Day 2, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Anita Anand

Guess who’s back to rave about another Edinburgh International Book Festival event? (It’s me)

Anita Anand is a TV and radio broadcaster, who has written a book called The Patient Assassin. It’s the true story of a shameful day in British history and the repercussions thereof, where British soldiers massacred thousands of unarmed Indians in Amritsar. It’s the day 18-year-old Udham Singh, now known as a revolutionary Indian cult figure, swore he would one day take revenge at whatever cost.

1650 bullets. 10 minutes. 20 000 unarmed men, women and children.

The event was structured brilliantly for the content, with Anita giving a presentation of the history behind the book. The book centres around the massacre and the three people whose lives would become linked forever through history. Based on what I’ve heard from Anita and what I’ve read around the topic, the book will offer insight into the key players that lead to Singh assassinating former lieutenant governor of the Punjab, Michael O’ Dwyer, on 13 March 1940.

O’ Dwyer regarded the massacre as a “correct action” and is described to have written his book, “India As I Knew It”, in the way a botanist looks on or writes about poisonous species, as Anita quoted. He was, with no stretch of the imagination, an abhorrent figure in history and Udham Singh was an assassin. But history books offer 2D character sketches, not actual human beings, so Anita has worked to provide the 3D story that has haunted her throughout her life, due to her grandfather’s involvement in the massacre and the survivor’s guilt that clouded their lives. It took her two books before she had the courage to tell this story, until she felt she had no choice but to offer this human-storytelling approach.

She grappled briefly in the post-presentation discussion about teaching colonialism in school. This was of great interest to me, as I often find myself floundered by a nation of education British children who can name the wives of Henry VIII but have limited knowledge of the spidery tendrils of British colonialism that still affects nations today. There’s no obvious solution or answer right now, but Anita dealt with the topic with sensitivity and intelligence. Hopefully this book is a brilliant step in the right direction, offering your average person like myself clear, concise information that takes a human approach to a socio-politically dense subject – textbooks and raw facts don’t teach morality, but fostering interpretation does. I’m really looking forward to reading The Patient Assassin.

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