John Keay

In Cold Blood

Amritsar 1919: An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre


Yale University Press 325pp £20 order from our bookshop

The Patient Assassin: A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge and the Raj


Simon & Schuster 373pp £20 order from our bookshop

In the oft-blotted copybook of British rule in India, no atrocity left a darker stain than the massacre at Jallianwalabagh, a public garden in Amritsar. The name Jallianwalabagh itself was such a mouthful that the sahibs preferred to refer to it as the Amritsar Massacre. Jallianwalabagh was a misnomer anyway. In the bagh (‘garden’) of the Jallia-wala (‘man from Jallia’) flowers had long ceased to bloom. By 1919 discarded food wrappings and orange peel provided the only colour and four scruffy trees the only cover. Enclosed within a high wall and a jumble of box-like houses, the six-acre site was a dust bowl, an urban wasteland to which Amritsar’s citizens, spilling from the narrow lanes that led to the Sikhs’ Golden Temple, resorted for recreation and occasional assembly.

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