A Parade of Visitors
R. K. Jalan was also very famous as a wonderful host. He made sure his guests were always given the best treatment, as every Indian is supposed to provide, as per the hallowed tradition of Indian hospitality. This was the case whether guests were staying with him, in the four-bedroom Italian marbled guesthouse, which he had especially built, projecting over the river Ganga, or on a simple museum visit.
It was because of this inviting nature of R. K. Jalan’s and of his successors’ that the house had the honour to host innumerable luminaries such as three Prime Ministers of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai; four Viceroys; the actress Mary Pickford; author and economist J. K. Galbraith, during his time as U.S. Ambassador to India under the Kennedy administration; and three Presidents of India.
President Rajendra Prasad, in particular, was a very good personal friend to the family. He remains the only president of India to have served two terms, and hailed from Bihar himself.
Nehru’s first visit to Quila House in 1941 is mentioned in one of his letters to his daughter, future Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. This letter is included amongst those published in the collection “Two Alone, Two Together” by Sonia Gandhi. The Jalan family keep their own memento of Nehru’s visit, in the form of a broken chair: broken by Nehru when he climbed onto it to look more closely at one of the fine clocks in the collection.
Other luminaries to have visited Quila House include Field Marshall Manek Shaw, hero of the 1971 India-Pakistan war. He was so impressed by Napoleon III’s bed that he had himself photographed with it. The same happened to a visiting Russian ambassador. Such is the draw of the collection, that a prince of Quwait is said to have flown out straight to Patna, only to see it.
R. K. Jalan’s list of friendships with Maharajas of Indian states and the royal family of Nepal also had them enjoying the beauty of R. K. Jalan’s nature and open-hearted house. The Nepali royal family, in particular, were regular visitors, coming to stay in the guesthouse over the Ganga practically every year; their arrival heralded days before by a truck from Nepal trundling up to the front gates with their personal effects. One royal cousin was even married from the house in the 1950s, and another passed away while on a visit, thus adding to the tales of ghosts that are supposed to haunt the main house.
In modern times, the house has also welcomed the adventurer and writer Mark Shand, and the internationally renowned photojournalist Don McCullin.
Mark Shand's first visit to Quila House is memorably narrated in his book “Travels on My Elephant”, complete with his elephant, Tara, knocking down the front gate as negotiations with the gatekeeper fail to gain them a speedy enough entry. The book also describes his visit to the Sonepur Mela and the Chhath Festival, two of the highlights of any winter itinerary through Patna and Bihar. Since then Mark Shand has become a royal brother-in-law, his sister Camilla Parker Bowles having married HRH the Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne.
Nowadays Quila House continues to host visits by well-known politicians, including sucessive Chief Ministers and Governors of Bihar, former Vice-President Bhairo Singh Shekhawat and actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha.
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, famous Bollywood stars came to Quila House: Sunil Dutt, Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Nargis, … But, funnily enough, without the family fully measuring the popularity and adulation enjoyed by their guests in the city outside their walls. Thus, when Raj Kapoor and Nargis came to Patna for the premiere of their movie, and tried to make their way to Quila House in the family car, once again made available as per the family tradition, the expectant mob were so desperate to get close to their idols that one of the windows of the car got smashed.
The car in question was a Rolls-Royce, the only one of its model available in India at the time; which rarity drew even the Rolls-Royce people themselves to come have a look at it. During his lifetime, R. K. Jalan always insisted that this was the car that his guests should use, and the tradition was kept even after his death. Unfortunately, the car was then lost.
(How can a car be lost, you ask me? Well, it was sent to a garage to be serviced. Some time later, when the family started wondering why they weren’t seeing the Rolls being driven around anymore, someone suddenly remembered where it had been sent. The family went looking for it, ... and found no garage at the place, let alone the Rolls-Royce. Fancy that.)
The Jalan family are particularly proud to be able to welcome repeat guests. Histories abound of people looking over visitors’ books to find their comments and signatures from previous visits 20, 30 or even 40 years back, and of first-time visitors pledging themselves to return at least once.
The family also cherish having several generations of visitors from same families. Grandparents happily bring along their grandchildren to gawp and gaze at a collection that they may themselves have discovered at a similar age. Many Patna schoolchildren come to Quila House on school visits, rounded off with a picnic on the grounds. As an outing, it is considered an especially safe environment for girls.
Quila House has been blessed to host many religious visitors and holy people over the years. These include Osho, better known inside and outside India as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Shankracharyas past and present, and Anandmayee Ma. The latter stayed for several days in the guesthouse, and during her stay she had the Ras Lila from Vrindavan, the play on the “Dance of Divine Love” of Krishna and the gopis, performed in the house.
Quila House also played a great role in the establishment of the Brahma Kumari Sanstha, whose World Spiritual University, with courses on meditation and spiritual knowledge, is based in Mount Abu in Rajasthan. This special relationship is still maintained by the Brahma Kumaris to this day, by their coming to the house to tie rakhi every year.
It is undeniable that there is a special energy to Quila House, a quality that strikes repeat guests and first-time visitors alike. This is perhaps not unrelated to the many ghost stories that circulate about the house; although far from us to class such distinguished visitors as those mentioned above alongside the lady in white who once stunned the night guards by asking to be let into the house, and then promptly vanishing into thin air.
Copyright © 2009 Aditya Jalan
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