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  • Jhansi in the Colonial Cloak
    After a day spent trekking in and around the cenotaphs, floating on the river in a paddle boat with wife and boatman, we walked across to the main Ram Rajya temple and then walked back to our hotel as the sounds of the evening aarti receded in the background.
     
    This temple is a new construction, has a pair of ancient cannons at its entry gate, is blessed with a gun salute provided by the Uttar Pradesh police during the day and the evening aarti is certainly vibrant - and has big NO PHOTOGRAPHY signs all over. I had to use all my charm to be permitted to take that one photograph you see with the cannon, the temple guard, and the main entry to the Ram Rajya Temple.
     
     
    The cenotaphs, a full day’s engagement as I mentioned, look much better at sunset. The official closing time is 5pm. Motivation works if you want to meander around as the shadows lengthen. Plus the ghat near the river becomes interesting - local musicians often gather there for impromptu concerts, or on demand. Ask around. There is great mystery unfolding here when the sun sets.
     
     
    Next morning, after a filter coffee by the river and breakfast, we checked out of the Riverside Bundelkhand, and decided to spend the rest of the day in Jhansi. In our original plans we had allowed a full day there, before catching the Shatabdi back. Big mistakes, plural.
     
     
    The famous Jhansi Fort, maintained by ASI and Central government, is full of surly employees and security guards with nothing better to do than to try and force me to admit that I was a foreigner. Brightly coloured socks again. A documentary show which is part of the ticket price, I am informed by another surly gentleman, is available on YouTube. Allow 30 minutes here for a badly maintained property, which could and should otherwise have a more prideful place in our history as the Red Fort. 
     
    Next on the agenda is the Jhansi Museum. This one put me off right away. Big banners celebrating Jhansi ki Rani, fair enough, but do they have to mention "Mutiny of 1857" all over the place too? "First Battle of Independence" is what it is. Operated by the State government, this one is dusty, and kind of haphazard. Also, the ladies toilet was locked, and nobody knew who had the key because "Madam was absent". Suggestion offered was that a security guard would stand outside the gentlemen’s toilet if ladies wanted to use the facility. 
     
    And finally, the Shatabdi from Bhopal towards New Delhi via Jhansi is not at all anywhere close to the Gatimaan Express in all respects - and we opted for the later Shatabdi because we assumed that Jhansi was worth a full day.
     
    Which is a pity, because the Fort could do with much better signage explaining things, and the Museum likewise. The First War of Independence, for example, has never been explained to us properly in our history and perception management - which is, that it was a pan-India movement, and involved heavy co-ordination as well as logistics to push the British from all over to take refuge across the Ganga towards Roorkee and Dehradun and Delhi. Instead, both the Fort and the Museum in Jhansi tend to glorify the British, which might have been acceptable at one time, but now, in 2019?
     
    With nothing else to do in Jhansi, we grabbed a bite at a surprisingly pleasant "Bakers Factory" in Jhansi, good satisfying cannelloni and packed a pizza as back-up for the Shatabdi ride ahead. And with 3 hours still to kill, decided to check out the "Herbal Garden", which even our otherwise well informed driver did not know about. In Jhansi Cantonment, it will come up on your map, otherwise ask any of the many military people around.
    This was the high point of our trip to Jhansi and we shall recommend it to everybody headed that way. The back story here is that this was a 50 acre or so patch of cantonment board land being eyed by the land-grabber lobby, so it was rapidly developed by the resident military formations into a huge bio-diversity park with sculptures made from military scrap. The horticulturists there are keen to explain things in the precise military way, the bio-toilet in the park is clean and unlocked, the signage and stories are well laid out, and most of all - the place is safe from leering security. Sure, there are eyes over the whole park, but they are not intrusive. Open to all, free, and a big salute to the people who thought it up and then made it happen. 
     
    We then headed for Jhansi railway station and all the scams that it provides us with, including the parking lot. It’s not much better on the platform, we have seen much cleaner ones. The executive lounge for passengers travelling in executive class or 1AC has become an enclosure for VIPs only. The waiting room is filthy. The platform for our train is announced 6 minutes before arrival, which leaves many, especially foreign tourists, running around in panic. And finally, as the Bhopal Shatabdi wheezes in, the thousands of birds above the uncovered platform decide it is time for their evening rituals, so some passengers get blessed with bird droppings as a parting gift.
     
     
    Overall, Orchha is certainly a must-do if your interests extend to trying to decipher old temples as providers of open source technology, and also as an example of the genuine honesty and innocence that comes out of Bundelkhand. Unlike in many other tourist towns in India, for example, all the shops were operated by local people including women. They are honest, and that means a lot if you go with family. Jhansi, on the other hand, is like my report card from school - "can do better if tries".
     
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    COMMENTS

    tanay

    5 months ago

    Jhansi is more generous towards the British probably coz of the big cantonment crowd present there....also the fort is not as well maintained since the yadavs are busy grabbing land and the mayawati are busy building their.own statues. Who cares for history?

    REPLY

    Rohan Chaube

    In Reply to tanay 5 months ago

    Things would have been totally different if jhansi was in MP. Sheer badluck. Why would the govts. in UP care for Bundelkhand(the U.P. part) when it merely offers 20-30 seats in a 400+ assembly.

    Those Magnificent Women and Their Flying Machines
    The invitation was routine, the speakers were not.
     
    The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)-Indian Women Network, Mumbai was hosting a summit on Indian women achievers. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s Mangalyaan women were to share their stories about how they helped launch the Mars Orbiter Mission in 2013-14. Drawn by curiosity and an innate fascination with space scientists—picturing them as extraordinary beings with unusual lifestyles—I went to listen to the women scientists talk about space. 
     
    For that one hour, Ritu Karidhal, Minal Sampat and Moumita Datta clearly owned the space and the room, full of mostly corporate women. They described the Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM and their work yes, but the manner in which they did it was utterly fascinating. One line in particular stayed with me long after I left the scientists to bask in the unaccustomed spotlight.
     
    One of them lightly remarked, “We worked on the Mars mission during the day and we often worked nights and in between we looked after our families and children”. 
     
    It was this matter-of-fact attitude, with its unmistakable assumption of competency and confidence, that grabbed my attention. 
     
    And the idea of writing a book on these women ‘from Mars and not Venus’ took shape on that day. A book that would profile these women scientists as icons for the next generation, especially young girls interested in science.
     
    How did these women manage to overcome gender stereotyping, male biases, societal prejudices? Did they face any glass ceiling, were they ‘mansplained’ to at work, were they given the important path-breaking projects to work on? 
     
    In late 2013, the ISRO launched Mangalyaan—India’s first inter-planetary mission—after just eighteen months, at a fraction of the cost of similar missions by foreign space agencies. The next year India became the first Asian nation to reach the Mars orbit and the first in the world to do so in its first attempt. 
     
    This historic mission, among ISRO’s other great successes, had amongst its leaders some of the most talented, dedicated and intrepid group of women scientists that the world has ever seen. Nandini Harinath and Ritu Karidhal, deputy operations directors for MOM, calculated the spacecraft’s trajectory to Mars, besides overseeing the mission operations; Moumita Dutta and Minal Sampat, project managers for MOM, designed the complex scientific instruments involved in the mission; while numerous other ‘Wonder Women’ have been instrumental in ISRO’s pathbreaking work in this mission and others. The many women scientists working in important areas for MOM—as indeed on other missions—executed their tasks with precision and efficiency just like their male counterparts. The only difference during MOM was that the Indian public and the world got a glimpse of these women for the first time.
     
    In the weeks and months that followed, I spent time with several women scientists at ISRO, interviewing not just the Mangalyaan women but various others in navigation, remote sensing, communication, applications and space science. I met veteran and senior-most scientists such as T K Anuradha (program director GEOSAT), N Vellarmathi (deputy director URSC) and Seetha Somasundaram (program director Space Science). I met youngsters such as Durga Darshini and Aasiyabano among 11 other women scientists at the Space Applications Centre in Ahmedabad.
     
    These women opened to me windows into a lesser-known but enthralling world. For a science-challenged person like me, they also simplified explanations and terms, processes and missions, sharing anecdotes about tough times of not just doing ‘rocket science’ but also ‘the balancing act’ they all juggle with on a daily basis with family responsibilities. Marriage, pregnancy breaks, raising children, parent-teachers’ association (PTA) meetings jostling for space with high-pressure assignments and demanding deadlines. Time management was their key mantra to an equitable work-life-family balance.
     
    The air of quiet efficiency came through even in simple interactions with me—I never had to remind anyone about an appointment time, if a power point presentation for a school lecture had to be submitted in advance, it was done without a second prompt; data I needed was provided immediately by the scientists.
     
    They came across as regular, hard working women doing exceptional work with a minimum of fuss and fanfare. As I have written in the book, ‘they wear their gender tag lightly’, letting their work speak for itself. 
     
    The work these ISRO women scientists do is awe-inspiring and aspirational for the millions of young girls across India who want to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), explore the mysteries of science and navigate their own odyssey into space. 
     
    For me, as a documentary film maker and journalist their stories were as good as watching science fiction films, which, as one of the scientists remarked, they don’t have to do since they have enough of it in their daily lives! 
     
    Here is the link to pre order the book. https://www.speakingtigerbooks.com/shop/non-fiction/22250/
     
    Minnie Vaid has juggled multiple roles over a three-decade stint in mainstream media. She is a print and television journalist, a documentary filmmaker, creative producer for feature films and more recently, author of three non-fiction books, A Doctor to Defend: The Binayak Sen Story (2011); Iron Irom: Two Journeys (2013) and The Ant in the Ear of the Elephant (2016).
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    COMMENTS

    Meenal Mamdani

    6 months ago

    Wonderful write up. Truly these women are outstanding and yet so matter of fact. The author has done a great job of describing their challenges and achievements.

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