Sher Singh killed a crane. He wanted to be a terrorist. But there was baptism in his blood. He felt for the crane. If one crane is killed, the other dies of grief. His instigator is Madan. Madan feels if there is baptism in blood that blood should be shed. Sher Singh and Madan were training to shoot Englishmen. This short novel by Khushwant Singh is about the Sikh community who created a military brotherhood to fight against the British. The Sikhs were defeated by the British in six successive battles. Having been defeated the Sikhs however were recruited in the British army for their valour and honour. The Sikhs believed that ‘God is truth’.
The story is ultimately about love, kindness and peace in spite of terrorism, revolt and militancy. This is depicted by the symbol of the angry crane who loses its mate. Even as Sher Singh stuffs up hand grenades and rifles he thinks of the wounded bird. So the story is ultimately about the inefficacy of terrorism and violence and the message of peace.
Sher Singh was the son of a senior magistrate as well as the head of a band of terrorists. He had so long reveled in both identities but now he had to make a choice. The concern was what to choose, security or terrorism.
Sher Singh’s home was a haven of comfort and security. His mother and sister represented feelings of comfort and security. But Sher Singh was policywise at odds with his father Buta Singh. They differ in their opinions regarding the British. Buta Singh is basically a supporter of the British. He believes in mutual help between British and Sikhs. On the other hand Sher Singh thinks there are plenty of Gandhis and Nehrus whom they should follow, not the British. Buta Singh cannot change his loyalties at his age. But he is realizing that the nationalists need to be supported. In fact his loyalty to the British was being taken as servility. He was being accused of double facedness.
The story is thus basically about the tension between the British and Sikhs which the author has brought out through a vivid charting of conversations, revolutionary speeches, meetings and such. It emerges that there are two parties, the anti-British and the Pro-British. The old generation of Sikhs are pro-British. The younger generation are trying to do away with the British. There were Hindus like Madan who were instigators of terrorism. Young aspirants for leadership were dancing to the songs of Madan and bundling up handgrenades.
Along with the general background of politics the story charts very simplistically the private lives of Sher Singh, Beena, Champak and Madan. Sher Singh being a failure at his marital relationship tries to please his wife by aspiring a high position in politics, by becoming a political leader, a hero and a terrorist. Bina his sister is passionately in love with the tall, handsome, charming Madan from whom she gets a stinker. Madan a married man pretending to be very worried about the country carries on a passionate illicit relationship with his friend’s wife Champak and instigate his friend Sher Singh to become a hero and a terrorist.
Terrorist attacks are planned, few bridges blown up, few roads barricaded, few scintillating speeches given and finally a murder committed. Sher Singh is arrested and put to prison. There the pampered boy of the family is tortured, beaten up and taunted by the Anglo Indians. The aspiring hero commits some foolish trifles and ends up in prison.
Sher Singh’s mother a deeply dignified lady in spirit and soul fasts herself to near death praying for her son’s release. John Taylor, the British ICS and his wife both a bit different type of British, sympathetic towards Indians, representatives of British solidarity feel veneration for Sher Singh’s mother and release her son. Thus ultimately they story proves that terrorism, violence, heroism are just a child’s fancies. What really resolves is the beauty of spirit, the spirit of love and prayer, the belief ‘God is Truth’. The short novel of Kushwant Singh under the garb of politics, murder, terrorism, revolution and heroism teaches the inefficacy of all these and the triumph of peace and God.