Friday, May 27, 2022
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Review

The Scattered Ashes of a Legend

Empire's marionette, Duleep Singh could only align his life with an idle absurdity

The Scattered Ashes of a Legend
The Scattered Ashes of a Legend
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

The inevitable clash with the British took place in December 1845 to February 1846. After the bitter battle of Subraon was lost, the British marched into Lahore. The little maharaja was made to sit with brown and white old men under a shimmering shamiana and signed a treaty of submission. The rich half of the kingdom, the Doaba, was seceded, and the little king was ruled over by Resident Lawrence. Three years later, in 1849, Dalhousie converted a minor rebellion in Multan into the second Sikh War and annexed the Punjab. The Sikh Raj was over. The boy raja was taken to Fattehgarh on the Ganges, under padre tutors, converted to Christianity, and five years later taken to England. Queen Victoria treated him as a colorful Indian mascot. He played with her children; lived at Osborne as a favoured guest, and became a star shooter of pheasants. Winterhalter painted him. He settled at Elveden, close to Thetford, near Cambridge.

The Sikh hunger for the lost kingdom has never faded. In 1967 I went to Cambridge. I had already studied all the 19th century British writings on the Sikhs, and the two brutally fought Sikh wars. I went to Elveden, where Duleep Singh lies buried, and wrote lurid, sentimental articles in the Punjab papers, asking for his bones to be brought back. Early Sikh migrants to the UK started pilgrimages to Elveden by the bus-loads. They made a mess of that elegant countryside, camping in the ancient church, eating aalu puris. Now, Prince Charles has inaugurated a Duleep Singh statue, which looks nothing like him. But history has to be polished up.

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