Friday, July 27, 2007

Project 5 - The Only Man

Objective - Use body language effectively

Agra, Kanpur, Meerut, Barrackpore and..JHANSI.

The event - The Great Indian Uprising of 1857

And this year: 2007. 150 years since that event - the event that shook the foundations of the Raj in India, the event that made legends out of common sepoys like Mangal Pandey and the event that left a wake of unrest among the Indians leading to Independence less than a 100 years later.

One of those legends of the 1857 Mutiny was a woman whose name became synonymous with courage and valour.

Born around the year 1828 in Varanasi as Manikarnika Tambe, Manu - as she was affectionately called - was quite a tomboy as a child. She learnt to use the sword, to shoot and to ride horses. In fact, she was known to be an excellent horse rider and a good judge of horses. An anecdote has it that once her childhood playmate Nana Sahib denied her a ride on his elephant. In return, she declared that one day she would have ten elephants to every one of his. A fine example of the bravado and ambition she was born with.

Her contemporaries have described her as a charming woman of middle size, stout but not too stout. Her expression was intelligent. Her eyes were particularly fine and her nose very delicately shaped. The only thing that spoilt her was her voice which was something between a whine and a croak.

This beautiful maiden was married to the Raja of Jhansi, at a tender age of 14 years. She took the name Lakshmi after marriage and thus came to be known as the Rani of Jhansi Lakshmibai.

After the death of her son a five-year-old boy was adopted from the extended family. To ensure that the British understood the adoption as proper the local British officials were called to witness the event. Despite such precautions, Jhansi was annexed two years later in keeping with Lord Dalhousie’s proclamation that all states without biological heirs were to be annexed in to the British kingdom. The Rani kept pleading the British to recognize her son as the legal heir and spare Jhansi but the pleas fell on deaf ears. A woman who aspired to own a multitude of elephants some day was robbed of her kingdom in a matter of days.

So, on the 21st of March 1858, when British troops under Hugh Rose appeared outside Jhansi, the Rani decided to collaborate with her rebelling sepoys. Tatya Tope’s troops had reached Jhansi to assist the Rani but could not hold out against the British who managed to scale the walls and enter Jhansi.

What followed was execution of the natives, plundering and excessive violence by the British soldiers. Seeing the army stream across the streets, Jhansi’s women threw their children and themselves down wells. There was blood everywhere.

At this time, the Rani led her troops clad in military attire, a red jacket, trousers and a white turban on her head, which made it impossible to tell whether it was a man or a woman fighting. Her son was strapped to her back all the while as she fought on horseback – an image immortalized in her statues all over the country.

When the rebels lost in Jhansi, the Rani managed to escape to Kalpi and from thereon marched to Gwalior. En route they stopped for rest in Phoolbaugh for rest. The Rani sat there drinking sherbet. Her childhood friend who had never left her side so far was with her too. Suddenly, the British troops appeared. The rebels fled save a few. The Rani handed over her son to her friend and bade them to safety. She mounted her horse and started to ride but was faced with a sewerage canal. The horse refused to leap leaving her no option but to fight.

And fight she did, furiously, in this decisive battle of her life, with the horse’s reign between her teeth and swords in both hands. As her final moment arrived, she was first unseated from the horse by a sabre cut in her side and then shot at by a soldier. Sitting leaning against a rock, she fired her pistol at her assailant. Enraged, he slashed at her and delivered the fatal wound. Thus, the Rani of Jhansi Lakshmibai became a martyr at the age of only 30 years with a reward of Rs. 100000 on her head.

More than being a martyr in the First War of Indian Independence, the Rani became an eternal inspiration as the true woman of substance. She showed us the potential to greatness every woman possesses. Such was the heroic life and death of the Boudicca of India – the Rani of Jhansi Lakshmibai, who, not inappropriately, Hugh Rose declared to be the only man among the Indian Mutineers.