The palace was beautiful, and the surroundings, picturesque. Had I got enough leisure, I would have admired the beautiful gardens, the art and the splendid architecture. I was already fighting the urge to click a few pics.
Mr.Chauhan explained the history of the palace as we entered. It was more than two hundred years old, but the southern part was build quite recently, some decades ago.
Mr.Chauhan had come to receive me at the guest house. I was, um, flattered. He complemented my choice of clothing- an embroidered salwar suit- which I had chosen in the last minute. I heaved a sigh of relief. If son approves, his mother would approve too. Perhaps. I, um, don’t know why I suddenly want their approval.
I’m just going for a professional interview. I repeated to myself as we approached the main hall, amidst marveling at the high ceiling, the ornate staircases, the authentic paintings and the swords adorning the walls, the extra large chandeliers and the gorgeous furniture. I was overwhelmed.
Three turbaned men attended to us as we waited for Rani Sa, sitting on a lush sofa, placed on the lush Kashmiri carpets.
“Are you that nervous?’ Mr.Chauhan asked.
“Sorry?” I managed to speak, coming out of my reverie.
“You keep fidgeting with your hands and fingers, ever since we arrived.” He was mocking at me. His crooked smile, that I hadn’t seen as of yet, just made me more uneasy.
“I don’t go hopping to palaces every day, and nor am I used to chit chats with queens,” I retorted, regretting the very next moment. Did I cross my line? Was I not supposed to speak thus?
He laughed a loud hearty laughter, not a muffled one. Thank god. It was my day to be nervous, and be relieved, in every alternative moment. And what a charming laughter it was! Oh god, now I’m crossing my lines!
“She won’t eat you up. And she’s known to be the most amicable member in our extended family. So, don’t worry too much,” he added with a smile.
Just then one of the turbaned men informed us of Rani Sa’s arrival. I was half expecting he would announce it loud and clear, as they did in the olden days in the royal courts. We stood to greet her. With a grey silk sari, Rajasthani ornaments, and a hint of aging gracefully, she looked noble. ‘Namaskar,’ I bowed a bit with folded hands, and the Prince said, ’Khama Ghani, Ma sa.’ ‘Ghani Khama,’ she replied to both of us, smiling.
“So, what is your subject of research related to?” she asked next, after inquiring about my family, my native place West Bengal, why we moved to Shillong, my schooling, my childhood, my education, etc. But surprisingly I was quite comfortable; it felt I was conversing with a new friend. She was not only asking me, but also adding tit bits about her life pre and post marriage, about the sons and daughters. I also learned Princess Nandini was about to get married the next month.
“We are researching on the historicity of certain mythological facts in Rajasthan’s folk tales and legends. It includes study of royal families’ ancestry, and the family tree. Scholars from different educational backgrounds are working in the team,” I proudly replied, as I loved the work I did. We kept chatting on sipping the same beverage that I had imagined.
She smiled as her expressions turned purposeful. “Now, let’s come to the main topic,” the atmosphere became heavy as she said this. Mr.Chauhan had left us alone, giving an excuse of visiting his sister, for us to have this particular chat freely, I presume.
“As you know, Prince Shaan wants to tie the knot with you. He is very open about this wish of his. And having met you in person today, I support his wish. It would be a pleasure to have you as a member of this family. But your approval is equally important. So, I wanted to keep this proposal before you on the part of my son, if he hasn’t done it already. And after that we can concern your parents about this.”
So this was it. “But, I don’t belong to any royal lineage. I’m just a commoner,” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I wanted to say, but I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.
“Is that a problem in this 21st century? The best of both worlds can merge beautifully. There are many examples of these kind of marriages in countries, and rather very successful ones. And you are so learned yourself. So, I don’t think that shall be an issue,” her statements showed how liberal she was.
I couldn’t reply this time, busy thinking. She continued, ”Ok, here’s another suggestion that would perhaps be to your liking. Why don’t you come and stay with us, here in the Palace, get accustomed with the life here, and see for yourself if you can handle it.”
“In the palace! Here? Stay with you? But how can I?”
She laughed, seeing me all panicked. “Calm down dear. We are not monsters living in a palace of illusion. If you stay here, you can get help from us in return, for your research work. Of course the authenticity of the data you get from here would be higher. And, you can take an active part in Princess Nandini’s marriage preparations. She shall also be very glad to have a friend. So, think about this one today. You can reply tomorrow.”
She got up from her comfortable seat. It was time for me to leave. She summoned someone to escort me to the Prince, who was to drop me. But Mr.Chauhan was there already, outside the hall. Perhaps he was watching us from afar.
She was good at making negotiations, I noticed. But then, thinking about it, it was a win-win situation. If I don’t like the palace lifestyle, and can’t adapt to the family traditions and customs, I can just bid them farewell after a month; and still get the benefit of first-hand accounts in my project. Opportunity never knocks twice at the same door.
But, all confusions aside, did I like Mr.Chauhan?