The Ma­haraja sought pi­o­neer­ing so­cial progress. His aes­thetic in­tel­li­gence con­stantly took people aback.

VOGUE Hommes International (English) - - RAO HOLKAR II - VOGUE HOMMES

In the ab­sence of cu­rios­ity, wealth serves only to re­pro­duce the same pat­tern, while ad­mit­tedly af­ford­ing a com­fort­able way of life. On the po­lit­i­cal front, the ma­haraja tried to im­ple­ment a num­ber of poli­cies that had never been at­tempted be­fore, such as trans­fer­ring lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tive pow­ers to sarpanchs, vil­lage lead­ers elected by a coun­cil of five vil­lagers, or open­ing tem­ples for un­touch­ables and women. The Ma­haraja’s keen aes­thetic in­tel­li­gence con­stantly took people aback. The French writer Henri–Pierre Roché acted as his in­ter­ces­sor, tak­ing him to visit stu­dios and meet artists. In a text he wrote for the re­view L’OEil in 1957, the writer placed their first en­counter at Ox­ford, which means that they met when the ma­haraja was still very young. Through Henri–Pierre Roché, Rao Holkar II was to meet the sculp­tor Con­stantin Bran­cusi, whose ev­ery work was de­signed to ex­ist within a given set­ting. That meet­ing was de­ci­sive.When Roché de­scribed their visit to see Bran­cusi, he also noted the prince’s com­po­sure and dis­cre­tion: “The visi­tor looked at all the works very slowly and with an air fairy tale calm. Dur­ing this pe­riod he didn’t have much money. He took out a lit­tle note­book from his pocket and did some care­ful cal­cu­la­tions. He wanted to buy the three main sis­ter works that were there: a large Bird in Space in black mar­ble, an­other in white mar­ble and the third in pol­ished bronze.”

Whilst he was still un­der tute­lage, Rao Holkar had al­ready planned to ask the Ro­ma­nian sculp­tor to build a tem­ple “sit­u­ated on the lawn, near his palace, as though it had fallen out of the sky, with no doors or win­dows, an un­der­ground en­trance, open to all, but to only one per­son at a time”. It was to have a lit­tle slit in the ceil­ing so that one of the Birds could be lit by the mid­day sun, on such and such a sa­cred day of the year.”

Then came the war, the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, the death of the Ma­ha­rani in 1934, his mar­riage in 1939 to a beau­ti­ful Amer­i­can nurse, Mar­garet Lawler, and the birth of a baby, Richard Holkar, an In­dian prince with blue eyes, then a di­vorce in 1942. And in 1948, came the dis­ap­pear­ance of the State of Indore [ with coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence in 1947 ). Life was chang­ing at a great pace. Ma­hara­jas no longer had a fu­ture, and Rao Holkar, who would go trout fish­ing with his son Richard, was only too aware of it and brought him up so that he would be un­der no il­lu­sions. The tem­ple of love and peace was never built, even though Bran­cusi spent a month at Manik Bagh, where he be­came great friends with an ele­phant. And yet, Henri–Pierre Roché says that twenty–five years af­ter his first visit, Rao Holkar re­turned to visit Bran­cusi’s stu­dio to look at the model of the un­built tem­ple. “They were sit­ting crouched, like the first time, and they didn’t say a word.”

To­day, the palace has be­come the of­fice of an im­port depart­ment and no longer be­longs to the Holkar fam­ily. The fur­ni­ture, de­signed to func­tion to­gether and for one place, has been scat­tered, and was sold at Sotheby’s in 1980, in Monaco. Richard Holkar re­mem­bers: “Andy Warhol, Yves Saint Lau­rent … all the people with taste at the time, rushed to the sale.” And yet there was no nos­tal­gia. Houses have lives, like hu­man be­ings, with ups and downs. But one ques­tion con­tin­ues to trou­ble Richard Holkar: what hap­pened to the let­ters his fa­ther and Henri–Pierre Roché wrote to each other over a pe­riod of twenty–five years? Will they ever come to light?

A mod­ern man and a jet­set­ter be­fore its time, the Ma­haraja learnt to drive early on and was a pa­tron of din­ner–dance venues, the fore­run­ner of dis­cothe­ques, in the com­pany of an en­tire con­tin­gent, nat­u­rally.

He was mar­ried briefly to an Amer­i­can, Mar­garet Lawler (top right), with whom he had an­other son. He then tied the knot with Euphemia Watt ( below) in Los An­ge­les.

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