Saturday, June 20, 2009

Living Large

Photos from the top: Rajasthani turbans furnished by the Maharaja of Jodhpur for a soiree in Washington (from; 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.


Wendy said...

Well Rob Walker, you've got great company on that list of yours-librarians and booksellers :) Anyone who has ANYTHING to do with the written word will get a good chuckle out of that list; I sure did! Fortunately by working at the library I can read my favorite mags, and my friend Laurie recycles her New Yorkers to me, God bless her! Pat, let's hear the Gleneagles story!!

Chester Campbell said...

I could probably stand to live like that. I'd have the servants bring me cappuccino instead of tea. I trust they have good air conditioning. I hear India can be quite hot. I feel Nashville is quite hot today. But no maharajas.

Rob Walker said...

Hello Pat et al - so you weren't kidding! You used my list. Glad it brought some chuckles. Either laugh or cry if you are in any sort of art or craft field eh? Unless Oprah reads your book and says something about it. I am waiting for that call any day now...or maybe from Clint Eastwood...


Mark W. Danielson said...

Pat, I knew those were pictures of India before I ever read your post. As you know, "Living large" as you described puts India in a class by itself, and yet it's India's class system that is directly responsible for this disparity.

In many ways, India still lives in the 19th century, but in many others, they are ahead of us by recognizing the value of education -- at least for the fortunate ones -- and also knowing the value of family.

Regardless of what country one lives in, those who recognize the value of family are truly rich. Such value has no bearing on one's financial wealth.

Anonymous said...


Even when I was there I saw schools in the rural areas. Down on the Malabar Coast in Goa, ruled by the Portuguese until India kicked them out, I saw kids walking to school, wearing Nike shoes and swinging western style book bags.

The slums are in cities like Delhi and Bombay, but even so, Bombay was a western-style city in places when I was there. It was truly an international city, even then.

We can thank the Brits for the way Indians speak -- and think -- in English. Air India's in-flight magazines were several cuts above in-flight magazines in this country's carriers.


Anonymous said...


I agree, Rob's list hit it right on the nail. And it was funny, too! (-:


Anonymous said...


I think Oprah's star is getting dimmer,but ol' Clint's star is still blazing. I hope you get a call from Clint. (-:


Anonymous said...


I don't recall air conditioning, but they must have had it in Delhi and Bombay hotels.

In smaller placeslike Jaipur and Mysore there were fans and open colonades everywhere. At the palace hotel in Mysore, little birds flew in and out of the dining room, picking crumbs off the tables.

Plus,I was there in December, when the country is dry, sunny and cool. I heard that monsoon season is a whole different thing.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Beautiful photography and video, Pat, and good writing on your part. I love the fact that the Indians respect for the elephants will hopefully prevent them from becoming extinct, as is threatened in Africa.

Rob's list is a hoot!

Anonymous said...


Elephants, monkeys, camels and cows were everywhere in India.

Hindus worship the monkeys as goddesses. Sassy little brats (monkeys, not Hindus) would snatch sandwiches from unwary tourists on Bombay's Elephanta Island.

Elephants share the workload as well as ceremonial duties in India. Palaces and some of the best hotels had courtyard entrances high enough for an elephant to walk through.

December is India's wedding month, and I got to see two wedding parades with the grooms riding on elephants. In Delhi, I hung out my window to watch a wedding party come in for a reception. Quite a spectacle.

Out in the boonies I also saw a modest wedding party gathered around decorated cows, probably part of the bride's dowry.

Sorry. Once I start talking about India I can't seem to shut up. (-:

Pat Browning

Jean Henry Mead said...

What a wonderful experience! I'd love to experience living large. Chester can have the cappuccino. I'll take the tea. :)

Anonymous said...

I ma an Indian immigrant to the US, living and attending a grad program at the Univ of Michigan. Iappreciate your comments about your visit to India.
BTW, Maharani Gayatri of Jaipur is a grand-aunt of mine.