Merciless or Manly

Self_coverIn the Sunday talk on Subhashitamala (literally, garland of proverbs) Swamiji mentioned the book, Self-Help by Samuel Smiles. The next Sunday I was early to the Math and looked up the library for this book.  It is an old book; a 1859 publication.  I flipped open the book for cursory reading and the words India, uprising and Nicholson caught my eye.  It was the chapter entitled Energy and Courage.  I had just finished reading The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple, which was full of details on the 1857 uprising, alternately called the Sepoy mutiny, and my memory was fresh.

I found the description of Brigadier General John Nicholson in The Last Mughal and  at contrast.  John Nicholson played an important, possibly crucial role in subduing the Sepoy mutiny in Delhi.  Samuel Smiles is all praise for John Nicholson.  He is described as the finest, manliest and noblest of men.  He is among the modern heroes of India with no precedence and quotes Montalambert (a contemporary of Smiles) that they ‘do honour to the human race’.  As an illustration of his sustained energy and persistency, Smiles cites his pursuit of the mutineers: ‘when he was in the saddle for twenty consecutive hours, and travelled more than 70 miles.’TheLastMughal

On the other hand, Darlymple introduces Nicholson as one who had personally decapitated a local robber chieftain and then kept the man’s head on his desk.  He was something of a legend among the British during the uprising because among other ‘manly’ qualities he had a merciless capacity of extreme brutality.  There were few among the British troops ‘who remained immune to the hero-worship of this great imperial psychopath.’

 War times change the definition of qualities.  Do they? A soldier could be described as merciless or manly depending on the side one takes: the winners’ side or the losers’.

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