I had the opportunity of visiting Jaipur and while there, a friend was kind enough to take me to the Ajmer Fort. It was a beautiful day for the fort and after the initial haggling and nuisance of guide badgering, we managed to find a guide who could explain things in English to us.
The visit was a welcome one. For all of us are mired in our daily lives, our problems looming large over the horizon, sometimes enveloping us. However, a short sojourn into the lives of those who lived a couple of centuries ago is revelatory. A spot of time travel is all it takes: Our problems do not go away but something shifts in our perspective to handle them.
Standing there, atop a hillside and looking down at the Queen’s palaces, the guide told us about the political rivalry between the queens themselves. The king, he was telling us about, had 12 queens. Each queen had her own staff (each had at least 38 maids according to the maids quarters), and obviously had diplomatic relations with her fellow queens. A delicate balance of power, respect, and information exchange ought to have existed in these very spaces. The queens were leaders in their domains: their aristocratic birth and training only able to account for their fate till they got to become queens of the raja. After that, they had to keep up their image, fight their own battles, live with the fact that they could lose their sons & husbands to war anytime, and figure out a method of survival or not if they found themselves at the mercy of the invading army.
I suddenly felt overwhelmed at the problems of their day. I am sure they received the best guidance available to them at the time, but nevertheless, they lived hard, admirable lives. To ensure that one received the right amount of attention from their king was part of the puzzle. How could you be just enticing enough for the king, and continue to be liked by the other queens? Budgets, staff management, administrative duties, leadership training for the young princes’ and princess’s .
As we stood there taking in the stories of the guide, I felt a shift in perspective with respect to my own career. It is life after all. Every one had trials and tribulations to carry on. I understood vaguely what people meant when they said that each life is an illusion (not that we suffer any less because people tell us this).
As our guide marched on through the palace quarters, he told us about various aspects of royal life. The scented waters, the mechanisms used to keep cool in a desert, the entertainment choices, the staff who protected them and finally the baths where they could relax and rejuvenate. As I peered into the bath-tub of centuries ago, I could imagine them being waited on by their female attendants, and getting dressed with 42 different pieces of jewellery, before they could present themselves in public.
That evening, when I stepped into the shower for a quick rinse off, I felt a wave of gratitude. The water was hot, and the plumbing perfect. The clothing I had ensured I made it for dinner downstairs in the hotel in 10 minutes. What’s more? There were no diplomatic connotations to the color of the jeans I wore.
I felt an enormous sense of how far we’d come! Royalty may have been all well, but I think we have it better. My Royal Tea awaited downstairs and I bounded downstairs with no queenly dignity.