The guard on duty at the black iron gates of the Falaknuma Palace hotel frowned when he saw us. He ran his fingers through the guest list for the evening’s high tea. When the fingers reached my name he squeezed his eyebrows tighter and looked at my photo identity fiercely. I do not blame him. Here we were, two girls dressed in shabby jeans and tees with not a trace of a designer’s touch . Not the kind of guests he was accustomed to welcoming to sip tea in the lap of luxury. The fact that we had come in a hired auto rickshaw with broken tail lights did not necessarily help our case.
We walked the stone laid path to the entrance. Above us the Falaknuma Palace loomed, dignified and aloof. We looked the part of true misfits. Those who knew the two of us would know that we were not just misfits to the affluent surrounding, we were in fact misfits to each other. A square peg, round hole kind of misfit; right from the time we first met.
A round faced girl had opened the door. She was not expecting me.On the contrary I think I surprised her by knocking on her hotel room and inviting myself in and introducing myself as her to-be colleague. She seemed rather annoyed that I kept on and on talking about the things to do Hyderabad. She cut me short with “Are you planning to stay in Hyderabad for long?” I retorted in my mind “ She is not my type of a person.”
That was three years back. Today I found myself following the girl who I had decided was not my type up a flight of white marble stairs ignoring a sign that read “Only hotel residents beyond this point please”.
The Falaknuma palace did not disappoint. There were riches, treasures and antiques only a slight ‘turn of the head’ away. From Venetian chandeliers, to Japanese figurines, to French tapestry to English silverware to Italian marble,artfully arranged so that it seemed only natural that all these elements should dwell together in a foreign place.
It seemed like the owner had collected the best from across the world and used it to create a beautiful home. We moved from room to room, ballroom, jade room, a large dining room to a smaller room and so on.
“ This is a really nice place”. I glanced at Preeti. She had her head cocked to one side and was running her hand over a billiards table. This was one of her ‘I am having a good time’ poses.
She is cautious with her words and her praise. She is calm, composed and practical. I on the other hand am none of these, well not all the time!
There are very few traits that we share. The one that cemented our bizarre friendship, the strongest one at that was our common love of travelling. If I were to convert the minutes we spent on planning trips to frequent flyer miles would have enough for a couple of round the world tickets, each!
Our manner of traveling was different.
“Come on let’s go” I would invariably say during every trip. Preeti would sigh and get up and try to catch up. She never complained about my pace though at times she put her foot down and I would be forced to rest on a bench or even by the side of the road.
“Lisa was on wheels”, she once told her husband after we were back from a trip.
Our walk from room to room brought us to the Palace library. We spent a considerable amount of time here. The second of the only three things we had in common was our love for books. When we have sleepovers it usually ends with each of us reading in our own corner.
The library held an eclectic collection of books. We each took different shelves and started reading aloud the titles.
“ Hard on handwriting”
“ Troubles within the British Territory”
“ A memoir of Lord Curzon’s visit”.
“ Journal of medicine”
“The science of metallurgy”
“Sex difficulties in the male”. We started giggling.
“ Really His Exalted Highness, the Nizam needed that book?”
“Well the guy was human after all”. Did I mention that Preeti has a rational view of life?
Our walk around the palace finally ended in the South wing where Tea was served under a domed verandah. The sunlight streamed through the dome and made patterns on the marble floor. An unfortunate butterfly’s solitary wing lay camouflaged by the patterns.
We found a table and revelled in our third common love, good food. No sooner had we sat than we started planning our next short trip. One conversation led to another and soon we were planning trips into the distant future. Although neither of us bothered to mention it we were both well aware that the only certainty that our future held was uncertainty itself.
We spoke of many things; I spoke of my love for history and architecture and how I was going to write about the Nizams and their rule. Preeti spoke of Bombay and her hometown and how she was going to spend a week travelling around the horn of Gujarat.
The sun dipped further down in the west. The patterns stretched longer and after a while there was only the white of the marble on the floor disturbed by a colored triangular wing.
“ Hyderabad does have its share of nice places”. This was one of the rare compliments she had given the city that the two of us had bashed hours on end sometimes over fine food and beer and at other times over cafeteria food.
“Did you really say that?” I teased her. But she was right. Hyderabad does have it’s share of nice places and Falaknuma Palace topped the list.
It symbolised the core of our friendship. It showed that a lot of different traits can co exist with each other without diminishing anybody’s worth.
It was a testament that sometimes a square peg can fit into a round hole.