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Obituary: Brajraj Mahapatra  

2015-12-18 11:04:39|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Obituary: Brajraj Mahapatra
King of mud, king of rain
Brajraj Kshatriya Birbar Chamupati Singh Mahapatra, last prince of the British Raj, died on November 30th, aged 94
Obituary: Brajraj Mahapatra - 坚尼仔 - 人在风中
BACK when his eyes were sharp and his handlebar moustache impressive, Brajraj Mahapatra would go big-game-hunting in the damp, dense forests of Orissa (now Odisha) in eastern India. As King of Tigiria in Cuttack district, 45 square miles of this hill country belonged to him. Rifle on his shoulder, servants creeping behind, he would bring down tigers and leopards—13 of the former, 28 of the latter—and use their pelts to decorate the walls of his palace. The residence was not large. Nonetheless it had fine carpets, marble columns, an ornate throne of gilt and velvet and well-ventilated rooms in which to write down, for various magazines, his famous stories of the hunt. 

He also killed one elephant. The local villagers had begged him to do so because it was trampling their crops; though it was a special perquisite of kings of his line, from earliest times and also under the Raj, that they should always travel by elephant and be heralded with black flags and bugles. Consequentially, he liked tuskers. But as the villagers’ obliging prince, he did as they asked. His rule was mild; so mild that Tigiria’s jail had no walls, and the worst punishment imposed was that the king would refuse to speak to you.

In the 21st century the villagers still came to pay their respects, though not to the palace. That had long been turned into a high school for shrill dark-plaited girls. For his last 28 years the house of Brajraj, still most royal, was a small hut of mud on a hillock with an asbestos roof that thundered and leaked under the monsoon rains. He lived there alone. His furniture was a wooden cot under a torn tarpaulin, a few plastic chairs, a battery-powered fan and rails, thick with cobwebs, on which to hang his clothes. As for those, they were no longer the best embroidered sherwanis, gem-heavy necklaces, cummerbunds, scabbards and jewelled turbans in which he would attend a durbar or, with a lordly expression, pose with one two-tone shoe on a gilt stool for the photographer. He now wore a humble kurta and lungi over his bony hips. He had been plump in the old days. Now he pecked at what his subjects served him: tea and a couple of biscuits in the morning, a little dal and rice for lunch, a roti at night. His eyes were so clouded with cataracts that he felt, rather than saw, what was placed before him.

He was probably the last surviving king of British India, and certainly the last ruler of the 26 princely states of Orissa that co-operated from the beginning with the British Raj, traded freely with the East India Company and grew fat on the taxes they were allowed to keep. For some years this arrangement kept him in playboy style. He bought fast, flash motors: 25 cars and Jeeps filled his garages, polished and tuned by some of his 30 staff. In 1943, at 22, he became king. He and his best friend, the King of Puri, would often be driven through the green paddy-fields along the coast to Kolkata, where they would hold court in the lounge of the Great Eastern Hotel in an aura of majesty, Black Label and State Express 555 cigarettes. There Brajraj, utterly at home, would “drink to my heart’s content and have a good time”.

A dream of three hills
Rumour had it that he drank too deep, and that was why he found himself in the hut at last, with Queen Rasmanjari (from whom he had long separated) living a kilometre away, and his six children even farther off. But political upheaval had played a larger part. At first, with the birth of independent India in 1947, little changed; he agreed to merge his principality into the new nation and, while his diwan or minister waited outside, signed the instrument of accession in Cuttack town hall. A privy purse was awarded to him of 11,200 rupees ($2,338) a year; it could barely sustain a month of his glamorous existence, and in 1975 Indira Gandhi removed even that.

The palace had already been sold 15 years earlier. It fetched only 75,000 rupees; though he was glad to sell it to a school, for he had founded several, and his education-minded forebears had written manuals of dance and warfare. He moved in first with the King of Puri, then with his own brother, the King of Mandasa, but pined for Tigiria, the little kingdom of “three hills”, which an ancestor had seen in dreams in 1264, and where Jagannath deities had been hidden for their safety in the leopard-haunted forest. In 1987 he returned there to build his hut. People tried to entice him into politics; he refused. Kings, he said, with a rare gleam of condescension, should not beg for votes and bow to people.

If he left the hut now it was in a rickshaw, not a motor, pulled jolting by one man over the mud tracks from one village to another. He did not complain. The aura of attentiveness and reverence about him was as strong as ever, his people as loyal to “Sir” as before. Only the trappings had changed. He now preferred to be his subjects’ aaja, grandfather, rather than their raja; his one command was that each villager should pay ten rupees for his cremation when the time came. He awaited it with patience, his gaunt hands knotted round his walking stick as, in former times, they had clasped the still-warm barrel of his trusty hunting-rifle. He was content with both the future and the past. As he told one journalist preparing yet another “Prince to Pauper” feature, if he was unhappy, how could he have lived so long?

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