LIFESTYLE AS RESISTANCE:THE CASE OF THE COURTESANSOF LUCKNOW, INDIA
VEENA TALWAR OLDENBURGWhen, in 1976, I was doing the research for a study on the socialconsequences of colonial urbanization in LucknowI1 a city innorthern India situated about a third of the way between Delhiand Calcutta, I came across its famous courtesans for the firsttime. They appeared, surprisingly, in the civic tax ledgers of1858-77 and in the related official correspondence preserved in theMunicipal Corporation records' room.2 They were classed underthe occupational category of "dancing and singing girls,"and as if itwas not surprise enough to find women in the tax records, it waseven more remarkable that they were
the highest tax bracket,with the largest individual incomes of any in the city. The courte-sans' names were also on lists of property (houses, orchards,manufacturing and retail establishments for food and luxuryitems) confiscated by British officials for their proven involvementin the siege of Lucknow and the rebellion against British rule in1857. These women, though patently noncombatants, were penal-ized for their instigation of and pecuniary assistance to the rebels.On yet another list, some twenty pages long, are recorded thespoils of war seized from one set of "female apartments" in thepalace and garden complex cded the Kaisar Bagh, where some ofthe deposed ex-King Wajid
Shah's three hundred or more con-sorts3resided when it was seized by the British. It is a remarkablelist, eloquently evocative of a privileged existence: gold and silverornaments studded with precious stones, embroidered cashmerewool and brocade shawls, bejeweled caps and shoes, silver-, gold-,jade-, and amber-handled fly whisks, silver cutlery, jade goblets,plates, spitoons, hookahs, and silver utensils for serving and stor-
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