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  • Once, exploring an old colonial hotel that was being opened up, its long silent corridors and storerooms excavated, we came across a room filled with the heads of statues. There were about 20 Gandhis, almost as many Tagores, a dozen busts of Nehru, where his sharp Kashmiri nose had been elongated by the statue-maker, and several Vivekanandas. They had been recently dusted; behind them, shrouded in cobwebs and tattered, paint-stained bedsheets, were the busts of India's Viceroys, from Curzon to Elgin.

    No one wanted the Viceroys, who were left to discuss the last days of the British Raj in their distant miserable huddle, but Gandhi, Tagore and Nehru went briskly. The Vivekanandas went to a buyer who said he already had a dozen of the saint Ramakrishna for one side of his drawing room and wanted the Swami to balance the other side.

    He left happy. Not so the buyers of the Tagore busts. In another room, they had found the bodies of the statues from which the heads had been so summarily detached, but none of them were statues of Tagore. The men who had bought Rabindranath Tagore's head moved along the line of viceroys and freedom fighters, trying to fit the writer's head on to a long line of rulers and politicians. He seemed happiest on Lord Canning's shoulders, but for political reasons, it was considered a bad idea to marry a nationalist Indian writer to a British Governor-General, and they left, torsoless.
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