The Escape of the Rani of Jhansi

Well, what we learn is this.

Rani Laxmibai jumped over the fort in the dead of the night, surrounded by her guards. She had her baby, Damodar Rao, tied to her back as she jumped off the fort wall on her favorite horse, Badal.

What Vishnubhat Godse wrote

The Rani, we were told, left the fort at midnight. All those that were there related to her by blood, such as Moro Pant Tambe, rode alongside her. They were well armed and each one had a bag of gold coins strapped to his or her waist. The treasury had been emptied out and all the gold and precious objects were piled upon the back of an elephant that was placed at the centre of this group. They were further accompanied by some two hundred loyal men ready to die for their ruler and twelve hundred soldiers of fortune recruited earlier from foreign lands. The Rani was dressed in unorthodox male attire: trousers, stockings and boots, with weapons by her side. Her precious white steed, bought at a price of two-and-a half thousand rupees, was her most treasured possession. This was the mount chosen by the Rani of Jhansi as she left her fort with her adopted son secured to her back with a satin sash. She carried only a rupee coin by way of personal wealth. Praise be to such a one!
The group shouted ‘Jai Shankar!’ as it descended the steps of the fort and, walking through the inner city, exited through the gates. The people of Jhansi, without worrying about what the white men’s army would do to them, had decided to gather by the roadside to hear what their beloved Rani wished to say to them at this moment of final leave-taking. They had faith in the guards who accompanied her and believed that they would fight to a man to protect her. As soon as the Rani left the city, word reached the white army and they woke up with a roar and began firing the cannons. The Rani too had a gun; she fired in self-defence and galloped away. Many died in the melee that ensued, but the Rani escaped. In the dark, the white men could not see clearly which of the horses carried the Rani. Her galloping horse, and another on which one of her trusted maidservants sat, broke through the British cordon. The two horses were headed to Kalpi. The British gave a chase, but it was too dark to make out the path taken by the Rani and they turned back after a while, hoping that she may have died in the gunfire after she left the fort. They kept up the firing for a while, but in the morning, when they searched among the dead, they didn’t find the dead body of the Rani of Jhansi.
The Rani arrived at a border village early in the morning. There, she united her son and fed then at the headman’s house and then resumed her journey as before, without taking so much as a morsel herself. She spent some twenty-four hours on horseback and arrived at Kalpi around midnight, which shows her true grit and courage.

What Kaye wrote

All that night, and throughout the following day, desultory fighting continued, the enemy being either slaughtered or driven under the shelter of the fort guns. Sir Hugh was meanwhile engaged in organizing measures for an attack on the fortress. But the Rani saved him further trouble on that score. On the night of the 4th, despairing of a successful defence of the fortress, and, hoping that her presence at Kalpi might induce
Topi once more to aid her, she evacuated the fortress with her remaining followers.
She rode straight for Kalpi, and arrived there the very evening on which Tantia, who had travelled more leisurely, reached that place. Sir Hugh sent a cavalry force in pursuit of her, but the start had been too great. A few of the fugitives were, however, cut up.

Kaye writes she simply ran away with a few people, they were not able to catch her because they got to know about it only after some time. But, Godse gives a different picture – she scythed her way through the British lines with the royal treasury. Some on her side perished but we can reasonably assume that she was able to escape with the many. One important thing to note is, Moropant Tambe was severely injured and was captured in Datia a few days later. When bullets were able to reach the core group, we can only guess how desperate their position was and how brutal the fight was. Well, Godse doesn’t write about the elephant. But, the hint he gives is, the British acted with naked brutality after this – is it because of the escape of the prize catch, or is it because they were not able to loot the treasury, can we ever know?

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