I stand in the general area where the young Colonel Robert Clive would have stood that day, watching the Bengal infantry launch a new attack on the mango grove where the British forces lay hidden. The whites had been nifty with their tarpaulins, the gunpowder was crackling dry. Their cannonballs tore through the charging soldiers, killing general Mir Madan, a setback Siraj’s army never recovered from.
The Plassey victory midwifed the British Raj. Overnight, British-occupied area on the subcontinent doubled, making Clive the uncrowned emperor of India’s richest and largest region, encompassing Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, 40 million people, eight times the population of the British Isles. Before me is a monument to that battle. To reach this 12-foot white obelisk, you have to unlock an iron gate. Ashok Rajwar, who owns a nearby tea shop and keeps the key, takes around 15 minutes and nearly a jug of oil to tease it open. The lock was put in after the bronze decorations on the monument were stolen. North of the obelisk stretches the battleground, bordered by the Bhagirathi, a distributary of the Ganga. But what I see is a vast sugarcane field, owned by the Khaitans of Calcutta. The mango grove is gone; the only witness to the battle still around is a colossal banyan tree. Under it, a family tries to rebuild their destroyed earthen home.