Lucknow Residency - scene of the battle of 1857
By Nitin W Shirsekar
The tendency to romanticize the past, I believe, is the best way to relive history - especially when it is about a historic city I visited some time back ‚Äď ‚ÄėLucknow‚Äô.
The name brought back fond memories of school days. Words entwined with others such as the ‚ÄėMutiny of 1857‚Äô, ‚ÄėSiraj ud Daula‚Äô, etc. Names with a ring of familiarity around them.
I still remember my history teacher rolling her tongue as she spelt out the name of Siraaaj-udd-doulaaa. For me it was not class, but a story session.
In the Lucknow of my dreams I saw a land of strife. Of battle cries and war.
I was therefore eager to see the place in reality when I got the opportunity during a business trip to the city.
On reaching Lucknow from Chandigarh, at midnight, the city appeared deserted, silent and cold. It was the month of February.
The urge to go out and explore was strong but I had to wait the next day before completing my meetings prior to venturing out.
Checking with the local residents I found there were several historical places one could visit in the city.
Coming to my favorite query, ‚ÄėWhere‚Äôs the museum?‚Äô I was told there were two of them of which one was quite nearby..only 15 minutes away.
Great..I thought. Finishing the meeting I took a shared rickshaw and landed up at the place near the banks of the river Gomti.
On checking up with passersby I was surprised to hear that no one was aware of a ‚Äėmuseum‚Äô.
Confused, I had almost gave up hope, when someone said ‚ÄėOh you mean ‚ÄėResidency‚Äô??... Its‚Äô just behind you.‚Äô
Puzzled by what the word ‚ÄėResidency‚Äô had to do with a ‚ÄėMuseum‚Äô I headed out in the general direction, walking fast.
I soon came across a familiar ‚ÄúArchaeological Dept. of India‚ÄĚ signboard proclaiming that the area was a ‚ÄėProtected Monument‚Äô.
A huge imposing stone archway stood before me flanked by two large open wooden gates.
Pockmarked with age, the gates made of stout teak were gnarled and studded with ornate metal protrusions, probably dating back to circa 1700.
The feeling of d√©j√† vu persisted as I walked up a pathway made of cobblestones.
A gentle slope let the way up. On either side of the walkway one could see the remains of massive buildings, impressive structures now dilapidated.
Name boards marked the places. English soldiers barracks, Indian Sepoy Barracks, Dining Hall, Zennana (ladies chambers), Armory, Stables and lo behold at the far end was the museum.
Unfortunately it was their weekly off day and the museum was closed.
Wandering around the huge compound was an enriching experience.
Tall study trees (some several decades old) cast their cool shade over the area bordered by well maintained lawns.
Sturdy stone foundations of now dilapidated building lay to one side.The massive buildings that once stood over them were gone. Bare stone walls and doorways now marked their domain.
The dining hall was huge, and consisted of several chambers.Many were now mute spectators to an open sky.
Imagine the British, in the year 1788, making their way in-country with their baggage trains to this compound.
I rolled the clock back to the 1700‚Äôs.
British officers in scarlet colored coats, cummerbunds and breeches, raising their toasts to ‚ÄėHis Majesty‚Äô in far away England.
The Union Jack flying high on the compound embankments.
Elegant British ladies in Victorian dresses from another time chatting and discussing matters that must have been far removed from the shores of the Gomti.
As I walked around the huge empty chambers that must have once been clad in the finest of silks, carpets and durries, I couldn‚Äôt help wondering what everyday issues were discussed within their confines.
In the late evenings flickering flames from wall torches and oil lamps must have case mellow shadows across these walls and illuminated the faces of the people that wrote the history of the sub continent for the next several hundred years.
It was all here, the secrets, the strategies, one only had to imagine it.
The ‚ÄėResidency‚Äô was also the place where during the mutiny of 1857 the entire European community of men, women and children along with a garrison of 1700 soldiers were brought into its compound.
It remained under siege for several months from the Rebel forces.
The battles to capture it were desperate and vicious.
By the time the compound surrendered there was a force of only 350 soldiers left.
The British Army won its highest tally of 6 or 7 Victoria Crosses (VC) during its siege. The VC is the highest decoration for ‚Äėgallantry in the field‚Äô awarded by the British Army (mostly posthumously).
Can you imagine the blood bath that must have taken place here, for the Crown to award such largess?
But on this February afternoon it was so peaceful and quiet.
Who knew what must have really happened here all those years ago.
We can only imagine.
The cool wind blowing through the tall trees, a bird whistling somewhere high over head and far away you could see the banks of the river ‚ÄėGomti‚Äô its waters calm and still‚Ä¶uncaring.
One of the boards proclaimed that the walls of some of some of the buildings still bore the cannon marks.
But now due to the ravages of time, one could not discern between the markings of man and nature.
Time passed by very quickly and soon it was time to leave.
I turned away with a heavy heart and a pensive mind.
Lucknow had indeed been impressive.
There were many other places we visited in the historic city, but the ‚ÄėResidency‚Äô remains the most pleasant memory of them all.
End Note : ‚ÄėIt is a fact of history that the Residency Building, now in complete ruin was the only building throughout the British Empire where the Union Jack was kept flying continuously ‚Äúby day and by night‚Ä¶in calm and in storm, save for moments of replacement‚ÄĚ for more than 89 years (from 1858 to 1947) when it was finally lowered by the caretaker of the Residency, on August 13th, 1947, as the British readied to leave India.'
'The Republic of India attained independence on August 15th 1947.‚Äô