Ram Das Of Cawnpore
We Germans do not spare trouble where literary or scientific work is on
hand: and so when I was appointed by the University of Breslau to the
travelling scholarship in the Neo-Sanskritic languages, I made up my
mind at once to spend the next five years of my life in India. I knew
already a good deal more Hindi and Urdu than most English officials who
have spent twenty years in the country; but I was anxious to perfect my
knowledge by practice on the spot, and to acquire thorough proficiency
in conversation by intercourse with the people themselves. I therefore
went out to India at once, and avoiding the great towns, such as
Calcutta or Allahabad, which have been largely anglicised by residents
and soldiers, I took up my abode in the little village of Bithoor on the
Ganges, a few miles from Cawnpore, celebrated as having been the
residence of the Nana Sahib, whom you English always describe as "the
most ferocious rebel in the Mutiny." Here I spent four years in daily
intercourse with the native gentry, whose natural repugnance to
foreigners I soon conquered by invariable respect for their feelings and
prejudices. At the end of eighteen months I had so won my way to their
hearts that the Muhammedans regarded me as scarcely outside the pale of
Islam, while the Hindoos usually addressed me by the religious title of
Bhai or brother.
Of course, however, the English officials did not look with any
favouring eye upon my proceedings, especially as I sometimes felt called
upon to remonstrate with them upon their hasty and often ignorant method
of dispensing justice. This coolness towards the authorities increased
the friendship felt towards me by the native population; and "the
European Sahib who is not a Feringhee" became a general adviser of many
among the poorer people in their legal difficulties. I merely mention
these facts to account for the confidence reposed in me, of which the
story I am about to relate is a striking example.
I had a syce or groom who passed by the name of Lal Biro. This man was a
tall, reserved, white-haired old Hindoo, a Jat by caste, but with a
figure which might have been taken for that of a Brahman. His manner to
me was always cold and sometimes sullen; and I found it difficult to
place myself on the same terms with him as with my other servants. One
dark evening, however, during the cold season, I had driven back from
Cawnpore with him late at night in a small open trap, and found him far
more chatty and communicative than usual. When we reached the bungalow,
we discovered that the lights were out, and the house almost shut up, as
the servants had fancied that I meant to sleep at the club. Lal Biro
accordingly came in with me, and helped me to get my supper ready. Then
at my request he sat down cross-legged near the door and continued to
give me some reminiscences of the Mutiny which had been interrupted by
"Yes, Sahib," he said quietly, composing himself on a little mat with a
respectful inclination of the body; "I am Ram Das of Cawnpore."
I was startled by the confession, for I knew the name of Ram Das as one
of the most dangerous petty rebels, on whose head Government had fixed a
large price; but I was gratified by the confidence he reposed in me,
and I begged him to go on with his story. I write it down now in very
nearly the literal English equivalent of his exact words.
"Yes, Sahib, it is a long story truly. I will tell you how it all came
about. I was a cultivator on the uplands there by Cawnpore, and I had a
nice plot of land in Zameendari near the village there, good land with
wheat and millet and a little tobacco. My millet was joar, and I got a
rupee for eighteen seers, good money. I was well-to-do in those days. No
man in the village but spoke well of Ram Das. I had a wife and three
children, and a good mud cottage, and I paid my dues regularly to
Mahadeo, oil and grain, most properly. The Brahmans said I was a most
pious man, and everybody thought well of me.
"One day Shaikh Ali, a Muhammedan, a landowner from over the river in
Oude, whom I knew in the bazaar at Cawnpore, he met me near the bridge
resting. He said to me, 'Well, Ram Das, these are strange things coming
to pass. They say the sepoys have mutinied at Meerut, and the Feringhees
are to be driven into the sea.'
"I said, 'That would not do us Hindoos much good. We should fall under
you Musalmans again, and you would have an emperor at Delhi, and he
would tax us and trouble us as our fathers tell us the Moguls did before
the Feringhees came.'
"Shaikh Ali said to me, 'Are you a good man and true?'
"I answered, 'I pay my dues regularly and do poojah, but I don't know
what you, a Musalman, mean by a good man.'
"'Can you keep counsel against the accursed Feringhees?' said he.
"'That is an easy thing to do,' I answered. 'They tax us, and number us,
and make our salt dear, and mean to take our daughters away from us, for
which purpose they have made a census, to see how many young women
there are of twelve years and upwards. Besides, they slaughter cows the
same as you do.'
"'Listen to me, Ram Das,' he said, 'and keep your counsel. Do you know
that they have tried to make all the sepoys lose caste and become like
dogs and Pariahs, by putting cow's grease on the cartridges?'
"'I know it,' I replied, 'because my brother is a sepoy at Allahabad,
and he sent me word of it by a son of our neighbour.'
"'Did we Musalmans ever do so?' he asked again.
"'I never heard it,' said I: 'but indeed I am ignorant of all these
things, for I am not an old man, and I have only heard imperfectly from
my elders. Still, I don't know that you ever tried to make us lose
"'Well, Ram Das,' said the Shaikh, 'listen to what we propose. The
sepoys from Meerut have gone to Delhi and have proclaimed the King as
Emperor. But now the Nana of Bithoor has something to say about it. If
the Nana were made king, would you fight for him?'
"'Certainly,' said I, 'for he is a Mahratta and a good Hindoo. He should
by rights be Peshwa of the Mahrattas, and hold power even over your
emperor at Delhi.'
"'That is quite true,' the Shaikh answered. 'The Peshwa was always the
right hand and director of the Emperor. If we put the Mogul on the
throne once more, the Nana would be his real sovereign, and Hindoos and
Musalmans alike would rejoice in the change.'
"'But suppose we fall out among ourselves!'
"'What does that matter in the end?' he answered. 'Let us first drive
out the accursed Feringhees, and then, if Allah prosper us, we may
divide the land as we like between the two creeds. We are all sons of
the soil, Hindoo and Musalman alike, and we can live together in peace.
But these hateful Feringhees, they come across the sea, they overrun all
India, they tax us all alike, they treat your Sindiah and Holkar as they
treat our Nizam and our king of Oude, they take away our slaves, they
tax our food, they pollute your sacred rivers, they destroy your castes,
and as for us, they take their women to picnic in our mosques, as I have
seen myself at Agra. Shall we not first drive them into the sea?'
"'You say well,' I answered, 'and I shall ask more of this matter at
"That was the first that I heard of it all. Next day, the village was
all in commotion. It was said that the Nana had called on all good
Hindoos to help him to clear out the Feringhees. I left my hut and my
children, and I came to Bithoor here. Then they gave me a rifle, and
told me I should march with them to Cawnpore to kill the Feringhees.
There were not many of the dogs, and the gods were on our side; and when
we had killed them all we should have the whole of India for the
Hindoos, with no land-tax or salt-tax, and there should be no more
cattle slaughtered nor no more interference with the pilgrims at
Hurdwar. It was a grand day that, and the Nana, dressed out in all the
Peshwa's jewels, looked like a very king.
"Well, we went to Cawnpore and began to besiege the entrenchments which
Wheeler Sahib had thrown up round the cantonment. We had great guns and
many men, both sepoys and volunteers. Inside, the Feringhees had only a
few, and not much artillery. We all thought that the gods had given us
the Feringhees to slay, and that there would be no more of them left at
"For twenty days we continued besieging, and the Feringhees got weaker
and weaker. They had no food, and scarcely any water. At last Wheeler
Sahib sent to tell the Nana that he would give himself up, if the Nana
would spare their lives. The Nana was a merciful man, and he said, 'I
might go on and take the entrenchment, and kill you all if I wished; but
to save time, because I want to get away and join the others, I will
let you off.' So he took all the money in the treasury, and the guns,
and promised to provide boats to take them all down to Allahabad.
"I was standing about near one of our guns that day, when Chunder Lal, a
Brahman in the Nana's troops, came up to me and said, 'Well, Ram Das,
what do you think of this?'
"'I think,' said I, 'that it is a sin and a shame, after we have broken
down the hospital, and starved out the Feringhees, to let them go down
the river to Allahabad, to strengthen the garrison that pollutes that
holy city. For I hear that they do all kinds of wrong there, and insult
the Brahmans, and the bathers, and the sacred fig-tree. And if these men
go and join them, the garrison will be stronger, and they will be able
to hold out longer against the people, which may the gods avert!'
"'So I think too, Ram Das,' said he; 'and for my part, I would try to
prevent their going.'
"A little later, we went down to the river, by the Nana's orders. There
some men had got boats together, and were putting the Feringhees into
them. It was getting dark, and we all went down to guard them. A few of
them had got into the boats; the rest were on the bank. I can see it all
now: the white men with their proud looks abashed, going meekly into the
boats, and the women stepping, all afraid and shrinking from the black
faces--shrinking from us as if we were unclean and they would lose caste
by touching us. Though they were so frightened, they were proud still.
Then three guns went off somewhere in the camp. Chunder Lal was near me,
and he said to me, 'That is the signal for us to fire. The Nana ordered
me to fire when I heard those guns.' I don't know if it was true:
perhaps the Nana ordered it, perhaps Chunder Lal told a lie: but I never
could find out the truth about it, for they blew Chunder Lal from the
guns at Cawnpore afterwards, and I have never seen the Nana since to
ask him. At any rate, I levelled my musket and fired. I hit an officer
Sahib, and wounded him, not mortally. In a moment there was a great
report, and I looked round, and saw all our men firing. I don't know if
they had the word of command, but I think not. I think they all saw me
fire, and fired because I did, and because they thought it a shame to
let the Feringhees escape; as though the head man of a village should
entrap a tiger, a man-eater that had killed many cultivators in their
dal-fields, and then should let it go. If a headman ordered the
villagers to loose it from the trap, do you think they would obey him?
No, and if he loosed it himself, they would take muskets and sticks and
weapons of all kinds, and kill the man-eater at once. That is what we
did with the Feringhees.
"It was a terrible sight, and I did not like to see it. Some of them
leapt into the water and were drowned. Others swam away madly, like wild
fowl, and we shot at them as they swam; and then they dived, and when
they came up again, we fired at them again, and the water was red with
their blood. I hit one man on the shoulder, and broke his arm, but still
he swam on with his other arm, till somebody put a bullet through his
head, and he sank. I ran into the water, as did many others, and we
followed them down until all the swimmers were picked off. Some of the
boats crossed the river: but there was a regiment waiting on the Oude
shore--some said by accident, others that the Nana had posted it
there--and the sepoys hacked them all to pieces as they tried to escape.
It was a dreadful sight, and I am an older man now, and do not like to
think of it: but I was younger then, and our blood was hot with
fighting, and we thought we were going to drive the Feringhees out of
the country, and that the gods would be well pleased with our day's
"Some boats got away a little way, but they were afterwards sent back.
The women and children, some of them badly wounded, we took back into
Cawnpore. We put them in the Bibi's house, near the Assembly Rooms. Then
in a few days, the others who were sent back from Futteypore arrived,
and the Nana said, 'What shall I do with them?' Everybody said, 'Shoot
them:' so we took out all the men the same day and shot them at once.
The women and children the Nana spared, because he was a humane man; and
he sent them to the others in the Bibi's house. There they were well
treated; and though they had not punkahs, and tattis, and cow's flesh,
as formerly, yet they got better rations than any of the Nana's own
soldiers: for the Feringhees, like all you Europeans, Sahib, are very
luxurious, and will not live off rice or dal and a little ghee like
other people. You have conquered every place in the world, from Ceylon
to Cashmere, and so you have got luxurious, and live off wheaten bread,
and cow's flesh, and wine, and many such ungodly things. But the rest of
the world think it a great thing if they have ghee to their rice.
"After a fortnight the Nana's troops were defeated at Futteypore, and it
was said that the Feringhee ladies were sending letters to the army.
Then the Nana was very angry. He said, 'I have spared these women's
lives, and yet they are sending news to my enemies. I will tell you what
I will do: I will put them all to death.' So he gave word to have them
shot. I was one of the guards at the Bibi's house, and I got orders to
shoot them. Then we all tried to bring them out in front of the house;
but they would not come; so we had to go in and put an end to them there
with swords and bayonets. Poor things! they shrieked piteously; and I
was sorry for them, because they were some of them young and pretty, and
it is not the women's fault if the Feringhees come here, for the
Feringhee ladies hate India, and will all go away again across the
water if they can get a chance. And then there were the children! One
poor lady clung to my knees and begged hard for her daughter: but I had
to obey orders, so I cut her down. It was very sad. But then, the
Feringhee ladies are even prouder than the men, and they hate us
Hindoos. They would not care if they killed a thousand of us if their
little fingers ached. Look how they make us salaam, and punish us for
small faults, and compel us to work punkahs, and to run on foot after
their carriages, and insult our gods. Ah, they are a cruel, proud race.
They are lower than the lowest Sudra, and yet they will treat a
twice-born Brahman like a dog.
"We threw all the bodies into the well at Cawnpore where now they have
put up an image of one of their gods--a cold, white god, with two
wings--to avenge their death. Then there was great joy in Cawnpore. We
had killed the last of the Feringhees, and India should be our own.
Soon, we might make the Nana into a real Peshwa, and turn against the
Musalmans, and put down all slaughtering of cattle altogether, as the
Rani did at Jhansi. We should have no more land-tax to pay, for the
Musalmans should pay all the taxes, as is just: but the Hindoos should
have their land for nothing, and live upon chupatties and ghee and honey
every day. Ah, that was the grandest day that was ever seen in Cawnpore!
"But that was not the end of it. In the mysterious providence of the
all-wise gods it was otherwise ordained. A few days before all this, I
was standing about in the bazaar, when I met a jemadar. He said to me,
'So the Feringhees are marching from Allahabad!'
"'The Feringhees!' I said: 'why, no, we have killed them all off out of
India, thanks be to the gods. At Delhi they are all killed, and at
Meerut, and at Cawnpore here, and I believe everywhere but at Allahabad
and at Calcutta.'
"'Ram Das,' he answered, 'you are a child; you know nothing. Do you
think the Feringhees are so few? They are swarming across the water like
locusts across the Ganges. In a few months, they will all come from
where they have been helping the Sultan of Roum against the other
Christians, and they will make the whole Doab into a desert, as they
made Rohilcund in the days of Hostein Sahib. Shall I tell you the
news from Delhi?'
"'Yes,' I said, 'tell me by all means, for I don't believe the
Feringhees will ever again hold rule in India, the land of the all-wise
gods.' In those days, Sahib, I was very foolish. I did not know that the
Feringhees were in number like the green parrots, and that they could
send countless shiploads across the water as easily as we could send a
cargo of dal down the river to Benares.
"'Well, then,' he said, 'Delhi has been besieged, and before long it
will be taken. And the Feringhees have sent up men from Calcutta who
have reached Allahabad, and are now on the march for Cawnpore. When they
come, they will take us all, and kill the Nana, and there will be an end
of the Hindoos for ever. They are going to make us all into Christians
by force, baptising us with unclean water, and making Brahmans and
Pariahs eat together of cow's flesh, and destroying all caste, and
modesty, and religion altogether.'
"'They will do all these things, doubtless,' I replied, 'if they can
succeed in catching us: but it is impossible. The Feringhees are but a
handful: they could never have ruled us if it were not for the sepoys.
They had all the muskets and the ammunition, and they kept them from us.
But now that the sepoys have mutinied, the Feringhees are but a few
officers and half-a-dozen regiments. And I cannot believe that the gods
would allow men like them, who are worse than Musalmans, and have no
caste, to conquer us who are the best blood in India, Brahmans, and
Jats, and Mahrattas.'
"But the jemadar laughed at me. 'I tell you,' he said, 'this rebellion
is all child's play. For I have myself been across the water once, as an
officer's servant, and have been to England, and to their great
town, London. It is so great that a man can hardly walk across it from
end to end in a day; and if you were to put Allahabad or Cawnpore down
in its midst, the people would not know that any new thing had come
about. They have ships in their rivers as thick as the canes in a
sugar-field; and iron roads with cars drawn by steam horses. They have
so many men that they could overrun all India as easily as the people of
Cawnpore could overrun Bihtoor. And so when I hear their guns outside
the town, I will run away to them, and I advise you to do so too.'
"I didn't believe him at the time; but a few days afterwards, I found
out that the Feringhees were really marching from Allahabad. And when we
killed the ladies, they were almost at the door. They fought like
demons, and we know that the demons must all be on their side. Many
times we went out to meet them, but in four separate battles they cut
our men to pieces like sheep. At last, just after we had got rid of the
ladies, they got to Cawnpore.
"Then there was no end of the confusion. The Nana got frightened, and
fled away. We blew up the magazine, so that they might not have powder;
and the Feringhees came at once into the town. There never were people
so savage or angry. The sight of the well and the Bibi's house seemed to
drive them wild. They were more like tigers than human beings. Every
sepoy whom they caught they shot at once for vengeance, because that is
their religion: and many who were not sepoys, and who had not borne arms
against them, they shot on false evidence. Every man who had a grudge
against another told the Feringhees that their enemy had helped to cut
down the ladies; and the Feringhees were so greedy for blood that they
believed it all, and shot them down at once. So much blood was never
shed in Cawnpore: for one life they took ten. Then we knew it was all
true what the jemadar had said, and that they would take the whole Doab
back, and put back the land-tax, and the salt-tax; and we thought too
that they would make us all into Christians; but that they have not
done, for so long as they get their taxes, and have high pay and good
bungalows, and cow's flesh and beer, they don't care about, or reverence
any religion, not even their own. For we Hindoos respect our fakeers,
and even the Musalmans respect their pirs; but the Feringhees think as
little of the missionaries as we do ourselves, and care more for dances
than for their churches. That is why they have not compelled us to
"All the time the Feringhees were in Cawnpore, I lay hid in the
jemadar's house. He was a good man, though he had gone over to the
Feringhees as soon as they came in sight: and nobody suspected his
house, because he was now on their side, and had given them news of all
that took place in the town when we killed the officers and the ladies.
So I was quite safe there, and got dal and water every day, and was in
no danger at all.
"Presently, the Feringhees moved off again, abandoning Cawnpore, because
Havelock Sahib, who was the most terrible of their generals, wanted to
go on to Lucknow. There the Musalmans of Oude had risen and were
besieging the Presidency, with all the soldiers and officers. I would
not go to Oude, because I did not care to fight for Musalmans,
preferring rather to wait the chance of the Nana coming back; for only a
Mahratta could now recover the kingdom for the Hindoos; and the
Musalmans are almost as bad as the Feringhees themselves. In a short
time, however, the Gwalior men came. They were good men, the Gwalior
men: for though Sindiah, their rajah, had commanded them not to fight,
they would not desert the other Hindoos, when there were Feringhees to
be killed: and they disobeyed Sindiah, and rebelled, and so I joined
them gladly. They pitched only fifteen miles from Cawnpore, and there I
went out and enlisted with them.
"By-and-by most of the Gwalior men got frightened, and went back again.
Then things became very bad. A few of us marched southward, and hid in
the jungles that slope down towards the Jumna. We were very frightened,
because there are tigers in that jungle: and two Gwalior men were eaten
by the tigers. But soon some Feringhees from Etawa heard of our being
there, and they came out to stalk us. It was just like shooting
nil-ghae. They came on horseback, and closed all round the jungle
where we were. Then they crept on into the jungle, and we crept away
from them. Every now and then they drove a man into an open space; and
then they all shouted like fiends, and shot at him. When they hit him
and rolled him over, they laughed, and shouted louder still. I was
hidden under some low bushes; and two Feringhees passed close to me, one
on each side of the bushes; but they did not see me. Soon after, they
started a man who had been a sepoy, and he ran back towards my bushes. I
never said a word. Then they all fired at him, and killed him: but one
bullet hit me on the arm, and went through the flesh of my arm, and
partly splintered the bone. But still I said nothing. All day long I lay
moaning to myself very low, and the Feringhees scoured all the jungle,
and killed everybody but me, and went away saying to themselves that
they had had a good day's sport. For they hunted us just as if we were
"I lay for a fortnight, wounded, in the jungle, and had nothing to eat
but Mahua berries. I was feverish and wandered in my mind: but at the
end of a fortnight I could crawl out, and managed to drag along my
wounded arm. Then I went to the nearest village, and gave out that I was
a cultivator who had been wounded by the Gwalior men in trying to defend
a tuhseelie for the Feringhees. For that, they took great care of
me, and sent me on to Cawnpore.
"I was not afraid to go back to the town, for my own people would not
know me again. In that fortnight I had grown from a young man into the
man you see me; only I was older-looking then than I am now, for I have
got younger in the Sahib's service. My hair had turned white, and so had
my beard, which was longer and more matted than before. My forehead was
wrinkled, and my cheeks had fallen away. As soon as I had got to
Cawnpore, I went straight to the jemadar's house, to see if he would
recognize me; but he did not: for even my voice was hoarser and harsher
than of old, through fever and exposure. So I went and told my story to
the Feringhee doctor, how I had been wounded in keeping the tuhseelie
for his people; and he tended my arm, and made it well again. For though
the Feringhees are savage like tigers to their enemies, if you befriend
them, they will treat you well. In that they are better than the
"Soon after, I went out to the parade ground, because I heard there was
to be a dreadful sight. They were going to blow the rebels they had
taken, from the guns. I went out and looked on. Then they took all the
men, Brahmans and Chumars alike, and broke caste, and tied them each to
a gun. I could not have done it, though I cut down the Feringhee ladies;
but they did it, and made a light matter of it. Then they fired the
guns, and in a whiff their bodies were all blown away utterly, so that
there was nothing left of them. This they did so as utterly to destroy
the rebels, leaving neither body nor soul, but annihilating them
altogether, which is worse than death. They would have done it to me,
if they had caught me. Do you wonder that I hate the Feringhees, Sahib?
Why, they did it even to the twice-born Brahmans, let alone a Jat. The
gods will avenge it on them.
"Then I went out to look at my plot of land. The Feringhees knew of me
from many traitors, some of whom had given up my name to save themselves
from being blown away--and no wonder. They had seized my plot, and sold
it to another man, a zameendar, a Kayath in Cawnpore, who had made money
by supplying them with food--the curse of all the gods upon him! And as
for my wife and children, they had gone wandering out, and I have never
seen them since. My wife was with child, and she went into Cawnpore, and
thence elsewhere, I know not where, and starved to death, I suppose, or
died in some other shameful way. But one of my daughters a missionary
got, and sent her to Meerut to a school; and there they are teaching her
to be a Christian, and to hate her own gods and her own people, and to
love the Feringhees who suck the blood of India, and grind down the poor
with taxes, and dispossess the Thakurs, who ought, of course, by right
to own the land. This much I learned by inquiring at Cawnpore; but how
my wife died, or whether they killed her, or what, that I have never
been able to learn.
"So that was the end of it all. The Nana was hidden away somewhere up
Nepaul way; and the Feringhees had got back Lucknow; and all over the
Doab and the Punjab they were established again, and the hopes of the
people were all broken. And I had lost my land, and my wife, and my
children, and had nothing to live upon or to live for. And we had not
driven out the accursed strangers, after all, but on the contrary they
made themselves stronger than ever, and sent more soldiers, as the
jemadar had prophesied, and put down the Company, who used to be their
rajah, and sent up a Maharani instead, who is now Empress of India. And
they made new taxes and a new census and all sorts of imposts. But since
that time they have been more afraid of us, and are not so insolent to
the temples, or the pilgrims, or to the sacred monkeys. And I came to
Bithoor, and became a syce, and I have been a syce ever since. That is
all I know about the Mutiny, Sahib."
The old man stopped suddenly, having told all his story in a dull,
monotonous voice, with little feeling and no dramatic display. I have
tried to reproduce it just as he said it. There was no passion, no
fierceness, no cruelty in his manner; but simply a deep, settled,
uniform tone of hatred to the English. It was the only time I had ever
heard the story of the Mutiny from a native point of view, and I give it
as I heard it, without mitigating aught either of its horror or its
"And you are not afraid of telling me all this?" I asked.
He shook his head. "The Sahib has a white face," he answered, "but his
heart is black."
"And the Nana?" I inquired. "Do you know if he is living still?"
His eyes flashed fire for the first time since he had begun. "Ay," he
cried; "he is living. That I know from many trusty friends. And he
will come again whenever there is trouble between the Feringhees and the
other Christians: and then we shall have no quarrelling among ourselves;
but Sindiah, and Holkar, and the Nizam, and the Oude people, and even
the Bengalis will rise up together; and we will cut every Feringhee's
throat in all India, and the gods will give us the land for ever
after.... Good night, Sahib: my salaam to you." And he glided like a
serpent from the room.