“I hear the Muslims are predicting that 1757, that is the Plassey battle, means that in 1857 Britain will be defeated. 1857 is a magic year. So the Muslims are saying” I added.
“But tell us about the shocking murders of the 123 poor victims!” the griffins shouted, bored with Economics.
“Tell us about the horrible way they died!”
“I did already!” Sammy replied. “They were delirious from the heat, they were suffocating, and they panicked. They were packed into a small cell so tight no one could sit down. The bodies of the dead were mixed with the living when the door was finally opened. Corpses still standing upright. That was the vivid thing about the horror. They were so shoved in that the corpses were still standing upright. Then the guards panicked and threw the corpses to the jackals and the vultures. But what I find interesting is that the exaggerations of Howell’s account are used by people today to deny the incident ever took place.”
“Say that again!” everyone yelled — including me.
“Well Howell said some 123 died. Well over half of the prisoners died literally standing up! But he did not list every single name. He only listed the names of the British because those were the only names he knew. Records say there were Portuguese and Dutch civilians, mix blood and half caste Indians, officers, soldiers, at least one woman, civilians of very types and colors and races, and hired Indian sepoys, all shoved into that room. Howell could not possibly have known or named them all. So people say the most who died were 46. But Howell himself said he did not know all of the victims. But he did provide key and crucial names. Very specific names. Verified names. But because the names total only about 40 people the apologists say the entire Howell account has to be thrown out as a lie manufactured and used by Clive to justify his counterattack.”
“But I never heard that any other survivor say that Howell lied” I said.
“There were 11 Europeans who survived but apologists say they cannot be believed because the winner writes the history and in this case the winners were the British. Therefore it must be a lie.”
“Fuck!” I snarled.
Sammy grinned. “There is an account written before Howell by a R Orme in 1760. He was a high ranking East India officer and also a respected historian who is known to have written objective accounts before and after the event. And in 1772 another key witness, name of Cooke, gave detailed evidence before a formal Parliamentary Committee.”
“So how can people deny this took place?” I asked incredulous.
“Well every so-called historian has his or her axe to ground. Muslim apologists say any version written by an European cannot be believed because they are biased and no Muslim wrote about it and therefore it did not happen.”
“But by that theory any Muslim version would also be biased!” I said.
“And what about who died?” a griffin asked. “The bodies!”
“Thrown to the jackals” Sammy said.
“Records of the missing?” I asked.
43 Europeans were listed as missing but apologists say it was a battle so naturally there would be people missing in action.
“That is bullshit!” a griffin hissed back in disgust.
“And a Muslim apologist said he staked out the measurements of the cell and counted as many of his tenants as could fit. He could not fit 123 people into the field he staked out. Much less 146.”
“But didn’t a railroad officer investigating safety at railroad platforms recently recommend what?’ I asked. Sammy grinned.
“A safe crowding of 3 square feet for each rush hour standee. Accidentally that mathematical calculation is actually key to the issue. I did my own test in school using that calculation. I staked lines on the grass according to the measurement of the cell. Then I got 146 students crammed into a space at the safety requirement of 3 square feet per standing body at peak rush hour. We British are good at rush hour train platform queuing! Surprisingly, it was just a little bigger than the cell. Then I was able to shove 102 teenagers into less than 2.5 square standing feet space each, just inside the staked tape on the grass, totaling the measurement of the cell, for a few minutes before they screamed at me and burst out of my staked grass square! It can be done. I agree that Howell over guesstimated but no witness who survived denied the basic gist of what happened. And to me the key thing is everyone remembered the horror of corpses standing upright. Packed at less than 3 square feet per standing body then that is possible. That is the key at least for me. Standing corpses.”
“How can historians say something did not happen if there is evidence that something did happen?” I asked. “Even if Howell over guesstimated it cannot be denied that something dreadful happened and survivors lived to tell.”
Sammy smiled. “I enjoy the idea that the people can say history is relative now. The winner writes it therefore it must be a lie. It is one man’s viewpoint. It is a woman’s viewpoint. He had an axe to grind. She had an agenda. It is a narrative. It is a representation. It is cultural. It is racial. It is relative. I suspect some people would have their own agenda and their own axe to grind even if you could find the bodies today and shove them back into that room.
I find it terribly interesting that some people are so desperate to believe it happened and that other people are so desperate to believe that it did not happen. It means that as we live out our lives fellow griffins, future historians will be writing just as desperately about us. Some will say we did what we did and jolly good for us!. Some will say we did not even exist! Some will say we were heros! Some will say we were butchers!”
The other griffins thought this was most disconcerting and decided to visit the camp bazaar where businessmen sold stuff to soldiers. I walked back to the barracks with Sammy.
“Did Howell ever write anything else later that might show his thinking?” I asked.
“Yes actually! A rather sympathetic book on India showing how we should inspire the Indians but let them work their own future out.”
“So he was not a raving bigot but an Orientalist. A ‘White Mughal’?”
“Yes. Actually. He was a sympathetic admirer of India.”
“I just think how terrible it was” I continued. ‘Regardless of the exact number. When I looked in that holding cell I shivered just imaging if it was me in there with a bunch of men all shoved in together with scarcely any room to move or sit down or breath. That must be a terrible thing to have happen to one.”
“Yes. I am just angry that people can cavalierly deny that things happened. Historians have an obligation to try to be honest to the truth. Or at least to the complexity and tragedy of events. I would not whitewash evil we have done. We have done our share! But to just say ‘Oh heck! I just don’t want to believe it so there! I will make up something else! Why not? What the heck?’. It happened. At the very least acknowledge that your fellow Indians died. The ‘incident’ not only killed Westerners but half castes and mix blood Indians and even full blood Indians too! At least acknowledge that!”
I asked him why he was here as a cadet. He seemed the historian. He looked eighteen in fact. He was much older than the rank and file of griffins. “It is the only way I could get here frankly. There is so much history that has not been explored. Ruined cities no one has investigated. Amazing things. And the Fort William College has one of the largest collections of books and translations in the world. Sanskrit, Bengali, Marathi, Chinese, Persian, Arabic, Hindustani. More than a hundred linguists. Thousands of books including palm leaf books hundreds of years old. And they have actually all but standardized Bengali. They developed the grammar and dictionary of Bengali. It is literally an involving language as we speak. I find that amazing.”
“I am struggling with it. I thought it was Tamil. So it is Bengali! I was taught Rajput Hindustani and Urdu and Sanscrit. I am struggling.”
“I am already signed up for classes at the collage.”
“I am signed up too.”
“Then we might cross paths —-John.”
“If destiny blesses us and we keep our powder dry” I replied.