Thursday, 18 April 2019

P is for...P-53… Paper … Precursors … n… Purabia

Put your earphones on today for a rather prolonged music session. First, Prithibi a young band from Kolkata, singing a track called Pagol (Mad). 

And keep them earthingies on for Prachir, another young Bengali rock band from Kolkata with a title called Porichoy (Identity) -

And finally, here’s Prohor – also a Kolkata band with not enough views imo :) 

But hang on, here's Pata & Moruddyan with a track called Shunlam tumi (I heard you..) which actually has the views, finally! 

I know this is ridiculous, but don’t take off the eargizmos yet, because how can I not include the cult song?? - composed by Gautam Chatterjee of Moheener Ghoraguli and covered extensively – Prithibita Naki Choto Hote Hote…here’s a lovely cover I found…a different interpretation of the original but that’s what a cover should be rather than a blind reproduction…enjoy!

The exact degree of popularity this song enjoys more than 40 years after it was first composed – is just phenomenal…of course, it majorly helps that the lyrics were perfectly prescient...

The earth has got smaller and smaller or the hands of cable and satellite...till it's got trapped into an idiot box kept in drawing rooms...sitting at home and communicating with the whole you hold that within your fists...intoxicated eyes fixated on screens...have you thought about it? - you and I slowly drift further and further apart, more light-years distant than the stars - binnnGO! - more relevant than ever in the age of pebble sized smart phones!

P-53… Paper …Precursors …n… Purabia Pandey

On 29th March, 1857, at the cantonment in Barrackpore, some 15 miles away from Calcutta, a soldier of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry singlehandedly started off one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 19th century against an European power.  Mangal Pandey was a soldier who had joined the East India Company Army in 1849. He was from a conservative Hindu Brahmin family, from a village called Nagwa in the eastern part of modern day Uttar Pradesh, therefore commonly referred to as a Purabia or Easterner. Much of the Bengal regiment comprised of Purabias like him.

An adjutant of the 5th Company, one Lieutenant B.H. Baugh was informed that afternoon that one of the sipahis (soldiers, anglicised to sepoy) of his company was agitating with a loaded musket, inciting the men to rebellion. Further he was threatening to shoot the first European he came across. Baugh armed himself, mounted his horse and arrived immediately  at the parade ground  where he found Mangal Pandey in front of around twenty men, calling out to them to rise up and strike a blow to save their religion.

On seeing Baugh, Pandey positioned himself behind the station gun and fired at the former. The shot missed the man but hit the mount and both horse and officer came down. Baugh disentangled himself and quickly fired back with his pistol, but he too missed Pandey.  Pandey meanwhile drew his sword and injured Baugh in a hand-to-hand encounter and brought him down.

Sergeant-Major Hewson had also arrived at the parade ground a tad before Baugh, and  had ordered an Indian Jemadar (lowest rank of commissioned officers) - Ishwari Prasad, to capture Pandey. Prasad had calmly refused saying that he alone could not hold Pandey and he would send for reinforcements. Now seeing Baugh injured, Hewson rushed to the fallen man’s aid, but Pandey wounded him also. The other twenty Indian soldiers did not lift a finger to help the officers or restrain their comrade. When Hewson desperately shouted for help, only one man, Sheikh Paltu stepped forward reluctantly to restrain Pandey. The others stood by – some heaped abuse on Paltu, others pelted him with stones and sticks. Somehow, Paltu managed to hold onto Pandey till the two Brits got back up and fled forthwith.

Other British officers rushed to the scene. The Commanding Officer, General Hearsey came riding into the parade ground. Brigadier Grant ordered the men to arrest Pandey, “the first man who refuses to obey the order is a dead man.” This time the soldiers fell in line – there was no other option but to comply. Not to be taken alive, Pandey shot himself with his own musket to avoid capture. But the shot was not fatal and Mangal Pandey was arrested and court-martialled on April 6th 1857.

During the court-martial Pandey steadfastly maintained that he acted alone and no-one else was involved. He was duly condemned to death by hanging on 18th April (yup, that's today 162 years ago! whole of April is filled with anniversaries), but the British fearing further outbreaks of unrest, brought the execution forward to 8th April. Jemadar Ishwari Prasad was also tried and convicted on the testimony of three members of the quarter guard who said Prasad had given explicit orders not to arrest Pandey. Prasad was also condemned to death and was executed on 21st April. Sheikh Paltu was promoted to Havildar for assisting an officer in need, but he was murdered a few days after Pandey’s execution. The 34th Bengal Native Infantry Regiment was disbanded ‘with disgrace’ for failing to perform their duty in restraining and arresting an insubordinate soldier. (Fun fact - as the British Indian Army was taken over at independence without much change, there is still no Bengal Regiment in the Indian Army.)

Mangal Pandey’s revolt sparked off what is now called the ‘First War of Independence’ in India and was known as the Sepoy Mutiny in 19th century Britain. This one act of defiance led to a widespread uprising in large tracts of the country involving other soldiers. From early May onwards, more and more Indian soldiers revolted, much of east and northern India was swept up into the violence. 

The fighting continued into 1858 and involved Delhi, Kanpur (Cawnpore), Meerut, Jhansi, Gwalior and Lucknow. It spilled over from the army into the peasantry and general populace. However, the Sikh and Gurkha Regiments of the army remained loyal to the British and it was with their help the EIC put down the rebellion. Some of the Indian princely states joined cause with the soldiers. Terrible atrocities were committed on both sides. The EIC retaliated with ruthless force after British civilians, including women and children, were killed at Kanpur, Jhansi and Meerut. Anyone suspected of any connection to the rebellion was tortured/killed. Captive mutineers were executed by tying them to canon mouths and blowing them to smithereens, the grotesque penalty revived from earlier Mughal times as a deterrent for other Indians. Many innocents were killed indiscriminately. Estimated losses on the British side were around 6000.  In Awadh alone, around 150,000 Indians were killed, likely 100,000 of them civilians.

Why did Mangal Pandey defy his superiors and why was there a widespread uprising among the Indian ranks? The immediate trigger was a new rifle – the P-53 Enfield that the army introduced, specifically its new paper cartridges. These were rumoured to be greased with tallow from cattle and/or pork lard and had to be bitten off before use. The grease was a sensitive issue – high caste Hindu’s revered cows and did not consume beef, while pork is/was forbidden to Muslims. Many Indian soldiers saw this as a ploy to convert them to Christianity and an attack on their faith. The day before Mangal Pandey shot at Baugh, the regiment had refused to accept the new cartridges.

However, the cartridge issue was only the last straw, a whole heap of grievances had been building up over the first half of the 19th century. The EIC had deposed the last independent Nawab of Bengal in 1757 after wining the Battle of Plassey (which could have been the post today…but…come back tomorrow!) and placed a puppet king on the throne. From then on the Company had annexed much of India, often under the Doctrine of Lapse, where if an Indian ruler died without a male heir or was incompetent  to rule (the incompetency of course decided by the Company) then his  lands were automatically forfeited to the British. During the 1830’s and 1840’s there was a major drive to  deindustrialise India and promote British made goods, which caused hardship and resentment among the peasantry who in turn readily supported the sipahis’ cause. Abolition of age old practices such as sati and widow remarriage under the British administration, combined with an aggressive spurt of missionary activities, made the Indians feel their age-old religious practices were under attack. Add to this roiling mix the new cartridge – and tempers just boiled over.

The British finally regained control mid-1858, crushing the rebellion ruthlessly. Though the uprising failed to throw off the colonial yoke,  it shook up East India Company's rule. As a result of this violent conflict, the British Crown took over the administration of the country. Mangal Pandey had fired the first shot of the freedom struggle in Bengal and uncorked the genie of nationalism out of the bottle. Though it would take another 90 years for India to win freedom, things would never be the same again. 

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2019 


  1. So many deaths, so much tragedy. And the trigger, as always, was small to some, and a question of principle to others...

    1. The scale of the deaths was just epic, hard to get one's head around now...

  2. every little thing can cause an explosion of anger and one fight builds to another until it's out of control. Sadly, still true today.

    1. Ya, it's the little things that cause the outbursts most often..

  3. Replies
    1. Glad you liked it. :) It's a favourite song and cover.

  4. wow. one act can lead to so much destruction and loss. so sad.

    Joy at The Joyous Living

  5. Some of the music sounds like it's in Spanish. Sounds a little like what I hear on Spanish-language stations here. Interesting....

    John @ The Sound Of One Hand Typing

    1. Indeed that's so interesting. Because the Portuguese were the first Western foreigners in Bengal, and I believe the language sounds quite similar to Spanish. The Portuguese influence on Bengal is not as obvious as that of the English but in its own way it's just as wide ranging.

  6. I always how wars would have been fought during those days!

    1. Very differently from our times! Much closer combat, you'd see the face of your enemy as you killed him, a much more intimate experience, I would suppose, than dropping bombs on unseen people.