Photos from the top: Rajasthani turbans furnished by the Maharaja of Jodhpur for a soiree in Washington (from www.newyorksocialdiary.com); Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace, now a hotel; another view of the Rambagh Palace; author Rob Walker and his dog, Pongo.
By Pat Browning
News flash: David Letterman makes $32 million a year.
My friend Rob Walker will work cheaper. Here’s his Top Ten List.
Top Ten Things Writers Must Forego:
1. Bubble bath and skin nutrients ... forget about ‘em.
2. Aromatic candles, too expensive.
3. Starbucks coffee ... bring your own in a thermos.
4. Subscription to the New York Times.
5. Subscription to anything.
6. Going out to a play on a date in NYC with your spouse.
7. Snack food of any quality.
8. Lunch meat of any quality.
9. Steak dinners and alcoholic beverages.
10. Gasoline for the car or cash for a plane ticket.
What they can't live without – ink ... lots of black ink ... and workable
Rob’s list is dead on – which just happens to be the title of his new book, DEAD ON, coming from Five Star in July. Meantime, you can download it for free at his web site.
You never know what will pop up on the Internet. The same day I read about Letterman’s paltry salary I accidentally surfed into a web site called New York Social Diary. The big news there was an Indian art exhibition in Washington, with wildly colorful Rajasthani turbans furnished to guests by the Maharaja of Jodhpur.
The who? The what? I thought the maharajas were long gone, but, no, there he was, big as life, a maharaja who traces his desert clan back as far as 1226. Talk about living large. The maharajas of India put everyone else in the shade.
I didn’t get to Jodhpur during my trip to India a few years ago, but I spent some time in Jaipur, another fabled city in the deserts of Rajasthan. As a guest of India’s tourism director I saw a picturesque India that was, in some ways, still stuck in the 19th century.
I felt like a fraud. I’m not much of a writer. I was on assignment for a travel trade journal. But India has a long tradition of respect for writers of all stripes. My tour guides were graduate students and professors. I got the royal treatment.
In Jaipur I stayed in the Rambagh Palace, now a hotel. The last maharani, who is 90, lives in a private home on the grounds. Rajmata Gayatri Devi (the Queen Mother) was the 20-year-old Princess of Cooch-Behar when she married Maharaja Man Singh II, and the Rambagh was their summer palace. Active in politics and charities, she wrote a memoir, A PRINCESS REMEMBERS, in 1976.
Jaipur was a dream. I spent one sunny morning in the open corridor café, sipping tea and munching cheese toast (grilled cheese sandwich). Across the lawn from me, two Indians toyed with a cobra and a mongoose. Another morning I took a taxi out to Amber Fort and rode an elephant up the hill to the old palaces, a collection of turrets, arches and inner chambers.
There are windows where wives and members of the court stood to pelt maharajas with flower petals when they entered the main courtyard. In a darkened chamber, my guide struck a match and light danced in hundreds of tiny mirrors covering the walls and ceilings. The image stays with me as typical of India.
Believe it or not, there is a YouTube tour of Amber Fort. The tiny url is
India is an ancient and many-layered society. In 1947, the British withdrew and India became an independent democracy. It was not without problems, however. The people in charge literally drew a line on a map and declared one side was (mostly Hindu) country of India and one side was the brand new (mostly Muslim) country of Pakistan.
The split has been called the most complex divorce in history. The two countries squabbled over assets like a human couple. Pakistan got 17-1/2 percent of the cash, in return for covering 17-1/2 percent of India’s national debt. They flipped a coin for ownership of 12 horse-drawn ceremonial carriages. India got two-thirds of the army; Pakistan got the other third. Rudyard Kipling and Gunga Din must have turned over in their graves.
It took another 30 years to phase out the maharajas. Pakistan is still a mess. Kashmir is in pieces, claimed by India, Pakistan and China, and a hot topic with the United Nations even as we speak. I’m tempted to describe Kashmir as lying in the shadow of the Himalayas, but the geography of the Himalayas is as complicated as the history of India.
India was an assault on my senses, and I caught it like a low-grade fever. For years all I could think of was going back. Many, if not most, of us go through life without knowing what it’s like to live in luxury. I got a brief taste of it twice. Once was at the Rambagh Palace in India. Twice was at the Gleneagles resort in Scotland, but that is another story.