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Saturday, 7 November 2009

Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts



Yesterday Mandip and I went out to celebrate our joint birthdays. Rather than simply meet up for a meal, we decided to go and see an exhibition first. As Mandip was keen to discover more about her Sikh heritage, we settled on going to the “ Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts” exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which remains open until January 17th 2010.

On the previous two occasions I had been to the V&A, I had come straight from a first date. The first was after my initial meeting with the Cad of Kensington, also known as the Vicomte or simply Vic. Feeling rather like the Marquise de Merteuil to his Vicomte de Valmont, all heaving bosoms and erotic dalliance, he had inspired within me a temporary desire for baroque extravagance, which could only be satiated within the opulent galleries of the V&A. Afterwards, still clad in my corset I went to Rigby and Peller in Hans Road to buy more underwear. They famously measure bras by sight rather than using a tape measure around the naked upper torso, perhaps due to their more illustrious patrons. The sales assistant admired my pvc corset, which was high praise indeed coming from the Corsetiere to the Queen of England.. The Vicomte had been much taken with my steel boned corset too, although he had only glimpsed the top of it as he drove me around Notting Hill. On the second occasion, I had been on a date with a French financier. He was the only man who insisted he take me to a restaurant on the first date and pay for it all himself, although I did, as always, offer to pay my share. So very different from a certain wealthy Englishman, who actually produced a pocket calculator to work out how much I owed HIM for dinner on the first (and not surprisingly last) date we ever went on.

My personal highlights of the exhibition include:

  • A watercolour of  a slender girl flying a kite, symbolic of a woman yearning for the return of her lover
  • A pen and ink drawing of a king pleasuring three women at once, with the aid of a courtier holding a mirror. Thank heavens for the British stiff upper lip! That is not a vision one would ever wish to see or imagine Prince Charles engaging in.
  • An elegant palanquin inlaid with ivory and sporting two carriage lamps. Apparently, it was the kind of priceless gift given to the British overloads, which merited only a Bible or dictionary in return.
  • Silver and gold howdahs, which looked touchingly vulnerable placed on the ground as opposed to being strapped across the back of an elephant.
  • A royal procession in which the English representative is depicted ridiculously out of scale to emphasise his importance.
  • A picture of a king and his favourite lady of the court celebrating the arrival of the Monsoons by standing on a swing, which was being pushed backwards and forwards by an attendant. 
  • A belt studded with unfeasibly large diamonds, pearls and emeralds and all made to adorn a horse!
  • Monstrous dangling silver earrings made for an elephant
  • An open topped grey Rolls Royce Phantom, sadly no longer sporting its original yellow coat of paint.
  • A picture of one king and the red silk dress coat of another which proves both could have given Henry VIII a good waddle for their money. 
  • Black and white film footage of the 1911 Delhi Durbar, showing George V and Queen Mary walking around under a blazing Indian sun in full ceremonial robes and with long ermine trimmed velvet trains, thereby regally prefiguring the Noël  Coward song: Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
  • Shuttered palanquins which must have been somewhat uncomfortable to ride in given their, to my mind, thin mattresses to recline on.
  • An intricate brass and ivory inlaid games box
  • A Louis Vuitton art deco silver travelling tea service.
  • A royal ruler and his wife photographed like silver screen movie stars by their friend Man Ray
  • An art deco red leather library chair with in-build reading lights.
  • 1940s film footage in colour of a fabulously bejewelled Sikh prince, who Mandip was convinced was the very image of a living relative. If Mandip should indeed prove heir to a vast royal fortune, I am claiming that diamond studded belt from her as my birthday present of choice.
  • Maharaja exhibition 

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