It was the year 1919 when complete independence to India was still a farfetched thought, and the 1857 war was tucked away into the pages of history and was reduced to a mere rebellion that was promptly quelled by the British, who only grew to be more powerful.
An old woman, who has seen the war and the enormous changes that followed, contemplates writing her memoirs of an era that boasted of a brave queen who took up sword to defend her forces, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, and a star warrior of her imperial guard – the 19-year-old Sita.
But it isn’t an easy task. Hundreds of girls train in martial arts and get educated adequately to pass the challenging tests conducted to choose the right members for the imperial guard.
The moment comes when Sita leaves for Jhansi leaving behind her home, family and her young sister – however, she is all too happy to escape her grandmother even if it means pledging her life to celibacy, and to protect the ruler of Jhansi. Here, she begins to discover a whole new world.
Her imperial guard is not just a small force meant to protect her, but symbolic of the queen’s views on empowering women, and equality irrespective of caste and creed – quite a progressive thought for her times.
However, Michelle explores the story of Rani Lakshmi in its entirety through the eyes of her imperial guard who comes from a middle-class Indian society. She also throws light on the life and times of 19th century India beyond the royal palaces and its impact on the women.
In addition to the brilliantly engaging narrative, Michelle writes about the significant part of Indian independence history without any reservation and mincing of words that comes across as very refreshing.
First Published in The Hans India