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Ananth Mani



Ananth Mani


Safe In The Palace

Safe In The Palace

7 mins 81 7 mins 81

Reba Memsahib had never felt so lonely and uncared over the past several weeks. The vast palace has now minimal staff to take care of the daily chores, and at times it feels haunted in the absence of the regular visitors. The newspapers have stopped coming, and the daily stream of VIP’s, actors, sportspersons and school kids have all vanished all of a sudden. It is after the summer exams, and closure of schools, the students and their siblings along with their parents, grandparents running to several generations would all come together for a customary annual picnic. She looked forward to such occasions year after year.

She has lived such a grandeur life here for the last several decades that it has almost erased the memory of her humble beginning of life beginning from Rome as a child named Rebecca. Her guardians whom she can hardly recall by their faces were simple people who spent all their life as slave sculptors. As far as she remembers they were gifted with the skills to cut massive rocks to a beautiful statue for the rich and famous people from across the globe. Although their chiselled statues adorn the most renowned galleries and museums, she never ever saw them joyful or adequately rewarded. The pressure of creating more and more new pieces of the sculpture came continually, and there was never a break for living their life. As a child, she remembers playing with the portions of marbles chiselled out of massive stones. The various shades of white and streak of gold that ran through these rocks fascinated her, and she could play with it for days together. In the absence of other siblings matching her age, she was a loner and can hardly remember playing with other children as they were staying at a remote foothill of famous marble mountain outside Rome,

As far she can remember they were working only with white marbles and no other coloured stones, with which she would have loved to play. Many times they had to go out to the mountains for days together to identify the most suitable rocks that had to be broken from the outcrop and brought home for sculpting. The colour of white although represented purity, innocence as well as a sense of grandeur it also was melancholic in several ways that she feared and dreaded. 

When she was no more a child, her attire also changed to white with a veil to cover her face to bring respectability and the right social status that she never sought nor understood. As she was growing up collecting stones were no more exciting, she was more attracted to nature, the green woods, birds, wild animals and the big architectural marvels around Rome. Once an English Prince and Duchess came on a holiday to Rome to see many of the architectural wonders. Once they had done with their visits to the different historic places, they wandered around the neighbourhood mountains, springs, rivers, forests. In one such visit, they were attracted by Rebecca and made several rounds to meet her and acquaint themselves. In a matter of months, Rebecca arrived in London along with the Prince and Duchess. London was different from Rome; she was no more an ordinary Roman but part of English royalty. The language, the customs, the etiquette, the protocols were elaborate.

From the downhills of a mountain to a castle in London, the whole journey appeared a dream. Not many can even aspire, and probably could never achieve such a blessing. She was thrilled and delighted, yet in her heart, something was missing. The happiness on certain days gave way to sorrow as nothing could match in her assessment of the beauty of Rome. The Prince and Duchess were excellent, warm-hearted and candid. They would always talk only good things about Rome. They were so delighted about their holiday they hosted parties most weekends to introduce her to the guests. In one such party, a wealthy Turkish queen was there, and she immediately fell in love with the grace, style, the charm of Rebecca, and she wanted to bring her into their family at all costs. She kept on visiting several times, and in a matter of months, Rebecca was on another journey accompanying the Queen and the Nizam to India. Thus she came to Hyderabad and had since settled in this vast palace in the city of Pearls

Reba Memsahib as she became popular over the decades she spent here, imbibed the Hyderabadi culture (Tehzeeb as they call). She acquired great respect, honour and adoration of the ordinary and the wealthy cutting across-section of the society. Reba Memsahib got well acquainted with the Dakahni (Hyderabad Deccan) dialect and could easily understand the emotions of people. One common topic across all socio-economic sections of Hyderabadis was about the mouth water dishes including Biryani, Haleem, Samosa and chai that she has also learnt to enjoy.  

The life in the palace has always been of magnificent grandeur; that she wanted to make it meaningful so that the people who flocked to see her felt cared and loved. The daily audience included several rulers from across the world. Greeting the audience has never been tiring as she loved the adulations. While she had no significant admiration for the wealthy visitors and international leaders, yet there was great bonding with the ordinary folks who stood in long queues and waited for hours maybe to get a glimpse. However, there were special people whom she respected, including James Bond Sean Connery, US President John F Kennedy, the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Princess Diana.

It has been fifty days since people visited her. The whole city is silent; the birds are fearful of the quietness. Unaccompanied by her helpers, she set out to see and feel the evening around Charminar on a Friday so that she could offer prayers at the Macca Masjid before breaking Roza. The whole route from the Nayapul to Charminar is deserted, isolated and hardly anyone seen around. All the shops closed unusual for the month of Ramadan. The gates of the mosque are closed and no faithful, instead only uniformed police.

Flash forward six decades out on the streets so much has changed. It is impossible to find any resemblance to the bridge over the Musi river. If it is not for Charminar, standing high above other buildings, this could be any other place. It was not to be so. Disappointed and upset walking back to the palace along the wide roads paved with colourful granites and separated by the medians the whole modernisation seems all for wealthy and all others excluded. Where are open space, benches, signage, washrooms, greenery, drinking water fountains? All have gone missing an organised loot as it appears. 

People in a hundred walking as a group could be sited at a far distance even as it was getting dark. Getting closer to them, she could confirm it was several hundred men, women, children, elderly with their dogs and pets walking in a group. She walked up to them and learnt they are heading homeward, leaving behind since the construction sector has almost come to a standstill. They feel lost with no work, yet shamed to accept defeat as they walk back. Some have pledged their lands and possession to get money to pay the agent who promised the job. Now they would struggle to reintegrate with their community as they had moved out for selfish gains.

Not all of them talk the same village nor heading to the same destination. They plan to take different buses, lorries to get back home. They are unsure of their future still they continue to have hopes for their future generations.

With haunting echoes of the visit to the city outskirts at a time when the economy is on a grind due to corona crisis, Reba Memsahib thought it safe to get back and continue to stand as the statue of Veiled Rebecca* in the Salar Jung Museum. 

Ananthmani kalarikkal

*The Veiled Rebecca is the most famous marble statue exhibited at the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad sculptured by the renowned Italian sculptor Giovanni Maria Benzoni. The current museum was is housed in one of the many palaces of the Nizam overlooking the river Musi. 

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