I remember as a child playing in the corridors of the palace. The palace itself, a wooden fortress, in the small town of kumarsain was a matter of pride for my cousins. My nani, was raised pretty much by Raja Badhyar singh, because he made a promise to my great grand dad by his death bed…that his wife and daughter would be looked after.
Now, this may sound like its straight out of a movie about jaydaad, and vaaris and what not..but my grand dad, in all seriousness took the raja’s vachan….and that’s the reason why the raja himself found a match for my nani in a 16 year old orphaned lad, Charandas mahant. She was 12..and remembers playing marbles with him, Only they didn’t use marbles…they used walnuts….from their own tree mind you!
You can see then, how this palace was important to my family. My nani’s grown up there, my own mum (the hottest 38 year old the world ever lost) ran about in the palace and my 12 and 13 year old cousins..until very recently studied in the palace foyer. A part of it was converted to a school.
I remember seeing the palace last year when we shot on the palace steps. A large part of my cousins and aunts and uncles, nani in the centre…posing for a family picture. To put it in perspective, this palace, The Hira Mahal…is what the gateway of India is to Bombay. I know, it serves a very inconsequential practical purpose…but it’s a part of its DNA. It’s like the mole I have under my right eye or the one I have on my left shoulder..you might consider it cosmetic….but they’d ask about it if they were identifying me…wouldn’t they?!
It’s in ashes now, this sprawling palace made of deodar wood. A short circuit started a fire that quickly spread through the corridors. The palace was on fire for hours. And the fire brigades that made a futile attempt to reach here from simla and rampur (both 2 hours away) were too late.
It’s in ruins now. A gaping hole at the very centre of the town. If you hadn’t seen it in all its glory, its hard to imagine why anyone would miss this thing really. From the day I arrived here, I’d been wanting to go in. I finally did manage to climb over the burnt wood, hoping it wouldn’t give way and send me tumbling down about 20 feet. My cousins followed me in, but only slightly. The main courtyard is massive. I remember going in once with mum to meet her friend, the princess. Now, I only saw an empty wooden chest which agreeably might have been full of riches at a time. The tulsi plant at the very centre has managed to come back to life, Kumarsain’s very own phoenix.. and the wooden steps that lead to the raja’s personal chamber are intact. I climbed down. Scared of the legend that the Raja’s spirit still lives here. Curious to see if he will greet me. Hoping he wouldn’t!
I’m not sure what this did for me. But I feel at peace. The place makes me sad every time I see it. And it scares me because my own aunts and uncles have heard shrill sounds of crying late at night from the ruins. I’m not sure if it’s true…one part of me hopes it is.
The palace has gone from being fact to legend. And legends are only complete with ghosts. I’m hoping for one here. The stories then, will live on. A part of the palace, with it.