The best thing about Hindoo culture is how much love it has for change. Everything is temporal. Nothing lasts. This is probably why folks in this neck of the woods have so little regard for history – look at the decrepit state of most national monuments in this country, for example – and so much ingenuity regarding how to keep a place current. In places like Luxor, I’m told locals used to sleep in and around the pyramids, turning those grand grave-cum-tombstones into something that was useful in the current day and age. In India, we’re not so mundane. Anyone can turn an old place into a dwelling. What we do over here is keep things relevant in a contemporary context.
Take Jayamahal Palace in Bangalore (oops, I should be saying Bengaluru now that it has gone fully right-wing and native). Bought from the Maharaja of Mysore in the 1900s by the king of Gondal (an ickle place in Gujarat, I’m told), the palace is a beautiful structure with lush lawns and what not. When His Royal Highness lived there with his regal wife, could he have imagined that approximately a century later, his palace would be integral to local culture? Could he have known that instead of his descendants, it would be vagabond potheads of Bangalore who would be lolling around on the green grass?
The royal couple would perhaps not be entirely thrilled to know that the trees they planted with such love and pride would turn into sets for B-grade Kannada films. After dark, Jayamahal Palace was where the traumatic life episodes of heavily made-up heroines unfolded. Moustachioed villains attempted to rape screeching heroines under blinding halogens. The local film industry’s fake vices were afoot within the white walls of the place that had been home for a god-fearing, conservative Gujarati royal family and outside, the city’s young patronised the space as the place to follow Bob Dylan’s diktat – “Everybody must get stoned.”
The palace has now undergone a facelift and is attempting to squash this slice of its history as it represents itself as a classy boutique hotel but the fact is that till very recently, Jayamahal Palace was the hot spot for loopy-headed Bangaloreans who wanted to smoke a joint in peace and filmy types who wanted a “classic” location for rape and suicide sequences. Which meant that if you were sitting and guzzling beer in the palace garden after dark, chances were that you would end up seeing an actress pretending to hang herself from a luridly lit-up tree by jiggling manically while a bemused, moustachioed man held her up by the feet to make sure she didn’t actually end up strangling herself in the process.
Those days, however, are now gone. Jayamahal Palace has been renovated into a fancy hotel under the auspices of the descendants of the Gondal royal family, Maharaj Bhojrajji and Maharani Kumud Kumari. Among their innovations is a bar called Formula III, which has glass-topped real tyres for tables, piston ashtrays, menus of gasket covers and things like “disc-brake clocks” and headlights on the walls. Which sounds to me like the perfect setting for a filmy villain’s den but I suspect that isn’t exactly what HRH Kumud Kumari had in mind when she was designing the place.