Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.



George Bruce Malleson.

Pages 278

Publisher: Rupa Publications.

Price Rs 278.

(Caveat: Most foreign writers especially of British origin call it a ‘mutiny’ which means a rebellion against authority. Whereas, Indian writers and more so Indians like calling it a ‘War of Independence)

    The fifth print or impression of this book came out in 2016. Malleson lived from (8 May 1825 to 1 March 1898). He was an English officer born in Wimbledon and educated at Winchester. Thereafter, he obtained a cadetship in the Bengal infantry in 1842, and served through the second Burmese War. He was a prolific writer. He had written extensively on the Sepoy Mutiny. His important works include, ‘History of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58’ that runs into six volumes, ‘History of the French in India’ and the ‘Decisive Battles of India.’

    He even authored the biographies of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, the French Governor-General Dupleix and the British officer Robert Clive for the Rulers of India series. He died in London on 1st march 1898.

        Mutiny of 1857 remains an event shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Its very significance, whether it can be considered as the first war of Independence, continues to be questioned. The causes of the mutiny are many but all elusive, and so are the consequences of the mutiny. But the moot point is did the mutiny ring the death knell of the British Empire, or was it a mere speck of exaggerated trouble? The book takes you through that.

    It serves to fill a tremendous gap in narrative accounts of the mutiny, and demystifies lay assumptions. It begins with a sizeable background on the genesis of the British Raj in India—a move not deliberate but powerful enough to shape history for decades to come. The author delves in great detail into the causes of the mutiny, unlike preceding writers who mostly concentrated on the consequences. And this the author could do because he was a serving officer and therefore privy to many decisions and happenings. With the aid of personal knowledge and observation he attempts to pin-point the ‘latent power’ that drove the mutiny on.

    He provides a realistic account of all the important operations that took place, praising the heroic and criticizing the undeserving. He is careful not to overlay his work with too much tedious detail, where his writing remains lucid and interesting. 

    The subject book captures successfully, and even uncompromisingly, an event that was perhaps disorganized but large in scale. It deals with each individual and geographical area separately, analysing the causes and effects, both locally and nation-wide. It captures the spirit of the time, its people who fought and died, and the changing attitudes of the British Raj, which was gradually losing control of its Empire.

    In writing this short History of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The author has aimed at the compilation of a work, which when complete in itself, should narrate the causes as well as the consequences of a movement unforeseen, and even undreamt of. For the mutiny as per the author was sudden and swift in its action, and therefore taxed utmost the energies of the British people. Preceding writers on the same subject, whilst dealing very amply with the consequences, have, with one exception, but dimply shadowed forth the causes. Even the very actors of the Mutiny failed to detect them.

    Sir John Lawrence the then Viceroy of India from 1864 to 1869, himself, writing with full knowledge of events in which he played a very conspicuous part, mistook the instrument for the chief cause. He stopped at the greased cartridge. But the greased cartridge was never issued to the great body of troops, if indeed to any. There must have been a latent motive power to make of an unissued cartridge a grievance so terrible as to rouse into revolting men whose fathers and whose father’s father had contributed in the making of the British Empire in India. The greased cartridge, too, did not concern those landowners and cultivators of Oudh and the North-Western Provinces, who rose almost to a man. What that latent motive power was, the author has described fully, in this volume.

    In the early chapters of the book the author communicates, ‘That his belief about the mutiny is founded on personal knowledge and personal observation. Locally chief of the Commissariat Department at Kanhpur when, in January 1856, Sir James Outram crossed the Ganges to depose or remove from office the King of Oudh, I had witnessed the indignation which the very rumour of his purpose caused among the sipahis of my own guard. I reported their excited state to my superiors, and was laughed at for my pains. But, impressed with the accuracy of my forecast, viz., that the annexation of Oudh would rouse indignation and anger in the sipahi army. Nevertheless, I continued. After my transfer, two months later, to an appointment in the Military Audit Department in Calcutta, to keep a careful record of several occurrences, all apparently of minor importance, which supervened when the effects of the annexation of Oudh had been thoroughly realised by the sipahis. My observations led to the conclusion that they were thoroughly angered, and, a little later, that their minds were being mysteriously worked upon. I kept copious notes of the matters I observed, and discussed them with my brother officers, without, finding that my views were shared by any one of them. Essentially, it was not alone the greased cartridge but a host of other factors that brought about the mutiny of 1857. It would seem, however, that the officer who held the responsible post of Town major. His name Major, Orfeur Cavenagh, had, from his own observation, arrived at conclusions not dissimilar. He has narrated in his admirable work the observations forced upon him by the changed demeanour of the natives of the North-Western Provinces in 1856. But he too, stood, amongst high-placed Europeans, almost alone in his convictions. The fact is that, up to the very outbreak of the mutiny at Mirath, which is present day Meerut, no one, from highest to lowest, believed in the possibility of a general combination. Those, and they could be counted on the fingers of one hand, who endeavoured to hint at an opposite conclusion were ridiculed as alarmists. So ingrained was the belief in the loyalty of the sipahis, and so profound was the ignorance as to the manner in which their minds were affected, that neither the outbreak at Mirath nor the seizure of Delhi entirely removed it.

    The book is divided into twenty eight chapters that begins with the introduction and then talks about the conspirators, to the first mutterings of the storm and the happenings at Barrackpur, Calcutta and the North-West. The revolt at Mirath present day Meerut is significant along with the seizure of Delhi. The effect of the seizure of Delhi across India. The author then goes on to describe the progress of the insurrection in the North-West. There are several other chapters as a spill over of the mutiny that leads to the march to Delhi and the author has listed the reactions and activities that flared up in Kanhpur, Lakhnao, Allahabad, and Calcutta. It also describes in great detail the Britishers taking back famous monuments from the mutineers such as ‘The Residency’ at Lucknow after Havelock’s first attempts to relieve it failed.

    The other places that the book covers are the events in Sagar and Narbada territories, Central India, Rajputana, the Mirath Districts, Rohilkhand and the Punjab province and even Gwalior.

   It then talks of the second attempt to takeover Lakhnao Residency and the Gwalior contingent. It also describes how Sir, Colin Campbell recovers the Duab area of Punjab.

    The book also covers the rebellion in Eastern Bengal, Eastern Bihar, Azamgarh, Allahabad and Eastern Oudh.

    The author has used the old names of the cities and places as they were spelt during those times.

    The book does impact you only if you read it in a continuous stretch. It brings you to a point where you start thinking that sure enough the ‘mutiny of 1857’ the forerunner to the fight for freedom in India that the Indians launched on the British Raj in the twentieth century under Mahatma Gandhi.

    Overall the book is a treat for history lovers. It is meticulously punctuated and that changes the style of writing automatically, and with that the speed of reading, where, you might take some extra hours to finish the book, as compared to some other present day book of similar pages. I would give the book seven out of ten. A must read for history students.

By Kamlesh Tripathi



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