Sunday, 22 December 2013

Marthanda Varma: a brief encounter

By V Ramnarayan

It was 2010, the year of GNB’s centenary. I was one of the speakers at a weeklong commemoration at the Narada Gana Sabha. The chief guest each evening was a former ruler of a princely state in British India (Don’t ask me why). 

The evening Prince Marthanda Varma of Travancore spoke at the event, my mother asked me to try and get a private audience with him. “Your grandfather Sivaramakrishna Iyer was his private tutor after he retired as Inspector of Schools at Trivandrum. The maharaja once wrote an appreciation of him in a Malayalam magazine. Maybe he still remembers him,” she told me.

That evening, though I heard a short but scintillating speech by Marthanda Varma, I had no chance to corner him and get a sound byte out of him about my beloved Anna (as we all called our grandfather). But I had an unexpected stroke of luck while having a cup of coffee at the open-air Woodlands cafĂ© in the compound. 

The organizers led by S Vijayaraghavan seated the maharajah on a chair next to me while he waited for his car, and I grabbed the opportunity to ask him if he remembered Sivaramakrishna Iyer. “Of course, I remember him,” he said. “It was his teaching that made a man of me when I was tending to waste my youth.” We chatted for a while about Anna, when Marthanda Varma asked me, “Do you have a photograph of him from that period (the 1920s-30s)?” 

When I apologetically answered in the negative, assuming he was asking me for a copy, he hastened to add, “I have a copy. I’ll send it to you.” I then gave him my visiting card, and eagerly awaited the photograph. 

At that moment someone approached him and complimented him for the fine speech he made that evening. “That was all because of his grandfather’s teaching,” he said, pointing to me.

The promised photograph never came, but I cannot forget the graciousness of the former maharajah of Travancore.

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