Forgetting Our Own History

Experts have taken from the Book ‘Wise and Otherwise – A Salute to Life!” by Sudha Murty.

Our country’s history is full of martyrs and patriots in whose honour we must bow our heads in perpetual tribute. Their life stories are gloriously inspirational. Particularly inspiring are the stories of our women martyrs. Many of them were not even educated, but they had the courage to face their enemies and fight for their country. Obvavva of Chitradurga district, Kittur Chennamma of northern Karnataka, Belavadi Maamma of Belgaum district—the list is long. Obvavva had nothing but the rice-pounding stick from her kitchen to use against the fully armed enemy soldiers. But how many of our young Indians know about them?

Among history’s heroines, few shine as brightly as Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. A young childless widow, she challenged the might of the British Empire. Such was her courage that she won the admiration of even the enemy. There are many poems written about her. The greatest compliment paid to her courage was the saying that she was the only man in her army. How much do our young people know about her?

Recently, I received the Ojaswini Award from Bhopal. It was presented to me in Delhi. It included a beautiful memento—a statue of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi riding a horse, sword in hand. It was exquisitely crafted. I returned to Bangalore by air and carried the statue, though rather large, as hand baggage. I feared that it would break if I checked it in. The security personnel at Delhi airport were very kind to me after I explained my situation. They scanned the statue with metal detectors and allowed me to carry it into the aircraft.

The Jet Airways crew were equally nice. I was in economy class and could not keep the statue on my lap. I didn’t want to put it under the seat either. Of

 

course, it wouldn’t fit into the overhead locker. The air hostess very kindly took away my statue and placed it on an empty seat in business class. Without a doubt, Mardani Rani Laxmibai deserved this deferential treatment.

Quite pleased with the way everyone had helped, I settled down comfortably. I noticed that my fellow passengers were watching these goings-on with interest. After the flight took off, they looked at me with curious eyes. But no one ventured to strike up a conversation.

I have a theory about conversation. You may call it an empirical formula. Quantitatively speaking, ‘conversation’ is inversely proportional to economic standing. If you are travelling by bus, your fellow passengers will get into conversation with you very quickly and without any reservation. If you are travelling by first class on a train, people will be more reserved. If you are travelling by air, then the likelihood of entering into a conversation is quite small. If you are in first class on an international flight, then you may travel twenty-four hours without exchanging a single word with the person sitting next to you.

There were two teenagers sitting next to me on the Delhi-Bangalore flight, a boy and a girl. They were wearing expensive branded jeans. Both had cut their hair short, making them look similar. The only noticeable difference was that the girl had pierced her ears. They were chewing gum and an MP3 player kept them immersed in their own world. It was evident that they were from an affluent family. It was just as evident that they were in no mood for conversation, even among themselves, let alone others. Music and gum do that to people.

After some time, I decided that I must break the ice and talk to these youngsters. As I teach in a college, I am comfortable with young people. I enjoy talking to them. Normally, at that age they are not manipulative or shrewd. They are spontaneous and less inhibited and often have refreshing views. I engaged them first in small talk and found out that they were studying in a college in Bangalore. They were cousins and had just been to Delhi to visit their grandparents.

The girl asked hesitantly, ‘I saw that statue of a black horse and a woman riding on it. It’s a nice toy, but is it not available in Bangalore? You seem to have had such a tough time carrying it with you. Is there any special reason for carrying it with you?’

‘It’s not a toy. It’s an award,’ I told her.

 

Now the boy started to ply me with questions. ‘Are you very fond of horses?’ I was surprised. ‘No, I hardly see horses nowadays.’

‘Maybe you are fond of the races!’

I have never gone to a race in my life. I felt a bit uncomfortable. It was getting dark as it was an evening flight, so the young cousins did not see the frown on my face.

The boy asked, ‘Is this award for a horse race? There is a lady on the back of that beautiful horse.’

I realized that these young people could only associate my trophy with horses and races. They had absolutely no idea about the woman in battle gear sitting astride the horse. Was I being given an opportunity to tell them?

‘Will you go and have a look at the statue and tell me what you think about it?’ I asked them.

‘We did look at the statue and that’s why we are asking these questions,’ they replied.

I was taken aback. Being a teacher, I thought it was my duty to tell them about Rani Laxmibai. (I now realize why my son teases me about my habit of viewing every youngster as a potential student and my eagerness to convert every moment available into an opportunity for teaching.)

‘Have you heard about the First War of Independence?’ I asked the youngsters.

‘Yes. It was in 1942, wasn’t it?’ said the boy vaguely.

The girl added, ‘Of course, we’ve seen the movie 1942–A Love Story. The war between the Indians and the British. Manisha Koirala was just stunning in that.’

‘No, that was the Quit India movement. The First War of Independence was fought a century before that and we lost it.’

They did not reply.

‘In 1857 there was a war against the British. The young queen of Jhansi, Rani Laxmibai, led her forces against them. She could have remained passive, accepted a royal pension from the British and led a secure, comfortable life. But she didn’t do that. She was a fiery patriot. She fought the war bravely and even her opponents were surprised by her leadership on the battlefield. Since then she has been a symbol of courage and an icon of the Indian people’s love of freedom. She died so that we could all live in a free India.’

 

The two youngsters listened without saying a word. And without chewing.