The Queen of Jhansi
The Queen of Jhansi remains one of India s most important historical figures, a legendary heroine who led her troops against the British in the uprising of 1857, now widely described as the first Indian War of Independence. Oral tales and songs abound, glorifying the image of spirited young woman warrior, who died on the battlefield but lives on in the minds of an entire people. The image of the warrior queen captured the imagination of Mahasweta Devi, who, almost 50 years ago, was herself a young woman writer just beginning a career. Fascinated by the personality of Lakshmibai of Jhansi, and frustrated at finding almost no written material on her, she took off on a journey that revisited the mental and geographical landscapes of those stirring times. Her research encompassed family reminiscence, oral literature, people s histories, as well as the more traditional sources of British and Indian historians. From these she wove together a very personal history of a heroine the more conventional historians had chosen to ignore an unusual woman, widowed at an early age, who grew from a free-spirited child into an independent young leader. The book traces the history of the growing resistance to the British which came to a head with the 1857 uprisings, wile building a detailed picture of Lakshmibai as a complex, spirited, full-blooded woman who likes to wear her long tresses unbound at the same time as she prefers a male attire on horseback, who is a cool-headed and far-sighted leader of men full of warm concern for her soldiers as well as a mother who worries about her infant son s well-being. Mahasweta Devi s book, The Queen of Jhansi is a work that defies categories, simultaneously a history, a biography, and a personal statement that says as much about the author as it does about her subject a valuable contribution to the reclamation of history, and historiography, by feminist writers. Mahasweta Devi is one of India s foremost writers. Her powerful fiction has won her recognition in the form of the Sahitya Akademi (1979), Jnanpith (1996) and Ramon Magsaysay (1996) awards, the title of Officier del Ordre Des Arts Et Des Lettres (2003) and the Nonino Prize (2005) amongst several other literary honours. She was also awarded the Padmasree in 1986, for her activist work among dispossessed tribal communities. Sagaree Sengupta teaches South Asian languages and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has translated several works from Hindi and Urdu into English. She has collaborated on this translation with her mother, Mandira Sengupta, an artist who maintains an active interest in her native Bengali literature despite her long residence abroad.
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