Tuesday, December 17, 2013

THE TIME OF MY LIFE XII..more about the Princess

The Students union election was a routine activity every year. In the first degree class, Guniyal from the sociology department, contested for the President’s post. The Principal called her and requested her to withdraw her name so Princess Gayatri could unanimously be elected. She explained that it would benefit the college since the Maharaja, her father, was the Chancellor of the University. Guniyal had no choice and Gayatri became the President with Amba as Secretary. We had a busy time, putting programmes together. The following year, what with our experience, assisting Amba I decided to run for Secretary. Princess Maya, Gayatri’s cousin who had joined that year, decided to run for President. It was the most exciting election ever held in any college in Mysore! Little did we realize that though Guniyal had withdrawn her name, there was a feeling of hostility simmering in the hearts of the students. It was independent India and they were not going to let go of their freedom. They fielded their own candidates against us. For a fortnight, there was active campaigning, with students from all the other colleges, including Medical and Engineering, betting! The walls and corridors of the college were plastered with posters. On the day of the election, the college looked festive with colourfully dressed students lined up to cast their vote. The next day, the results were announced. Maya had only ten votes, from our group. Her opponent had bagged 740 votes! I lost for having joined forces with Maya. The election result was a statement made peacefully by the students. No Princess was going to take their rights away from them. What women can do if they only come together! We have to fight a common enemy, not each other. Hats off to all those girls who, thirty years ago, demonstrated their solidarity to make a point. My loss was not as great as my joy over their victory.

The little room for Gayatri’s ‘rest’ was our haven. We rarely bunked classes but when there was free hour, we’d hang out in the room and hog. A maid accompanied Gayatri to college every day and all she did was snooze in the room. It was her job to go across to the canteen and fetch food for us to eat. Every month, the bill was settled by the Palace accountant or whoever. At lunch time, we assembled at the room again. Food arrived earlier from the Palace in a covered bullock cart and the table would be laid. It was a full course meal served in large steel plates. It must be all those cups of ghee I ate which must be showing around my spreading middle now. Again in the evening, Subbi, the maid, would get something from the canteen. If it was not for all that marching in the NCC, I would have been obese. Sometimes, Gayatri would take us to her house for lunch. She married her cousin, Sardar Ramchchandraj Urs, when we were in the second year of college. They lived in a beautiful mansion, Lila Vihar

Gayatri was a sweet tempered, quiet person. Marriage to Ramchandra had mellowed her. She had a dimpled smile that was at once shy and charming. She found me very risqué and giggled at my jokes. She had soft, pink feet with gold toe rings. She continued to be in purda but would go to some places. It was only after her wedding that she came to my house with Ramchandra. She could not attend my wedding as she had just then delivered her first child Leela but she came to my sister Jo’s wedding.

We kept in touch after college. When she came to Mumbai, she visited me and every time I came on leave to Bangalore, we made it a point to meet. She had three daughters and a son. Tragedy struck a few months after she delivered her son. Veena and I went to see her in the hospital when she had surgery for breast cancer. She was 28. That was the last time I saw her, dimples appearing and disappearing behind the bouquet of flowers. Less than a year later, she died. Ramchandra has been a wonderful father to the four kids. No one has taken Gayatri’s place in his heart. As I sat in the hall, watching their second daughter’s wedding, my eyes clouded with memories of the Princess who was my playmate.