The zoom lens on the camera were the first to spot it. A patch of brown in a sea of green. Some more zooming and out with curiosity more than anything else, least of all, understanding history, got us in front of this gate.
It looked like any other gate. A gate that was fastened with a chain and a piquant lock. The biggest battle that the gate seemed to wage was with the forces of nature and ofcourse, the undergrowth in the vicinity. Quite ordinary, you might think.
Except that we were standing on Palace Road. This was a gate that we passed twice, without realising that we were passing the gates of the Summer palace of the Raja of Travancore. At Kuttikanam. 140 kilometers South of Cochin in Kerala.
The royal folks that lived here are long gone. The palace sits in silence. Unpretentious yet majestic. The walls could tell you a multiple zillion stories. The walls… Its extra smooth walls, which if we were to believe the old caretaker and his young son, were polished with eggshells amongst a millon other things.
Teak floors. Teak roofs. The broken glass panes of windows that a royalty and their retinue would have operated, let in the fresh crisp sunrays of another lovely morning October morning. Like the windows would have, decades ago.
It’s a quaint, simple structure yet reeks of prosperity and a princely time that seem present, in their absence.
‘Nobody comes here’ says the caretaker, giving us a look half filled with surprise and the other half filled with curious disinterest. Yet, he indulges us in showing us around, and relating stories of a time that’s passed us all. A time, that he himself, has only heard of.
‘This is where the king received his guests’ he says pointing to a large hall with a spectacular window and view. He moves on, leaving you to fill up the picture of a king, his queen, generals and visitors. The tapestry of movies seen and narratives read, can feed the imagination well. Within no time, imaginative narratives of a scheming Diwan, a loyal minister, a lovely queen with the British knocking on the door, ran in my mind.
Only to be occasionally broken by the realistic narrative of the caretaker who by now was doubling up as a tour guide.” This is the queens room” he says lowering his voice marginally. Perhaps in awe. A yesteryear carpet still fills the floor. Decimated by time, and neglect.
The Royal emblem stares at you from the window. A broken cupboard still stands. Perhaps for reasons of pride, for falling down can reduce it to a pile of wood.
The toilet commodes are ‘Belgian’. The tiles Italian. The glass panes are from UK. So thinks the old caretaker and his young son. Who by now, we realize, has fed the curious minds of a few stray visitors like us. There is no reason why we wouldn’t believe what he was saying. It was adding up well.
I ran my fingers across the wall for some odd reason. Perhaps vicariously caressing royalty and a royal time. Ending up with an inch of dust and a consequent glare from the missus.
True to form, the kitchen could accommodate four ‘1 BHK’ Mumbai homes and has the giant bicep powered grinder. The hand grinder seemed remarkably dust free which intrigued us no end. The intrigue didnt last long though. ‘We use it’. He says. Quickly moving away leaving me facing the lotus shaped sinks, the vegetable racks and such else.
Right in the centre, is the ‘open to sky’ area. The undergrowth has come back with vengeance. Fungus, cobwebs and still air give the caretaker and his family company. So does life in flowers and bees.
Ofcourse there are those nuggets of architectural excellence like the central heating. Or the underground escape route, the splendour of using sunlight and the natural air, which by now, has become so de rigueur for us, that the eye brows don’t arch as much.
In a style that is typical of a city dweller who gets approached for taking a home loan once in two and half hours, we ask him about the owners and where they stay. Not that we had the slightest inkling of buying but then, you ask. As a matter of practice.
‘Its been bought by an IT company from Bangalore’ he says.
‘Ah IT’ is all that I mouth.
A quiet silence pervades the air.
Whats the point I wonder. Of meticulously buying glass from Belgium and tiles from Italy and leaving it to an elderly caretaker and simple visitors with interest that didn’t stretch far too beyond a curiousity enhanced imagination. Wistfully despairing the state of disrepair of dilapidation of what once must have been the nerve centre of a kingdom.
The nature of life and change being the only constant, sometimes gets eloquent reminders. This was one.
We walk away. My imagination in royal splendour for what now seems like an interminable period. Exciting possibilities of a beautiful queen, stately king, an interesting affair, blunder filled jester, , galloping horses, Lovely retinue, politics and twists, song and dance!
I don’t realize I am walking half in a trance, until the missus shakes me up.
‘Go clean your hands’, she says. ‘They are dusty’.