The Prince who Smoked India Kings
In the late 1980s, I got to meet Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar for the first time. The walls of his residential enclave, just behind the Amba Vilas Palace, were decorated with stuffed heads of tigers and bisons, trophies from his forefathers’ hunts.
I was led upstairs where Wadiyar was reading an English novel. He asked me to sit in a neatly-carved wooden chair.
Before I could ask any questions, he asked if I would like some coffee. His servant served coffee in two silver cups.
“Too hot. Hold it in your handkerchief,” he said. He held it that way, too. He then picked a cigarette from a pack of India Kings, took a couple of puffs and stubbed it out.
His living room was packed with thousands of books neatly arranged on wooden shelves. He sat on a sofa near the window and replied to all my questions patiently.
When I showed interest in the paintings on the walls, he explained the history of each painting, without forgetting the names of the painters and the year the palace had bought the paintings. Also on the wall were pictures of him dressed in school uniform and in whites playing cricket at the Oval Grounds in Mysore.
“What I am today is because of the contributions of my father and my grandfather to Mysore,” he said, recollecting a story from his first Lok Sabha election campaign.
“I went to a village near Mysore. As soon as I got down from my car, people came running and said, ‘Why did you come, swamigale? Our votes are for none but you’. They spread out saris on the narrow lanes in the village so that I would not have to walk on the ground,” he said.
Many auto drivers in Mysore still carry pictures of his father Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar. “They treat him like god,” Wadiyar said.
I again met Wadiyar for a story on the royal families of India. It was during the ten-day Dasara festival when he is busy with ceremonies and rituals at the palace.
After first turning down my request, Wadiyar agreed to talk for just five minutes. At 3 pm, he was waiting in the same living room and we spoke for nearly 30 minutes.
He was unhappy with the way the Dasara procession was held. “I have told several chief ministers it should be on the lines of the Republic Day parade in Delhi. Here, it is just a namesake procession and has lost its charm,” he said.