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In a few days, wedding bells will ring for Prince Harry and actor Meghan Markle in London. As anticipation builds around the wedding dress and whether the new member of the royalty will continue to act, a theatre group in Delhi is premiering a play that revolves around the marriage of Harry’s parents. Titled, The Tale of Quarles, the Prince who Fails, it has been written by Bangalore-based retired IAS officer, Veena Rao, and was being directed by Tom Alter before he passed away last year. Rao employs Shakespearean verse in the script, such as the witches saying, Let us three meet again / In thunder, lightning or in rain….When the royal labour’s done/ When the heir is lost or won. Rao says, “I was in my late thirties when I saw the beautiful Diana getting married to Charles, and how everybody was taken in by her glamour. Then, before our very eyes, in a few years, the marriage began to fail and it was very sad.” The Queen’s sister, Margaret, had divorced, and the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, and another son, Edward, had ended their marriages. “I thought, ‘My god, how terrible. It seems the whole family is cursed. Then, asked myself, ‘Who cursed them?’,” she says. In the answer lay the germ of a fictional plot that became the script for
The Tale of Quarles, the Prince who Fails. Excerpts from an interview with the playwright:
A Shakespearean touch
I went back to the marriage of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, the love story of the ’30s. He abdicated as that was the only way he could marry Mrs Simpson, who was twice divorced and an American. They were more or less exiled. He swallowed his emotion but she was very bitter about what happened. And I said, ‘Boy, oh boy, now that’s the woman who would curse the royal family’. I asked myself many other questions. Why would any queen of England call her son Charles? The first Charles was beheaded and the second Charles was exiled. The story began to build for me. I said, ‘Ok, I have to make this into a Shakespearean play’. A lot of Macbeth and Hamlet is adapted and interposed. These give the pathos of the tragic situations a humorous and even comic touch.
Another royal wedding
Tom Alter was supposed to direct the play and had started putting it together for the stage with Delhi-based Pierrot’s Troupe. He passed away and, for one or two months, everybody at Pierrot’s Troupe was in mourning. Last year was the 25th year of Diana’s death, so I published the script of the play through Amazon. This year, Vitasta also published it. It is a coincidence that the Prince Harry-Meghan Markle wedding is happening now, just as the play is ready to premiere. That she is American, divorced and a person of colour marks a good behavioural shift (of the palace and people).
Writing is a given
In our profession, one is writing all the time, from ministers’ speeches to your own speech. You are making briefs for the Parliament. You are always writing and, to a large extent, your reputation goes by the writing you can put in, whether it is coherent, focussed and clear. I think what really makes one write fiction is how much licence you give your imagination. I don’t think everybody has the same quantum of imagination or that everybody gives the same play to the imagination. After all, what is writing a work of fiction? It is basically a mix of observation, knowledge and questioning.
My real work is with malnutrition with the Government of Karnataka and the World Bank. I had started writing this play, just before Diana died. That was also the time I went to the Government of India from Karnataka as a Joint Secretary in the Department of Women and Child Development under the Ministry of HRD in 1999. As a bureaucrat, you have time for nothing else except perhaps five or six hours of sleep. You get all the lashings from everywhere and no praise from anywhere. Of course, one learns a lot. After that, I came up with another novel, Charlotte’s End (Vitasta) which was published in 2016 and inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.