Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Blog Tour: Serena Fairfax on Why I Love the Rani of Jhansi

Today I am very excited to welcome Serena Fairfax to my blog with a guest post as part of the blog tour for her new book Mango Bay

I found this post totally fascinating and wanted to know more after reading the post, and I hope you do too!


Her name was Manikarnika and, often called Cchabili (playful), she was born in 1827 in Varanasi, a city on the banks of the Ganges River. Her mother died when she was a toddler whereupon her father moved to Jhansi, some 500 km away in northern India, where he was employed in the service of the Maharajah of Jhansi. This gave her access to a good education, something that many girls in those days lacked; she had a head for figures and excelled at horsemanship, swordsmanship and shooting.

Attractive, intelligent and good-humoured, she caught the eye of the Ruler, Maharajah Gangadar Rao Newalkar, a cultured, statesmanlike, but lonely, man who, despite the age difference of thirty years, determined to make her his queen. On her wedding day in 1843, she changed her first name to Lakshmi, in honour of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, fortune and power who enables one to achieve one’s goals.

The Rani shunned the practice of purdah; worked tirelessly to improve the lot of the destitute, regardless of caste; immersed herself in affairs of state; took action to grow Jhansi’s economy; was outspoken at meetings with courtiers and foreign officials, endlessly quizzing the latter about life in their homeland, and liked nothing better than being a hands-on gardener.

The flipside to her otherwise happy marriage was the sudden cot death of their first-born infant son. The couple had no more children but, as was then usual, they adopted a five- year- old boy, a son of the Rajah’s cousin. The adoption ceremony, witnessed and endorsed by a British Political Officer of the notorious East India Company, ratified the child as the lawful heir and the Rajah’s designation of Lakshmi as Regent and Ruler of Jhansi for life, in the event of the Rajah’s death.

The Rajah, whose health had been rocky for some time, succumbed in November 1853. The widowed Rani took up the reins of power and, with women as her close aides, ruled in a no-nonsense, business-like yet compassionate manner managing, every morning before breakfast, to exercise by wrestling, weightlifting or riding.

In March 1854 the Company reneged on its deal and sought to annul Lakshmi’s government. Applying the Doctrine of Lapse it rejected the adopted child as the rightful heir, unlawfully annexed Jhansi to its territories and offered Lakshmi a generous pension on condition she ceded control and departed from Jhansi and the palace. ‘Main apni Jhansi nahi doongi’ (I won’t surrender my Jhansi) she declared, flatly refusing to budge.

When the Rani’s negotiations with the Company broke down three years later, Company troops, under General Hugh Rose (a life-long bachelor), who found her to be ‘personable, clever, accomplished and beautiful and the most dangerous of all Indian leaders,’ besieged Jhansi. Thousands of Lakshmi’s subjects were gunned down and the city was set ablaze. Men, with their wives clutching children, threw themselves down wells in a bid to escape.

At dead of night the Rani saddled up and leapt astride her favourite 15 hands, black Arabian stallion, Baadal (meaning Cloud), and galloped out of Jhansi, taking a secret route only she was privy to, with her young son strapped to her back.

Meanwhile, a serious rebellion had erupted against the Company in other parts of India. This is the uprising that’s known as the First War of Independence (formerly called the Indian Mutiny). Lakshmi threw in her lot with the protestors. Women and men flocked to her call to arms and she raised and trained a disciplined battalion of warriors of both genders.

Donning a turban and uniform and accompanied by loyalists commanding their own forces, the Rani charged into combat in Gwalior to confront the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars. A fierce battle ensued. She was thrown from her horse, badly wounded by a hussar’s curved-blade sabre. As she lay on the ground in blood stained clothing, she drew a pistol, took aim and fired it at the soldier. He later reported to his Colonel: ‘I despatched the young lady with my carbine.’ She was twenty-nine.

‘The Indian Mutiny had produced but one man,’ General Rose said when fighting ceased, ‘and that man was a woman.’

The Company’s widespread corruption and tyrannical policies led to its downfall and abolition in 1858 when, by Act of Parliament, its powers were transferred to the Crown who assumed direct control of India until Independence in 1947.

And what had become of the young prince? Rescuers had fled into the jungle with him and it was several years before the British authorities stumbled across them. They treated the boy well, awarded him a lifetime allowance, provided him with seven retainers and placed him in the care of a kind-hearted guardian. He never returned to Jhansi.

Lakshmi — unconventional queen, wife and mother — left an indelible mark on history. She’s commemorated in statues throughout India and on postage stamps. Celebrated in films, TV series, novels, poetry and song, parks, thoroughfares and institutions are named after her.

An icon of emancipation, she blazed a trail for future generations of women.


About the Book

  • Paperback : 299 pages 
  • ISBN-10 : 0957040563 
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0957040564 
  • Product Dimensions : 13.97 x 1.91 x 21.59 cm 
  • Publisher : Ironberry Books (26 Sept. 2020) 


Jazz clubs, yacht clubs, aunty bars and a Bollywood beauty shadowed by her pet panther. This is glamorous Bombay in the late 1950s. 

Love has blossomed in London between vivacious Scottish Presbyterian, Audrey, and clever Indian lawyer, Nat Zachariah. 

When the happy newlyweds move to Nat’s exotic homeland and the striking family villa, Audrey must deftly navigate the rituals, secrets, intrigues and desires of his Bene Israel Jewish community, and adjust to perplexing new relatives. 

In time, the past unlocks, old family ties unravel, lies are exposed and passions run high as different generations fall out. Then something shocking happens that undoes everything. Will this marriage that has crossed boundaries survive? 


Serena spent her childhood in India, qualified as a Lawyer in England, and worked in a London law firm. 

Some of her novels have a strong romantic arc although she burst the romance bubble with one quirky departure. Other novels pull the reader into the dark corners of family life and relationships. She enjoys the challenge of experimenting and writing in different genres. 

Her short stories and a medley of articles, including her reviews of thrillers and crime fiction, feature on her blog. 

Fast forward to a sabbatical from the day job when Serena traded in bricks and mortar for a houseboat that, for a hardened land lubber like her, turned out to be a big adventure. A few of her favourite things are collecting old masks, singing and exploring off the beaten track. 

Serena and her golden retriever, Inspector Morse, who can’t wait to unleash his own Facebook page, live in London. 

Twitter @Sefairfax