History is the tale of the victor…a narrative that is controlled. That is why, many brave and valiant people down the ages still stay unnamed and unrecognized for their great sacrifices. However, one can still dig into the past, not in history books, but in the oral histories that are passed down in tight-knit communities. We can look for true tales of bravery in small but authentic accounts of common people. And this is the task that is accomplished by the book- The Incredible Life of Jhalkari Bai – the Braveheart warrior by Swati Sengupta (Talking Cub, an imprint of Speaking Tiger Books).
The story starts off by establishing the inherent bravado of the protagonist. As a little girl, Jhalkari Bai had killed a tiger with bare hands. The story of this brave girl, destined to be a warrior plays out against the backdrop of the slow and pervasive British invasion of India. As the colonizers slowly made in roads and attached the independence of smaller kingdoms, brave Indians, both royal and otherwise, fought brave and hard for their motherland. And amongst these brave individuals were some very strong women.
Jhalkari Bai’s life story plays out on this canvas and the book tells the reader about her inculcation into the private army of the Rani of Jhansi. We know about the immense courage of Rani Laxmibai. Her image, a brave woman on a horse with a child on her back is imprinted in our minds. But there were other characters in this story who also played a vital role, and Jhalkari bai was definitely an important one. Through simple storytelling and captive words, Sengupta captures the spirit of a woman who refused to adhere to the restrictive norms of gender and caste that marked her times. It is the story of a woman who lived, and died on her own terms.
Significant gems are often lost in the annals of history. The story of Jhalkari Bai, a Dalit woman in the personal army of Rani Laxmibai is one such treasure that is unraveled in this book! This biographical series is targeted at middle grade readers in the 10+ age group and is a delightful addition to a school library, as well as your personal collection at home. And yes, it would be a better idea still to make it a part of a history class activity. The story of Jhalkari Bai may be just a footnote in textbooks, but it deserves to be told, loud and clear!