Thursday, April 1, 2010

@25. The Story of Vishwapratap

Those Were the (Ugly) Days
This story was told to me by my great grandmother (Mother of my maternal grandfather). So the basic facts of the story are probably true. However, if a story is repeated a hundred times, there come a lot of embellishments and exaggerations. The story teller keeps on refining his or her narration with every repetition. Add to it that at many paces I have used my imagination where there was a factual gap. Also part of the story I heard from so many other sources.
Ek tha Raja. Well, not exactly a raja. He was the younger son of a minor Prince who ruled over an area which is now in Jharkhand. He had two sons, and the younger one is whom we are describing here. The story of the birth of the two brothers is equally interesting, so it is worth diverting for some moments from the main story.
The prince was childless. I don’t know why the ruling prices of so many States in India were sterile or impotent. Scindias of Gwalior had a long tradition of adopted sons ascending the throne, and the story is repeated at so many big and small states in India. Well, the Prince was getting on in age, and his brother realising that his son willl inherit the throne started treating the Prince lightly, and interfering in the affairs of the state which of course the Prince did not like. With the advice of his Senior Maharani he searched among his minions, and found that wives of two of them were carrying, one was a Kshatriya, a minister of his, and the other was his barber. He had a pact with them, and declared that two of his wives were pregnant. His brother did not believe him, and arranged for the check-up of the two queens by a lady doctor (a lady gynaecologist) who was given a bagful of money to toe the line of the Prince. Ultimately, the two ladies deliverd, at the interval of a few hours. Barber’s wife who was attached to the younger Maharani delivered first, and the high-caste Rajput lady attached to the Senior Maharani delivered later. The barber’s son inherited the throne, and the younger one known as the Maharajkumar was given a few hundred villages for his maintenance, as was the tradition in the family. After some time his mother persuaded him to leave the palace of his elder brother, and built up a garhi about 50-60 kms away and lived there with as much pomp and show as his brother.
In time he married. The girl’s father had two more daughters and he requested the Maharajkumar (Vishwapratap) that he should take them as well as his wives, and he happily obliged. So far, so good.. Vishwapratap had a number of sons most of whom were cross-eyed, a trait inherited from Vishwapratap. There was no doubt about the paternity! Apart from this defect, Vishwapraatp was tall, fair, handsome young man with light grey eyes which none of his sons inherited, unfortunately.
But the ruling princes, and even minor princes and zamindars of those days were not satisfied with legal wives, whatever their number. Remember ‘Saheb, Biwi aur Ghulam’? They had concubines, apart from casual one night prostitutes. Concubines or keeps was the accepted practice even during my childhood days. Many big zamindars had two families, one legal and the other of the concubine, and the offsprings of the latter were more or less accepted in the society, though considered inferior to the true-blood nobility. I remember some of these zamindars having a foray in politics, and the fact of their having two families never came in the way of their success in the election, and if they lost, this was certainly not the factor which affected them negatively. Similarly, the e professional prostitutes also had children, the parentage of some of them known, and of some not known. They certainly enjoyed a lower status in the society. In the area where I was brought up, they were known ‘bhaduas’, a derogatory term not used in their presence. I remember once one such boy tried to be friends with me, and I responded favourably, innocent of all the nuances of the society during those days. One day A Brahman friend of mine scolded me and advised me to keep away form such scum of society. Why go so far to the middle of the last century when not many years ago, when a French President died, there were two families of his present at the cremation. Today we have Heads and Chief Executives of countries who merrily divorce and then marry a model, and one hears all the juicy stories about the doings of the First Lady. In nature, there are several species that are polygamous- black buck and baya weaver immediately come to mind. In the olden days the mortality among men was much more than for women. Nobody has mentioned what happened to the widows of 18 akshauhini of the army of the Mahabaharat battle who perished. Many could have been sati, but the lot remained back in the society. Ravan’s wife was taken over by his brother Vibhishan when he ascended. Sugriva’s wife who was forcibly taken away by Bali and when he was killed by Ram she returned to the original husband. Anyway Vishwapratap came to know of a beautiful Brahman girl who had just attained puberty and was staying with her father and younger sister, the mother had passed away a few years back, and the father had not remarried. It was out of question to persuade the father to marry her off to the Maharajkumar. It was an inconceivable match, Brahman girl marrying a Kshatriya several years her senior. So Viswapratap waited for a suitable opportunity, and such opportunity presented itself soon enough. He came to know that the father had gone to an adjacent town for a few days probably to search for a suitable match for the elder daughter, and the daughters were alone in the house. He sent one of his trusted Brahman minions who went to the girls and told them that their father had called them over to the town he had gone to. Naturally it had to be both the girls, otherwise it would have brought suspicion. The girls were thrilled at the prospect of journey by train and visit to a nearby town (it was the beginning of the twentieth century). And so the two young ladies landed at Vishwapratap’s place. The story was sad, as it had to be. Women were no better than cattle those days, and even a great religious poet Tulsidas considered them deserving a beating. The elder sister did not take food for a few days, but ultimately she realized that it was not possible for her to get out of this prison. Vidhwapratap had some some sort of ceremony performed and took both the girls as his wives. What my great grandmother used to tell that every night when Vishwapratap went to see the elder sister, at the time of leaving would ask her whether she still wanted to go back to her father. And till the end she said the same yes. An enraged Vishwapratap responded with beating her, and the story was repeated on and on. The The elder sisiter had a son who unfortunately did not survive long. Maybe he did not get enough care and attention from his mother. The younger one had a son who survived. His father arranged for his proper education, and engaged an English tutor for him, the best that could be given those days. More about him later.
The story of Vishwapratap did not end happily. Some mineral was discovered in the villages which were given to him for maintenance. When the elder brother came to know of it, he laid claim over it, and both the brothers fought a bitter legal battle over the rights to it. Vishwapratap won from the High Court, and the Prince took it to the Privy Council for final appeal. This meant engaging an expensive lawyer, and sending him by ship to England which cost money. The lawyer had to be away from his regular legal practice for months together foregoing his earnings for the period, and had to be adequately compensated. Vishwapratap lost the case in the House of Lords, and went almost bankrupt, and his estate came under court of wards which gave him limited allowance.
I was told that when Vishwapraaatap won the case in the State High Court, he was advised by his senior lawyer to go for a compromise with his brother, and as he was the winner of this round, the lawyer was confident that the elder brother would come round for an agreement. Vishwapratap reacted in his typical thakuraiti style by being thoroughly enraged, so much so that he e asked the lawyer to make himself scarce in his presence. Had he agreed to the advice given by his lawyer, the story would have been different.
The father of the two hapless girls came home and found the house locked, and the daughters missing. By and by he came to know of the full story. He fretted and fumed, shed the tear of the weak and helpless, but could not do much beyond the impotent rage which he felt. He also knew that even if he was able to rescue the girls, it was impossible to find a match for them, and so he spent the rest of his life ruing the day he left the two daughters on their own.
I don’t know how Vishwapratap’s end came. These princelings never enjoyed long life due to their style of living, and he died not at a ripe old age. The eldest son of Vishwapratap inherited the villages after the death of his father, and the other brothers got some villages for their maintencance in accordance with their chronological hierarchy. The Younger sister’s son (Durga Prasad) got 3 villages. I heard weird stories about the cruelty and barbaric ways of this son. He was reportedly given tigress milk to make him fearless and bold. I did not believe it, and questioned the storyteller as to how the tigress milk could be procured. I was given a plausible explanation. I was told that sometimes the tigress while suckling her cubs chose a large stony place. Some milk got spilled, and this was later collected (or scraped) by the tribals in a dona (leaf cup) and brought to the Maharajkumar for his children. Both the mothers were living with Durga Prasad. The elder sister did not live very long. Probably died in her fifties, pining away for her native place. Durga Prasad got married to the daughter of a reputed lawyer, who unfortunately bore him only one daughter. Out of frustration he regularly beat her, and his mother as well, stripped and put red ants over their naked body, including the most delicate parts and turned them out of the house regularly. The poor ladies had to wrap themselves in gunny cloth with the covert help of the domestic help, and lived in the forest till they were rescued after Durga Prasd relented. He also regularly beat up his tenants, for some reason or the other, he had to find an excuse.
Durga Prasad’s story goes even further. Once his wife went to her father’s place. Her brother had to go to jail for a few years during the independence movement, leaving behind four young daughters. Durga Prasad repeatedly called his wife back, but she was not keen to leave the young nieces, and kept on procrastinating. Durga Prasad was wild with fury, and married a local girl of 14 when he was 40. In his hasty decision, desire for getting a son must have been in his mind. Children he did get from his second wife, not one, not two, but five. And all were daughters. Man proposes and God disposes. But he did marry off all his daughters one by one during his lifetime, though the matches were not upto his status. Give credit to the old tradition and sense of duty of Rajputs! The land was there to sell off to pay for the marriages. He passed away, old and diabetic, and if not in penury, in not very happy circumstances.
I do not guarantee that the story teller was entirely correct in her narration, but the basic facts cannot be denied. Why I penned this down is because there are very few people left of those olden days who had the opportunity to see and hear those incidents and who have the will and desire to tell it for the present generation of IT and mobile phones.

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