I’m Shah Ji. My father was Mian Ji, a self-made man of letters, a polymath & a natural scholar, of Heer. His life of 80 years, before his death in 1990, was equally divided between pre-Partition & post-Partition days of Indian subcontinent. In my boyhood, he had shared many beautiful stories of his life with me. Once in 1980s he told me a real story of his alma mater days when he was invited by ex-ruler of what our present small State, Heer, was then the Mushtanda kingdom of South Asia.
He told me that one day, in his college days, he had read about an essay competition advertised in a newspaper in response whereof he had written and sent his essay of some 50 pages odd to the concerned British Essayist. Fortuitously, his essay had bagged first prize in the competition. He was greatly admired at college by teachers & students. Then, some days later, when it was a noonday, Tehsildar of their area knocked at the outer gate of the compound of their house which lay in the town outskirts. His parents opened the gate to find some higher officer of royal administration accompanied by some subordinates.
“I’m Tehsildar of your area. I’ve a shahi farman from the royal court. His Highness, Shri Chingroo Singh Mushtanda, the Maharaja Bahadur of the kingdom, has been graciously pleased to convey his appreciation on your son having got first prize in an international essay competition recently conducted by a British Essayist. I’m under command of the royal court to inform you that His Highness has been highly pleased to read this good news in newspaper. So, His Highness has been kind enough to invite Mian Ji , your son, for a high tea with His Highness tomorrow at 4 P M at his palace at Gatkar of Heer. Where is the boy, the brilliant chap? “, Tehsildar reading out the shahi farman inquired.
“He’s gone to market for some purchases….will be back within an hour or so. Till then, huzoor, you can wait & have some tea at our Garib Khana (humble home)”, they requested & replied the Tehsildar.
“No, no, I don’t have time to wait or take tea as I have to report compliance to the royal order positively today. I’ll drop here this Shahi Dawat Nama (royal invitation letter) from the royal residence…….it’s the maharaja’s extreme magnanimity, I may say, towards his subjects that he has afforded Mian Ji an opportunity to be blessed with a royal delight , indeed a rare feat to achieve at such a young age. ….Your son is very lucky to have attracted the Maharaja’s personal appreciation & attention….. The boy has to obey it …….,” the Telsildar unfolding parchment of royal kindness & admiration, left Shahi Dawat Nama with Mian Ji’s parents. He also educated them for onward educating their son about manners of saluting & greeting the king, Shri Chingroo Singh Mushtanda.
“Shukriya huzoor (thank you sir)……we will teach him shahi adaab (acts of royal saluting & greeting)……he is indeed fortunate enough to sit & sip face-to-face with the maharaja. He shall obey the maharaja’s farman…..”, the jubilant parents assured the Tehsildar.
When Mian Ji returned home, he was shown Shahi Dawat Nama & briefed about the discharge of royal respects next day at palace. His reaction to the invitation was mixed. He knew the maharaja wasn’t any benevolent but an immoral fainéant & cruel monarch towards his subjects. He knew that his invitation was only a propaganda stunt of the maharaja that he cared for his subjects.
Next day, one hour before the prescribed time, he attended the palace at Gatkar. At entrance to the royal residence, he encountered royal guards. On asking he told & showed them the king’s invitation. They guarded him to a large ornate lounge of the palace where several other attendees & guests were already sitting & waiting on royal sofas. Mian Ji too occupied part of one big sofa. Few royal court attendants outfitted with royal uniforms were seen walking around & looking at attendees on sofas and some beautiful female servants of the royal household in dazzling dresses & enchanting makeups kept gleaning maintenance of royal decorum by the waiting –attendees.
Mian Ji was not attended by any royal court attendant for almost two hours which made him restless and he rose up from the sofa & began strolling in the lounge. A courtier noticing it objected & said:”Sit calm”. “But Sir I’ve been here since two hours,” replied Mian Ji. “Two hours? Hah ha, very funny, ..….behold these attendees attending here, keeping bovine calm from morning to evening, none getting a chance though of meeting the maharaja, for 2-3 days now. They return to their homes like cows going back to the barn from the pasture in the evening without grazing green for the whole day…… And, which field’s radish are you, boy?, retorted the courtier. “But…. Sir…rrr… I’ve been invited by the Maharaja Bahadur himself for a tea & this is royal invitation…..”, answered Mian Ji showing royal invitation in his hand. It softened the tone of the courtier, so with abrupt change in his behaviour, he asked Mian Ji to follow him. He led him through row of arches deep inside the palace where he was escorted by some camarilla to a sumptuous spacious private cabinet of the maharaja where he laid on an opulent sofa, resembling a white seal resting on a sand beach. He had not fully regained himself from night’s heavy drink & feast. Under the influence of the wine, his eyes were droopy. He opened & closed them intermittently like flickering candles in gentle blowing winds. The courtier held his hand, took him near to the maharaja & made his hand touch the maharaja’s hand. Mian Ji felt as if his hand had touched the belly of a bullfrog.
One pair each of men & women servants was massaging the monarch’s tired limbs, shoulders & neck, after the night’s unrestrained merrymaking. In a heavy voice, he asked: “Who…..ooooo is he…..eeeee?”, pointing towards Mian Ji who stood motionless like a statue with folded hands before him. “Maharaj , he is the boy who stood first in essay competition , whom your Highness has invited for a tea here at palace…….”, answered darbari (courtier) in extremely low voice. “O,ooo……take him to royal suite…..entertain him with chai-shai (tea), pastry vastry (snacks)……..”, the maharaja couldn’t complete his rhythmic sentence as he had not fully come out of the influence of heavy drink.
My father, Mian Ji, told me that his maiden meeting with the monarch had eroded any desire whatsoever in his heart of meeting again any monarch in his life then.
Fictionalized on a narrative of Qudratullah Shab:
(Next part, next time)