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Royal rendezvous

Last updated: 09 April, 2011

They were once the kings and queens of princely states and ruled their respective kingdoms with aplomb.

Blue Blood
Uttara Chauhan
Penguin
2011, pp 256
250


They enjoyed the power and riches that came with it, as much as they revelled in the envy and adulation of their subjects. But, post-1971, with the withdrawal of the privy purse, their financial condition deteriorated.

All they were left with was their palatial residences which required a grand sum for their upkeep, grand memories of their lives as rulers, the tag of ‘royalty’, and an incessant struggle to maintain their status. While this is true of all erstwhile royal families, not many have been able to shrug off their glorious past and lead the life of commoners. It is precisely, this reality, that has been captured vividly by Uttara Chauhan in Blue Blood.

A collection of eight short stories, Blue Blood mirrors the travails of former royals even as they struggle to come to terms with the harsh realities of life that require them to rub shoulders with ‘commoners’ and actually look for ways and means to earn a livelihood.

A plight, so well depicted in every story of this collection. If Surya in The Guest is unwilling to let go of his royal past, there is Digby in Blue Blood, the title story, who is set to go to any length to reclaim his seat of power. The desperation of the older members of royal families to relive their past glory comes through brilliantly in the characterisation of Arjun Singh and Meera from The Double Life of an Indian Prince.

While most of them shut themselves out to the outside world for the fear of being ridiculed for their failure to maintain the royal lifestyle they so enjoyed once, some like Surya and Meera take the alcohol route to drown their sorrows. There is also the curious case of Digby who immerses himself in the excesses for which most royal families are known for — booze and women.

Fortunately for us, not all royal family members cling to their past glory. For instance, one of the bright spots of the collection is Arya from The Double Life of an Indian Prince, who epitomises all things ‘unroyal’. An educated product of an influential royal family, his heart is more into hotel business than royal business, where he has to sport silk sherwanis and turbans and attend countless ground breaking ceremonies, inaugurations and weddings. So is Ranvir, a gay, in The Birthday, who has nerves enough to make his gender preferences public.

The arrogance of the once ruling class that they were the rulers and people better respect them for what they were, their penchant for breaking rules, their scornful attitude towards their underlings... Blue Blood mirrors it all.

Despite the high-handed nature of the menfolk in royal families, that women enjoyed a certain amount of freedom and rights comes across as a pleasant surprise. Sitara’s (from

The Guest) words — “Sometimes it’s good to break the rules and make new ones” — speak for most women characters in the book, and especially so for Chandra Kumari, the haughty and mean artist-politician in Different Strokes, who demands respect from the outside world owing to her regal past.

However, the common thread among these various tales is the centrality of emotions the erstwhile rulers and their families experience when stripped of their powers and riches.

Their inability to get on with the ordinariness of life is interpreted in a touching manner. The vulnerability of the once privileged class to the vices modern life has to offer, and its refusal to accept the insipidity of a plebeian existence is captured brilliantly in each and every story of the book.

If, at some point in our lives, we were envious of the royal families for their blue blood, lineage and riches, Blue Blood definitely makes us heave a sigh of relief that we are mere commoners and nothing more.

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