February 28, 2020
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Maharaja Mac

A lighthearted romp takes on Rajasthan's royalty

Maharaja Mac
Really, Your Highness!
By Jyoti Jafa
Lotus/Roli Books Rs 250, Pages: 432
Dear Aunt Jojo - Jyoti Jafa for all rank and file - she of the aristocratic order who has dedicated a lifetime to the serious pursuit of family trivia, is back after her romantic lovestory of Nurjahan, with this Wodehouseian saga of feuding royal cousins set in fictional kingdoms in Rajasthan.

Here, in a land that witnessed the rise of idiosyncracies as two cultures - colonial and royal - clashed, Jafa sets a tale she originally wrote as a TV serial. She had role models: To the Manor Born, and Yes, Minister! with their dry humour. Clearly, Jafa decided what the Brits could do, a feudal Rajput could do better.

Her romp through the palaces of Rajasthan with their inane political shenanigans, the irreverent (and slightly doltish) princes and the staid, white aide de camps and other bureaucrats, clearly hark back to a Sophiya childhood in Ajmer followed by visits to the feudal homes of various cousins. Just how many of those cousins will enjoy having their family skeletons placed on display should be a source of amusement to Jafa, who seems to have spent a lifetime rattling around dark cupboards and concealed corridors. It's another matter that most of the tales were probably more apocryphal than real; this, after all, is fiction - isn't it?

Sadly, the tales, distanced from a world of palaces by decades, will find few readers who can conjure up the world Jafa knew as a child. This disconnect between reader and writer, in turn, makes Jafa's light-hearted levity almost sacrilegious: is this what concerned the princes when India was feeding the satyagraha machinery? While the book would have been more fun had it been written by Jafa around the time she was born, there's one thing you can't fault her on: she knows her royal codes and customs. If edited to half its size, the book could be what the doctor ordered.

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