You are intrigued as we walk out the tube station. You are trying to figure out what I had said a few minutes ago as we rode the escalator up to get to the street level. The Big Ben is visible. “I am reminded of Rani of Jhansi every time I am here,” I had said.
The Bronze Statue
At the street level we join the crowd. We do what everyone does. We pause to look up at the Big Ben and then turn left to join the crowd of tourists. They are walking towards the street intersection. We walk towards the crossway, you keep glancing to your left, pausing a little to take in the sight. Others in the crowd do the same. We keep walking towards the street intersection. I have travelled with you often. I am lost in my thoughts, staring straight ahead. You look ahead too. All there is to see is a throng of people on a bridge across a river. You think I am staring at a bronze statue on a pedestal across the street. It intrigues you again. You wonder, why does this remind someone of the Rani of Jhansi.
The crowd of people wait in anticipation for the traffic light to change. You would join the group to walk across the road to the Westminster Bridge. Someone has a cigarette in hand. A stick pops up from behind, over your right shoulder, there is a phone at the end of the stick. A young man with blonde hair has decided this is the spot to take some photos or a video. You were alert enough to take a quick step back as the two layers of people in front of you did the same. With a swoosh sound, from the left a red double decker bus turned into the road. The light changes.
The busy bridge
You begin to walk across the road and step on to the pavement and continue observing me. You wonder why I did not look at Big Ben yet. Follow my stare and my steps. You are at a pedestal about ten feet high, made of stone. The pedestal is hidden behind a souvenir stand. A middle-aged man with disheveled black hair is wrapping a souvenir plate in a newspaper page. Several scarves with monograms of football teams adorn the side of the stall. A young boy in denim shorts is trying to decide if he will buy the scarf of FC Barcelona.
He looks at you, pauses and turns his gaze on me. The stare is long. We are not supposed to be walking together. You had decided to wear your scarf from Tottenham Hotspurs, the black and white horizontal stripes and I was wearing the full blue scarf of Chelsea football club. We smile at the young boy and walk past towards the stone steps leading down.
Twenty steps lead down to the river. The stone banks are lined with boarding areas for sightseeing boats. You see me pointing down and start to follow. At the bottom of the steps we make a right and head towards the railing at the water’s edge. You come up to me and you turn back to look at where my raised hand points. You remember I would take you to my favourite spot to visit London landmark, the Big Ben.
A Celtic queen
Look at the pedestal. On top of the pedestal is a bronze statue. You look at the throng of people who are walking on to the bridge, they pass by the pedestal and the statue, hurriedly looking for the right spot on the bridge to turn back and point their phone or camera towards the clock tower.
You look at the pedestal again. It is the statue of a woman standing on a chariot. She is holding a spear on her right hand. Her left hand is raised towards the sky. Two horses are pulling her chariot. Their front legs are raised, bent at the knee and heads point upwards. Two young girls kneel behind the woman on the chariot. The woman is wearing a flowing robe and wears a crown on her head.
You take out your phone and point it towards the statue. You bend your right knee just enough to get the composition you desire. At the bottom of your screen is the statue and beyond the statue is the clock of the Big Ben. You see her coming down the steps. She is wearing a white shirt neatly tucked into a pair of blue jeans. She is holding up a closed, blue umbrella and seems to be speaking to a group of ten Chinese tourists.
She comes to the spot where you stood and assembles her group around her. You are within earshot. A girl in her twenties asked, “Susan, what was the name of this Queen you mentioned?” Susan was the name of the tour guide. She continued with her narration.
The history of Londonium
“This is Queen Boudica of the British Iceni tribe,” rang her shrill voice. The girl with the black hair questioned, “And this was somewhere around two thousand years ago?” Susan nodded. The Romans established a small village called Londonium along the Thames River.
“It is near the area where you find St Paul’s Cathedral today,” added Susan. The year was around 42 CE. The first revolt against Romans happened some twenty years after this. Warrior Queen Boudica led the first uprising against the Romans. The battle damaged Londonium heavily. After an initial setback, the Romans regrouped quickly and launched an offensive against Queen Boudica. The Romans killed Boudica and defeated her army. Roman control on Britain was reinforced.
Your right hand is on your mouth as Susan finishes her narrative and leads the group away. Your mind is a flurry of ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ comic covers as one blurry picture comes into focus.
Fighting for their land
The Queen of Jhansi, draped in a red sari, sits on a white horse. The left hand of the queen is stretches out and is holding a sword that arches up to the sky. Her right hand pulls back the reins on her horse. The Queen’s horse is on its hind legs and its front legs are up in the air, bent at the knees. The Queen of Jhansi would fight for her land. Many centuries after the battle fought by Queen Boudica, the British wanted to take away the kingdom of Jhansi in India. The Queen of Jhansi went into battle and died defending her land.
Your left hand grips the full frame of the camera that hangs from your neck. You are happy you have your desired lens, the one with a red circle and a large diameter. The wide angle will help here. You put your eye on the right of the viewfinder. The Queen’s statue and the Big Ben clock tower are visible. You can see nearly thirty feet of the bridge and one of the green lamp posts. As anticipated a traffic jam has occurred. Red double decker buses line the Westminster Bridge. Press down on the shutter. You have memorialized one example of quintessential London. You promise yourself to make time to read up on the Queen of Jhansi.
The Circle and District lines serve the Westminster tube station. The bridge and the Big Ben are across the street from there.
All images in the article were provided by Biswa Pratim Bhowmick.
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