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