SCORPIO AND I are old friends. We have clocked thousands of kilometres together, exploring the furthest nooks and crannies of this country. This story starts not in India, but on the road to Mandalay. On December 14, 2012 to be exact. We were driving down to India through south-east Asia after starting off from Singapore. After two weeks behind the wheel of a Scorpio, driving through Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, we reached the city of Mandalay in Burma, or Myanmar as it’s now called. During a tea break at a roadside eatery, an old Burmese man while conversing with me asked if I had seen his King’s tomb. What king? What tomb? I wondered.
Now, two years later, I am again behind the wheel of a Scorpio. I have been flirting with the idea of buying the New Generation Scorpio and have got my hands on one for a few days. I like the sharper looks of the new car, but is it much better than the old one? Since only a long drive would reveal the full story, I decided to head to Ratnagiri. Why Ratnagiri? The old Burmese man’s question had piqued my curiosity. On digging through some books, I discovered a fascinating tale. Now I understood why the man had asked me about his king after hearing I was from Mumbai. Ratnagiri, about 330km from Mumbai, is where the last king of Burma, King Thibaw breathed his last on December 16, 1916. He had been exiled here by the British after losing his kingdom to them in 1885. King Thibaw descended from the line of powerful rulers known as ‘Kings who rule the Universe’.
Power is something that the new Scorpio understands only too well. The 2.2-litre mHawk engine dishes out 120bhp; muscle memory tells me that this engine has been retuned, making it peppier than the old Scorpio. And it’s super smooth. The King would have approved.
King Thibaw landed in Ratnagiri on April 16, 1886 from the ship Clive. Along with him were his two queens, Supayalat and Supayagala and his two daughters. Later, two more daughters were born to him during his exile in Ratnagiri. They were called the First, Second, Third and Fourth Princesses by the authorities. Two of the finest bungalows in Ratnagiri with a breathtaking view of the Arabian Sea were rented for the royal family.
The view of the Arabian Sea is as magnificent today as it was more than a century ago. Theroad to Ratnagiri hugs the coast of Maharashtra and offers a spectacular drive. While the roads in most parts are good, there are stretches that test the car’s suspension. And I marvel at how far Mahindra has come in this department. The car rides noiselessly and the suspension takes the edges off the potholes. I like how the steering feels tied down, enabling me to turn into corners more enthusiastically.
Turning back to the King’s story; as the four princesses grew up, this accommodation was proving to be inadequate for the family. As no suitable home was available in Ratnagiri, the British sanctioned Rs 1,25, 711 for a new home for the King. On November 13, 1910, the family occupied the newly constructed royal residence. This was a two-storeyed building covering 25,000 square feet of carpet area in a 27-acre compound. And that’s where I am headed. This building still stands today, and I’m wondering what I’ll find.
As we enter Ratnagiri, the traffic starts building. Soon, we are swarmed by masses of two-wheelers, rickshaws, carts, cars, buses, people, cattle and everything else typical of a small Indian town. But thanks to the SUV’s high driving position and 5.4-metre turning radius, it’s easy to navigate the big car through the narrow streets. And I finally make it to the royal residence.
It’s an example of the Pagoda style of architecture, to remind the King of his lost home. It is not as grand as I thought it would be though. You can make out the years of neglect that the place has been subject to; but it was being given a makeover when we reached there. When the royal family had moved in here, the government spent approximately Rs 19,000 to furnish it lavishly.
While the Scorpio’s interior doesn’t sport the brocade, silk and velvet that adorn the royal quarters, it is impressive enough by itself. The layered design of the dashboard, with the play of different textures and materials, is impressive. And it’s equipped with everything you would want. I’m sure that even King Thibaw would have loved the comfortable seating. Just in case you are wondering, he was not a stranger to cars. He was given a two-cylinder 10/12 HP De Dion car for his use when he took up residence in his new house. It was the first motor car in Ratnagiri.
The royal motor car has been lost to time, but not the King’s presence. His descendents are still living in Ratnagiri. The First Princess had fallen in love with Gopal Bhaurao Sawant, a young Maratha who worked as a gatekeeper at the family’s residence. She got pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl named Tu Tu on November 26, 1906. Tu Tu, in turn, married Shankar Yeshwant Pawar in 1930. She had four daughters and seven sons before she died on October 24, 2000. The descendents are living anonymous lives in Ratnagiri, far away from the royal grandeur. The Second Princess settled In Kalimpong and died in Calcutta in 1956. The Third and Fourth Princesses returned to Burma with their mother, Queen Supayalat, in 1919.
That brings me to the question of legacy. On one hand, there’s a royal legacy, that has lost its once-proud lustre. And then there’s the Scorpio’s legacy that built upon its heritage and continues to rule the Indian roads. A picture comes to my head. The seven seats of the Scorpio are good enough for the King, his two queens and four princesses. I’m sure, he would have approved of it. And if it’s good enough for a king, it’s good enough for me. Decision taken.