“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
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. 🙂
- Getting to Lucknow: The city is well-connected with flights and trains from all major Indian metros. I took a train from Delhi.
- Getting around: Rickshaws are plentiful and cheap.
- How many days: 3 days at least.