The Daily Iowan

Rebellion: Takes a woman’s touch

Jocelyn Cullity will read from her novel, *Amah and the Silk-Winged Pigeons*, at Prairie Lights at 2 p.m. Saturday. Cullity focuses on the Indian-African resistance against the British and how the people fight to save their beloved city.


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By Madison Lotenschtein

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History is written by the winners of bloody disputes and by those who silenced brave individuals either by force or by the swift movement of an eraser. The events of Lucknow, India, in 1857, have been given little spotlight, and they were tucked into the back of the bookshelf; much like the majority of Britain’s past colonial subjects.

Author Jocelyn Cullity will read from her novel, *Amah and the Silk-Winged Pigeons,* at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., at 2 p.m. Saturday. The tale takes place in Lucknow, India, where Cullity’s great-great-great aunt had lived and kept a detailed diary during the months of her captivity during “The Red Year” of colonialism in India. Cullity’s mother, having taken interest in the diary, brought it home to her family, and ignited flames of ideas in the author’s mind.

After researching the events of the British annihilating the golden city, Cullity realized the women were the leaders of the resistance against their foreign leaders. Whether one is Princess Leia, or Amah, the lead woman in the book, women have long been leaders of the resistance in the past, present, and future.

“I was quite amazed that there was so little focus on the fact that the resistance to English rule was run by, and funded by, Indian women,” Cullity said. “There are lots and lots of English military histories on the events, but very few are interested in the Indian point of view. There is also very little in these English military histories about Begam Hazrat Mahal, who ran the campaign against the English, or the African-Indian women of the Rose Platoon. I became adamant about addressing the absence of these important women’s voices at a key historical moment.”

Born in Australia and raised in Toronto, Cullity knew from a young age that she would be an author. Cullity received a master’s degree from the University of Iowa, and she is now the director of the Bachelor of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing at Truman State University.

Historical novels based on true events, much like this one, can globally help people into realizing that there is much more to the dry, static facts in a classroom’s history textbooks. 

“I hope that they might come to love Lucknow in the same way that so very many people loved the city before the English destroyed it,” Cullity said, “And I hope that it helps to bring awareness to the roles that African-Indian women played in Lucknow during 1856-1858 and greater understanding about what happened to them afterwards because of their resistance to the English.” 

Cullity also provided themes of loss and tragedy in the all-too-real-story. Not just the heart-breaking loss of a family member or beloved friend but the loss of a person’s culture and identity. Author Catharine Leggett said the themes are applicable to real people. 

“All aspects of their world food, drink, lodging, smells, art, religion, justice, faith, mental and physical well-being have been under siege and are often taken completely away, leaving a devastated population that clings to what remains of a shattered identity,” Leggett said. “Loss goes from collective to the individual no one escapes it.” 

When: 2 p.m. Saturday 

Where: Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque

Admission: Free

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