Book Review

Book Review

The Queen of Jhansi

Mahasweta Devi

Sagaree Sengupta and Mandira Sengupta have translated this book. Who doesn’t know Rani Lakshmibai, the Queen of Jhansi, a legendary Indian heroine, who led her troops against the British in the uprising of 1857? Her act is now widely described as the first Indian War of Independence. The image of this young warrior queen who died on the battlefield, but not in the minds of her people captured the imagination of the novelist Mahasweta Devi, who undertook an extensive research that encompassed family reminiscence, oral literature, local histories, and more traditional sources. From these she wove a very personal history of a heroine-an unusual woman, who was widowed at an early age and who grew from a free-spirited child into an independent young leader, and a woman.

The writer’s work traces the history of the growing resistance to the British, while building a detailed picture of Lakshmibai as a complex, spirited, and a full-blooded woman unbounded by anything, including her long tresses. At the same time, she prefers a male attire on horseback; with a cool-headed and far-sighted leader of men, full of warm concern for her soldiers. Tomboyish! But she also portrayed the motherly side of the rani, who worries about her infant son's well-being. This book is not just a valuable contribution to the history and historiography by feminist writers, but also to the traditions and culture of the country.

The Queen of Jhansi remains one of the India s most important historical and ideal figures; a legendary heroine who  dared to lead her troops against the British army in the uprising of 1857, rather than sitting at the palace and keeping quite. 

Oral tales and folklores, songs, drama and much more keeps the spirit and glory of this daringqueen alive in the hearts and minds of the people. She died on the battlefield but lit the fire to crave and demand freedom in the 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. It is difficult to put The Queen of Jhansi kind of a work into any categories. It is a blend of everything that describes a woman and builds our pride as a country.

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.

Publisher:  Seagull Books

Available on:  Amazon  Price: Rs 603/- (Hard Cover) and Rs 1,999 (Paperback)