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Preserving the Raj heritage

A remarkable lady, Rosie Llewellyn-Jones comes to India every year because of her love for Indian history, says R.V. SMITH


It was in the 1960s that a small, petite young woman came to Delhi. She was not one of the hippies or flower people who were then flocking to India in search of gurus. The woman was Rosie Llewellyn-Jones accompanied by her husband and daughter. They did not stay long in the Capital but went to Udaipur, where they lived in a village. "We were very poor", she says, "and I used to cook our meals on a charcoal angithi. At night we slept on the terrace under the stars, something unimaginable in England, where people at the most kept the windows of their rooms open in summer but did not sleep out. It was a new experience and the desert breeze that blows at night in Rajasthan was cool and refreshing". She goes onto say, "My daughter, then just a child, had picked up the local dialect and would translate all that she heard from village women, even without understanding what it meant".

Since then, her love affair with India began. Rosie joined college in England for her history course and also learnt Hindi and Urdu, which were to help in her research work on Lucknow, on the monuments on which she did her Ph.D and became Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones. Rosie comes to India every year, not only because her second husband stays in Delhi, but also because of her love for Indian history and association with the Royal Asiatic Society.

She has also visited Nepal where she traced the grave of Begum Hazrat Mahal, wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, who played such a heroic role during the Mutiny in Lucknow. The Begum had stayed behind in the Awadh capital because Wajid Ali Shah had divorced her before he was exiled to Kolkata by the British in 1856. When the British recaptured Lucknow, Hazrat Mahal escaped to Nepal with her son, Brijis Qadr, a small boy then.

She stayed on in Kathmandu despite all attempts by the British to get her back for trial as a rebel. The Begum built a mosque in the Nepalese capital, known as the Hindustani Masjid, and lived to an old age.

Dinner chat

Dr. Llwellyn-Jones discloses all this during a dinner chat in Delhi. Her visit this time is in connection with the graves of the Armenians, many of which have disappeared, but among the surviving ones are those in the D'Eremao Cemetery, near Kishanganj railway station, now badly encroached upon by squatters. Rosie says despite the label of Armenian Cemetery, it is among the first European cemeteries in Delhi dating back to 1781 and named after Capt Manuel D'Eremao (1744-1829) grandson of Donna Juliana Diaz da Costa. Dr. Llewellyn-Jones will also go to Agra, which has many Armenians tombs, including that of Ustad Nazar Khan who cast the famous gun Zamzama.

But before that she will visit Kanpur to see the Sati-Chaura ghat where a massacre of English women and children took place during the Mutiny. As secretary of the British Association of Cemeteries in South Asia , she edits "Chowkidar", a quarterly journal that reports on people and places connected with the Raj. A remarkable lady, she will guide a special tour, assisted by Lt.Gen Menzes, of tourists and descendants of the British associated with the events of 1857 in September this year, which marks the 150th year of the Mutiny.

Her book on the Great Revolt, to be out this summer, is eagerly awaited, because she has the knack of breathing life into history.

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