Feast at Pataudi Palace

Feast at Pataudi Palace

After leaving Rasulia in 1956 I set up an auto spare part factory at Gurgaon near Delhi. This was in partnership with my sister’s husband. Ninety percent of the capital investment was his; I was the working partner. Soon after the business started I realized that I was in a wrong line of work. My fascination with machines was strong as always, but I had no stomach for lies spoken as business practice and account tampering without any qualms. The machinery my brother-in-law had bought was cheap and poor; parts produced with it gave me nightmares of their failure resulting in road accidents. I decided slowly to stop manufacturing parts and concentrate on repair of road and farm machinery. I had often assisted our Rolls Royce trained English mechanic at Rasulia and gained ample experience. Besides I had a natural fascination for machines. We could do fairly good basic work on trucks, farm machinery and even old steamrollers. Our reputation spread quickly. One of the customers we attracted was the Pataudi Farm situated in a village about 20 kilometers away. They had several tractors, a variety of implements and a couple of jeeps.

When Sudesh and I got married in September 1958 we used to spend Sundays exploring the area around Gurgaon. One Sunday we visited Pataudi. I already knew the farm manager Shahabuddin (not his real name) and some tractor drivers. They received us with love and sweet grace. We were taken around the area where the rulers had lived. It was essentially one huge palace surrounded by a fitting garden, now, of course, neglected. I asked Shahab why they had built such an enormous palace in a tiny village. He told me it was due to a dashing young cricketer Pataudi Nawab wanting to marry a Bhopal princess. Both had been studying in England when they fell in love. Bhopal Raja was not too happy. “Pataudi is just a village and the houses there are unfit for a princess,” he’d protested. But the young couple was totally devoted to each other. As a compromise a large palace was built even though it looked totally incongruous where it sits.

The doors of the musty palace were unlocked and we were shown every room of the dwelling fit for a princess. The living room was huge and the heavily padded sofas still looked attractive when Shahab the Farm manager removed the sheets covering them. Old style kerosene lamps were still there and working. The dining room was equally big and impressive. The teak table was big enough to seat thirty guests. The chairs were intricately hand carved. There was a kitchen, very functionally arranged and equipped with simple but best machines of those days. The bedrooms were fancy, but the study and library were the best. Their walls were lined with heavy wooden bookshelves. The large book selection reflected erudition and taste. The floors and part of the walls in the entire palace were marble.

In late afternoon when we got ready to leave, Shahab invited us for a feast. We accepted the invitation and agreed on a date a month later. When we arrived on the appointed day we were led straight to the fully open and aired palace. All covers had been removed and the house made livable. The furniture was inviting and looked like new. Every fixture had been properly dusted.

But the food offered to us was out of the world. Knowing that I was a meat eater and Sudesh vegetarian, the cooks had prepared enough variety for both. There was venison kababs, fish curries, and mutton; also a number of local vegetables cooked in ghee and delicate spices. The Nans were hot from the tandoor. The dessert was very tasty carrot halwa with almonds and pistachio. When I asked, Shahab told me that a couple of old cooks of Nawab’s time had returned to the village after stints in city hotels. They were delighted to flex their talents in the palace where they had learned cooking and served many superb feasts to royal guests.

We enjoyed the hospitality and the food, but the visit raised many questions in my mind about the rank artificiality of the ways of the old Rajas and Nawabs. The visit of course was the most memorable of our lives.

Partap, July 21, 2007