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When three of us, i.e a brother and the sister and I, were small children our evening haunt used to be the Miss Hill’s School. The head mistress was Mrs. RK Hukku – a family friend – who used to live on the premises. The school was not even a furlong from our house. Mrs. Hukku had a door opening on to our lane just before it met the main road with the High Court on the other side.
Her husband had died young. He, I believe, was from the Imperial Police and was posted at Jabalpur. She had six children, two sons and four daughters. The eldest one, Shashi, was paralysed from waist down. He couldn’t move by himself. Mrs. Hukku had a number of helpers and they used to move him on a chair with long arms extending to front and the rear from the seat. He was very fond of my eldest brother and couldn’t possibly miss a day without meeting the latter. They would sit together and talk of various matters and occasionally play mahjong. Mrs. Hukku, too, was very fond him, and used to treat him like her own son.
Children of the two families were more or less of the same age – give or take a year or two. Only difference was that while she had more daughters than sons on our side we had more boys than girls. Nonetheless, the relationships were always friendly and cordial. After all, we used to meet every evening for boisterous and noisy games since childhood and that relationship continues till today. My eldest brother is still in touch with those Hukkus who survive - most of them, unfortunately, having passed on except the ones at Chandigarh and Durham in North Carolina.
Miss Hill’s School is from where we used to watch the Dussehra procession carrying the Maharaja on a golden howdah placed on a profusely decorated elephant. Likewise, the British Resident (representative) used to follow sitting on a silver howdah on top of another dressed-up elephant.
Dussehra processions in Gwalior used to be huge celebratory affairs – as I believe they were in Mysore and Kulu. Villagers would come to town and camp on footpaths in huge numbers along the path of the procession. It must have been a four or five kilometers distance that the procession would cover slowly at elephant’s pace preceded by the various regiments of the Gwalior Army, their respective bands, the senior officials and ministers in their own horse-drawn carriages or horses wearing spectacular Maratha ceremonial dresses, complete with the atypical Maratha headgear. The procession used to be pretty long and, given the pace of the elephants, it used to last quite a while. I remember the Dussehra procession of 1946 was more spectacular and stretched out as all the units that the Scindias contributed for the Great War had come back.
The procession was occasioned by the Maharaja’s worship of his deity across the town located at Gorkhi where my brothers used to study in a government school housed in a converted palace. Gorkhi was, in fact, the seat of Scindias before they moved into the Jai Vilas Palace. It was here, therefore there was a cluster of palaces that were later converted by Madhavrao Scindia (Sr.) into educational institutions. Close by there was a place we called Kampoo which, in fact was a distortion for “camp” and it was here, it seems, the Scindia’s forces used to camp in 18th and 19th Centuries.
As it was a ceremonial outing for the Maharaja the roads used to be blocked for all kinds of traffic. There was hardly any traffic those days, anyway. It was mainly pedestrian traffic, especially those multitudes who had trudged all the way from villages and would camp on the sidewalks. They would expectantly wait for the hour when the Maharaja was likely to appear. As the time of the procession approached they would dress up and tie their huge, sometimes colourful, turbans and wait for the Maharaja’s elephant. I still remember the pervasive din that thousands of people talking – all at the same time – would hang over the entire area. They would watch the passing panorama of army units and their bands with admiration in involuntary silence. However, as the elephant carrying the Maharaja circled the traffic island with his father’s statue a huge roar would go up and people will break into slogans: Maharaja George Jiwajirao Scindia ki jai (Victory to Maharaja George Jiwajirao Scindia). The Maharaja would acknowledge the people’s enthusiastic greetings with folded hands wearing a smile.
The Maharaja would be in his royal finery wearing his family jewels and the famed necklace of pearls of thirty strings. The necklace somehow couldn’t be missed with so many strings of pearls hanging from his neck. But he seemed to gallantly bear the overwhelming weight for the duration of the procession. As he passed by and disappeared from view people would lapse into animated praise for the Maharaja’s beatific smile and handsome visage. Such was the love for the Maharaja among ordinary people, especially those who used to live in the remote hinterland of Gwalior city.
We would hang around the School playing this or that. Soon it would be time for re-appearance of Maharaja as he would be going to another family deity up on the hills beyond the Victoria College. Normally it would not be an elephant that he would use. It could be a well dressed horse or one of his convertible Cadillacs or Rolls Royces. We mostly saw him in his convertible Cadillac – the American luxury car of those days.
It is not that only Scindia subjects would assemble in large numbers to get a glimpse of the Maharaja. Even Maharani Vijaya raje Scindia would come to the High Court building right opposite to the Miss Hill’s School. Special arrangements would be made for her to watch the procession in complete privacy. As she would be observing purdah the entire porch of the High Court would be curtained off for her. I even now do not know from where exactly she would be watching her husband pass by on an elephant’s back. It was only much later in 1947-48 that she came out in public on a horse-drawn carriage with the Maharaja and Vallabh Bhai Patel, the first Home Minister of India.