Our Last Extravagance

"For sale:  excellently located, 150 room fort on the

Delhi-Ahmedabad national highway; slightly decayed, but ideal for a museum, hotel, or college."

               Classified advertisement in the Times of India



No no, sit down!  Enough of your bows and genuflections.

Everything has changed--the old ways are finished.

Don't think I don't understand, dear pretender.

Yes, sit down, stop sighing.  I know I shall not

survive the century.  What is there to live for?

As the poet says:

             No aspiration is fulfilled

             Nor is any fulfiller in sight...

The princes?  They drink and hunt and womanize--

rotten-toothed, feeble-spined wastrels--unfortunately,

they take after their father--ha! ha!--Don't talk

about them.  They'll squabble over the remains

when I die.  They live recklessly, knowing deep within

that their grandsons will have to beg.  Little

to look forward to after death.

                                  So, how about it?

this little place that we talked about earlier,

a tiny summer resort--call it my last extravagance--

what do you say?  Ah!  You are silent, my friend.

So, you think we can't do it, not within our means?

Am I correct?  You are too polite, reluctant

to disappoint me?  Let's see here, let's see:

five thousand villages--is that what's left?

The rest is ... lost, liquidated!  Three weeks back

that oily Marwari negotiated 3000 acres off us--

bought them outright!  What for?  He wants to build,

set up industries, he says.  Cotton mills, steel

foundries, cement companies!  Bah!  Businessmen!

Forgive me, I digress.  But what else to do

but digress?  One long digression our life is

which only death will correct.  Yes, my friend,

this palace will be built--I don't care how....

Sell a thousand villages--I don't mind; don't mind

as long as it stands until my death.  After I die

who will care?  Death is the end of us and all our

folly.  So build it.  One hundred and fifty rooms--

on the noble plateau, inside the ancient fort,

a winding, gravel drive way, suddenly revealing

the imposing facade of uncommon aspect, with

musical fountains of perfumed water inside

the rose garden leading to the leaf-fringed porch,

with spiked, gigantic double doors always open

to a magnificent reception hall, inside--portraits

of our ancestors--and next, the formal dining room

with venetian chandeliers and turquoise blue curtains,

then numerous drawing rooms, both formal and informal,

all opening into the tiled courtyard, flanked by

three wings of guest rooms, with baths attached

in the modern fashion, the curved, white stairway,

leading upstairs to our private suites...hmmm, plus

garages, stables, kennels, hunting lodges, quarters

(for dogs, horses, elephants, Rolls-Royces, servants)

and, a marble dancing hall lit with electric bulbs,

silk tapestry peacock hued, fluttering incense--

ah, my last palace!

                     A tribute to this vanishing present.


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  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape