Mrs. Nilu Curtis had the graciousness of a perfect host and the skills of a wonderful chef. I could not resist my temptation for the plump roast chicken, dripping with brown sauce and glistening rosemary leaves. The black mushrooms and baby roast potatoes added to the sinful richness of the dish, with heavenly smelling garlic bread and rice pilaf complementing the chicken. The Sandur hills, as the backdrop to the lively dining hall, added an ethereal charm to the entire dining experience. These hills are world famous for their Manganese and iron ores.

Mr. John Curtis wasa fine gentleman,with impeccable table manners. He even ate his chapatti with a fork and knife and wiped his mouth delicately with a serviette, while I wolfed down the delicacies with my fingers. As they say, in the presence of great food, etiquette is left way behind sometimes.  Mrs. Curtis,joyous to see me enjoy her food, offered some more. Her delicate features and the charming grace reminded me of the beautiful star Sharmila Tagore. She lived the mantraAthithiDevoBavaand caring for guests came naturally to her.

The local area abounded with great tales and folklore, and Mr. JC was a great storyteller. He had taken over the management for renovation of the Sandur palace, soon to be converted into a heritage hotel. My time spent with him was laced with memorable anecdotes. Once, he was stuck in the Hampi forests during a heavy down pour,with his car was almost submerged. Nilu, with mounting tension, started praying, while he tried to negotiate the river road!!  Water, gushing in from all sides,threatened to reach the seats. They were stuck for three hours with the engine refusing to start. With the water level rising steadily, he had to deploy all his driving skills learnt at the Bangalore racing tracks to finally get them out of the waters.  As I was thinking, “what an amazing escape”, he went on to narrate another story.

The next day, he took me for a visit to the Palace. The central dome was both imposing and welcoming as we drove through the gilt edged gates. The long drive would provide a good arrival experience for the guests, passing through the fountains. The Maharaja and Maharani suites were charming and spacious overlooking the vast rolling lawns and the pool.  The reception hall was, in fact, the main living space for the Maharaja Gorpade. The lady in bronze, with a parrot perched on her shoulder, smiled at me!  The central courtyard, which opened to the sky, was charming. I could see the whisky bar across,adorned with majestic portraits and a grand pool table in the centre. Well, the action is here, I thought – drink and play. The pool caught my fancy. As I dash to get a better view past the pool, I saw something very different and unique. It was a tiny grave with a small tombstone. Unable to control my curiosity any further, I asked, “Will someone please throw some light on what these graves are doing here, right in the middle of the magnificent lawns. Surely, the Raja would have a very good reason for this.” JC replied, “Sir, it’s the pet grave yard and the main star was Ruby, the loved golden retriever. He was the Raja’s biggest weakness.” The epitaph read- ‘Here rests my Unforgettable Ruby.’

As JC narrated the relationship between the Raja and Ruby, my mind wandered back and recreated the scene in the courtyard. “Oh where’s my Ruby? That naughty fella… forever onto mischief. I tell you, one of these days he will get all of us in trouble. Look he is so skinny, at this rate he will turn into a skeleton! Why, is there a food shortage in our palace?” the Raja asked.

“Your highness, Ruby refuses to eat from any one but your good self. He paws the food away, and he even tried to bite the head servant Mr. Hallappa, and scratched his face the other day”, said the maid. Hearing this, the Raja replied with a look of loving annoyance on his face, “I have some urgent court matters to look into and this stupid dog has to throw tantrums just now? That little scoundrel…Ok bring him here and I will feed him”. The ensuing scene was very funny, both the master and the pet playing games and cuddling away. The Raja spent a full hour, forgetting the time and important matters that lay in wait for him. Ruby was happy,his little pink snout twitching with glee.

The gleaming Mercedes halted for the Raja, he sat on the back seat majestically and waved his hand to say, “Go”. In jumped Ruby and perched on his lap. “My little devil, what’s this dirt all over your paws.Give them to me, let me clean them up. I don’t like your habit of running all over the muck, you little scoundrel,” chided the Raja lovingly. Ruby sure got royal treatment. The chauffeur was busy concentrating on the pot-holed road, not paying much attention to the drama unfolding inside between the master and the pet, as this wasthe daily scene.

The Sandur Manganese Board was in attendance for the Maharaja to tackle some difficult issues that were being tabled. The general mood was that the company should protect the staff from inflation. The Raja ordered a free ration scheme for all employees to protect them inflation, reiterating that the well being of the miners was his top priority.  Just as the meeting was concluding, in came Ruby, wagging his tail. The Raja lifted him lovingly and off they went to their world of playing and petting.

A few months later Maharaja’s health took a sudden turn for the worse, causing everyone to worry. “Ranimaji, I am afraid the Maharaja’s health is deteriorating, we need to shift him to Bangalore. The facilities are better there and the treatment suggested is very effective and elaborate,” said the chief of the palace administration.  After few weeks of uneasy stay in Bangalore, the Raja’s health still did not improve, and his craving for Rubygrew. The Raja missed his naughty pranks and love. The yearning grew stronger, and many a times he wouldn’t even touch his dinner plate! Meanwhile, Ruby, as quiet as a sick mongoose, would be seen near the pool deck staring at the Maharajas suite pitifully. Ruby’s diet was just some milk taken erratically. All the playfulness had vanished and the palace staff felt the soulful whimpering. Many a times, he would be seen besides the throne in the Durbar hall, the majestic stuffed animals didn’t seem to frighten him nor did the awesome display of swords and guns. With a fading look in his eyes, Ruby continued to yearn for his master.

One day, the driver parked the dog van besides Ruby’s kennel and called out for him. Ruby peeped out and ran back inside. “Ruby, come baby,” Called out the driver, “Our Highness wants you in Bangalore, be ready for a nice long ride, and I will give you a juicy bone”. Ruby ignored him and looked the other way. Any amount of cajoling or pushing proved futile. Ruby wouldn’t budge, for he was made of a sterner stuff, engrossed at looking at his master’s bedroom above.

The driver went to the head servant and said, “I will have to sedate him and tie him up as there is no other means.” The head servant, aghast, replied, “His Highness will definitely not like it you fool, remember his fondness for the pet. Wait, I have a better idea that is sure to work,” and he whispered into the driver’s ears.  The driver’s eyes brightened as he rushed out happily.

The gleaming Mercedes stopped in front of Ruby’s kennel after an hour and in he jumped happily, wagging his tail.

Venu Rao
Director – Peacock Hospitality.

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