On 7 NOVEMBER 1801, under conditions of the greatest secrecy, two figures were discreetly admitted to the gardens of Government House in Madras.
Outside, amid clouds of dust, squadrons of red-coated sepoys tramped along the hot, broad military road which led from the coast towards the cantonments at St Thomas' Mount. Waiting in the shade of the gates, shoals of hawkers circled around the crowds of petitioners and groups of onlookers who always collect in such places in India, besieging them with trays full of rice cakes and bananas, sweetmeats, oranges and paan.
Inside the gates, beyond the sentries, lay another world: seventy-five acres of green tropical parkland
shaded by banana palms and tall tamarind trees, flamboya, gulmohar and scented Raat-ki-Raani, the Queen of the Night. Here there was no dust, no crowds and no noise but for birdsong - the inevitable chatter of mynahs and the occasional long, querulous, woody call of the koel - and the distant suck and crash of the breakers on the beach half a mile away.
The two figures were led through the Government Gardens towards the white classical garden house that the new Governor of Madras,Lord Clive, was in the process of rebuilding and enlarging. Here one of the two men was made to wait, while the other was led to a patch of shade in the parkland, where three chairs had been arranged around a table. Before long, Lord Clive himself appeared, attended by his Private Secretary, Mark Wilks. It was a measure of the sensitivity of the gathering that, unusually for a period where nothing could be done with a great retinue of servants, all three men were unaccompanied.
- Debolina Raja Gupta