Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Girl In The Yellow Dress – Part-2

The Girl In The Yellow Dress – Part-2

Chapter 2

 At first the old village lady hesitated and looked back at the teashop owner as if asking for his permission but as he resolutely kept quiet, the old lady started talking in her thin reedy voice "It must have happened a hundred or hundred and fifty years ago, no one remembers now, it was an old story even when I was a young girl and i am so old now that i have only one tooth left in my mouth. But I heard it many times from my grandmother and as I remember it, it all happened before the mutiny against the parangis (the Englishmen) took place, for they hanged the raja for joining with the rebels, the British men did that to teach everyone a lesson. They took the raja along with the rebel army and they brought him back here and hanged him from a scaffold erected in the center of his own palace grounds. You can still see the ruins of the old palace if you go on that side towards the pattukottai road. Nobody has lived there after that hanging for right about that time, the first tales of the Raniamma started coming out and people were afraid to venture into the palace grounds whatever the pay.

But of course when all this started the raja was still a young man, when he was still the prince, Ilayaraja Bhoopathi, as he was called then, a big thinker of those times, the first man from the Pattukottai Jameen to go to the Parangi-land (England) itself to study. But when he came back, he came back with a wife in tow, a woman like no other, you can’t call her a woman, she was just a little wisp of a girl, yellow haired, blue eyed, small like a doll. Some said she was a servant at the house the prince had stayed while he studied and she had become pregnant by him and the authorities had married them off forcibly and compelled him to take her to India with him. But my grandmother told me that her mother had told her that the accusation was a falsehood. The ilayaraja had genuinely loved the girl, whether servant maid or not and had married her legitimately and brought her back defying his father’s anger. True, there had been a pregnancy involved in the marriage but the long sea journey had taken its toll on the unborn child and the child had been lost from the womb somewhere on the high seas in a terrible storm. But the prince and his bride had got over the sadness by the time they landed at Madraspattinam port and as they came here in their large bridal carriage, all the streets of all the villages they passed through were lined with people cheering the new rani of the palace, a beauty like no other in this country.

The old raja would not have them in the palace at any cost, fond though he was of his only son. He had consulted the family astrologers and they had foretold death and dishonor to the ruling family if a foreign born caste-less woman stepped over the threshold of the palace polluting its purity. So the prince moved his new wife to  the summer palace in the forest, a few kilometers away from the town. A verdant place situated in the middle of a small jungle surrounded by gardens of surpassing beauty and boasting of a small hillock nearby with a pretty waterfall cascading off it into a pool of splendidly still water. As a natural wonder the palace and its surroundings were not to be rivaled by anything in the madras presidency, but to a young girl bought up in the bustling streets of a big city, as i imagine that London which she came from to be, it must have been incredibly boring. My grandmothers mother who used to occasionally serve in that palace told of the many sighs and tears of the young queen left alone by the prince who had to busy himself with the stately duties he had neglected by his long absence abroad in faraway England. What must have been doubly galling for such a spirited young lady was the fact that she was cut off from all contact with her kith and kin and even her countrymen generally. For the English in those days made it a point of honor not to recognize native biwis - ladies who crossed the racial prohibitions and married natives. This unspoken contempt for her declined status, both from her own countrymen and her equals and also from the few Indians she came in contact with from the entourage of the old raja, must have been keenly felt by her and partly explains what happened later.

It all started when the princess complained of backache and headaches almost constantly. She had had a difficult labor abroad the ship, when she had lost her child and was often laid up for whole days with the pain. After consulting the native vaid’s the prince at last agreed to try a man who specialized in giving ayurvedic massages and who was procured especially from madras. This man when he came to the palace turned out to be a comely looking youth of the wayanadu country and very skilled in his vocation. Everyone who tried his massages at the palace was pleased with his work and he developed quite a reputation immediately. So the prince appointed him to the ranis service and sent him off to the forest palace where the ilaya-rani resided alone among her maids. The man proved to be a miracle worker from the first. The rani reported an immediate improvement in her health and regained her cheerfulness . The prince, who was always fond of her but had lately felt guilty of neglecting her, was now a vastly happy man. He showered largesse on all her servants, especially the massage man who had cured the rani off her ill-temper. And then one day tragedy struck.

The prince had been absent for some time, away on business to Tanjore to meet the collector who was on a revenue collection visit and finding that the work had ended earlier than expected had ridden back first to the forest palace to see his wife, before going back to the main palace. The palace maids who saw him as he got down his horse and entered inside grew cold and fearful and stammered when he enquired the whereabouts of his wife. And although the maids told him she had gone to the nearby waterfalls to bathe, they insisted that they be allowed to go and bring the princess back while the prince rested in the palace after his long ride. But the prince refused this advice of the maids, in his impatience to meet his wife again and taking his trusted few bodyguards along rode the way of the waterfalls himself. They rode hard and very soon reached the waterfalls where they saw something which shook the prince to his core.

No one knows what it was he really saw there that day. Some say one thing, others different. All i know is what my grandmother told me; that it was the sight of the masseur giving a deep naked massage to the rani which drove the prince mad. He had his men behead her on the spot, despite her protestations and accusations of  him being the cause of her loneliness and also hanged the masseur from the nearest tree along with all the maids in the palace who had helped the pair along and concealed the truth from him. They say that she was pregnant again when she was beheaded and some also say that the child was the masseurs. Anyway when the deed was  done, the raja became like a mad man and shut himself inside his palace and no one saw him for a long time. There was some talk of the English authorities investigating the killings for they involved a fellow countrywoman and british subject.

 No one knows what really went on, for next we knew the mutiny had broken out and the raja had rode with his army to give battle to the english. After a few months of hope the Sepoys were completely defeated and the raja hunted down, made a prisoner and brought back in chains like a common prisoner to the same palace where he had ruled and two days later was hanged from a scaffold erected in the middle of the palace square as an example to all the people around about the might of the english power. There were no heirs to follow the dead prince for he had not remarried and after a few years the whole palace went to dust and ruin. Meanwhile the forest palace or the rani kottai palace  which had been abandoned after the death of the princess had completely passed away from everyones memory as it was completely avoided by the village folk around due to its ill reputation and its very existence forgotten by everyone until the government laid a new road to pattukotai on the grounds of the former rani kottai ruins. And as vehicles once again started passing that way strange things happened to them or so said the travelers who came that way" the old lady concluded the tale and waited to be asked for more.

{Ad Break/Meet our Sponsors}

No comments:

Post a Comment