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High on tales of Delhi of another age

SUPPOSE IN the Adventure of the Three Students, half a chapter of Thucydides in the Greek translation paper for the exam at St.Luke's College had been typed out and not sent to the printer, necessitating galley proofs, would the case have come to Sherlock Holmes' attention?

The lecturer who had set the paper left the proofs on his table during a tea break. When he returned he found that some one had tried to copy the paper. One of the suspects was Daulat Rao, a student from India.

Proof-reading would not have been necessary had the passage been typed and made out into as many copies as needed. But in 1895 that was hardly possible, though Queen Victoria did have a typewriter and typed on it with one finger. As for Daulat Rao, he was probably named after Daulat Rao Scindia who had died a few years before the birth of Holmes' creator, Sir Arthur Doyle. But as it turned out, he was not the one who stole the passage. Incidentally, Daulat Rao Scindia's entrusts were looked after by his brother-in-law.

On the other hand, had the typewriter not been invented, Sushil Chand Gupta would not have become a rich man from a poor typist in Delhi. Sushil was a romantic young man who fell in love with the wife of his employer. And when the Seth died suddenly after a heart attack, leaving behind no other relatives but his widow, Sushil was the beneficiary because he married her. As fate would have it, the old widow too succumbed to heart failure and all the fortune was Sushil's. How he squandered it in the hotels of Delhi in the 1930s is -- or was -- part of old gossip.

The man who cycled about on a second-hand bicycle in a crumpled-up kurta-pyjama ended up driving a car at a time when there were very few cars in the Capital.

At about the same time that Sushil was making eligible women pine for his hand -- and wealth -- another interesting story broke out in Delhi: The Secret of 12 Typists.

Who were the 12 typists commissioned by the agents of the Maharaja of Patiala to type out the report prepared against him at the behest of Lord Willington in the early 1930s? The Viceroy was angry with the Maharaja and wanted him removed from the `gaddi', in the same way as Holkar had been forced to abdicate earlier. Passing by Kashmere Gate one wonders if the typists belonged to Delhi or were brought here from Patiala.

Lord Willingdon had reacted to reports he had received of the goings on at Patiala. He thought there was too much licentiousness in that State. There were other rulers who were no better if not worse.

Patiala at least had the distinction of patronising sportsmen, artists and craftsmen. Remember Gama Pehalwan and his brother Iman Bux were among those who thrived there. So also Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the famous ustad of Hindustani classical music.

Besides her husband, Lady Willingdon too had a grouse against the Maharaja, who had turned down her request for a few days' stay at his summer palace, with the curt reply that it was meant exclusively for him and his court.

Lord Willingdon (1931-36) had a controversial tenure at a time when Indian nationalism became more resurgent than ever before. Report said that the Maharaja was indulging in orgies inspired by tantric rights, involving an equal number of men and women.

Exaggerations apart, it seemed as though the adherents of Vatsyayan and Koka Pandi were bringing alive the passionate pages of the Kama Sutra and the Rati Rahasya, complete with exotic cosmetic, beauty culture and aphrodisiacs.

It was believed that there were 300 women in the harem, to meet whose demands hakims from Delhi vied with the vaids of Punjab and doctors from England and France to produce elixirs for their patron.

The truth was that the flamboyance of the court of Patiala had aroused jealousy and Lord Willingdon, acting both on prejudice and reports which were true to some extent, had charges framed against the Maharaja.

The Maharaja got wind of it and sent his agents on a surreptitious mission to Delhi during which their contract in the Viceroy's office passed on the secret file for the relevant pages to be typed out in an all-night exercise. The file was replaced the next morning and then the Maharaja sent his memorandum to King George V. The King was furious against the Willingdons and the Maharaja earned a reprieve.

Passing by Kashmere Gate one does see the pavement elixir sellers, poor cousins of those who served the court of Patiala. But what about the 12 typists? Can they or their successors forget the episode?

As for Sushil Chand, the second woman whom he married save him from becoming a pauper, after half his acquired wealth had been gambled away. She bore him so many children that he eventually had good company at home. Otherwise his last days might have been spent as a typist in the Central Ordnance Depot, which used to employ a goodly number of typists during World War II. But by that time Lord Wellington had returned as Viceroy and so Lady Willingdon ceased to be the chief attraction of the high party circles in New Delhi.

George V had, of course, died and his eldest son and successor, King Edward VIII left the throne to his younger brother, the Duke of York, for the sake of an American divorcee, Mrs. Simpson. He and she had to be content as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, while George VI ruled India with Lord Linlithgow as his Viceroy in Delhi. The Maharaja of Patiala too lost his clout, despite the bravado of the 12 anonymous typists. Unfortunately Sherlock Holmes did not get to solve this case.

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