The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Our rajas, ranas, maharajahs, maharanas, maharoos, nizams, sultans, nawabs, nawabzadas and others of the ilk who had pretensions of being the blue-blooded aristocracy of India had unwritten but commonly accepted codes of morality which even they could not justify when not in their cups. As a matter of fact, they had two parallel codes of conduct: one to be observed in their dealings with their British overlords, another in their dealings with their Indian subjects.

They did their best to keep the British happy by paying court to residents of states, governors of provinces and viceroys by arranging lavish receptions and shikars for them, loading them and their wives with expensive gifts of precious stones and gold jewellery. In return, the British gave them titles like the “Exalted Highness”, “Marajahdhiraj”, Knighthood and so on besides other fancy-sounding honorifics in Persian and Urdu. They graded them according to the number of guns to be fired in their honour. The behaviour of the princely order towards the sahibs could be best described as bootlicking. The British had very little respect for them and regarded them as spoilt, pampered children given to self-indulgence who occasionally required to be chastised. It suited them to let them live their merry lives because they swore loyalty and kept aloof from the freedom movement.

The attitude of these aristocrats towards their subjects was that of masters towards their slaves. They built magnificent palaces for themselves, filled them with expensive artifacts bought in Europe. Their harems observed caste hierarchy of maharanis, ranis, concubines, maid. If they fancied wives or daughters of their subjects, they got them for the asking. The word “love” did not exist in their vocabulary. If they fancied a woman, they took her as a collector’s item, expended his lust on her and put her away for safe-keeping. The one who produced the first son and heir presided over the household. Others conspired to get rid of them by having them poisoned. Indian rulers spent more time in drinking and fornicating than in administering their states. Most of them took their long vacations in Europe where they had chateaus and villas, gambled in casions and threw huge parties. If they did not go abroad, they spent their summers in Mussoorie, and winters in Calcutta. Nevertheless, their subjects worshipped them as demigods.

What irked the British rulers most was Indian princes wanting to acquire white women for their harems. They were never able to make alliances with aristocratic families but had no difficulty in getting nurses, stenographers, ballet-dancers and the like to become their consorts. The British refused to recognize them as maharanis or their sons as princes. They were never invited to official functions and officials were ordered not to accept their invitations. They made no secret of their disapproval of black-’n’-white matrimonial alliances.

Most white women who married Indian princes were English, Australian, American, Spanish or in the case of Kapurthala, French. The dice was heavily loaded against happy marriages. They amassed enormous wealth in jewels and real estate, but could never come to terms with the claustrophobic atmosphere of harems and the intrigues that went on all the time. Like their husbands, they took to drinking heavily, having extra-marital liaisons and ended up in lunatic asylums or took their own lives as did the Spanish maharani of Kapurthala by jumping off the Qutab Minar.

This sordid tale is told by an Australian Indophile, Carolie Younger, in a collection of profiles of white women who married Indian princes in Wicked Women of the Raj . The impression that remains is that though most of these women were gold-diggers, it is the men they married who were both wicked and stupid.

Taste of Punjab in a pouch

Though Punjabi-born and bred, I have no passion for Punjabi food. Their top favourites like saag (spinach) with blobs of fresh butter, makkee ki roti (corn bred) liberally spattered with ghee and washed down by tumbler full of lassi (butter milk) is all very well for men and women who work on land, plough, sow, irrigate and harvest their crops but for those like me who lead sedentary lives, it is not only indigestible but also produces gas, sluggishness and a fuddled head. The only exception I make is sarson ka saag, which is a mash of mustard leaf. Taken without butter or bread, it is the best thing I know to keep one’s stomach in good order. It is my staple diet through autumn and winter. On my last visit to the US, I took a few tins marketed by the Punjab government’s Markfed with me. I was disappointed. It tasted nothing like I was used to eating at home. I decided home delicacies cannot be tinned or preserved in cartons.

My reaction to lassi, chaach, or adhrika were much the same. They are by-products of yoghurt with different proportions of water added and taken with salt-’n’-pepper or sugar. I stopped taking them after I was past middle age as I found it hard to digest. In my recent sojourn in Kasauli, Poonam Siddhu, who has taken over as my mentor in matters culinary, brought me a hamper full of a range of products of Milkfed including cheeses, kheer, fruit juices and two kinds of lassi. They are marketted under the name Verka after a village close to Amritsar. Milkfed has extended its activities to different towns of the state on the pattern laid down by Verghese Kurien of Amul. What would please Kurien is that Verka has beaten Amul in the state.

After initial reluctance, I tried Verka lassi. It was delicious. Now I enjoy a glass of it every mid-morning. I was doubly pleased to see that the formula for making it was prepared by my protégé Jiggs Kalra. I am glad he is doing something more worthwhile than journalism.

Why is Verka lassi not served on our flights and railway trains' It is much tastier and more health-giving than any of the fizzy stuff and junk they serve with meals.

Ode to a drowning man

He wanted to play Loha vs Vikas game

To enhance the leaders and their fame

But it got misfired

In controversy mired

Poor Venkiah had to swear in Vajpayee’s name.

Or was he testing popularity depths anew

And stirred the murky waters askew

All hell let loose

Nothing much to choose

But catching on straws for a possible rescue.

(Contributed by J. R. Jyoti, Secunderabad)

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