Roofless Palace

Lucknow Residency: pic by Sahar Z

In the roofless, brick-exposed palace of King Wajid Ali Shah, there roams—some nights—the portly form of the late king. Behind the king goes his retinue of dancers and music makers. The king chooses the nights of his appearances. No pattern or almanac can be affixed to his visitations. Those who have seen the spectacle of the king’s song and dance are so enamored of the vision that they are left incapable of enjoying anything else.

Many of these people keep coming to the roofless palace in the hope of catching a glimpse of the king and his party. Sometimes they get lucky, most times they don’t.

Munni Bi was collecting firewood in the circle of trees outside the palace when she heard music. The music was ebbing and flowing like the moods of the sea. Munni Bi was drawn to the palace like a puppet.

When inside she saw Wajid Ali Shah sitting in the centre of the main hall. The king was shirtless, dyed indigo blue and dressed in a rough-cloth dhoti. In place of his boat-shaped crown was a jewelled crest and a peacock plume. The king was playing his flute.

Around him was his dance and music party. The palace was reverberating with music the kind Munni Bi had never heard. And then suddenly all music stopped. All dancers froze in their glorious arabesques. The king looked at Munni Bi and motioned her to step forward. When she came forward, the king said, “Close your eyes, and listen hard…”

When Munni Bi closed her eyes she saw the fat king change into Krishna, the beautiful cow-minder. The king was Krishna and Krishna was the king, and Munni Bi could not tell the difference.

When Munni Bi opened her eyes the king was back as himself, fat and blue. But his eyes were singing. And with his eyes the king told Munni Bi the story of his life.

In his desire to be Krishna, the king had become a victim of vanity. The mirror had become his best friend. He would sit before it and sing and dance and write odes to himself as Krishna. Then one day Krishna appeared before King Wajid Ali Shah. The beautiful cow-minder said because you have served me and loved me I will give you a boon. But because you have done so thinking you were me, the boon will come with a curse.

The boon-curse made Wajid Ali Shah everything that Krishna was but to his best-friend, the mirror, he became invisible.

And since that day Wajid Ali Shah has been coming to the roofless, brick-exposed palace, to sing and dance and play his flute. And to catch a glimpse of himself in the tiny black holes of human eyes.


  1. too good. thanks! i had no idea you wrote so beautifully until you started blogging. anshul was right when he was praising you before me, and i was like, "Achha?"

  2. Cool. Lucy's cool too and the comparison is super cool. Thanks!!

  3. I have actually heard of a very similar tale told of Wajid Ali Shah. And in fact have also been to a "Bhutia", located close to Delhi (don't ask me why there), where the Nawab of Oudh was said to have been making an appearance. The story was built up to such an extent that the very approach of the ruined villa, scared us all into a hasty retreat.
    The story I have heard though had a Gandharva angle, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was supposed to be Gandharva, and thus his tragic life, and his love for sensual excess, dance and music.
    I have not heard this story in 12 or more years. I am surprised to see it here.
    Is there any truth to it? Or rather is this your account of a tale once told to you. Maybe by a friendly neighborhood tantric?
    Strange....and as usual very well written. Also congrats on the Sher Mandal piece, the plugged plug Crunt piece, and the Twin that shows up for a look see only on rainy nights.
    There is a dark poetry to your words. This and the edge of insanity that you bring to your writing, make it so different.

  4. I've heard bout the gandharva story but I wudn't like to make that distinction between fact and fiction because it's all there... for us to access. Stories happen to us without us trying to reach em. They just happen. And I'd be a fool claiming rights over it. Thanks for your generous comment!!!


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