Saturday, June 24, 2006

Lord - but not Knighted

The large white two-storeyed colonnaded mansion in the sprawling compound with a high boundary wall and a heavy black wrought iron gate caught my attention the day I landed in Patiala. The gate sported three boards. One displayed the picture of a dog with the words ‘On duty’. The second announced the name of the house – ‘Rab-di-Daat’ or ‘God’s Gift’. The words ‘Lord Ujagar Singh Karbal’ were painted on the third.

I had not come across any Lord Ujagar Singh Karbal in the modern Indian History book that I studied in school, but given my knowledge (and interest) in history, I let that pass. Being new to the town, there was none I could consult and quench my curiosity about the inmates of the mansion. My morning constitutionals covered the locality but the place always seemed deserted. It intrigued me that while driving past the mansion to my office too, not one human being was in sight in the premises.

One winter evening I was with a friend in the Rajendra Gymkhana Club established by the royal house of Patiala imbibing what Wodehouse fondly refers to as b&s. A well-built man in his mid-forties walked in, wearing an immaculately tailored suit. He grabbed a bar stool and ordered a stiff drink. If anyone had missed him, which, given his bulky frame, was difficult, his gruff voice and his loud talk took away any excuse.

My host told me in hushed tones, ‘That is Joginder Singh.’

‘Joginder who?’ was my response.

‘Joginder Singh Karbal,’ I was told. He added that this strapping gentleman was the only son of Lord Ujagar Singh Karbal.

This non-meeting with Joginder Singh only whetted my appetite. I hoped that time would give me an opportunity to meet him and talk to him.

I did not hope in vain. I was the proxy of my employer bank at the annual general meeting of a large industrial unit in the neighbourhood. The meeting was followed by the customary lunch for the directors and the major shareholders. In my role as the representative of the banker to the company, I was an invitee. Joginder Singh who held a sizeable chunk of the shares too was there.

While sipping the cream of tomato soup, I sidled up to him and introduced myself. We struck up instant friendship. He invited me home for a drink the next Sunday evening. Later too, we met often.

One day I asked him how and when his father was knighted. My friend looked puzzled. ‘Knighted?’ I referred to the name-board on his gate which said ‘Lord Ujagar Singh Karbal’. ‘Oh, that, prajee?’ he asked in his distinctly Jat twang. ‘My father was a rich landlord in Sargodha, now in Pakistan. During Partition, he had to flee his hometown with his gold, wealth and movable assets, leaving the land behind. Landlord-da land utthe Pakistan-wich rah gayi si.’

What happens when a landlord loses his land? Landlord Ujagar Singh Karbal becomes Lord Ujagar Singh Karbal. Simple and straightforward logic, isn’t it?