It is now Saturday and I am off to the Tollygunge Club to have brunch with a good friend I have known since I arrived here. We spend a few hours sitting in the shade and just hanging out having a light Bengali meal, then are off to visit the rowing club where he used to crew when he was a young man. We sit by the water for a while and then it is time to drive back to the palace and he is off to work, he never stops.
We arrive at my destination and I ask him in for a cup of tea, just a few more minutes before we say goodbye. He has been a source of guidance and caring, always keeping in touch and more than once explaining the intricacies of daily life here in Kolkata. We’ve had social, political and business discussions, he is very worldly and has lived in the States for quite a long time before returning to his native land. I will miss him so much – what a great, kind man. I know we will continue our friendship via phone and email. If it is possible, I will see all of my friends when I return from Delhi, the day before I head back to New York.
So here I am, writing from the palace, trying to catch up on this blog so I may keep journaling as I leave for my final week of travel through India. I am sitting on the veranda and it is very peaceful. I can see wedding preparations being done on the great lawn of the palace which is now used for various special events- the wedding is tomorrow and it is fascinating to watch the crew build all the platforms, with flowers arriving and an amazing lush display that is being created for a lucky couple.
Karuna arrives from her visit to Burdwan which had been the family’s kingdom, now a city with the palaces used for the university there. Her official title is Maharaji Kurmari Karuna Devi of Burdwan, or Princess Karuna Devi. She and I talk about the history of her family and what it was like to have grown up in a real life fairytale. Gardens and acres of land, ponds filled with fish wearing gold rings, elephants grandly dressed wandering the grounds, sentries in full royal costume wearing headdresses, ornate carriages at the ready to take the little princesses from one palace to another. All this only to have the story end in her twenties when the land was parceled out and royalty was no longer recognized. She tells me about her father’s coronation and takes me around the grounds and some of the parlors to show me pictures of the royal crest and clothing that was routinely worn. It looks like something out of a movie about ancient India, yet it really existed for almost 500 years. We tour the rooms as she relays more memories about her youth and when I ask where the jewels and costumes have gone she says that most of the films, photographs and jewelry have just disappeared . I say it is terrible and she says “but it is what it is, you can’t live in the past”. So true, yet still very sad that today’s Indian youth have only a small reminder of their great heritage because the regal buildings were not preserved.
Just now there are associations trying to refurbish the buildings that are still standing but have been neglected so that the remains of this historic country are tangible, not just told in a history book. Much of what has happened here has been happening for years all over the world, old destroyed to make way for new. One hopes that before the majesty of an era gone by is totally erased from memory it will be preserved and appreciated as part of a great heritage.
Tomorrow I will leave for Delhi and I should go to sleep early but we talk until 1 AM about everything including her philosophy about life, marriage, love and I find that she is one of the most savvy and “cool” ladies I know, a real feminist at heart. I relish our frank discussions and will miss this very much. We have really opened up to each other as women and I wonder if I should leave my “home” here in Kolkata to explore more of India or stay to be with the friends I’ve made over the last 7 weeks.