Walter Kaufmann

The man behind the AIR signature tune….

The other day I was sitting at our local Tamil restaurant in Cary and munching a rava dosa, happily musing about my days in Chennai (it was Madras when I was there, but not so long ago) and the fantastic food in Hari Nivas and so many other places, while at the same time glancing around the packed restaurant. One could see a smattering of the desi populace here, Tamilian families – the IT crowd, some Andhra guys, Kannadigas, but no other Malayalees, they venture out rarely for some reasons I suppose only they  know, I suppose. But there are always one or two tables with the gora’s sticking out in the brown ambiance, and then my glance would linger for a while at their countenances and the food they had ordered. You see it is a south Indian Veg restaurant where you do not get naan and chicken tikka masala.

It is the countenance that arrests you at times, for you see no confusion or consternation that one saw before. These guys know the food they are eating. They eat dosas like they should be eaten, with their fingers while you see some of the gujjus or punjabis handling it gingerly with two fingers and supping the sambar with a spoon. These guys dip the dosa into the sambar and munch it with glee signifying the amount of time they have spent in our mater-land, perhaps Bangalore or Madras.. where they learnt these new eating habits. As the dosa is munched and the filter coffee is sipped, you see the bliss on their face (I am exaggerating some) and I feel happy..ahh..I say, one more entrant into our fold.. perhaps wise chaps like we are??

But this is not about South Indian food or anything of that sort, It is about a person who came to India and lived there for a long time. He left behind a legacy for us, one of the best. I had mentioned him once before and over the years, I have received so many mails from so many people I have never met or known, asking me questions about the person and his everlasting composition.

The composition, if you have not guessed until now is the lovely AIR signature tune that we hear every morning. People like us who are away from India, marvel at that simple tune, and remember the mornings as I described it in my previous blog (linked here). That was a popular blog of mine, it has been copied and reproduced by so many people in parts. I will provide an excerpt from that blog and continue on about the creator.

I have no doubts that some of you, once upon a long time ago, listening to the radio at the break of dawn, have heard this tune. It was a time when the lady of the house would be up, starting up the activities at home, after her bath, with wet hair hanging loosely tied, slightly damp sari with the one end tucked into her hip, getting the coffee and breakfast ready, the wood fire in the kitchen up and going nicely, smoke tendrils creeping up the chimney, clinking sounds of various brass & steel utensils in the background, while the man of the house and his father would be shaking themselves out of their beds, the younger anxiously ready to face life, the elder cursing his arthritic creaking bones and the various indignities of life as one gets older. Through this all, the child of the house would be fast asleep under his thin blanket, dreaming of animate & inanimate things; the boy had at least another two hours to dream before he started off for school.

The younger man would move slowly, still drowsy and with unsteady legs, to the living room. He would reach up to that wooden plank on the wall steadied by the two L brackets, where the old valve radio set was placed and turn the brown stained knob to click the radio on. It took a minute for the EL 84 vacuum tube valves to start up and glow as the man could see it through the cloth front of the radio. But it was not yet time; he heard only the hiss of static. Sunlight had started to streak through the gap between the wall and the roof, also through the glass tiles, and the man idly looked at the dancing dust particles in the beams for a while as his body warmed up. One could not help but notice the webbed antenna of the radio near the ceiling, where a number of spiders were busy with their own lives, spinning webs and waiting for their flying prey.

Then he did what his father had once routinely done during his entire life time, he walked across to the other side of the room and wound the wall clock, always remembering his fathers words ‘Son! Not too much or the spring will break…never should you move the needles back. If the time has to be changed, move it only forward – and as you move the needles make sure the pendulum is stopped carefully’…It was a clock imported from the old blighty (bilayath), and Papaji had to wait a two full months after placing the order at the local Spencer’s. It had cost all of fifty rupees in those days.

It was now 0530 AM, and the lady of the house called out from the kitchen ‘coffee is ready, come and have it before it is cold’. Papaji had also come out after his ablutions, he would touch food only after all that was done and after he had finished his bath, and like he said every day, he grumbled “the younger generations are not right, ugh! They drink coffee without brushing teeth”.

The magic eye tuner of the radio narrowed to a slit like cat’s eyes, the station came on air and the Akashwani signature tune started. Kaufmman’s immortal work composed on the resonating Tanpura, Viola and Violin echoed in the room. The Indian day had started.

And thus the many millions woke up to a new dawn in the teeming Indian villages, towns, cities, metropolises to toil and hustle to reach their own dreams…Many would remember the AIR signature tune in their lives, at some moment or the other – like I did today!!

That was the tune that set the trend for the day, a tune that many people attributed wrongly to all kinds of musical ustads. Some said Ravi Shankar, some said Vishnu Govind Jog, some others said John Foulds and some said Thakur Balwant Singh,

Debashish Chakraborthy a reader clarified then with details

At the risk of being called a revisionist, let me say that Walter Kaufman did compose the AIR signature tune but not as a signature tune. In fact, it was an extract from a sonata commissioned by Mehli Mehta the well-known violinist who later became the first violin of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, and ended his days in California at the tender age of 92. He was, ultimately, better-known as the father of Zubin Mehta, the conductor. Mehli Mehta played the violin for the signature tune which, thank Heaven, has not been "improved" by any charlatan. He remained justly proud of this fact to the end of his long life. However, let me assure you that all the assertions about the AIR signature tune which I have made are correct. Mehli Mehta confirmed the facts to me in a letter after I wrote to him. Before he died, I was able to bring the letter to the attention of PC "Tiny" Chatterji, one of the most enlightened Directors General of AIR. He knew Kaufman in India, being an AIR old timer, and was delighted to read it, even though he was very sick…

So we know that the person behind this magnificent tune is one Walter Kaufman. Who was he? Why was he in India? What did he do? Why did he go back? Is he still alive? So many questions, which need answers, at least to some people… So the next part of this blog is a little account of Kaufman in India compiled mainly from the essay written by Agata Schindler, my heartfelt thanks to her and Bhatti for the book Jewish Exiles in India which I perused recently. I thought it would be nice if I left something here for people to refer to someday if they had a doubt about such matters, for it is not easy to get data on people like Kaufman. I myself am particularly blessed to have three fabulous libraries in my neighborhood, the NCSU library, the UNC Chapel Hill library and the Duke library to feed my frantic searches for such information. The only grouse I have is a lack of hours left in a day to devote to these researches after regular office hours and also the risk of upsetting domestic harmony with a head buried in musty pages and spectacles becoming thicker as the years go by..But I manage..

Freda and Walter Kaufmann
Back to the 30’s. Walter was from Karlsblad (B 1907) then in Bohemia (today’s Czech republic) living in Prague (He left Berlin in 1933 for safer Prague) and known as ‘a musician with an instinct sure to sweep you off’. Ah! Prague, I have been there once or twice, a lovely little city with a castle and a typical European layout and a lovely bridge that has a lot of history. His friends circle boasted Einstein, Haas, the Kafka family and so many others. By the age of 24 his compositions were being played in various orchestras. Later he worked for many radio stations (Berlin and Prague). But Walter knew he had to leave his abode, for he feared Bohemia would also be no longer be safe for Jews. The Nazi’s were tightening their anti Semitic noose and Walter’s friend had just been killed in Berlin and they were no longer safe in Prague even. It was winter 1933, early 1934.

Unlike others who went to all kinds of usual places, Walter chose India on an impulse and went to Bombay which was to be his home for the next 12 years. One of the persons he worked with in Bombay was Willy Haas another émigré, with whom he conducted many orchestras and composed energetic and exhilarating music. During these periods in India, he composed many pieces of music with an Indian flavor using new instruments and even taught at Sofia College in Bombay. He went on to write voluminous books on North and South Indian Classical music, both of which are now considered reference books on the subject. In addition to performing, composing and lecturing, he began collecting Nepalese traditional music, which he described as “a strange combination of Indian, Tibetan and Kashmiri music and learnt Indian and Urdu notation, before incorporating these into his own compositions.

Why did Walter chose India over other more exotic safe havens like Singapore, Hong Kong or Shanghai? Why did he not even say goodbye properly (he did it on the phone) to his father and girlfriend? Let us see what he himself had to say in reply to these questions

My reasons to go to India were relatively simple, I could get a visa. I had a friend in Bombay and his inspiring lectures at the university had roused my curiosity, (Note - the friend was Mohan Bhavani and they met at the UFA studios at Berlin, even V Santaram did a stint there). When I heard the gramophone music for the first time, I found the music to be so alien and incomprehensible. However I knew that this music was created by people with heart and intellect, one could assume that many, in fact millions would be appreciating or in fact loving this music. As this music was alien to me, I decided that the fault was entirely mine and the right way would be to undertake a study tour to the place of its origin. A ship Lady Trietine ‘Conte verde’; was scheduled to leave Venice in the next 4 days and I found I could still catch it if I hurried. My friend in Bombay had assured me lodgings for the first few days. My most difficult task was to explain my plans to my father. It was impossible for me to travel fast to Karlasbad, so I had to settle the matter over the phone.

Walter had by now another problem; he could not collect his doctorate when he found his professor Franz Becking to be a Nazi and refused it. Another catalyst for the impulsive decision was the fact that a rich listener brought outright the rights for one of his incomplete orchestral pieces (Die Weisee Gottin – a tale of an Indian king and a European damsel – later completed from India). He (Felix Braun possibly) paid Walter 10,000 Krona and with that Walter went to the post office to post the letter to the university refusing his doctorate. On his way back he walked into the Travel agency and purchased the ticket to Bombay.

Walk along Warden Road, Breach Candy – today it is called Bhulabhai Desai road, an affluent part of Bombay and imagine a time when Kaufman lived there, when you could hear the tinkles from Kaufman's piano as the virtuoso perfected his melodies and compositions or learned Indian music. Today Bollywood tunes fill the air, the world has advanced, I suppose. That is where he lived, at Rewa House.

Walter’s stay in India got prolonged and it took him all of 12 years to learn the music and write two very big books on the south and North Indian music as well as many others on notations and so on. As he started out, the first thing he did was to sell of the return ticket and get his wife to Bombay. He married his girlfriend Gerty Herrmann (Franz Kafka’s niece) by proxy so that she could join him later in Bombay. Soon he landed a job at the AIR in Bombay (1935) and it was then that the signature tune was composed using the Tanpura and violin, based on the Raga Shivaranjini. Many people contributed and provided inputs for his work in the AIR later, one being Dinakar Rao. Of his own days at the AIR, Walter explains in a letter to Edith Kraus – I am the key person in music of AIR, I am something of an extraordinary bureaucrat, I do not have a high but comfortable income, lots and lots of work a lot more of intrigues and squabbles and few chances for a better future!!

He learnt Indian notations and music slowly, dabbled with music for films (he did music for Bhavani’s ‘The Mill’ (‘mill ya mazdoor’ – Premchand also left the movie midway), which was unfortunately banned and later did ‘Premnagar’) made in Bombay and created the Bombay Chamber music association and formed a string quartet. In this period of time he wrote seven masterly books on music. He created music for documentaries “Information of India’. It was in this Bombay chamber music society that Mehli Mehta played. But he was also affected by the difficulties of life in India for as a foreigner, he was sick often with flu, malaria and dysentery..and eventually managed to get his music blended with a lot of Indian tones as his own psyche was. He was highly influenced by Buddhism. It was during his stay that Moritz his father died in a concentration camp in 1942. Two years later his daughter Katherine was born. As you could see, Walter’s flight to India has saved his life, certainly and for that he paid back the country with his writing and music, at a time when nobody else had popularized Indian music overseas.

His years in India were certainly an eye opener for him, in terms of music. Take this for example from his book ragas of North India. He reports a conversation with a leading musician in Bombay in 1934. Kaufman interacted with many musicians and many he says, were illiterate, but were masters in their field. The musician said..

Do you know that you people in the western world will soon experience a terrible disaster? And do you know why? Because you people in the west abuse music and perform it at wrong times and occasions. You play funeral marches and sing dirges when there is no funeral and no cause for sadness, you sing love songs and spring songs when there is neither love nor spring, you play nocturnes during the day, wedding music when there is no wedding. How long – he roared- will the universe tolerate this abuse of music, ………….music, mind you a sacred thing?..

The musician in Bombay perhaps had the foreboding; for the WW II took place 1939-45 and since then many more wars both in India and the western world…

Soon it was time to leave and he had applied for British immigration, and joined the war service in the Royal navy, West was beckoning again. His heart was telling him to go to the USA, he wanted to compose soulful film music for Hollywood. Why did he leave? Was it to fight against the Germans? Was it because of Hindu Muslim riots in Bombay or was it the uncertainty over the partition after independence? It could have been one or a collection, and that was the time yet another great artist left Bombay, about whom I will write soon, named Sadat Hasan Manto.

After war service he was a guest conductor 1946-7 for the BBC in London and assistant music director for J. Arthur Rank films. He moved to Canada in 1947 and spent 10 years there teaching as well as creating symphonies and orchestras. In 1951 Kaufman married Freda Trepel, a pianist and teacher. In 1957, he finally realized his dream and came to the USA with Freda, to join the University of Indiana where he taught musicology. A prodigious composer, he applied raga techniques in some of his works and combined western and oriental traditions in others. He taught until 1977 and eventually bid adieu to this world in 1984, sadly not realizing his last wish which was to catalog all his Sikkim, Nepali and Hindukush collections. Perhaps somebody in Indiana University will do it…some day..

Back to the present - Another day starts in India and the rare few who are awake (or those who do not have a preset FM station) tune into the AIR to hear Kaufman's composition…...

Growing with Canada: the émigré tradition in Canadian music- Paul Helmer
Walter Kaufman - A forgotten genius – (Jewish Exile in India 1933-45) Agata Schindler
Exile country India as the source for creative works of Walter Kaufmann – Agata Schindler

Picture – From University of Indiana site Acknowledged with thanks.

Manu and her friends

Sometimes it is very difficult to separate the threads of truth from the vast fabric of a tale woven over decades. Such was the case as I set about unraveling the story of the girl named Manakarnika, fondly called Manu, the product of a family displaced by the tussle between the Marathas and the English. It is not my intention to retell the tale in anyway, but to hover around an aspect from the whole story, namely the relationship between three people who set about to change the scene in British India. That they were unsuccessful is the unfortunate part of their history, but then again, their actions eventually sowed the seeds of dissent in a passive field where those who came as traders became usurpers and later, holders of power.

And with that, let us move on from the lands of Venad, Cochin and Malabar and venture out far North, to the arid regions of Bundelkhand. A place where wars were fought, where rival kings and queens ruled and where the warring people rode furiously on their horses fighting, if not making merry, since time immemorial. As Joyce Lebra Chapman introduces Jhansi - igneous sandstone rock cropping rising abruptly from the level, barren plains punctuate the landscape and provide ideal natural defensive sites for forts….it lies south of the river Yamuna, where today scrub and tamarind thorns dot the arid soil. It was once a dense forested jungle, but then like the kingdom, the vegetation soon vanished from those areas. It was to this kingdom of Jhansi that the 12-13 year old Manu from Varanasi went after she was locked in marriage to the middle aged Gangadhar. But as I said at the outset I will not really explain the story of the lady and her days, for there are many books out there that glorify her deeds, some very expansively, some very deliberately, some in great nationalistic tradition, and some in downright filmy fashion with large dollops of exaggeration. Suffices to say that she was one of the lone voices who fought for herself and her people’s rights in the middle of a motley crowd comprising large numbers of kings, queens and leaders who quietly acquiesced to the overwhelming British superiority at that time.

Three characters rose to fame in that turbulent period where the unholy mixture of pigs, Enfield rifles, goras, beef and Kshatriyas resulted in an uprising against the new rulers and shook the British plans somewhat. I will hover around them in this study and leave the rest of the characters and events in the dark historic realms. Each of these characters was an interesting person, and one or two of them have books covering their exploits, but well, without much ado, let me introduce them. They were Nana Saheb, Tatya (Tantya) Tope and Rao Saheb. Nana Saheb became famous as the leader of the 1857 Sepoy mutiny, Tatya Tope was another rebel leader and Rao Saheb was with them most of the time. Interestingly each of these 4 characters was a Maratha, not Rajputs or Jats or Punjabis. How did this group of men get involved with Manu and on the wrong side of the British? Or did they? Were the stories of their childhood together a figment of imagination? To get to that you have to venture out in a study of Manu and her life, and that was the difficult part, for her story is largely a collection of many legends accounting the life of the Jezebel of Jhansi, the actions of the Rani of Jhansi, or the story of Rani Lakshmi Bai.

It is said that Nana, Tatya and Manu were childhood friends. Many an account provides interesting tidbits from it. Let us look for some and go to Bithur where Chimnaji Appa, the brother of the last Peshwa Baji Rao had settled in exile with his adviser and friend Moropant (Manu’s father) Thambe. Baji Rao lived here in peace, collecting his large large (£ 80,000) pension from the British.

Bithoor was the capital of the Pargana from 1811 to 1819 located some 12-15 miles away from Kanpur, on the banks of the Ganges. After the departure of the courts, the place was assigned as a residence to Baji Rao, the deposed Peshwa. In fact, its glorious past is wrapped in legends and fables. A legend in Hindu mythology has it that after the destruction of the Universe and the reconstruction of the Galaxy by the Lord Vishnu, Bithoor was chosen by Lord Brahma, the Creator, as his abode. Bithoor is also the poignant setting where Sita was left by Lord Rama to lead her life in exile. It is also the site where Saint Valmiki meditated and later wrote the timeless epic Ramayana. At the same time, it is also known as the auspicious place where Lord Rama's twin sons Lav and Kush were born. It was here that under the guidance of Saint Valmiki, the twins spent their childhood and were initiated into the technique of war and politics and finally, it is the place where the two sons were reunited with their father in a spirit of joy and peace. It is perhaps for this reason that the place is also known as Ramale. Bithoor is believed to be the place where Dhruv (the legendary child who grew up to be a revered saint, shining in the sky as an eternal star) had his first opportunity for a divine visitation and practiced meditation.

Dhondu Pant (later known as Nana Sahib) was the adopted son of Baji Rao and Tatya Tope (Ramachandra Panduranga) the son of Pandurang Rao, a nobleman in Baji Rao’s court. Rao Saheb was Nana’s cousin brother (or nephew). These three were fiery leaders of revolts later against the British. And the young Chhabili spent their childhood with them. But did they really know each other since childhood? What details do we have of their friendship and was it an enduring friendship, if it existed?

It is said that the three boys (a fourth Bala Saheb also figures in the story, at times) and Manu were playmates in Bithoor, and it is with them that she became well versed in reading and writing (something girls were not allowed to do in those times) and horse riding and weapon usage. She was virtually a tomboy among them and their childhood is retold in a number of stories, some possibly legends. Let us look at some.

Once Nana Sahib fell down from his horse and was about to be crushed. But Manu showed great presence of mind and courage. She jumped from her own horse and caught hold of the leg of the horse which was about to stamp Nana. She quickly pulled out Nana and thus saved him. Though Nana had received serious injuries, she encouraged him by telling him that the injuries were ordinary and that he would be quite alright within a day.

Another time, she asked Nana to allow her to climb up and sit atop the elephant next to him and Nana refused. Indignantly, she proclaimed, ‘One day I will have 10 elephants to your one, remember my words’.

And there is another story of an elephant running amok in Bithur when Manu clambered on to its back climbing over its trunk and tusk, and calmed the elephant.

Manu was born in 1828 though some books mention her birth year at 1835. She got married in 1842. Nana was born in 1820 and Tatya in 1813. So in Bithoor, a small town, and in Baji Rao’s palace area, you can see the young group romping about, though much separated in ages. Nana some 8 years older and Taya 15 years older to Manu. Would they have been playmates? Let us assume so.

Allen Copsey who studied the Rani mentions in his website, In "Our Bones Are Scattered", Andrew Ward notes that in Bithur there is a legend that Manikarnika and Nana Sahib had fallen in love but that Baji Rao forbade the marriage. If true this suggests how Manikarnika came to the notice of Gangadhar Rao; what better way for Baji Rao to be rid of a troublesome relationship? It also indirectly confirms the later age of Manikarnika as this would not have happened if she had been 8 years old, but at 13 or 14 it is somewhat more likely.

As the story goes the 13 -14 year old Manu gets married to Gangadhar Rao of Jhansi in 1842 and is thereafter known as Lakshmi Bai. Jhansi itself had a checkered history. In 1732 Chhatrasal, the Bundela king, called in the aid of the Hindu Marathas. They came to his assistance, and were rewarded by the bequest of one-third of the Maharaja's dominions upon his death two years later. The Maratha general developed the city of Jhansi, and peopled it with inhabitants from Orchha state. In 1806 British protection was promised to the Maratha chief. In 1817, however, the Peshwa in Pune ceded all his rights over Bundelkhand to the British East India Company. The heirs to this state were always a problem, and when Ramachandra the eccentric ruler died childless in 1835, the British chose to recognize Gangadhar, his brother as the next ruler of Jhansi. That was how Lakshmi Bai ended up as Rani Lakshmi bai.

Why is Lakshm Bai’s story so difficult to get into? As events unfolded, the revolt happened in 1857 and the ruthless suppression and the fear situation after it resulted in nobody (i.e. from the Indian ranks) making a proper written account of the Rani, especially one that took a line opposite that from the British line which ridiculed her.

Back to Jhansi – Rao was a king more interested in the arts than anything else and very orthodox. Following a pilgrimage to Varanasi and Gaya in 1851, Lakshmi Bai delivered an heir, a boy named Damodar. However he died after four months and Ganghadar Rao was shattered. His health deteriorated and he passed away in 1853. Just before he died the royal couple adopted a 5 year old boy from the Nevalkar family named Anand Rao, upon Moropant Tambe’s prompting. There was another reason for the hurried adoption, that being the Dalhousie Doctrine of Lapse. With that last action, Gangadhar died and Lakshmi Bai became a widow at the age of 25, but she was a different person as always, she did not commit sati as was the practice and she did not shave her head. She remained herself and set about bringing the state under good governance. Nevertheless the British had other ideas of annexation and in neighboring areas, stirrings of discontent were brewing.

Before we get to the Sepoy mutiny, we must check out some reasons, for they are very interesting and not directly related to the Beef tallow. Late in the 18th century, after the battle of Buxar, the British realized the need to bolster their Bengal troops with local content. There was much political instability with the collapse of the Moghul empire and with the Afghan invasions and the Maratha moves, the British had to have a bigger set of armed forces. A large number of sepoys were recruited and installed in different areas not just for suppression of revolts, but also for governance and control in areas were firm action was needed. Hastings at that time believed in creating a high caste army and this resulted in enthusiastic response from the northern areas. Complications however arose when they had to be moved from the East to the West to fight the Marathas and Afghans. Crossing the seas was a problem, so also stay and dietary restrictions, but they were all taken care of in acceptable ways and many Hindu festivals were celebrated with gusto. Thus camaraderie was firmly established. But like all good things, this was not to last. Various tactical reasons and wars in the west resulted in a number of Rajput, Jat and Muslim entrants to the British army in the 1800-1820’s. Another problem manifested itself, the EIC coffers were drying up and maintenance of a big military establishment was becoming a problem. In 1830’s military reforms were announced and this irritated the high caste sepoys for they lost many of the ‘perks’ that had drawn them to the army in the first place. Permanent transfers to the NW, daily Batta loss, pension issues and pay differences between different battalions etc were the main reasons and then again there was this feeling that their high caste status was being infringed. The final trigger was the greased cartridges used in the newly introduced Enfield rifles.

As this was going on, the civilian lords were also being affected. Baji rao died but the EIC refused to continue the grand pension to Nana Saheb and he was incensed. He continued trying to influence the British establishment until 1855 to change their decision but failed.

In Jhansi, pretty much the same thing was happening - Because Anand Rao was adopted, the East India Company, under Lord Dalhousie, had an excuse to apply the Doctrine of Lapse, rejecting Rao's claim to the throne. Dalhousie then annexed Jhansi, saying that the throne had "lapsed" and claimed the right to put Jhansi under his protection. In March 1854, Lakshmi Bai was given a pension of 60,000 rupees and ordered to leave the palace and the Jhansi fort.

In 1851, when Lord Dalhousie deprived Nana Sahib of his father's pension, Tatya Tope also became a sworn enemy of the British. In May 1857, when the political storm was gaining momentum, he won over the Indian troops of the East India Company, stationed at Kanpur (Cawnpore), established Nana Sahib's authority and became the Commander-in-Chief of his forces. He later helped orchestrate the attack on Hugh Wheeler's entrenchment.

And so the mutiny happened in 1857. All the leaders like the Nana Saheb, Tantya Tope and the unwilling Rani of Jhansi, hoped to influence the discontented sepoys with religious overtones and get them to their sides further incensing the British employers and create an even bigger unbalance.

The three we met in pervious paragraphs had by now become personal enemies of the EIC. The dams were about to burst soon as many sepoys were also at their wits end, seeing their way of life threatened by foreigners. Questions were starting to be asked.

The rebellion started in Meerut in May 1857 with Mangal Pande’s actions. In June, Nana Saheb who lived a wasteful life thus far entered the fray and marched into Kanpur in June 1857 and ransacked the British cantonment stating that he would become a vassal of Bahadur Shah. This part of the story is a complicated one but ended up with the English in Kanpur getting routed. Tantia Tope joined in the massacre at Kanpur. The fighting continued until July when fresh British reinforcements started to arrive. Nana Saheb later retreated to Bithoor and escaped to live the balance of his life in hideouts in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Nepal or in far flung Sihor in Gujrat.

Tantia Tope tried to retake Kanpur in Nov 1857 but was unsuccessful. By March, he decided to go to Jhansi in support of the Rani, where General Rose was planning to take over the state. The battle however went against Tope and he lost. The Rani escaped mysteriously from Jhansi, destined for Kalpi. Now she turned to the Rao Saheb of Bithoor for help in order to recreate a new army. Tope was asked to take care of that. The next series of actions took place at Gwalior from where the Scindia raja had absconded. The rebel chiefs Rao Saheb, Tantia Tope and Rani Jhani assembled to witness the last act. In the battle which followed against Col Rose’s troops, the Rani is killed and is cremated (though many other legends remain).

Tatya tope escaped and became a guerilla leader for much of a year leading skirmishes against the British. After losing Gwalior to the British, Tope launched a successful campaign in the Sagar, Madhya Pradesh and Narmada River regions and in Khandesh and Rajasthan. By Nov 1858, Rao Saheb surrendered. Tope was however betrayed by his trusted friend, Man Singh, Chief of Narwar while asleep in his camp in the Paron forest. He was defeated and captured on 7 April 1859 by British General Richard John Meade's troops and escorted to Shivpuri where he was tried by a military court. Tope admitted the charges brought before him saying that he was answerable to his masters Rao & Nana. He was executed at the gallows on April 18 1859. Legends however mention an impersonator was hanged and Tantya died later and lived in the garb of a Sadhu.

Lakshmi Bai’s father, Moropant Tambey, was captured and hanged a few days after the fall of Jhansi. Her adopted son, Damodar Rao (Anand Rao), fled with his mother's aides. Rao was later given a pension by the British Raj and cared for, although he never received his inheritance. Damodar Rao settled down in the city of Indore. He spent most of his life trying to convince the British to restore some of his rights. He and his descendants took on the last name Jhansiwale. He died on May 28, 1906, at the age of 58.

Dalhousie returned to England in 1856, before the mutiny. His health deteriorated amidst public outcry over his policies and he died in 1860. Today a hill station in Himachal named after him reminds one of his days in India. Hugh Rose fell sick after the Gwalior storming, but continued various battles in India. He later became the CIC of the forces in India and became a general in 1867.

The friends from Bithoor are now consigned to history books. The people of Jhansi possibly remember them now and then. The palace of Nana Sahib was reduced to rubble by the British in 1857 and the only traces remaining of it are some large well heads and broken palace walls.

Bithoor is forgotten; it had housed so many great names from the distant past and the near past, but after the town’s destruction by Gen Havelock, has never recovered any of its lost glories. Jules Verne wrote a book about the Nana Saheb (Steam boat) and many more were written on Nana and Lakshmi Bai by the people who remembered them.

And with that we turn the page, from this to the next.


Rani OF Jhansi – Lebra-Chapman
Rani of Jhansi – Jaiwant Paul
Rani of Jhansi – Rainer Jerosch
Rani Lakshmi Bai – Allen Copsey

Colonel Malleson wrote "...her countrymen will ever remember that she was driven by ill-treatment into rebellion, and that she lived and died for her country.....Recently Time magazine put her in the list of top 10 bad ass wives of the world.