A witness to India's transformation from imperial rule to a democratic polity, 90- year-old 'Maharaja of Travancore' Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma has both pleasant and unpleasant memories but his two meetings with British Queen Elizabeth II are something he still cherishes.
The present head of erstwhile royal house of Travancore, which ruled south Kerala before India became independent in 1947 and the princely states integrated into the Indian Union, he was struck by the sharp memory and knowledge of the Queen.
Elizabeth II was just seven years old when Uthradom Tirunal first met her in England in 1933. To his surprise, 21 years later, she recognised him and recalled their first acquaintance when they met again in Bangalore.
"She is a person of sharp memory and has great knowledge about India. I met her first in 1933 during my maiden visit to England. It was long before her coronation. She was then Princess Elizabeth. Her father, then Duke of York, was also there when I saw her," he told PTI in Thiruvananthapuram.
She had become the Queen of England when he met her during her Indian tour after the country's independence.
Going down the memory lane, he said, "In 1954, I was invited to a tea party hosted in honour of the Queen in Bangalore. She came with her husband to the party held at the Vidhan Soudha. I was keen to meet the Queen personally."
"I conveyed my desire to Vijayalakshmi Pandit, sister of India's first premier Jawaharlal Nehru, who was present. She immediately facilitated a meeting with the Queen for me and my wife Radhadevi," Uthradom Tirunal recalled.
"After exchanging pleasantries, the Queen asked, 'You are the elayaraja (crown prince) of Travancore?' She then recollected our first meeting years back in England. I was amazed when she asked if Travancore was in the southern tip of India?" he said.
"She had great knowledge about India. I again got startled when the Queen asked about my house in Bangalore. She said she had twice passed by my house at Nandi Hills during her visit to the place with the Maharaja of Mysore, who told her it belonged to the Elayaraja of Travancore," Uthradom Tirunal said.
He has a photograph he clicked as a valued treasure in his personal collection, in which the Queen is seen waving to the people, travelling in an open-car with the Maharaja of Mysore.
"It is nice to see that the royal family of England has easily adapted to the changed times. They are well-trained to retain their memories, updated their knowledge and live according to the new conditions," Uthradom Tirunal said.
"If my knowledge is correct, the government in the United Kingdom even took away the tax concessions given to the Royals. But the British royal family seems to have no complaint about that. It is a rare quality," he said.
Uthradom Tirunal became head of the Travancore royal family in 1991 succeeding his elder brother Chithira Tirunal Balarama Varma, the last princely ruler of Travancore.
He was all praise for the British administration in India except on a few counts. "I have never felt animosity towards the British. It is just because they had always shown respect and consideration towards Travancore rulers. They wanted some kind of treaty of friendship between us," he said.
An avid traveller, Uthradom Tirunal said he has visited almost all western countries except the US. Switzerland is his most favourite country because of the strong democratic set-up existing there.
His friends' list, especially those of royal lineage, is a veritable who's who, which includes King Mahendra and Beeredra of Nepal, Shah of Persia, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and so on.
Uthradam Tirunal has good contacts with the family of Dr Karan Singh of Kashmir, Kapurthala royals in Punjab and the Puthukottai royal house in Tamil Nadu.
However, he said he had never felt like living in any place other than Travancore.
"It is a state which contributed kings who had fasted with their people when they suffered in lean times. It is the land which taught rulers the lessons of humbleness, compassion and simplicity. No other place could be like my motherland."
On the recent discovery of priceless treasures in the vaults of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the family shrine of Travancore royals, he said, "It has been in the temple vaults for centuries and the royal family has been well aware of that...It is the wealth of Lord Padmanabha and we have never ever felt any interest in it. It should be preserved as God's wealth in future also."