” as preachers called them at that time in America) simply lost his temper. We finally came across a monument to some murdered sergeant with a gravestone inscription: “Oh, Lord! Thou hast given me wicked Gentiles as an inheritance, so crush them, scatter them from the face of the earth, and let the accursed Philistines perish; and Thou, Lord, glorify Thy people!” All these inscriptions, in their feigned humility, seemed to me so disgustingly Jesuitical, so full of hidden hypocrisy that I hurriedly stepped aside and began to call our English companions out of the garden. I positively felt that another minute – and I could not stand it: I would express my opinion about the English, about the living, as well as about the dead in front of the watchman, and in addition, I would attack the “blond spy” who followed us like an obsessive shadow. We were already prepared for irritation from the first minute of our approach to the monument: letting us Europeans pass, we were told that our friends, the Babu and Mulji, should remain in the garden behind the gate, which they slammed under their noses. In response to our protests, the old watchman silently showed us a board nailed to the gate. On it, in large letters, a prohibition was announced “for Hindus, pagans, as well as Mohammedans, to approach the fence.”

Miss B*** shed bitter tears and blew her nose over every monument. With great difficulty, we dragged her away from two marble lovers intertwined over a double grave, whose “spirit,” in her conviction, “hovered at this moment” over her topi and a veil soaked with tears. She was terribly upset and even offended when I told her that, in my opinion, nothing was hovering here, except “the spirit of swagger and British arrogant pharisaism...”

Ma chère,” sobbed the Englishwoman, “vous n'avez vraiment pas de coeur...”[5]

“Perhaps,” I answered, “but I have something that you apparently don’t have: j'ai du nez...”[6]

And we returned to our Hindus.



  1. Moscow News, No. 200, 21.07.1880, pp. 2-3; Russian Herald, January 1883, Supplement, vol. 165, pp. 319-330.
  2. Oh, wretched country! Sheer hell!.. And besides, not a single English pig speaks a word of French. Oh, how I wish there were Russians here one day! (Fr.). – Tr.
  3. Sais is a servant accompanying a rider or riding on a box, on the back of the carriage. – Ed.
  4. Romans! That man is dangerous, who is black! (In the sense of knave, not good) Beware of him! (Lat.). – Tr.
  5. My dear, you really have no heart (Fr.). – Tr.
  6. I have flair (Fr.). – Tr.