Begam Samru: Fading Portrait in a Gilded Frame
112 pages
English

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112 pages
English

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Description

A fascinating re-creation of the life and times of the dazzling nautch girl who became the celebrated Begam Samru after her marriage to a foreign military adventurer, General Reinhardt. She shared his dangers and tortuous intrigues in the turbulent ‘time of troubles’ in the eighteenth century. When he died she took over his jagir, converted to Christianity and steered a perilous course with uncanny skill through the Moghul empire’s last days and the evergrowing power of the British. The life story of this extraordinary Christian princess has no parallel in the transition from chaos to order in Hindustan two hundred years ago. Her memory lives on in the splendid cathedral she built at Sardhana near Meerut which continues to draw thousands of visitors from far and near.

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Publié par
Date de parution 01 novembre 2012
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9788174368935
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0500€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Extrait

A fascinating re-creation of the life and times of the dazzling nautch girl who became the celebrated Begam Samru after her marriage to a foreign military adventurer, General Reinhardt. She shared his dangers and tortuous intrigues in the turbulent ‘time of troubles’ in the eighteenth century. When he died she took over his jagir , converted to Christianity and steered a perilous course with uncanny skill through the Moghul empire’s last days and the ever-growing power of the British. The life story of this extraordinary Christian princess has no parallel in the transition from chaos to order in Hindustan two hundred years ago. Her memory lives on in the splendid cathedral she built at Sardhana near Meerut which continues to draw thousands of visitors from far and near.

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Lotus Collection

© John Lall 1997

All rights reserved. No part of the publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the publisher.

First published in 1997 This edition published in 2012 The Lotus Collection An imprint of Roli Books Pvt. Ltd M-75, Greater Kailash II Market New Delhi 110 048 Phone: ++91 (011) 4068 2000 Fax: ++91 (011) 2921 7185 E-mail: info@rolibooks.com; Website: www.rolibooks.com

Also at Bengaluru, Chennai & Mumbai

Cover design: Bonita Vaz-Shimray Layout: Sanjeev Mathpal Production: Shaji Sahadevan

ISBN: 978-81-7436-935-2

Portrait of Begam Samru ( on cover ) by Jiwan Ram and durbar scene ( back cover ) courtesy Dr. Michael Ryan, Director and Librarian, The Chester Beatty Library and Gallery of Oriental Art, Dublin, Ireland.

Dedicated to Jamila, and thousands like her, who affirm their faith by making the pilgrimage to Sardhana year after year.
Contents
Preface
Acknowledgements
Prologue
Gardi Ka Waqt
The Man From Silbertal
Years with Sombre: 1765-78
On her Own: 1778-1803
Ornament of her Sex
Years of Uncertainty: 1797-1805
High Noon
Indian Summer
Epilogue
Glossary
Appendices
Bibliography
Index
About the Author



Preface

F ormal history has paid scant attention to the unusual story of a nautch girl who died in 1836 as a Christian princess, honoured by Emperor Shah Alam, and the friend and ally of the last foreign conquerors of India. Her life spanned the inglorious decline of Moghul rule in Hindustan, known as Gardi Ka Waqt (‘time of troubles’) and the extension of British power up to the southern limits of the Sikh kingdom of Punjab.
Farzana, wife and then widow of General Walter Reinhardt, titled Zebun Nissa by the grateful emperor, though known simply as Begam Samru, was an indomitable survivor. Never once did she miss step in the merciless struggle for power, until her woman’s heart warmed to an ill-judged romance with a glamorous French chevalier in her own service. She paid dearly for it, being captured in flight by her own mutinous soldiers, chained to a cannon in the sun until she was rescued by a former admirer and restored to power. Thenceforth she steeled herself against any such waywardness. She died when nearly ninety, mourned by the thousands for whom she had been the sole benefactor.
The jaidad of Sardhana, given to her by the emperor, and confirmed by the British in 1805, reverted to the government upon her death. Her memory, however, lives on in the imposing Italianate cathedral she built where once she had ruled. Her tomb, surmounted by Tadolini’s statuary, and a shrine beside it, became in Indian terms an urs , drawing thousands of pilgrims from all over the country throughout the year on the second Sunday of November, and constant stream throughout the year. Tourists and curious visitors, as they approach the spired basilica rising from the fertile plains of the Doab, greatly wonder at how a once obscure woman came to create such an inspiring memorial to her faith.
A NOTE ON SOURCES
For a period piece like this, a firm grounding in general history is essential. Even such a seemingly minor event as the Rohilla War is not without importance. The British acquired a hold on a swathe of territory from where Begam Samru drew some of her most trusted advisers. I know the area and its people well, having been commissioner of Rohilkhand Division in the 1950s, and, subsequently, commissioner of Agra Division, which witnessed some of the most important events of her lifetime. This personal experience enabled me to get the feel of the period.
The study of two main sources, customarily described as primary and secondary, was essential. Basically, the primary sources are those found in the Indian National Archives. The British compiled abstracts of their Persian correspondence with Indian rulers. Some, including the Begam, ceased to be rulers after the East India Company annexed Delhi and ceded territories. After that the secret and political correspondence between their agents (such as the Resident in Delhi) and the Government of India in Calcutta, became the main source.
Much more interesting than these official exchanges are the accounts of early travellers who visited the annexed territories soon after the British conquest. As so often happened, the most vivid of these were by women, wives of visiting officials. Not being directly involved as officials, they gave free rein to their candid reactions. These are of enormous value in unravelling the enigma of a remarkable woman.
A number of army officers have also left accounts of their travels. Remarkably enough, though these were written for English readers fascinated by the strangeness of the land and peoples so recently conquered, they generally eschewed fiction in favour of reliable fact. Lieutenant Bacon’s insistence that the Begam refused to make her elephant kneel in the Emperor’s presence was one of the few assertions difficult to credit. Colonel James Skinner, with his feet firmly planted on Indian soil, provides a sketch redolent with his own tangy flavour.
The Begam herself held her counsel about her early life, and scarcely ever revealed her personal feelings in her dealings with the British. She was always effusive, of course, in her professions of undying loyalty, which one suspects were largely superficial and time-serving. She went so far as to tell Lord Hastings that she avoided the Emperor because his begams ‘squeezed her mercilessly’. Not very honourable way of putting it, one feels.
This book is meant for the general interested reader. I have tried to reduce references to sources in the narrative to the minimum, so as not to impair readability.

Acknowledgements

P ublishers have a way of enticing their authors with fascinating titles. I was reluctantly needled into taking on so formidable a personality as Begam Samru by my old friend and publisher, Pramod Kapoor. Of the two titles suggested to me (by Roli Books), one was old hat. I wanted to get away from a too familiar environment. The other had me trapped. This was largely because I knew nothing about it, barring a chance visit to Begam Samru’s birthplace in the first year of my service and the lasting impression her red brick house in Meerut made on me in the same year. I had done the tour, of course, made memorable, if I have to admit the truth, not so much by the material remains of past glory as the juicy slices of choice mangoes offered by the white-haired caretaker of the large grove in the cathedral grounds at Sardhana. So it had to be Begam Samru.
In retrospect, I could have made a much earlier start had I taken more seriously a suggestion made some years before by my friend, Lieutenant General J.F.R. Jacob, PVSM, that I take over the subject from him. Bishop Patrick Nair and the Fathers at the Mission were a tower of strength. The Bishop is unlikely to agree with many of my vie

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