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The Secret Keeper of Jaipur

The Jaipur Trilogy #2

by Alka Joshi

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi X
The Secret Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2021, 384 pages
    Jun 21, 2022, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Print Excerpt



May 1969

It's opening night of the Royal Jewel Cinema, which shines as brilliantly as a gemstone. A thousand lights twinkle in the ceiling of the immense lobby. White marble steps leading to the upper balcony reflect the glow of a hundred wall sconces. A thick crimson carpet hushes the sound of thousands of footsteps. And inside the theater: every one of the eleven hundred mohair seats is occupied. Still more people stand, lining the walls of the theater for the premiere.

This is Ravi Singh's big moment. As lead architect on the prestigious project, commissioned by the Maharani Latika of Jaipur, the Royal Jewel Cinema stands as a testament to what modern ingenuity and a Western education can create. Ravi Singh has modeled it after the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, eight thousand miles away. For this most celebrated of occasions, Ravi has arranged for the cinema house to show Jewel Thief, a film that was actually released two years ago. A few weeks ago, Ravi told me he picked the popular film because it reflects the name of the cinema house and features two of the most renowned Indian actors of the day. He knows that Indian audiences, crazy for films, are used to seeing the same movie multiple times; most cinemas only change their offerings every few months. So even if Jaipur residents saw the movie two years ago, they'll come see it again. Ravi also arranged for the film's stars Dev Anand and Vyjayanthimala, as well as one of the younger actresses, Dipti Kapoor, to be present for the grand opening. The press is also in attendance to write about the opening of the Royal Jewel Cinema, report on all of Jaipur high society in their bejeweled finery and gawk at the Bollywood glitterati.

Taking in the modern architecture, the plush red velvet curtains shielding the movie screen, the palpable air of anticipation, I'm impressed with what Ravi's accomplished—even if there are other things about him that make me uneasy.

My hosts, Manu and Kanta Agarwal, have been invited to sit with the Singhs and the Sharmas in the balcony, the most expensive seats in the house. I'm sitting with the Agarwals as their guest (otherwise, I'd be sitting in the cheaper seats down below, closer to the screen; I'm only a lowly apprentice at the Jaipur Palace, after all). Children are allowed up here on the balcony, but Kanta has left her son, Niki, at home with her saas. When I arrived at the Agarwals' earlier this evening to accompany them to the cinema opening, I could see just how devastated Niki was.

"It's the event of the century! Why can't I go? All my friends are going." Niki's face was flushed with anger. At twelve years old, he's able to charge his words with a strong sense of injustice.

Manu, ever calm in the face of his son's and his wife's explosive personalities, said, "Independence of our country was actually the event of the century, Nikhil."

"Well, I wasn't alive then, Papaji. But I'm alive now! And I don't see why I can't go." He looked to his mother for help.

Kanta met her husband's eyes as if to ask, How much longer can we keep our son from social events where the Singhs are present? Niki is getting old enough to question why he's allowed to attend some social occasions and not others. Kanta glanced at me as if to say, Malik, what do you think?

I'm flattered they feel comfortable having these conversations in front of me. I'm not related to them by blood but by the mere fact that my former guardian Lakshmi (or, as I call her, Auntie-Boss) is a close friend. I've known the Agarwals since I was a young boy, so I know about Niki's adoption, even if Niki himself doesn't. And I know that the moment the Singhs see those blue-green eyes of his—so uncommon in India—they'll be reminded of their own son's indiscretions; Auntie-Boss's sister, Radha, wasn't the first girl Ravi impregnated before his marriage to Sheela. Being aware of their son's shortcomings is one thing, but being confronted with it in the flesh would unnerve both Samir and Parvati Singh.

Excerpted from The Secret Keeper of Jaipur by Alka Joshi. Copyright © 2021 by Alka Joshi. Excerpted by permission of Mira. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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