While They Danced At Faletti's
- Ramanjit Singh
We were always their pawns, we just never realized it.
Sometimes it's a confluence of things that create an impression, a perception of what was happening during the British rule in India. Things that we remember, things that someone has told us in passing, things that venture into our subconscious mind but we never were able to make sense of it. We think about those things and then move on with our lives. But sometimes those things converge into a moment that stops us and forces us to think, to reconsider what we meant to the British and what they meant to us. That we were simply pawns in their game of chess. We simply didn't matter to them.
As I looked at the Life Magazine issue of August 1947, they published the news of India's Partition and its independence on page 26. We were relevant but only in the sense that the British were moving out of India and the article was a swansong for the end of that Raj. Sometimes the sense of incredulity of what is given importance to and what is not depends on the person, his or her nationality or perhaps the person's race.
We were their page twenty-six material. Exotic, untamed, and exploited.
They outplayed us. They took advantage of our diversity and used it against us. They used our religious diversity and used it against us. They used our differences and used them against us. Maybe we were willing participants in this experiment. Maybe some of us wanted to follow and not lead.
I was struck when the author writes that just a handful were able to subjugate 400 million. Think about this for a moment. Our numbers don't matter, our size doesn't matter. What matters is how a small number can come in and dominate us because we ourselves were unable to unite, unable to fight, unable to resist, unable to win.
The article also mentioned that the British didn't conquer an uncivilized horde but a civilization with thousands of years of history. It is said that at the Battle of Plassey, majority of the people were watching the battle as spectators rather than actively fighting against the British troops. Maybe the fight was never in us. History of India is only about the exceptional who did extraordinary things, the vast majority always remained as mere spectators.
The British Rule was about money. People in London used to wager bets on how much these "Viceroys" would make in India.
Lord Robert Clive was 35 when he became a multimillionaire. Think about this for a moment. The British were akin to marauders. Everything they built in India was utilized to loot the country. The railways, the bureaucracy, the military were all built to create stability and to sustain a continuous transfer of wealth from India to Britain. They kept some of the Indians happy by offering them land and power while the grand scheme of looting continued unabated.
In summer of 1947, when the carnage of Partition was at its peak, the Time-Life correspondent traveling from Delhi to Lahore wrote the following:
While the orchestra at Lahore's Faletti's Hotel played quietly for dancing, European guests drank cocktails on the moonlit terrace. Beyond earshot of the music, whole blocks of buildings lay gutted. Streets were bare and silent. Over the deserted railroad station the smell of corpses hung.
Just flying over the Punjab today with a landing here & there gives a feeling that terrible things have happened below. The number of smoking villages that can be counted from Ambala up to Lahore must be at least 150. Here & there can be seen a big town like Sialkot and Gujranwala, where charred black districts tell the story that here the property of one entire community was wiped out.
"The panorama of West Punjab seems even worse. In hitherto peaceful districts like Montgomery and Lyallpur there is not one town which has not been a battlefield. There is no bazaar which has not been burned out. Streams of refugees can be seen approaching all bridges, and over some roads they form virtual convoys miles long. On a ten-mile stretch of road leading to the big bridge over the Sutlej River into Pakistan, there must have been 100,000 people, most of them walking beside bullock carts piled high with their sole possessions.
"At Lahore's Central Station, Sikh and Hindu refugees from North or West Punjab were mobbed on the platform, often stabbed to death and their few belongings looted. A major incident involved a big convoy carrying perhaps 1,000 from Sialkot to Amritsar. The convoy was stopped and attacked at the Ravi River bridge. Hundreds were stabbed to death and other hundreds wounded.
"Refugees from Lyallpur in West Punjab say that so many Sikhs and Hindus were murdered and their bodies thrown into the canal that the canal actually had a pinkish color for a day after. Moslem refugees told how Sikhs stripped and paraded Moslem women through the streets, raped them and then killed them. British correspondents reported having seen dead, naked women lying about villages of the Amritsar district."
A Look of Satisfaction. "Although railway administrations of both Dominions have doggedly tried to keep a skeleton schedule going, they have now given up. For days on end no trains arrived in Delhi without having been attacked and looted practically all along the route.
"Near Jullundur, a band of Sikhs held up a train, methodically searched all compartments and pulled out 17 Moslems, whom they beheaded on the platform. Most amazing of all was the look of bland satisfaction on the faces of these young Sikh men, their hands dripping blood, their clothes smeared with blood, as they stood and grinned at their handiwork while the train finally pulled out. The only Moslems who escaped on this trip were two who were hidden by two British officers under their baggage.
"A British correspondent traveling in the opposite direction through this territory saw half a dozen lying stabbed on the Lahore platform, slowly dying without any help being given. Later that night, on a small siding south of Amritsar, a band of Sikhs entered his compartment and before his eyes beheaded a Moslem apparently trying to travel disguised as a Hindu. (For identification, both sides use the tried and true means of seeing whether there has been circumcision. Moslems always circumcize, the Hindus and Sikhs practically never.)
"A member of the U.S. Embassy arrived in Lahore from Delhi with another tale of horror. Reaching the small station of Okara, near Montgomery, he found the station platform utterly deserted except for several hundred dead Hindus and Sikhs lying around the platform, apparently slaughtered only a few hours before while waiting for the train to escape. All these people were workers in a textile mill which had been attacked by Moslems. Their bodies were mostly stripped and in several instances limbs had been torn from the bodies. The wife of a British textile factory manager told how a Moslem mob had attacked the Hindu and Sikh workers in another factory. When Moslems broke into the ground floor, the Sikhs slashed the throats of their own wives, and afterwards tried to fight through themselves. All were killed."
As India was in the grips of a man made madness. The nation was split because the British sponsored Muslim League and Jinnah were hell bent on creating an Islamic "rentier" state for the West to counter any Soviet expansion to the south. We were indeed played. We never had a chance against the onslaught of these machiavellian maneuvers that the British and their native puppets had in plan for the rest of us.
Orientals can be manipulated.
While India burned, while Punjab and Bengal burned, the people in the West were having a jolly good summer. Advertisements of Ice-creams, new automobiles, family insurance, new vacation packages, things that we today take for granted were as normal back then. We were hidden, not prominent, just a mere oddity to the rest of them.
We were indeed page twenty-six material.
I don't want to show the Indian photographs in this article. I want to show how they were living while we burned.
Back then our lives were much different than theirs. We never had any of these comforts. The wealth, the blissful lifestyle, it was rather alien to us. We at the time were still mired in our own misfortunes and barbarity. I see this dichotomy of life as a shocking evidence of what power and wealth can inflict on the poor, the weak. Most of the Indians could not even dream of a lifestyle that the Westerners took for granted.
While they danced at Faletti's, our people were being killed by our own. While they took their trophies and fine china from their bungalows, we were killing our own. While they bid farewell to their native servants, we were killing our own. While they took all the loot, the tiger skins, the gifts from maharajas back to England, we were busy killing our own.
All the while as they danced and drank cocktails at Faletti's.