Bitter-Sweet Revenge, Circa 1857
Sanjoy Saksena | 16 Oct 2007

This year we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the First War of Independence. Numerous battles were fought between the English and the natives. The black humour in middle of war, often missed out by most people, has been captured here.

Swapping didn’t work, malaria had claimed his wife.

Her feverish humming and their buzz

Made the summer heat worse.

In her rising and falling breast, heavy breathing

He saw the fluctuating prices and future business.


Tears trickled from his eyes like a drying tap.

Tiny flying poisons made him insecure,

Homely English consolation and bitter quinine

Were eighteen uneven, dacoit infested miles way.

In between came a slim and shimmering river,

Curves folk songs celebrated as the mistress’s waist.


The stable-keeper’s fourth wife was the lady’s ayah,

The master took good care of her eating and welfare.

She served bitter mixtures and pills with feminine satisfaction

And massaged the master’s brown hair with perfumed oil.

He eyed her well and viewed her Muslim brethren suspiciously.

On greased cartridges their fingers could slip.


When the local chieftain Muhammad Ali mutinied

His followers attacked the mud plaster house,

Strangled the sick woman to a tight death.

The war cry Allah O’ Ackber rent the air

And dozens in battle gear torched the huts of the company.

Black smoke was a signal to the white man.

Complaining about low profits and high risks

In spice and indigo trade, and omnipresent flies

The master after burying his wife quickly

Eloped with the stable-keeper’s youthful wife.

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Sanjoy Saksena is on the Faculty of the Department of English Studies, University of Allahabad.