October 1857, Compton Bassett, United Kingdom.
“The fair will start soon, we may miss the inauguration if you delay any more Clement,” Victoria shouted. “How long do you think it will take us to reach the centre of this tiny village?” Clement replied.
“The lock is tight, it takes an effort to turn the key,” she instructed Clement as he stepped outside.
As they are mounting on the iron railing to get inside the horse carriage, they heard sounds of whinnying from a distance.
Clement got down for checking it. Two soldiers from the Royal cavalry regiment are approaching towards his home.
“What in the world have brought you all the way from London, gentlemen?” asked Clement.
“Good Morning Captain, you got a confidential and an urgent message from India. Go through it right away,” said the soldier as he handed a sealed envelope to Clement.
August 15th 1857, Poona, India.
Dear Captain Clement W. Heneage,
There is an emergency here in India. These foolish people have started to fight with us over a negligible issue of grease used over cartridges. While we thought it could be resolved, Mangal Pandey in Bengal started unrest. Though he is executed, the revolt he started is spreading through the country like a wildfire. Many Barrack buildings are being burnt in haste. Our men are being killed. Though many of them used to work under us loyally, they are fighting against us with unity now. It will put us in big trouble if their protests are not tackled and suppressed in these initial stages.
We need more men and weapons. In the name of the queen, I hereby command you to gather all your men from 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars and start travelling right away for suppressing these revolts at the earliest.
We shall meet when you reach Bombay port.
Long Live the Queen.
Yours Faithfully, Major General Hugh Rose.
“Victoria, I have to pack my bags again. I am ordered to travel on an important mission in India,” Clement said to Victoria. “Gentlemen, please wait for some time, I will accompany you back to London,” he said to soldiers as he rushed towards home.
“I’m sorry Victoria, but it is a call of duty and service to the nation. Please take care of kids during Christmas. Don’t let them feel sad that their dad is away for Christmas this year too.”
“I understand dear, may the victory be yours” replied Victoria.
Tears rolled out of her eyes as the three horses started to run.
November 1857, Junagadh, Por Bandar state, British India.
“Please fetch me some water, Choti,” Das asked his daughter as he started to remove his turban.
“What did the priest say about our daughter’s Marriage?” enquired Devi.
“Ah, Krishna!” he exclaimed as he sat in his wooden chair and continued, “Priest said that there is some fault in Choti’s stars. Marriage might delay for some more years. “
“Oh my god! Is it? Some more years? She is already 13 years old. Who will marry her if she crosses 14?” Devi said as she started crying.
“Please stop crying Devi. 14 is still a tender age. But Priest said, she will be engaged if she spends a year as pupil of a Guru in an ashram.”
“Is it? Then we can send her to Ramanad Maharaj’s Ashram in next street,” Devi said as she is wiping her tears.
Choti brought water. Das continued after drinking, “Ramanand Maharaj accompanied me to temple. He himself suggested that, service to much pious guru will be helpful for our daughter’s bright future.”
“Who else do we have in our village?” asked Devi.
“Not in our village. Maharaj ji suggested that Choti should assist Gopal swami Maharaj and his wife in Gwalior. If she spends a year in such sacred environment rendering her services to them both, planetary movements will be in our Choti’s favour and she will get a good husband.”
“Where is Gwalior? Is it in our Porbandar state?” enquired Devi.
“No no, it is towards Delhi, close to the central province. It will take a month to reach there if we hire a bullock cart. Priest said temple’s gadiwala travelled there last year and he can drop us, if we offer him five bags of rice.”
Devi hugged Choti tightly as tears started to flow like a river. She said, “How can I send my little girl to a place which is very far from home? How can we stay without her? No, I cannot agree, let her marriage be delayed.”
“Mother, is it really necessary that I get married? Is it really necessary to go away from home for such a long time?” asked Choti.
“No my dear child, do not talk like that. Our dharma says that it is duty of a woman to get married to a man. We are not above dharma. But even I am not able to digest the fact that I have to send you away for such a long time to get married,” She consoled Choti and asked Das, “Did you enquire if there are any rituals that we can perform here itself to correct those ill effects?”
“I wish something like that exists. But priest said as per the birthday and time of birth, this is the only solution which can help her get married. Sadly there is no other way,” explained Das.
“No, I will not go from home,” said Choti and started crying.
“Yes, my daughter won’t stay away from me,” said Devi.
Das went away leaving them both to think over the travel.
Two days later, on a full moon night when Devi and Das are sitting beside the big well in their backyard, Das said “Do you think I can stay away from our daughter for one year? It is tough for me too to send her away from home. But it is our duty to get her married. I fear that no matches came till now. If we delay any more, she might have to stay with us forever. What do you think about it Devi? Is it good to send her for a year to be happy rest of her life, or let her stay sadly in our home forever?”
“Why do you talk so harshly? Choti won’t stay in our home forever. A suitable match will come. I too fear that it will be delayed. I’m thinking about sending Choti to Gwalior past two days. It is very tough for me to send our daughter away, but we cannot delay marriage either. Ask the gadiwala to come day after tomorrow. It is an auspicious day for travelling”
“Yes, I will inform him. Pack all the things that are necessary for her. I will go along with her to Gwalior and check if things are alright. I will be back within two months. Don’t worry. I wish they start railways here in Por Bandar too. It will reduce our travel time by 15-20 days”
Devi went inside home to start packing things, as Das continued to stare the starry sky.
** Choti ran around the home crying loud, refusing to get inside the bullock cart. Even after her mom offered favourite sweets and dolls, she still hesitated to go away from home. After hours of consoling her, she stopped crying and agreed to travel as her father promised her to narrate many tales from Ramayan and Mahabarath, along the way.
Devi couldn’t hold the tears as the cart moved ahead.
November 1857, Jhansi, British India.
“How can those British order me to leave my Kingdom and people? What gives them that authority? This is my land, these are my people. I will protect them. That’s my duty. How can I let those British dogs to rule over our rich heritage and culture, Raghunath ji?
I’m afraid that there will be lot of bloodshed, unnecessary waste of money and more than anything innocent lives will be lost, but it is appearing that we have to fight for getting back our rights and land. Isn’t it?” said Lakshmi Bai
“Yes queen, those rats do not have any right to live over us. We have to resist them. It has been hundred years since they have entered our lands and they are trying to make us live like outsiders. There will be bloodshed, but it is our dharma to protect our land and its people,” said Raghunath.
The horse in the stable whined.
“See even Badal also agrees with us,” she said smiling and continued “ I thought, they would let us rule without interfering, but if they involve in everything and we have to act like puppets, they have to be taught how things are done here.
Raghunath ji, we got lucky so far. Their delay in sending troops gave us time to acquire weapons, cannonry. It is good that many of our men got trained on them as well. We have to get women also involved now. No stone should be left unturned,” said Lakshmi Bai.
She continued, “Please ask Moti Bai, Kashi bai to meet me at fencing area. Ask Deewan Jawahar ji to start preparing things for training women. Meanwhile, we shall start making strategies for protecting fort and restricting enemy from distance. Har har Mahadev!”
“I will get fort plan at once. Jai Shankar ji!” said Raghunath and left.
“Namaskar Maharaj ji. I’m Das. Ramanand Maharaj from Porbandar sent me here. Choti, offer pranam to Maharaj’s feet.” Das said.
Choti touched Gopal Maharaj’s feet to seek his blessings.
“Long live dear child,” he blessed her and continued “Porbandar? I’m glad that you made here safely in this time of war, travelling from such a far distance. What made you come here? How can I help you?”
“Maharaj ji, our priest there said that if Choti serves in ashram for a year, she will get a match for her wedding. Ramanand ji suggested your ashram,” said Das.
“It all depends on our Karma. I’m no one to change it. But anyone is welcome to stay here. Shyam, please show her way to Radha’s quarters. She will stay there as long as she wishes.
Das, you need not worry about her safety. No one will attack this poor man. You too can stay here for some time before leaving. All of you might have been exhausted from long journey,” replied Gopal ji.
“I’m glad that you are letting Choti stay here,” Das said as he touched feet of Gopal Maharaj.
Das stayed in ashram for four days. The surroundings appeared very peaceful to him. Also there is no chance that war comes to this isolated location, so there is no threat if Choti stay here. After he stayed four days, he felt assured and decided to leave the place.
“Choti, stay safe and don’t be naughty. Listen to Maharaj and his mistress. I will come next year to take you home for Diwali,” said Das.
He left as Choti started crying. “Don’t cry little child. We will learn so many things when we are away from home. We will take good care of you. Please don’t cry,” Radha consoled her.
March 1858, ten miles south west of Jhansi, Britih India.
“Cheers,” the soldiers said raising their glasses.
“Captain Heneage, I’m glad that your ship arrived on time. Lord Canning will be very happy about the progress we made so far. It is indeed a great achievement to capture Baroda, Saugor and Garhakota. We suppressed any army which might turn against us. I have heard that British forces are making a progress up north also,” said Major Rose.
“What about Jhansi, Major Rose? I heard that they are building an army,” enquired Heneage.
“We need not worry about Jhansi much. You know these Indians. They fight among themselves. She sought permission from us, to raise a private army for her protection from her own countrymen. Sometime ago, some people from Bengal attacked her and took a ransom for leaving the throne,” said Rose and continued, “Anyway let’s check the status. Send couple of soldiers to inform them that we are approaching and ask them to prepare for handing over the town to us.”
“Yes Major, I will send soldiers tomorrow morning. Good Night,” said Heneage as he left to his tent.
“Captain..Captain, we were cheated,” shouted a soldier as he is hurrying back to the camp.
“What happened?” asked Heneage.
“As we went closer to the fort, they started firing on us. Two of our cavalry men are wounded. We didn’t make any further attempt to get inside the fort. We saw many soldiers guarding the fort holding guns. We could also spot some damaged guns and cannon balls outside the fort”
Heneage started running towards tent of Major Rose.
“Major Rose, treachery. They fired at our men as they approached fort of Jhansi. Our men spotted even weaponry outside the fort,” said Heneage.
“What? How can they do this to us? They already agreed to be under the company’s rule. Why did they do this now?” said Major Rose.
“I don’t have a clue, Major.”
“They might have attacked thinking it is some rebel army. But they could have recognised our soldiers dress. Anyway, I will issue a letter. Send it with a soldier. Ask him to carry a white flag,” said Major Rose as he hurried towards his writing table.
“Your highness, our guards reported that two men are approaching towards fort once again. They are carrying white flags” Raghunath said.
“As expected, we are getting a message from them, let them come inside the fort,” replied Lakshmi Bai.
Raghunath read the letter in the court aloud.
Lakshmi Bai, Widow of Jhansi‘s King.
We are surprised with your treachery. You should not have attacked our men. It was already agreed that Jhansi will be under the guardianship of East India Company. As you might be aware of ongoing mutiny around the nation, sending troops to Jhansi is delayed. We have sent soldiers to inform that our troops will be arriving soon. If it is by mistake, we can ignore it. Else it will be considered very seriously. If you don’t surrender Jhansi, it will be destroyed.
Long live the queen, Major General Hugh Rose.
Major Hugh Rose,
In the name of god, we take pride in saying that we are not in favour of outsiders ruling over us. We are ready for a war. If we win, we shall enjoy the sweet victory. If we lose, we will take pride in dying on the battle field.
Lakshmi Bai, Queen of Jhansi.
Major Rose crushed the letter and turned away from soldiers. Captain Heneage could see Major’s face becoming red. “What happened, Major?”
Major Rose clenched his fist and said, “She betrayed us, they are ready to fight with us. I thought it is ended but they want to start it again. Let them suffer. Captain, ask your men to get ready. We have to make our hands dirty once again. This time, it is with blood of soldiers in Jhansi and anyone who decides to stand against us.”
June 1858, Gopal Maharaj ashram,Gwalior, British India.
A man entered ashram in his bullock cart. He carried a woman on his shoulders into ashram.
“Who are you? What happened? Why is she bleeding?” Gopal Maharaj asked the man.
“Pranaam Maharaj. I’m Raghunath. She is Lakshmi Bai, queen of Jhansi. She was wounded heavily while fighting with British troops at Gwalior. Lot of blood is lost due to the cuts and wounds. I fear she may not live longer, I’m afraid to carry her back to fort in Gwalior as she doesn’t want British to touch her body. So I’m carrying her into the forest area. Luckily I saw this ashram from a distance and brought her here”
“Please come inside,” he said and shouted, “Radha, come quickly. Dress up the wounds of this mighty lady, hurry.”
Radha dressed her wounds assisted by Choti. They draped Lakshmi Bai’s wounds with bandages and have put on fresh saree on her.
Gopal Maharaj said “Choti, read Ramayan sitting beside her. It will give her some peace. Be calm, don’t talk too much with her. She needs rest. Call me if you need anything. Raghunath ji, please follow me, we shall dress up your wounds.”
After a while Lakshmi Bai asked, “little girl, your voice is very sweet. What is your name?” “I’m Putli Bai, people close to me call as Choti,” replied the girl who is scared to see Lakshmi bai wounded heavily. “Do you live here in Ashram?” asked Lakshmi Bai. “Guruji asked me not to speak much, I’m sorry,” replied Choti. “It is alright. I’m not able to bear the pain, your voice is sweet. Please talk to me,” requested Lakshmi bai. “Why are you wounded severely?” “War, I fought with British troops in a war. I’m among many soldiers who were wounded heavily with cuts from swords and their guns.” “Why did you fight with them? My mother always ask me to follow the path of peace, she won’t let me even kill an ant.” “I don’t have a mother to advice me. What else did your mother say?” asked Lakshmi Bai smiling.
“She said that, ‘we should not harm anyone. Not even an ant.’ Sometimes Guruji says that ‘all our actions hit us back in the form of Karma,’ I hope you have not harmed anyone” said Choti. “Harming, ha ha. I killed several British soldiers and other goons who betrayed our motherland.” “Hey ram!” Choti muttered and continued, “Who gives us the right to kill anyone? You should have waited patiently.”
“It is my dharma as queen of Jhansi, to protect that land and its people. But yes little kid, probably I should have waited. My young warrior blood didn’t let me wait patiently. Many people lost their lives and loved ones. If I have waited all this bloodshed wouldn’t have happened. If I have a life again, I shall make sure that I will be very patient and take care that not a single drop of blood is spilled.” said Lakshmi Bai and she asked, “I’m thirsty, can you please fetch me some water?”
“Yes. Sure,” said Choti and fetched water quickly. “I see that you may not be able to drink water, let me pour it into your mouth,” she said keeping head of Lakshmi Bai in her lap.
“Ah, little girl, you are taking care of me like a mother,” said Lakshmi Bai.
Choti smiled and said, “Please don’t worry. Chant the holy name of Rama with me. Hey Ram, hey Ram, hey Ram,”
“Hey Ram, Hey Raaaaam,” said Lakshmi Bai, before she took breath for one last time.
“Guruji, Guruji, hurry up. She stopped breathing,” shouted Choti as she ran towards Gopal Maharaj.
July 1858, Gwalior. His Excellency Lord Canning,
Peace has been restored in the Central province. I appreciate services of Captain Clement Heneage and his men in fighting wars with many states. After death of Rani Lakshmi Bai, queen of Jhansi, many soldiers lost their hope to stand against the mighty British army. They struggled to fight with cavalry. Many lost their lives.
However, I must admit that she is a woman of great valour. She is the cleverest and dangerous among all the leaders, I fought till now. I found her body in an ashram close to Gwalior. I made sure that she is dead, by witnessing her cremation and till her body is completely turned into ashes.
As per your plan, we have to soon make sure that these Indian princely states lose unity by fighting among themselves. Also we must suppress any force that takes inspiration from life of Rani Lakshmi Bai.
Long Live the Queen.
Yours faithfully, Major General Hugh Rose.
October1869, Porbandar, British India.
“Mother, Karsan is snatching my drawing” said Ralia as she is chasing three year old Karsan, who is running around bed of his mother.
“Ralia, please go outside and play. You should not be here. You will get a brother or sister soon. If you come here once again, I will tell your father. You see he is waiting here outside this room,” said Devi as continued to rub feet of Choti with oil.
“Mother, please don’t scare them. Karsan beta, give it back to your sister and be a good boy. Ralia, just two more days, I will be back to tell you many stories and play with you again.” said Choti.
“Kamala, please ask Lakshmi das to take care of his brother and sister. Ask him not to leave home till I start walking,” Choti instructed.
“I will let him know,” said Kamala, “Ralia, Karsan follow me.”
Karsan threw the drawing on leg of Devi and ran outside. Ralia continued chasing him. Devi took the drawing and said, “Choti, look at this drawing. It is very beautiful. I wonder where they ever saw such a mighty lady warrior on horse. I have never heard about any such lady,” as she passed drawing to Choti.
“Oh this lady, she is Rani Jhansi Lakshmi Bai. I was there on the day she left her body in Gwalior. I used to tell stories about her to Ralia. I can never forget that day. She passed away while talking to me. She always wanted our motherland to be free from rule of outsiders. She fought bravely and in last moments she felt that violence cannot be the means to wipe them out. I hope she gets a chance again to fight with peace and……ahhhh pain, ahhhhh, mother pain” shouted Choti.
“Pains are started. Kamala, come back quickly. Close the doors. Push it Choti, Push it. Kamala, Sarada hold her hands.” shouted Devi.
“Choti push it, I’m here don’t worry, push it …..”
The man waiting outside stopped walking at once on hearing the child cry. Doors are opened and Kamala came outside the room.
“Congratulations Saab, it’s a boy. He is healthy.” said Kamala to Choti’s husband waiting outside.
“Thank god, I’m very glad to hear the news. Please accept this,” he said as he removed gold chain on his neck and offered Kamala.
A month later,
Choti and her husband took new born kid to temple and approached the priest who is reading Bhagavad gita.
“Pandit ji, Pranaam”, said the couple.
“Welcome, welcome. Oh, the younger one is also here,” said the priest with a smile.
“Pandit ji, please fix an auspicious time for naming ceremony and suggest a name for our newborn?” requested boy’s father.
“When was he born?” asked the priest.
“Last month, October 2nd. Two days after the full moon, on the evening of Saturday.”
“Please let me calculate,” said priest and started counting on his fingers.
“Look at his smile, it is very beautiful. Based on his birth timings it has to start with M and taking his smile into account, hmm let us name him Mohan, Mohandas,” said Priest.
“Beautiful name Pandit ji,” said Choti as she kissed forehead of child.
“We can have ceremony on fifth day after this month’s full moon. It is just three days away. Make the arrangements quickly,” he said.
“Sure Pandit ji,” said the couple.
Then they offered a plate filled with rice, new clothes and hundred rupees on them to the priest and touched his feet.
“Son of Putli Bai and Karamchand Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, he will become a great man and remembered forever. Just keep watching,” said the priest smiling.