Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
Meeting people from that lived more than a century before one is born, is usually not possible. If one restricts the meeting to one within the physical realm it is not possible at all.
But if one limits oneself to the realm of the spirit, it is possible. Into the objects that the person has touched and loved, the person transfers a bit of her spirit; through the legacy of thoughts and acts, the person leaves behind an indelible footprint on the universe, which though buried by other passersby, still exists somewhere.
Until someone in the future comes strolling along and happens to glance at the footprints, dusts off the sands of time and takes delight in them.
Begum Hazrat Mahal of Lucknow, born in 1820, was a remarkable woman with a remarkable life story.
I met her recently. In spirit.
She was a major force in the Indian Mutiny of 1857.
And in the last stage of the bloody saga, the history of which is well documented on both sides, (and available on the internet) Begum Hazrat commanded the troops from her chambers in Kaiserbagh, Lucknow.
It is said that when Lucknow was falling back into the hands of the British, [March 1858]. the capture was considered complete only after the living chambers of Begum Hazrat Mahal were completely taken over. Such was the power she commanded.
In the course of the final siege, her prayer-book was retrieved and retained by one of the British officers. And through the safekeeping by the officer, this prayer-book survived the ravages of war. Passed on to heirs who continued to value the small weary book, this work of art remained in their private collection in London.
And it was through some chance events with strangers that I was shown this book in passing.
Now with any book, even a novel, there would have been an irreversible exchange between the reader and the thoughts in the book and therefore, through the emotions evoked, a bit of spirit would have transferred. And this being a prayer book, well-thumbed and worn with constant usage, the gilded words upon the pages had received more than their fair share of spirit!!
While beholding such a piece, it took me just a little dive off the cliff of inhibitions to imagine being in the presence of this remarkable woman’s spirit.
I let go and gave in.
And absorbed the entire aura that the book contained …I walked a few steps in the amazing woman’s shoes, and re-lived the moments of her blazing days of the mutiny.
Maybe some atoms of her touch remained on the book – and maybe they are now part of my being!!
Impossible to prove – the sensation of having touched her spirit were all very very real.
So yes – I did meet Begum Hazrat Mahal – if only in spirit.
On a subsequent visit to Lucknow I passed by her chambers. Just passed-by and even though I longed to go in, there was no time.
Someday I will go back and spend the day in her home in Kaiserbagh.
historical images from wikipedia and iwm.org.uk