Rated: E · Novel · Action/Adventure · #1269240
A novel based on the Indian uprising of 1857, also known as the mutiny.
|The sound of silence was intercepted by the gallop of the horse as it pounded its way on the winding path of the hillock. In the pitch dark night, the only visible element was a flame from some distant torch. As the horse drew closer, features of a fortress emerged, its rampart gleaming in the amber light of the blazing torch.|
“Hold!” commanded the custodian of the fortification.
The rider pulled the reins gently to bring the horse to a steady halt as the sentry called aloud, “Who’s there?”
“Kamal,” answered a feminine voice, in total contrast to the manly attire that she was clad in.
With this, the rider took out a Kamal flower from her breeches, brought it to her nose, sniffed it and then ripped apart the flower with her teeth and abandoned the fragments. As if this were some code, the huge iron gate opened itself for the rider and the horse trotted inside…
The four persons seated on the carpet laid out neatly in the corner of the dimly lit hall were engrossed in some serious discussion when an usher came in to announce the new arrival, “Rani of Jhansi, Luxmibaiji.”
On hearing this, the plump one amongst the four tried to raise himself from the bolster against which he had been leaning. The others were quick on their toes as a rather stout, yet not too stout, young lady draped in plain white muslin, which emphasized her remarkably fine figure, entered the hall. Looking at her gait, one could very well imagine that she was quite comfortable with the dress drawn about her in the manly fashion.
“Swagatam Bahen, Su-swagatam to the fort of Kalpi,” greeted the plump one, who had positioned himself by now.
“Nana Saheb, I am sorry for being late,” apologized the new entrant to her greeter in particular and the others in general.
“No, no, you need not be,” Nana Saheb comforted her while adding, “In fact, we had just started.”
He then conducted the Rani to her seat. Once she had taken her place, the others too took their respective seats.
“You are already familiar with Azim-ullah Khan and Tantya Tope,” said Nana Saheb to the newcomer. Then turning towards a tall, lean, muscular man seated beside the Rani, he added, “The only new face we have amongst us today is that of Maulvi Ahmad-ullah Shah.”
“Aadab,” Rani addressed the bearded gentleman with a gesture of courtesy and respect. She continued, “I have heard a lot about you. We all know what a fine orator you are, but I am also aware of your extraordinary capabilities as a planner and schemer. We are definitely privileged to have you amongst us.”
The Maulvi bent beneath the praise so prolifically showered onto him by the lady and one could sense his coyness highlighted by the iridescent light of the oil-burner kept at the corner of the room, even as he tried to camouflage it by softly stroking his beard.
With the customaries over, Nana Saheb went on to set the agenda. Addressing the Rani he said, “Perhaps you are aware that the British have taken Awadh too into their fold. The state has been charged with delinquency. A lame excuse, I would say. Don’t we all know that it is the British who first instigated the Nawab of Awadh into merriment and then caught him on the wrong foot?”
For Luxmibai, this may have been news, but was not unexpected. She was more peeved than surprised. The anguish of the annexation of her own state, Jhansi, was revived as she said, “First it was Satara, then Jaitpur, Sambhalpur, Nagpur, Jhansi and now Awadh…”
“Cherries are these. Cherries for Dalhousie,” interrupted the Maulvi and added, “He has been engulfing the Indian states one after the other as if they were cherries.” His muscles flexed and his high aquiline nose reddened as he continued, “If we can’t stop him, let’s lay the plate for him. Why one by one? Let him have the whole of Hindustan in one shot!”
Maulvi’s eloquence left the atmosphere hot and broiling. An uneasy silence hovered over the room. The sullenness was broken by the ingratiating Azim-ullah Khan. In his anglicized accent he said, “Your concerns are appropriate. We all are equally anxious. This is precisely the reason for our coming together; and this is why we have called you here. We leave it to you, sir, our philosopher and guide. You show us the way and we shall follow.”
These words soothed Maulvi Ahmad-ullah Shah a little. All eyes were again set on the Maulvi, whereas his own were fixed on the ceiling. Coming out of the tunnel of his thoughts he looked at the people around him and asked, “Do you know what’s the strength behind these Firungis?” He stopped for a breath, but without even waiting for an answer continued, “We...,we Hindustanis have kept them going, otherwise a handful of kafirs would not have dared to rule India.”
“Excuse me,” intervened Tantya Tope, who had been patiently listening all this while. “You are of course correct in saying that the Hindustani sepoys are the support base for these Angrez. In a fauz of three lakhs, only thirty thousand are goras. If the Indian sepoys decide to turn turtle, this handful of Angrez would be reduced to shreds. But don’t forget, the Hindustani sepoys are true to their salt. They haven’t learnt slyness even in the company of the cunning. To expect treachery from them is an insult on them. Thus, to win them over, even if it is not impossible, is definitely difficult.”
“There is no such word as difficult in the dictionary of the brave. Furthermore, I don’t agree that the Hindustani sepoy is with the Firungis because of his fidelity. Show him that the Firungs are vulnerable and he shall reiterate,” exclaimed the Maulvi jouncing his head so that his coarse, black, long hair switched shoulders, making it obvious that he had not liked being interrupted.
To cool the atmosphere, Nana Saheb interposed. His sensual lips, rosy with the juice of the betel-leaf that he had been chewing, glistened as he spat into the vessel kept especially for the purpose and said, “Who else, but you, can assure the sepoys…”
Ahmad-ullah Shah got up and quietly went to the door. He put his ear on the door panel to ensure that no one was spying. He then said, “Even the walls have ears, you know. You have to be alert and cautious.” Settling himself back to his seat he continued, “I am all for the cause, but this will not be enough. One of us has to go to Inglistan and make account of things there. We must know the strength and weakness of the enemy before we set our foot forward. In my opinion we should send Azim-ullah Khan to Inglistan. He is the only one amongst us who knows the language and the Inglis ways. We should also realize that there is hardly any time for us to sit idle.”
“Where does the question of sitting idle arise?” said Nana Saheb flexing his muscles. “If they are bent on taking our states by hook or by crook, we have not put bangles on our arms. We shall fight to the death. And mind you, we are not the only ones to think this way. My spy has informed that the whole of Rajputana would rise if need be. As for Azim-ullah Khan’s visit to Inglistan, you may leave that to me.”
As Nana Saheb glanced at Azim-ullah, he replied with modesty, “I am obliged for your kind considerations. Thanks.”
This was indeed an honour for a once starving boy, who had found a place for himself in the Cawnpore Free School, had first become a Khansama, then a teacher and finally had risen to become secretary to Nana Saheb. Azim-ullah could feel his whole life reel past his open eyes. While accepting the challenge he said, “I have just one doubt. Will the British let me go to England without creating any hindrance?”
Spitting out the betel-leaf juice into the nearby vessel, Nana Saheb said, “You don’t have to worry about that. You will go there as my special envoy. You just prepare yourself for the journey, leaving the rest to me.” He then turned towards Tantya Tope and asked him, “I believe your difficulty has now been taken care of?”
“Good enough,” said Tantya Tope, “As we all realize, the Hindustani sepoy is the backbone of the company; if we break this bone, no one can stop us from winning.”
“Now where lies the reason for uncertainties? It is time to cut the kafirs through their throats,” remarked the Maulvi excitedly.
Tantya Tope said, “Even my sword is eager to serve upon them. Yet, I am not merely a sepoy, I am the Commander. I have to think of all the pros and cons before venturing out in the field.”
Rani Luxmibai had been listening in total attention thus far. Now she concluded in her coarse voice, “You are absolutely correct in saying that. Yet, I would say that neither the Angrez nor we provide these sepoys their salt. The almighty is the real provider and we are all indebted to him and him alone. We have to be true to his salt and to none else; and I firmly believe that He doesn’t want to keep us subservient anymore.”
Taking this cue the Maulvi almost sprang from his seat and said excitedly, “Consider their backbone broken.” Then thumping his palm against the forehead, he rapped himself, “Why on earth didn’t it occur to me earlier?”
With all eyes turned on him, he continued, “The war shall be waged in the name of the Almighty. It will be called Jihad and every sepoy will be Jihadi. The Hindustani sepoy will have to be told that his religion is under threat.”
Maulvi Ahmad-ullah Shah smiled to himself as the others looked at him puzzled.