It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever. Hanorah, never knew to stay without Francis. All she knew that her wait would be over soon.
Born in a typical Irish family in Wicklow, Hanorah O’Brien, youngest of the three O’Brien sisters was quintessentially beautiful and witty. Hanorah, loved music, reading and adventure. Though in Wiclow she was unable to satiate her desire to venture further in the Irish coastline for sheer thrill , she harboured the same for someday. Her sisters Betty, and Mary, preferred knitting and discussing about prospects of a handsome groom for themselves. But the sisters bonded very well. Martin O’Brien was the owner of vast stretches of land where he mainly farmed potatoes. He toiled hard outside and Elizabeth, mother of the O’Brien sisters , took care of her family. The fate of O’Brien family, like many others in Ireland changed in 1845. That time Hanorah was fifteen, and her elder sisters Betty was eighteen and Mary, was all of sweet sixteen years old. The great Potato Famine struck, and before it could take a worse turn, Martin O’Brien, sold his property or whatever he could and moved to Finsbury, near London. Hanorah, wanted to learn music but now she knew she had to take care of her family as well, because her family was going through a tough time. The famine had left Martin dejected and anxious for days. “Can we ever go back to Wiclow ?,” Hanorah, asked her mother. Elizabeth looked deeply in her youngest daughter’s eyes, perhaps gathering her words and at that moment they heard Mary’s outcry . The ladies scurried out to see Martin O’Brien fell down from the stage coach and lay motionless. He died with and carried Wicklow in his heart.
Life changed rapidly for O’Brien family. With three unmarried daughters and meager livelihood, a stark contrast from their lives in Wiclow, Elizabeth became apprehensive of future. She just wanted her daughters to be married off. When Francis Doyle, a young Lieutenant òf the British Army, expressed his desires to marry one of the O’Brien sisters, Elizabeth was gratified beyond words. The young man met the sisters at the Kennedy’s tea party and took a liking for them. But Elizabeth’s happiness was ephemeral as Francis wanted to marry Hanorah and not Betty. For the next three days Betty retired to her room and maintained an ominous silence and finally on the fourth day announced that she would never marry. “You must forgive me sister, I think it is all my fault”, Hanorah, unconditionally felt guilty and ashamed at the young man’s choice which created a chasm in her family. Betty did not take any notice of Hanorah and never spoke to her. Mary, desperately, wanted the matter to be resolved as she loved both her sisters. Elizabeth tried to convince Francis for marrying Betty but that was not to be. Secretly Francis met Hanorah, and they both started liking each other. Their marriage in 1850, was a happy union. They lived in Finsbury , near her parents’ home for few years .
Britain was in the lap of Industrial Revolution. Population boomed alarmingly, more and more towns became modern and embraced city life. Railways made headlines. But it was also the era of changes, of transformation. Britain concentrated more in colonialism.
“ Han, will you come with me?” Hanorah looked at him with surprise and expectation. “Where?”’ , Hanorah knew that coloumns of British Army was being sent to different places. Francis held her hands, drew her closer and whispered in her ear, “India”. Hanorah, though well versed in all subjects yet knew less of India, so she remained quiet. Francis sensed the same and gave her the option to stay back. The thrill of the unknown always enthralled Hanorah. More so, she wanted to be always with her dear husband. So bidding adieu to Finsbury, the Doyles sailed for India in September 1855.
As East India Company with all its might endeavored to spread its root in India, the British Residency in Lucknow stood as a sign of British power. Francis became a part of the forces in Lucknow Recidency in one of the garrison. For Hanorah, she instantly fell in love with India. She felt as if she was born to be a part of this place. She tried to pick up the language from the gardener, though she couldnot understand the words , she somehow tried to connect.. During the evenings , Francis and Hanorah strolled quietly in the garden. She loved her newly stitched puffed sleeved frock. She also wore crinoline and attimes preferred to dress up in knickerbockers. She became passionate about gardening . She loved the sparrows and parrots and even the buzzing of the bees made her happy. Attimes she accompanied her husband in hunting though she detested the sport. She dissuaded Francis for the same.
They socialized in the ball room and always enjoyed the pleasant evenings with Francis. But she also loved to wander in the local market, though she witnessed many eyebrows being raised. She would beat the curiosity of locals, and tried to utter a word or two, in the native language of the region. Gradually she felt accepted to a point.
She saw an old woman making pots under a shady Banyan tree at the southern most corner of the market. She pondered about speaking to her. She discussed the same with Francis, who refuted the idea. But one day, Hanorah, mustered enough courage and spoke in her broken hindi, “ aaap pottery teach kharogeh?” The old lady, in her 70’s, said, “meri naam Durgarani Devi hai, mein garaib hoon, mujhe chhor dijiye..”, the old women thinking that the firangi will take away her business and not allow to sell anymore. Hanorah stood with a surprised look. She had a pleasant disposition and the tranquility in her face assuaged the old lady, after some time.
She knew that Hanorah was not a threat. Hanorah often went to the market and tried learning to make pottery, couple of times she also invited Durgarani in the British Residency. The old lady came with her eight year old grand daughter, Sunanda. From Sunanda, Hanorah learnt to make garlands specially with morning glory flowers. Somehow Hanorah, waited and expected to see Sunanda. There was a strange yet easy bond between the two. She knew motherhood was bliss but till then couldn’t feel it.
In her letters to her mother, and sister Mary, she mentioned every detail of her life in India. Mary was married in a wealthy Welsh family and had two children. Betty, kept her promise of never marrying.
It was 1857 and many Indians were feeling that their rights were violated. She sensed the same discontented voice of Mukhtar, her gardener. Around 30th May, the condition of Lucknow became volatile. Hanorah learnt that the exile of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, annexure of British Empire in Oudh , revolt by Berjis Quadr, son of the exiled Nawab, mainly triggered massive armed unrest against the British. Hanorah, worried about the safety of her husband, of all British soldiers and somewhere she also wanted the Indians to get their right. She was caught in ambivalence. It was the night of June 4th that the Residency again shook with sounds of cannon, artillery shelling, and there was smell of gunpowder every where. Hanorah held the Bible tightly. Francis was out on duty, Hanorah waited to hear from her husband with bated breath. Women and children scuttled everywhere, worried about the present and anxious about the future. Even with tremendous effort from Sir Henry Lawrence the British forces were forced to bite dust. At that point she saw Francis, all smeared with blood standing on the other end. But there was an uncanny halo around him. He just stood there as his smile gradually faded away. Hanorah, heard some rumbling, cracking and breaking sound, but before she could react, with a loud thud a part of the parapet broke down on her. She wreathed in excruciating pain. She could only think of Francis, images of her parents and sisters and life in Wicklow flashed by. Curious little face of Sunanda glimpsed through and then she could feel nothing.
Gradually by November , the siege of Lucknow ended with efforts of Sir Collin Campbell and Union Jack ruthlessly fluttered assuring next ninety years of British dominance in Indian soil. But Francis and Hanorah, nestled where they were, untouched by every commotion around them. They were happy souls.
Its been very long, since the siege of Lucknow. Though the earlier grandeur of the Residency diminished, its glory tarnished, yet the dilapidated structures had a quaint charm. The Doyles, loved their home. Just like their love for each other, it was touched by nothing, not even death. But today, its time for Francis to begin again. They knew it was coming but could not accept it. They argued, fought and then again held each other. They never wanted to let go. But it was Divine intervention and the cycle of life must go on. So Francis was gone. He faded into oblivion.
It had been 166 years of togetherness until the time came for Francis to be reborn. Hanorah, his beloved had to wait for her turn. She knew it would soon come.