When Rani of Jhansi wrote on gold paper to lawyer
NEWDELHI: A letter written in Persian on ‘gold paper’ brought the Australian John Lang, who studied law in England and had made India his home, face-to-face with the Rani Jhansi Laxmi Bai whose life will soon be depicted on silver screen by Bollywood star Kangana Ranaut.
The year was 1854. The order for annexation of Jhansi had been passed the previous month.
The Rani was interested in Lang being her representative before East India Company and fighting the case against the annexation.
Lang devoted a full chapter to “The Ranee of Jhansi” in his 1861 book ‘Wanderings in India — Sketches of Life in Hindostan’ that was first published in 1861.
Three years back, the book was republished by Har-Anand publications.
In recent years, there has been renewed interest in John Lang and his life in India, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 gifted his then Australian counterpart Tony Abbott a copy of the petition filed by Lang on behalf of Laxmi Bai.
Lang writes that the total revenue of ‘little province’ of Jhansi was around Rs 6 lakh per annum and after disbursing the government expenses and paying the troops in her late husband’s service, Rani Laxmi Bai used to be left with around Rs 2.5 lakh in profit. Troops, mainly horsemen, were less than 1000 in all. When Jhansi was annexed, the East India Company decided to pay her a yearly pension of Rs 60,000 which would be paid monthly.
The queen wasn’t keen on the annexation, a decision that Lang attributes partly to the financial aspects of it. That made Laxmi Bai summon Lang, who died at the age of 48 in Mussoorie in 1864.
The queen, Manikarnika or Manu was born in 1828 into a family of Maharashtrian Brahmins. She took the name of Laxmi Bai following her marriage to Jhansi king Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar who died without a biological heir; weeks prior to his death he had adopted a six-year-old boy from his extended family.
Lang writes that the Jhansi Raja was “particularly faithful to the British and Governor General William Bentinck had presented his brother a British ensign and letter giving him title of ‘Rajah’ and also assured him that the title and the independence attached to it would be guaranteed by the British to him, the Rajah and his heirs and successors (by adoption).”
“That that treaty (for such it purported to be) of Lord William Bentinck was violated without the slightest shadow of a pretence, there cannot be any doubt,” he adds.
Lang writes that the British may have had a problem with the title of Rajah passing on, more than anything else.
Laxmi Bai sent a large comfortable palanquin carriage to fetch Lang from Agra to Jhansi, a journey of two days.
The palanquin was fitted with every convenience including a punkah (fan) which was pulled form outside by a servant who sat upon a foot board. “In the carriage, besides myself and the minister and vakeel (who were sent to bring Lang) there was a khansamah or butler who with apparatus between his knees, kept cooling water, wine and beer, in order that, whenever I felt thirsty, I might be supplied at a moment’s notice. The enormous carriage was drawn by a pair of horses of immense strength and swiftness.” The horses were imported from France, he writes.
In the palace he met the young son of the Rajah and caught a glimpse of the queen although she spoke to him from behind a purdah.
Lang told Laxmi Bai that the Governor General had no power to restore the title and recognise the claim of the adopted son without a reference to England and prudent course would be to petition the British throne and meanwhile draw the pension under protest. Rani refused to do this and said, “Mera Jhansi nahin dengee” (I will not give up my Jhansi).
Lang said her opposition might end up jeopardising her liberty. Finally at Lang’s persuasion, she relented but said she would not draw any pension from the British. Lang lost her case and the rest is history.
The Rani was interested in Australian lawyer John Lang being her representative before East India Company and fighting the case against the annexation