These days, Ranjit the Elder confined himself to the sanctuary of his spacious and opulent bedroom at the summer palace in Shimla. He rarely ventured out of his bedroom as he found it too painful to witness how the rest of his Shimla palace was now swarming with the schemers of the British Raj that Prince Prakash was plotting and planning with daily.
Ranjit the Elder’s cherished summer palace had been turned into a den of thieves and it was unbearable to the distinguished and dignified being of the elder maharajah.
His staff had helped Ranjit the Elder set up a painting studio in his spacious bedroom, where his easel stood looking out of the large arched bedroom window and on to the magnificent flower garden that Ranjit himself had helped to plant and tend alongside his palace gardeners.
While Ranjit would work alongside his gardeners, he would ask them about their lives. As an aristocrat, Ranjit longed to know and learn about common folk who for Ranjit, were the honest and decent salt of the earth. He loved to hear about the villages that his gardeners had grown up in and how their communities were enriched by a sense of family and community. He loved to hear of the travels and traveler’s tales, of the oral story telling traditions that they had inherited from their forefathers, of the poems they remembered and recited from their childhood and of the ragas and songs they sang while harvesting the fields or working in Ranjit the Elder’s palatial garden.
Within the gilded and gaudy environ of his palace of Shimla, now steaming and brewing with seedy and devious whisperings, Ranjit the Elder found himself longing for something simple and authentic. Something that was grounded in the honesty of the common village folk, something that was at least a glimpse and a symbol of the Mother India which he so deeply loved and mourned.
One morning, after awakening, and summoning his servant Govinder to bring him his morning tea, Ranjit the Elder sat as he usually did every morning, at an armchair nearby his painter’s easel, next to the bedroom window overlooking his magnificent garden below.
He loved to watch the transformation of light on his garden as the morning sun rose higher and emitted a golden glow of light in the sky and upon his garden. As Ranjit the Elder sat there in a sense of rapture at the sight of the glorious morning, wearing his hand embroidered paisley patterned silk dressing gown, Govinder entered the bedroom with a tray laden with a bone china tea cup filled with hot steaming tea, a bone china teapot and a basket full of freshly baked naan breads.
Govinder then proceeded with his morning routine of laying out the clothes for the day that Ranjit the Elder would wear this morning after his tea, and tidying up his room and pouring his bath and sprinkling his sandalwood bath salts in the bath. As Govinder gazed briefly in the direction of his beloved maharaja, Ranjit the Elder, the maharaja seemed a millions miles away in deep thought and remote reflection.
Ranjit the Elder was thinking about the previous evening, when he had made one final effort to reason with his son Prakash. Ranjit had sent for him and Prakash met him in the seating and study area of Ranjit the Elder’s vast bedroom. There, Ranjit the Elder awaited Prakash with an open book of the Bhagavad Gita, and when Prakash was seated, Ranjit the Elder read the passage about desire, in the form of a dialogue between the wise and visionary Lord Krishna and the young warrior Prince Arjuna:
All is clouded by desire, Arjuna
Like a fire by smoke,
Like a mirror by dust…
Ranjit the Elder pleaded with Prince Prakash to see beyond his greed and selfishness. He cautioned Prakash that avarice and cunning would eventually weave a fabric of wickedness and deceit within the summer palace at Shimla, which will in turn eventually destroy Prakash and make his soul wretched and swarming with darkness and demons.
The weak-willed Prakash, so impressed that the smartly dressed representatives of the British Raj, who were courting him and feeding him with money and influence, saw only that by contrast his old father, Ranjit the Elder, was an idealistic and unrealistic man who did not know how the ‘real world’ worked.
This ignited the fire of Ranjit the Elder’s anger against his son, Prakash.
Ranjit the Elder got up from his chair and strutted back and forth containing his rage, fuming and yet praying for an answer, a response that may be meaningful to his wretched and wicked son, Prakash.
Ranjit the Elder reached for a copy of The Upanishads to calm himself. This glorious book of anonymous wisdom and verse, this Himalaya of the Soul, written by ancient sadhus, had been a solace and a comfort for Ranjit the Elder throughout his life. The simple act of holding the sacred Upanishads calmed his racing heart, and cooled his hot blood, and brought him quiet within the storm.
While his son Prakash sat nonchalantly in his chair awaiting his father’s permission to be dismissed from their meeting, Ranjit the Elder calmly turned to the Isa Upanishad and read the verse quietly to himself”
Behold the Universe in all its glory.
And all that lives and moves on earth
Leaving the transient, find joy in the eternal,
Set not your heart upon another’s possessions,
Thus have we learned from the ancient sages
Who imparted this Truth to us.
Finally, Ranjit the Elder composed himself completely and settled back down into his chair and looked his son Prakash directly in the eyes and spoke to him in a quiet and firm voice:
“You are correct, Prakash. I do not know how the ‘real world’ works. I have never known how the ‘real world’ works because I have no interest in what the ‘real world’ is telling me. I have only ever been interested in how the Universe works.
“You see, my dearest beloved son, the role of a maharaja like me, or a prince like you, is never to accept the narrative of the ‘real world’. Instead, it is to look to the Universe for inspiration and vision and then to challenge the narrative of the ‘real world’ and to envision a new narrative of the ‘real world’. That is what the people of Nawanagar have expected from maharajah’s and princes for generation upon generation. They don’t expect us to see the world as they see it. They expect us to envision the world anew.
“They expect us to guide them into creating a new narrative and a new world. That is how I was able to guide the people of Nawanagar into so many glorious years of bountiful harvests and a renaissance of craftsmanship and artisanship. I looked not to the ‘real world’ but to the Universe for my inspiration and in doing so, I was able to envision a renaissance for our beloved people of Nawanagar.”
Prince Prakash was unimpressed.
He thought of his father as lacking the shrewdness and savvy that Prakash himself prided himself upon. Prince Prakash muttered an excuse to his father about being late for a meeting with a British diplomat and then got up and left his father’s living quarters without receiving permission from his father to leave the meeting. Ranjit the Elder then sank back into his armchair, and his heart sank with him.
Those were the events of the previous evening and this morning, as his servant Govinder had just brought him his morning tea and was now tidying up his room, Ranjit the Elder felt a deep despair and a desperate determination to connect back with the Mother India he felt he had lost touch with.
He had lost touch with the common village folk who were the salt of the earth, and he had lost touch with the earth itself. Here, in the sterile and sanitized environ of his summer palace in Shimla, which was now poisoned by the presence of Prakash’s wicked wheelings and dealings, Ranjit the Elder felt completely disconnected from Mother India.
Click here for Chapter Ten, The Dry Drought