Harsimran kaur  ON  May 08, 2023, IN BOOK REVIEW, Jallianwala Bagh, 1919: The Real Story By Kishwar DesaiNON-FICTION

Rating: 4/5

General Reginald Dyer, I would say, a non-compos mentis clouded the air with the smoke of nefarious bullets that impiously screeched the soul of the people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab on April 13th, 1919. What do we call a mind that predisposed such enormous calamity of an unprecedented nature?

  • A niggardly man abstemious to his own enlightenment of worldly causes? it was his ‘ego’ that purportedly wallowed to pluck off any lose stem that made the priggishness of his garden look putrescent.
  • The unheard reminisces of the flagellating cries must have been a practiced obscurantism for him. Did he succeed in giving them a foul burial or lived with the pageantry of a disconsolate smirk?
  • ‘Nefarious’ I guess would be an appropriate term to describe his impulses. A phobia indeed of being a solipsistic, otherwise killing innocent people and travellers to safeguard an ‘ideology’ intrinsic to ‘British terpsichorean’ would not have been just a ‘hunch’ but a well-planned hubristic vendetta.

Jallianwala Bagh massacre not only exposes the psychological deprivation of a scurrilous mind but its ramifications on the people controlled by the pulverization of it. The mass slaughter remains an eclipse in our mind that ceases to come in terms with its foreign infestation. The apoplectic wounds of the innocent people lying on the charred floor of the Bagh speak volumes of an imperialism that was grossly cut at its core value system; a nihilistic bandwagon of tired minds looking for some burlesque.

It definitely seems a conspicuous battle vehemently taking a deafening position—a simulacrum often found as an imperialistic tendency. Jallianwala Bagh was one of those imperialistic schadenfreude that denounces ‘hope’ to a fragile misconception, so vividly expounded by Kishwar Desai in her book ‘Jallianwala Bagh, 1919’.

To go back to Dyer’s mind, Desai through her fine-tooth and comb presents aspects of his personality that made the pogrom seem like a necessity to be accomplished. Was it a mind that wanted to stop the splurges against the Rowlatt act or was it a manifestation of a fragile mind, a hemophiliac who pleased his patriotism by sabotaging the Indian nationalistic frisson? Whatever the reason be, Dyer acted as a stooge of British frippery in violation of a cowardly act that siphons its roots to minds whose sole purpose was depredation of innocent civilians.  

Taking into account the disastrous havoc occurred on April 10, 1919 where five Europeans were killed in contrast to bludgeoning of numerous protestors voicing their peaceful concern over the incarceration of political activist ‘Satya Pal’ and ‘Saifuddin Kitchlew’, the consequences sat deleteriously on the vulnerable. The increase footfall of ‘satyagraha’ concomitants was on rise and it became imperative for the insalubrious minds to cut the ground under the feet. A mind as ravenous as Dyer’s was teethed to scavenge a ‘revolutionary spirit’ that was gradually showcasing courage to be rebellious and restrained—a lethal combination for the English masters.

Assiduously researched by Kishwar Desai, the book resonates the stoicism and poignancy in a period of history that cannot be understood only by the intensity of turmoil. It also needs to cogently address the excrescence of the dilapidated psyches. The martial law imposed after the massacre was an egregious plenipotentiary nuisance that makes the spine curve at the thought of it. 

The defiant crowd was made to crawl and flagged, inauspiciously lamenting ‘what if somebody heard our whispers? Their soul retracted to the harsh punishments inflicted by General Dyer and the master-mind ‘Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, Sir Michael O ’Dwyer’. The flashes of heat perspiring, the stiffening of the eyebrows and the body pulsating to the insolent rhythmic chants of imperialistic descant left behind a catastrophic debacle of trust and dependency. The punishments were harsh and nugatory, an aberration to human principles and values.

‘Jallianwala Bagh, 1919’ gives a crisp account of the ‘Hunter committee’ promulgated to look into the shady crimsons of the massacre. The non sequitur follow-ups elucidated that ‘Dyer’ was in harmony with his self-exculpating behavior.


There is an enchanting labyrinth of people jostling the crowd; some raising their elbows to make space for their scurried feet, some lying on a swathe of grass gazing the momentum of innuendos around them, while some protuberate as brave nationalist to peacefully defy the Rowlatt Act.   

The people in the Bagh on the fateful day of April 13, 1919 were mere traders of love and compassion. Their purpose to gather was an intrinsic affiliation to one’s need for survival that was mutilated by the draconian ‘Dyer’.

The reasons may be numerous as expatiated in the book, but such acts define a purulent mind siphoning a customary defiance to other’s intellect of reasoning. Indians suffered, it was their fate. The British ruled, it was a propinquity of destiny. But Indians survived because they wanted to.

“Jallianwala Bagh, 1919’ restores a fact that subjugated minds one day dissenter the longing for rebuttal. And this very day, the intransigence of one’s felony is blown to smithereens by the same vulnerability that was once the opponents’ reprisal.

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