Midnight and Thirty-Two Maharajahs
Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India
by Graham Wood
Midnight, and thirty-two maharajahs
look down from the family pedigree,
corralled above you while you sleep.
On the mantel, a clock ticks in quiet
syncopation with your breathing—
tomorrow and our departure edge
their way towards the dawn.
Here, this night
you’ve notched up fifty years
serene in sleep below these royal ghosts,
oblivious of their chequered past.
Thirty-two maharajahs above your head
and your father met the second last!
Tonight beside you in this king-sized bed
I gauge my wealth above these kings—
I’d give my weight in gold for you.
© Graham Wood
PHOTO: View of the Umaid Bhawan Palace.
AUTHOR’S NOTE REGARDING PREVIOUS PUBLICATION: This poem was previously published in the annual anthology fourW fifteen (2004), a collection of poetry and prose by Wagga Wagga Writers Writers (hence four Ws!), Booranga Writers Centre at Charles Sturt University, NSW, Australia.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The poem was written for my partner Rosemary during a trip to Jodhpur in Rajasthan, where we stayed in a grand hotel previously the Maharajah’s palace — the Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel. We were there to see where her father, a pilot in the Royal Air Force, had been billeted during World War II in the grounds of the palace itself. During the conflict, the RAF contingent had been ferrying planes and supplies across India to the Burmese border. While we were there, we also celebrated a significant birthday for Rosemary. The end of the poem reflects a certain historical quirk of some more distant maharajahs: on certain high ceremonial occasions they would weigh themselves in public and distribute an equivalent weight of gold and jewels among their subjects. The last line, of course, is also a play on the old saying about someone being “worth their weight in gold.”
NOTE: Umaid Bhawan Palace, located in Jodhpur in Rajasthan, northwestern India, is one of the world’s largest private residences. Named after Maharaja Umaid Singh, grandfather of the present owner Gaj Singh, the palace has 347 rooms and is the principal residence of the former Jodhpur royal family. A part of the palace is a museum. Ground for the foundations of the building was broken on November 18, 1929 by Maharaja Umaid Singh and the construction work completed in 1943. Recently, Umaid Bhawan Palace was awarded as the World’s best hotel at the Traveller’s Choice Award, organized by TripAdvisor.
PHOTO: Aerial view of Umaid Bhawan Palace and grounds.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Graham Wood lives in the northern suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, and has worked in a variety of occupations. These include high school teacher, film classifier, and public servant, the latter mainly in the field of higher education policy and planning. His poems have been published in a range of Australian and international journals and anthologies, including Westerly, fourW, and The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, and Silver Birch Press and Vita Brevis Press in the USA. He is a member of the North Shore Poetry Project in Sydney.