Udham Singh

Posted by sepoy on November 03, 2009 · 2 mins read

Yasmin Khan, whose Great Partition is highly recommended, has an excerpt up on Random House India site*, The Ghost of Udham Singh:

But the story of his life poses interesting challenges for the historian interested in 'facts' — for the stories about Singh are fragmented and seem sometimes only to take sustenance from their repetition. Some say he fraternised with members of the Ghadar party — the ambitious revolutionary movement started in North America which struggled for India's liberation from British imperialism during the First World War — and met members of the IRA in Britain. In 1927 he was jailed in Amritsar for keeping illicit ammunition in his possession. He was given a passport nonetheless and travelled widely in Europe, arriving back in Britain around 1934. In the 1930s he moved from place to place, perhaps earning his keep as an itinerant peddlar of hosiery and lingerie, and he may also have worked as a handyman, driver and mechanic. He knew Indians in Coventry and Southampton, appears to have liked going to bookshops and to Indian restaurants. He also made some cash as a film extra in crowd scenes. But in the conditions of depression-era England, it was probably far from a glamorous existence.

This assassination, then, was not a straightforward story of nationalist heroism in conflict with British imperialism. By 1940, the political picture was too complex to allow that.

Read the whole thing as it hints at issues of memory and history that are near and dear to my heart. The case of Udham Singh is particularly intriguing because he is now part of the mythos of martyrdom in Sikh hagiography - see, Bhagat Singh. I am using Louis E. Fenech's "Contested Nationalisms; Negotiated Terrains: The Way Sikhs Remember Udham Singh 'Shahid' (1899-1940), Modern Asian Studies, 2002 in my Memory/History seminar. So this will be a good addition.

*There is another excerpt written in some creoly roly poly patois that is someone's idea of hybridity and code-switching. Avoid that one.


Conrad Barwa | November 03, 2009

There was a very interesting documentary shown by the BBC as part of the anti-imperialist season concerning various figures who aren't necessarily that well known outside their own countries or whose reputation have been re-evaluated. the episodes on Udham Singh and Roger Casement were very good in particular; the deaths of both these figures does not reflect well on the authorities. Special Branch had some surveillance on Udham Singh for a while, which backs up what you say, I think he had a relationship with an Englishwoman for a while during his stay in England, from the records; something else you won't hear about in the straightforward hagiographies we were fed in school about him; just as Bhagat Singh's atheism and socialism are also frequently glossed over in official accounts and schools.

AIG | November 03, 2009

Obama: as the colonial overlord of Afghanistan These colonial words will be remembered in Afghanistan history when it is written years from now. This is quite something even by the standards of US world supremacy. This is like something Lord Cromer, the Victorial Imperialist, would have said: "He assured me that he understood the importance of this moment, but as I indicated to him, the proof is not going to be in words, it's going to be in deeds."

lapata | November 04, 2009

I'm very disappointed you didn't write on that other piece. Sample: “Haalats are very bad. So bad so bad, keh don't even ask. Every day bombs bursting everywhere and people dying like fries. And because of all these bombs shombs and shooting vooting, life has become very bore.”

sepoy | November 05, 2009

There isn't enough snark or ridicule to do justice to that piece. I walked away.

lapata | November 05, 2009

But it's Pakistani chick lit! Did you see the cover? http://tinyurl.com/yzmoxpq

desiknitter | November 05, 2009

"creoly roly poly". "anti-imperialist season". I cannot wait to sprinkle these into a conversation. "you, creoly, roly poly, you!!" with a friendly poke in the ribs.

desiknitter | November 05, 2009

Ok, yuk, so I made the mistake of reading the other one. It took me forever to realise that 'tau' is so and not uncle. My haalats are now very bad, indeed.

sepoy | November 05, 2009

Did I not say: AVOID!?

sav | November 07, 2009

LOL. It's best if you read it outloud "in character", na?