lucknow, revolutions of 2 kinds: residency 1857 and ambedkar memorial 2008

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

rɛvəˈluːʃ(ə)n/ (noun)
1. a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favour of a new system.
2. a dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation.

Martin Luther King Jr’s above quote is one of my favourites. But not all revolutions are violent massacres aimed at toppling a system by a populace who have reached their limits. At times they are opulent statements made to put a point across. The purpose remains the same. Change. I saw both in Lucknow, in the course of one day. One from way back in 1857, and another from 2008. The disparity was striking. The commonality inspiring. Scroll through, and you will see what I mean. 🙂

The Residency, 1857

The Residency, a European settlement of residential houses, an armoury, stables, dispensaries, and worship places for the British Resident and his staff in Lucknow was built by Asaf-ud-Daula (1775 – 97) in 1775. It was further added on to by Saadat Ali Khan in 1800. They were both following the orders of Asaf’s father Shuja-ud-Daula (1754 – 75) who agreed in 1773 to have a British Resident stationed in Awadh. A move that was to change history.

It was a place for the British East India Company to indulge in genteel past-times and strategic politics in the midst of an India which was slowly but steadily falling into their grip under the guise of trade. And for this very role, it also became the recipient of heavy shelling and counter-shelling in India’s First Independence War in 1857 [led by Begum Hazrat Mahal in Lucknow, wife of the last Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah (1847 – 56)]. A siege which lasted for five months wherein the Residency itself was seized for 87 days.

The Residency was never repopulated. Its pock-marked walls were left aside as a distasteful yet heroic chapter by the ensuing British Crown. For the Indian it is a reminder of the need to revolt if freedom is taken away.

Left: The 80-pounder smoothbore muzzle loading cannon, one of four, that was used by the Royal Indian Artillery to recapture the Residency in 1857; Right and Below: Probably the most imposing structure in the whole complex, the Banqueting Hall was built by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan for banquets to be held in his own honour. At one time it comprised grand saloons furnished with chandeliers, mirrors, and silk-clad divans.

The site is dotted with memorials put up by the British Raj honouring its men who died during the siege. The one above reads: “In memory of Major General Sir Henry Lawrence and the brave men who fell in defence of the Residency, AD 1857.”

Below Right: Henry Lawrence’s grave in St. Mary Church and Cemetery inside the Residency, where 2,000 of the defenders were mass buried, many with just a quick prayer: “Here lies Henry Lawrence who tried to do his Duty. May the Lord have mercy on his Soul. Born 28th June 1806. Died 4th July 1857.”

Bhimrao Ambedkar Memorial, 2008

Whilst social inequality is often associated with foreign oppression, more often than not it is also the result of indigenous warped social systems. One that India has been privy to on a large scale with its caste system. And one that has incited revolutions of a different kind.

Social reformers such as Jyotirao Phule, Birsa Munda, and Bhimrao Ambedkar, amongst others, have done extensive work in this area to level the field. Bhimrao Ambedkar Memorial, in Gomti Nagar, Lucknow, is a sprawling granite and red sandstone extravaganza about this revolution. In honour of all those who have dedicated their lives to the cause, it was built by Mayawati, a Dalit herself [a member of the lowest caste in the traditional Indian caste system]. Mayawati, now 61, rose the ranks to become National President of the Bahujan Samaj Party in 2003, and has held the position of Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for four times.

A whopping Rs. 7 billion was spent on the 107-acre park. And it shows. It is at its most ethereal self at dusk and night when the scores of pillars and elephants are bathed in white light. Visiting it was an impromptu decision, and one that left me spellbound at its beauty, as well as pondering on the forms revolutions could take.

Ambedkar Stupa, the core of the entire memorial, contains a number of bronzes depicting key points in Ambedkar’s life. Under a large seated statue of his in Lincoln-style, a plaque reads: Mera jeevan sangharsh hi mera sandesh hai. [My struggle of life is my only message.]

Centre-piece of the colonnaded semi-circular Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Gallery—a towering bronze statue of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar.

The vast treeless complex with slender elephant-headed pillars was designed by Satish Gujral, architect and brother of India’s former Prime Minister, IK Gujral.

Two clusters of four back-to-back colossal effigies of Mayawati, replete with her signature handbag, stand under each dome of the Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sangrahalay. She is surrounded by smaller statues of India’s leading social reformers.

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Conclusion: There are more than one ways to revolt. 🙂

24 hours in incredible allahabad

Amitabh Bachchan’s hometown. If one is Indian, it is the first thing that in most probability comes to mind when one hears of Allahabad. This is by virtue of the superstar’s constant vocal affirmation, flaunted with much pride, of its role in his life. It is where he was born and spent his childhood and youth, before becoming the country’s biggest and brightest star, still shining at 75.

To those spiritually inclined, Allahabad is evocative of all that is sacred in Hinduism. The meeting point of Ganga, Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati, the city is built on the site of the ancient Aryan town of Prayag—the place for offerings. And perhaps, thus, by pure logic, it is also the site, since time immemorial, of the largest Hindu gathering held every 12 years on the banks of Sangam, or the confluence, in the form of the Maha Kumbh.

Rarely on most travellers’ circuit, Allahabad often gets side-lined in favour of its more popular neighbours on either side—Lucknow and Varanasi. But, like everything else in India, it too oozes of history, heritage, and stories galore, as I was quick to discover. Continue reading

photo essay: varanasi, stories told and untold

No, I did not fall in love with Varanasi at first sight as I had been led to believe would happen by the countless travel glossies and blogs I’d read which eulogised its charms. In fact, I hated it at first sight.

It was crowded, dirty, and noisy. Touts pulled me in desperate attempts in all directions to try and sell me boat rides and Banarasi sarees. Rickshaw drivers were ready to rip me off for a 10-minute canter. The sweetmeat shops had “unsanitary” written all over it in CAPS.

I was booked for three days in Varanasi—the land between the Varuna and Assi tributaries which join the River Ganga, or Ganges in English nomenclature, to form the north and south borders of the city. Its name was corrupted to Benaras during the British Raj.

My heart dreaded the stay as soon as I entered the precincts, pleading: “Let’s just cut the trip short and go back to the serenity and comfort of home.” A small voice in me whispered: “No. Varanasi does not happen every day. Live through it.” Continue reading

global travel shot: alamgir aurangzeb’s mosque in varanasi


Varanasi. The very name rings of sacred Hindu scriptures, stories of Lord Shiva and Ganga, and Hindu beliefs on life and afterlife. The oldest living city in the world, it is the accepted embodiment of Hinduism.

Yet, perched atop Panchganga Ghat by the holy River Ganges, where five streams are said to join, is a lovely functioning mosque—Alamgir Mosque. It is also the largest structure on the ghats. Standing over the ruins of a Krishna temple [the lower walls of the mosque belong to the original Hindu temple], the Hindu deities lie in a nearby edifice. Continue reading

in search of buddha’s sarnath: the traveller’s guide

Oftentimes what we are consciously searching for is not what we are subconsciously looking for. Sounds confusing? 🙂

A few weeks ago, I took a train and bus trip from Delhi in search of Varanasi [Benaras], the Kashi of yore. I found Sarnath in Kashi’s place instead. Perhaps this occurred because there is more of the Buddhist in me than the Hindu. Whatever be the case, Sarnath touched a place deep within my core.

May I state from the outset you do not need a guided tour for Sarnath, and that is not what this post aims at being. Sarnath needs to be experienced and understood at a personal level, in one’s own space and rhythm. What I want to share here are my personal travel learnings to help you make the most of your Sarnath experience, and perhaps allow Sarnath to speak to the Buddhist in you too. ❤ Continue reading

5 best kept secrets of bundi, india’s best kept secret

Bundi. The very name is evocative. Translated literally it means sweetened, fried chickpea flour—a snack indigenous to Rajasthan. When applied to a small, sleepy, powder-blue painted town nestled in a deep gorge surrounded on three sides by the Aravalli hills with a spectacular fort and palace looming over it, it becomes synonymous with one of India’s best kept secrets. A secret with myriad secrets within its folds.

Founded by a gentleman of the Meena tribe who went by the name Bunda, it was annexed by Rao Deva Hada in 1342, founder of Bundi [the princely state] and Hadoti [land of the great Hada Rajputs]. Friends with the Mughals and thereafter, the British Raj, it retained its princely status till 1947. Not many venture into Bundi; neither today nor in the past.

Here are five secrets I discovered in Bundi which make it the treasure trove that it is. If you know of more, please do share in the comments section. 😊 Continue reading