Tapti Roy achieves a balance that is rare in studies of the Indian mutiny. She narrates the Rani’s life without either the colonial or the nationalist straitjacket. She gives us glimpses into her life that allow us to understand her choices, explain why she was negotiating with the British right until her city was besieged and how, when she fought, she fought like ‘Durga’ herself.
Born Manikarnika to an impoverished Brahmin, Lakshmi Bai grew up with Nana Saheb, the adopted son of the exiled Peshwa Baji Rao II at Bithur near Kanpur. The second wife of the Maratha ruler of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao, Lakshmi Bai was at first grateful to the English for preserving and augmenting the dynasty. Long after the rebels had occupied and lost Delhi, in February 1858, she was still sending missives to the local British representatives, seeking conciliation and demanding help. Her choice to fight was as much due to English intransigence as to the fact that the rebels, including her personal army, were smarting for a fight.