The Teenage Diary of Rani Laxmibai

By Tanushree Podder

Click here to buy The Teenage Diary Of Rani Laxmibai ‘Here comes the brightest star of Bithoor,’ Peshwa Saheb called out. It was he who had indulged and spoilt me. Apart from encouraging me to train in martial arts, riding and fencing, he made sure I enjoyed every privilege that was given to Nana and Tantia. His praise for my skills often landed me in the bad books of the two boys. ‘Come and sit next to me,’ Peshwa Saheb beckoned.
That was all the encouragement I needed. Forgetting Maushi’s instructions, I flounced into the room and beamed at him. Keeping my face averted so I didn’t catch the warning look on Maushi’s face, I greeted the Peshwa.
‘So, this is Manikarnika?’ asked an elderly man with a kind look in his eyes.
‘Yes, Tatya Dikshit, this is our Manu,’ responded Peshwa Saheb proudly, as I settled next to him and tried to behave in a lady-like manner.
‘I have heard a lot about your talents, beti,’ said Tatya Dikshit. ‘They tell me that you can beat Nana and Tantia in fencing, horse-riding, archery and martial arts.’
‘Not just that, Manu can recite our scriptures and epics better than everyone,’ replied the Peshwa, who never tired of praising me. ‘She’s also learnt account-keeping and can speak a smattering of English and Persian.’
Peshwa Saheb is a very affectionate man and I am fortunate to have his blessings. Not many girls my age are able to do the things they would like to do. In fact, most of them are married off by the time they are eight or nine years old.
Tatya Dikshit looked at me intently. His piercing eyes under a pair of bushy eyebrows were rather disconcerting, but I stared back without flinching.
One of the gentlemen sitting by his side laughed and remarked, ‘It is not often that one meets a young girl who is skilled in fencing and horse-riding. We seem to have a female warrior among us.’
I bristled. The sarcasm in his words provoked me. ‘Girls can do everything if they are given a chance. They can ride, fence and be good at them, too. Why should those skills be reserved for boys?’
‘Because girls are delicate. God made them so,’ laughed the gentleman. The scornful look in his eyes rankled me no end. ‘They are better at cooking and keeping the house. That’s an area men wouldn’t want to venture into.’
‘I disagree with that viewpoint. There have been many brave women in our country. I see nothing wrong in girls being trained in warfare, Madhav Rao.’ It was Peshwa Saheb who responded to the gentleman. ‘These are not easy times. In fact, we should start training girls to fend for themselves and fight for the country. The firangis won’t find it easy to rule if our women joined the fight.’
The reply did not seem to go down well with the gentleman called Madhav Rao. ‘There are enough brave soldiers to fight the firangis,’ he retorted, busying himself with the hookah. It was obvious that he didn’t like the idea of women warriors. ‘God help this country if we have to depend on women to fight for the motherland.’
‘Manikarnika, what are your views about women warriors?’ Tatya Dikshit wanted to know.
‘I agree with what our respected Peshwa Saheb has said. Women can do everything and they can do it better than men,’ I replied boldly.
‘Do you also agree that they can fight the firangis?’
‘Yes, women can fight the firangis. We can do everything to defend the motherland.’ The frown on my father’s face made me realize that I had raised my voice.
‘That’s a very interesting viewpoint,’ nodded Tatya Dikshit. ‘Supposing you had to fight the firangis one day, how would you go about it?’
Although he seemed quite serious, it was difficult to determine if he was trying to make fun of me. I didn’t care. It was a subject close to my heart and the men in the hall had managed to annoy me with their low opinion about women, so I continued to speak. ‘I would train girls and organize an army of women warriors. We would be ready to go to battle with the enemy anytime.’
‘That’s interesting!’ was all Tatya Dikshit said. My outburst seemed to amuse the men in the gathering. Peshwa Saheb was the only one smiling indulgently, I noticed. ‘It’s nice to see such passion for the country, and in someone so young,’ Tatya added after a thought.
‘Didn’t I mention that Manu is our brightest star?’ Peshwa Saheb piped up. I didn’t miss the gleam of pride in his eyes.
The topic of discussion soon changed, and I was dismissed from the room. I found Maushi lingering in the corridor. She had been listening to everything.
As soon as I stepped out, she began her sermon. ‘Can’t you keep your mouth shut? Do you have to say the wrong things all the time?’
‘I didn’t say anything wrong,’ I retorted. Why doesn’t she understand? How could I keep quiet? I am not like the other girls. I am different. ‘They asked me for my opinion on women warriors, so I shared my views on the subject. There’s nothing wrong in being honest about one’s opinion.’
‘It’s not good for a girl to share her opinion on such matters. It is not for women to go for battles. Let’s leave the battleground to the men,’ Maushi said. ‘We have our duties and they have theirs. Why should we encroach on each other’s territories? We don’t want them to enter the kitchen and start cooking, so why would they want us to ride and fence?’
Maushi would never understand. She was content in cooking, fasting and performing her never-ending pujas. I let out a sigh.

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