From Amethi Fort we drive to Lucknow.
It’s late when we arrive at the Vivante by Taj Hotel, in the civil lines. There’s a pool but it’s too cold to go in. We eat in the hotel and drink gins and tonics in the bar.
The following morning we have a guide, Sanjay ,to show us around Lucknow. First the Mogul built palace, then the British Residency. The Residency is laid out like an archaeological dig, a Pompeii, a Parthenon, but of near modern times, a bullet ridden cannon shattered citadel, left just as it fell, the skeletons of people’s lives in the brickwork; The doctors house, the Banqueting Hall, labelled by the current victors. There’s quite a bit of of glorying in the signage. Even though Queen Victoria’s Indian empire was born from these very ashes as an answer to the injustices of the East India Company, it was the first step in the road to Indian Independence. But there is something uneasy about the crowing; one tombstone mourns the death of a toddler, another a spinster shelled as she hid in the basement.
Here is Mr Gubbins house. He is mentioned in my Great Great Grandmothers escape letters. She wrote to him when she was sheltering at Amethi Fort begging for supplies of beer and tea to be sent to her , perhaps a little brandy, and cloth. He sent them so it must have just been before the siege.
In between the graves, on grassy knolls, in roofless enclosures and bullet riddled stones, young Indians court, it’s a safe quiet place for them to do so. The girls arrive veiled, but the veils come off at the gates. They are for the parents friends who might recognise them.
We visit the Impala in the afternoon, huge Muslim building built as a project to employ the poor. There are a lot of lone young men around and we experience the only harassment we get in India.
Kaye has already experienced an accidental ‘bumping into’ by a youth and we challenge him, supported by our guide. Are middle aged ladies some kind of erotic speciality? There is a labyrinth forbidden to couples and lone females, accessed by small narrow corridors and steps, and despite my dislike of heights we climb up into it. Endless corridors open into vast open air terraces with awesome views. A young man ‘accidentally’ touches me above my bosom as he squeezes past and like lightening I deliver the Kill Bill 2 Five point palm exploding heart technique aka four fingered jab into his tum-tum , equally ‘accidentally’, and he loudly apologizes before his elderly parents, who are only steps ahead of him, get to hear about it. We visit another vast monument, strangely coldly similar, hung with strange lights.
Back to the hotel and huge excitement! The Rani has rung and the following morning we go for coffee at her house in Lucknow. We are picked up by car, in the front passenger seat sits a man with a machine gun. Being a politician is a dangerous business in India. We get to exchange some more of our shared history. In the Rajahs family version, Granny is a prisoner of the sepoys, her life is in the balance and she is brought before him and he guarantees her safety. But in her account, written only a couple of weeks after she reached safety, she is never a prisoner. She goes voluntarily to the Rajah of her own accord, though warned off by her own countrymen.
I have got quite close to this female ancestor separated from me by 160 years and feel very defensive about her and her ability to look after herself. If she was a prisoner then there isn’t a story, or the story doesn’t have her at the helm. Time has mythologized the event; everyone comes out with more clearly defined heroic roles. But we have her letters so we know that reality is messier. The Rajah was still her rescuer, it’s just she wasn’t remotely passive about it. ‘I will go to the Rajah Massoodingh!’ she commands, ignoring the advice of her Britisher companions and only weedy Mrs Stroyan who has just had a baby wants to go too.
Granny Goldney was the kind of old gal who could have delivered the five palm exploding heart technique herself.
This is a truth that has to be negotiated with tact. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s political parade but there must be a path through this that will leave us with two heroes and no zeroes!