Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The text of my presentation on HH's autobigraphy at the
book release by HE Dr. Abdul kalam on Jan 5, 2010

Your Excellency Dr. Abdul Kalam,
Your Highness Sree Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma Maharaja,
Members of the royal family,
Mr. B.R.Shetty,
Mrs. Uma Maheswari,
Mr. K.P.R.Nair,
Distinguished guests,

This is a moment of fulfillment for all of us. For His Highness, this
is a moment of fulfillment of his duty to history, having chronicled
his life and times for posterity; for His Excellency Dr. Abdul Kalam,
an icon of modern India, a moment to pay a tribute to what he calls,
“the oneness of the Maharaja, the State and the temple-forming an
integrated soul”; for Mr. B.R.Shetty, the prominent businessman from
the Gulf, a moment to savour his special links with Kerala and the
Maharaja; for Mrs. Uma Maheswari, the fulfillment of having completed
a labour of love successfully, for Mr. K.P.R.Nair, the eminent
publisher, the fulfillment of his grand vision to create a volume
worthy of its subject, and for me the joy of having been entrusted by
His Highness to welcome you and to introduce his book to you. I am
sure that you too will have a sense of fulfillment at the end of this
event, having been witness to the making of history. May I welcome you
all, on behalf of His Highness and the royal family?

The book being released today, H.H.Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma’s
‘Travancore-the Footprints of Destiny, My Life and Times Under the
Grace of Lord Padmanabha’ as told to Uma Maheswari’, (that is the
title of the book) published by Konark is no ordinary book either in
appearance or in substance. The quality of production, the choice of
paper, the value of the photographs, the quaint charm of the drawings
by young Sharath Sunder and the elegance of styling make the volume
worthy of any coffee table or library. In substance, it is history
written by one of its major actors, the hero and the author combining
to create a masterpiece.

The narrator, the hero, often recedes into the background and gives
pride of place in the narrative to Lord Padmanabha, the deity on whose
behalf the dynasty has ruled Travancore since AD 1750 and to his elder
brother and mentor, Sree Chithira Tirunal Balarama Varma. Many have
faith in Lord Padmanabha, many have adored Sree Chthira Tirunal, but
no one else has felt the divine presence more intensely, no one else
has known Sree Chthira Tirunal more closely. The book, therefore,
presents the most intimate portrait of Sree Chthira Tirunal and the
divine hand that guided him.

The author summarizes the reforms and measures of Sree Chthira Tirunal
in one sentence: “The Temple Entry Proclamation, the abolition of
capital punishment, adult franchise, free and compulsory primary
education, mid –day meals, the establishment of the Travancore
University, procuring food grain to prevent famine, nationalization of
road transport, development of an airport, the establishment of the
Pallivassal hydro-electric project, the victory of the Mullaperiyar
case, the establishment of the Swati Tirunal Music Academy and the
Sree Chitra Art Gallery and rapid industrialization were some of the
reforms, measures and projects.” For a monarch, who assumed power at
the time when the State was “in the grip of an economic depression of
unprecedented severity,” these were no mean achievements. But the
abiding image that emerges of Sree Chithira Tirunal is as “the epitome
of utter gentleness, humility and nobility.”

As personal memoirs of the Elaya Raja and later the inheritor of a
hoary heritage, the book is a model autobiography, as it is devoid of
self-congratulation or glorification. Throughout, there is an effort
to demystify himself in the narration, performing a secondary and
supportive role to the Maharaja, sometimes even as a foil to him.
Instances of his own human weaknesses are narrated to contrast with
the superhuman tolerance and nobility of his elder brother. The way
how, at the age of ten, the Elaya Raja beat up a servant and he was
made to apologise to the servant publicly, how he retaliated to Sir
C.P.Ramaswami Iyer for flinging a file at the Maharaja in the tennis
court and how he confronted an editor, who published unwarranted
allegations against the palace are in contrast to the Maharaja, who
was the paragon of perfection.

The author’s sense of humour is matched only by his compassion with
which he describes everyone around him. For the erudite and learned
person that he is today, his first encounter with his British teacher
was disastrous. “Do you like to study?’ was the first question. “No”
he said emphatically. “How about reading?” “Not at all” he replied
promptly. “Hmm. I hope you like playing?” The answer was an equally
emphatic “Yes” The teacher pulled out a ping-pong ball from his pocket
and said “Come, Let us play” The young prince was delighted. Since
there was no racquet anywhere around, the teacher suggested that they
should use the hard cover of the books that he brought along. After a
delightful game of ping pong in which the prince defeated the teacher,
the teacher said: “Look, if the mere cover of this book is so strong,
imagine what the power and the strength of its contents would be?”
That revelation turned the playful prince into an avid reader. His
love for horses, watches, cameras and cars is described with similar
anecdotes. It is amusing to read that the celebrated dentist, Dr.
G.O.Pal (actually Dr. Gopalan) used to drive from Statue Junction to
East Fort in reverse gear just for the thrill of it. I was reminded of
a story in Moscow that the Egyptians used to order their tanks with
four reverse gears to run away from the Israelis. When they once asked
for a single forward gear, the Soviets were happy that they had
finally decided to fight. But the Egyptian General clarified: “Suppose
they come from behind?”

The pen portraits of the royal family, celebrities and others, drawn
with deep understanding, compassion and affection are an attraction of
the book. Amma Maharani, Regent Maharani, the author’s father, Sri
Ravi Varma Kochu Koil Thampuran, his sister, Karthika Tirunal, Sir
C.P.Ramaswami Iyer, Colonel Goda Varma Raja and others come alive in
the book. It is heartening to read how these great personalities
shaped and reshaped the mind of the author as he assumed different
roles in the family and the State. The most sensitive and tender
portrait is of his own consort, Shrimati Radha Devi, starting from the
moment he saw her arresting face in a wedding album to her demise in
2005. “There were four distinct phases in those years,
namely—attraction, attention, adoration and abandonment”, he writes.
His description of her justifies his cryptic remark: “Radha Devi was
an ideal partner” In a touching farewell, he says, “The grief is
strong, I am unable to come to terms with the reality—that unavoidable
and inescapable part of life.’ The book also contains affectionate
references to the Mahraja’s talented children, nieces, their husbands
and children.

His Highness’ encounters with the celebrities of the world are another
attractive feature of the book. Agatha Chritie, Lord Mountbatten,
Dr.Radhakrishnan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Uday Shankar, Jacqueline Kennedy,
R. Venkataraman, Nizam of Hyderabad, Swami Sivananda, Sringeri
Madadipathi, Bhagawan Satya Sai Baba, Maa Ananda Mayi, Swami
Chinmayananda, the Dalai Lama, JRD Tata and many others find a place
in the book. The most amusing one is the anecdote about Eleanor
Roosevelt. After a visit to Kaudiar Palace, she wrote in the Life
magazine, “I went to Travancore, where I met Chithira Thirunal, the
Maharaja. He introduced me to the Maharani, who was not his wife, but
his mother, and the heir apparent, who was not his son, but his
brother…I have not understood the system. But I am glad that the power
is vested with the women.”

Speaking of the power of women, one must say a word about Uma
Maheswari, the woman behind this book. Like Boswell to Dr. Johnson and
Lytton Strachey to Queen Victoria, Uma has rendered a great service to
His Highness by taking notes diligently and putting them together into
a cohesive, readable and interesting account of a remarkable life and
its times.

Shri KPR Nair, the publisher also deserves a word of appreciation for
creating a volume worthy of its contents.

The book that His Excellency will release today is just not history.
It will make history. The readers of the book, however much they may
believe in democracy and equality of men, will realize that there is
something in what is called “blue blood”, which sets apart the rajas
from the prajas. It is not pomp and grandeur, but humility, dedication
and commitment to the people.

Thank you,


Soheb Vahab said...

I'm Soheb Vahab, a schoolboy studying in 7th standard.I'm interested in the Royal family and have also met them.I was present in this function.Outstanding speech!!!

Soheb Vahab said...
This comment has been removed by the author.