Tryst with a Maharaja

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar (DH Photo)

It must have been in the year 1942. Our mining town was decked to the hilt to receive the young Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar on his first visit to the Kolar Gold Fields. A reception was arranged in nearby Robertsonpet where my teenaged sisters, Kshama and Mythilie, were the lucky ones chosen to perform an aarathi for him as he entered the decorated pandal.

I simply stood nearby with another sibling to greet him with flowers. Hardly four feet high, I wore a saffron and gold lehenga. But I did stand inches away from him which was captured on an 8 mm movie camera. Today, that film is all tattered at the edges, and in any case, where is the projector to screen it? The scene remains only in my memory now.

Fast forward to 1955. The scene is Crawford Hall in the Mysore University. For the second time in my life, I was to meet His Highness, now the Rajpramukh of Mysore, to receive my Master’s degree in English. The graduates were allotted seats in order of the subjects and ranks. Mr Noronha, the Registrar of Mysore University, personally supervised our rehearsal, with the constant warning not to step too close to His Highness, who would personally present us our degree certificates. After receiving the scroll of paper, we had to bow, step backward and return to our allotted places.

My father was permitted to sit in the front row to watch this proud moment. I was a nervous wreck when I climbed the steps of Crawford Hall wearing an outsized black convocation gown hired for the occasion, and a black tasseled cap perched rakishly on my head. I took my seat along with the other graduates. Next to me sat Krishna of the Mathematics department who was considered the genius of Central College. He was to receive a number of medals and prizes. But he seemed cool and indifferent.

Suddenly, the palace band struck a ceremonial welcome and Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar walked in majestically to the podium, escorted by his entourage.

The ceremony began with the Registrar announcing the names of candidates. My name came last as always in alphabetical order. When it was called, I found myself standing inches away from the Maharaja for the second time in my life. He gave me a scroll of paper, I whispered a “thank you, Sir” which was not on the agenda and stepped back three times as rehearsed to return to my allotted place. Did I see a soupcon of a smile on his face? Or, was it my imagination?

My father was clapping vigorously. In our excitement, both of us had forgotten to arrange a photographer to capture the moment. It lives only in my memory now.

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