Princess: a peculiar member of royalty

Published 7:46 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I always think of a princess as beautiful (or at least charmingly attractive), clothed in exquisite garments and fabulously wealthy.

While in India some two decades ago, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, I met a princess who lived up to every concept I had of what this member of royalty should be. As are many Indian women, she was beautiful, always wearing the most stunning of saris and spending oodles of rupees with gay abandon. (I think she had an ever-bearing rupee tree in her yard.)

Of course the dictionary doesn’t agree with my idea of a princess. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged states a princess is but a nonreigning female member of a royal family. Looks, attire and financial status count for naught.

That’s not my princess. Who amongst us ever anticipates meeting a princess such as the one I described, much less becoming her friend?

But in the city of Madurai in the state of Tamil Nadu it happened to me. I met a princess (at least self-proclaimed), and we forged a friendship, often continuing through correspondence.

As to my assessment of a princess, this enchanting woman was (and is) beautiful, dresses in the most stunning of saris and in her travels distributes oodles of rupees with gay abandon.

However, while I’m pleased to call her Princess Jayshrie (not her real name), my intellectual self tells me she is not really a princess, not because of any lack of beauty, gorgeous clothing or abundant wealth, but because India adopted a democratic system of government in 1933, and there has not been a ruling king since then.

And if there is no king, how can there be a princess?

Of course Princess Jayshrie explains, in perfect English, that she, indeed, is the daughter of a man who was king (of a small province, not the whole country), when royalty ruled, which makes her a princess.

During a previous stay in south India, I visited the capital city of Kerala, its original name at least seven syllables long, but which the British called Trivandrum. There, I visited an ornate dwelling that today is an annex of a lovely seaside hotel. Previously, it had been the summer palace of the king of the locale and was said to be where this royal personage spent his summer holidays; this king was said to be Princess Jayshrie’s father; perhaps she spent holidays there, too.

But princess or not, the staff at the guest house where we all were staying treated her as though she were reigning royalty.

I originally met the princess when she was in Tamil Nadu, and she learned that my husband and I were there for three months on a teaching/training project. Interested in our work, she invited us to visit her in her home in the state of Kerala. Unfortunately, we did not have the wherewithal, nor the time, to accept — but this remained an open invitation.

Princess Jayshrie also loved to travel abroad. I did not learn she had been in Pensacola, Fla., until she returned home to find a letter from me waiting for her.

“Oh,” she exclaimed, “If I’d only known how close I was to you when in Florida, I would have come to visit.”

Wow! A princess in my home? But it was not to be.

On our next project in south India, we stayed in the same guesthouse in Madurai. One evening Hubby and I were entertaining friends in the lounge when a staff member came to advise me, “Princess Jayshrie is asking for you, Madam.” (In India, I’m always address as Madam.) Our friends were impressed; I had no idea Princess Jayshrie was back in Tamil Nadu.

This time I got to meet the princess’ husband: short, chubby, balding, but nice. Maybe he’s the one with the rupees.

To this day, Hubby and I have not accepted the princess’ invitation to visit her home, but perhaps that is for the best. Because of her beauty, style and wealth, I’ve conjured up a home that resembles a palace with elaborate fountains, lush gardens, colorful Indian fabrics, handwoven rugs and laboriously carved teak furniture.

But I could be totally wrong. I might be unpleasantly surprised, shocked and disappointed with the home of my princess. You just never know.

This way I can retain my fantasy.