The palace in democracy

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 08 Feb 2018 10:33:15

Vijay Phanshikar,



The sprawling bungalow’s grandeur speaks for itself! Its red walls lined by white hems, its regal porches, its huge expanse of tiled roof, the very clean surroundings, the sprawling and well-manicured lawn in front, the flag-staff! -- everything is just regal, grand, befitting a palace.

Everything about the Raj Bhavan in Nagpur spells grandeur, designed to make specific impact of the presence of the highest officer in the State’s governmental eco-system.
As you make your way up on the rising road that stretches for a little less than a kilometer, you realise that you are entering a very special place -- special by its architecture and special by the people who have often lived in it -- the Governors of Maharashtra now and of Madhya Pradesh beforehand.

And as you emerge from the rising road and enter the gate to the actual premises on the top of the hill of what was less glamorously described as Governor ki kothi, you realise that the present name ‘Raj Bhavan’ is well merited, thanks to its poeticism and its use. For, besides the Governors, all top functionaries of the Indian Government stay in this palace in democracy -- the President, the Vice President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, as well as the foreign dignitaries visiting Nagpur from time to time.

They draw a special sense of importance from the Raj Bhavan and the Raj Bhavan basks in the authority they wield. Over time, the palatial mansion has acquired certain gravitas from those great personages who lived under its roof. The mansion’s persona, thus, has an aura that even a blind person would not miss. For, that aura, its fragrance, its feel, and its wordless presence permeates into the visitor’s being, drenching him or her with a sense of respect, even a sense of awe.

Today, as the position of Governor adds a special significance to edifice of power, the Raj Bhavan in Nagpur sends out very powerful signals about the importance of decorum and dignity as essential parts of the democratic structure of governance. The sense of awe the visitors get at Raj Bhavan does not obliterate their sense of democracy. Much to the contrary, it exemplifies the spirit of respect that is so fundamental to Ganatantra -- people’s power.

As a child, visiting the Raj Bhavan fifty-plus years ago to see the Governors (who would be our father’s friends or acquaintances), I could not miss the grandeur of the place. Of course, the Raj Bhavan then was slightly simpler in its presence. Yet, it was impossible to miss its basic magnetism. Subsequently, as a journalist, visiting the Raj Bhavan for various reasons became rather a routine. But all those visits did not dim my interest and sense of awe about the palatial place. In subsequent years, some Governors became personal acquaintances as well. Sipping tea with them, listening to their experiences, possibly writing about those if permitted, became part of my routine. Yet, through all those connects, I could never miss to notice the silent impact the grand building had on my inner space.

However, one brush with the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi one late evening at the Raj Bhavan will remain a special memory for me. As a young upstart Reporter, I just cycled my way up the hill one evening. In those wonderful days, security was not a big issue. As I reached the Raj Bhavan’s front porch, I urged the security men to lead me to the Prime Minister (who I believed was as if waiting for me!!!). Of course, I was given a strong rebuff and asked to withdraw. I didn’t. In that altercation, the voices of the guards and also mine were raised a little. Mrs. Gandhi did not miss the noise and asked her secretary to see what was happening. Finally, she agreed to meet me who claimed to be a Reporter. The subsequent parts of the story better remain under wraps.

Yet, succeeding to break the cordon and get straight to the Prime Minister all on my own was an experience that stood me in great stead subsequent years of my career. Of course, things are altogether different now. No one can even think of touching the outside compound wall of the Raj Bhavan when the Prime Minister is in residence now.

Those were the days, you know ....!
Of course, all Raj Bhavans across India are grand palaces. They give out signals of authority and message of power. Yet, the Raj Bhavan at Nagpur has a special place and importance in the scheme of things. The reason is simple -- its architecture is of a very different quality, designed to make the visitor feel special, unlike many other places of similar importance making the visitors feel insignificant.

Apart from all the great political and official personages who lived in Nagpur’s Raj Bhavan, one very special little girl also lived there. From those haloed precincts, she would make her way to school -- the Tata Parsi School -- every day as a child. It was in the Raj Bhavan’s rooms and halls, that
little girl took her first steps in Bharat Natyam and also learned the basic intricacies of Indian classical music. Everybody in the family doted upon the little one, the Governor Mangaldas Pakwasa in particular. For him, his grand-daughter -- Sonal -- was almost a God’s gift.
Today also, the very mention of her days in Raj Bhavan in Nagpur makes Sonal Mansingh’s eyes turn misty, with an unmistakable crack of a beautiful smile.