The Lionesses OF PUNJAB
AUTHOR ANITA ANAND THROUGH HER BOOKS, SOPHIA AND THE LATEST KOHINOOR: THE WORLD'S MOST INFAMOUS DIAMOND, OFFERS INSIGHTS ABOUT THE INIMITABLE WOMEN OF THE DULEEP SINGH FAMILY
Seated right at the centre of the stage at a literary festival in Mumbai, Anita Anand seems a bit shifty, shuffling through her cue cards. She cricks her neck to face the podium in the far corner, listening to William Dalrymple, with whom she is sharing the stage as well as the authorship for their latest Kohinoor: The World’s Most Infamous Diamond. The much-admired Dalrymple— the first of the “Laurel and Hardy duo” (in Anand’s words) to regale the packed audience with the history of the cursed Kohinoor diamond—would seem a tough act to follow for most.
But Anand, a broadcast and radio journalist with BBC who turned author with her 2015 book Sophia: Princess, Sufragette, Revolutionary, seems to have lost all hesitation by the time she takes the microphone. Pacing the length of the stage, she holds the audience in rapt attention, her eyes gleaming with excitement as she narrates gruesome tales of the torture that the cursed Kohinoor inspired. “There’s something quite compelling about people behaving in the most extraordinarily appalling ways; doing things you would never dream possible. I mean, there’s nobody I can think of, who would pour molten lead on someone’s head for committing any sort of crime,” she exclaims, when we meet for a chat in the author’s lounge later.
It was at another literary festival, the Jaipur-onThames in London two years ago, that the duo first thought of writing a book on the diamond. With Dalrymple’s expertise on Shah Shuja, thanks to his book Return of a King, and Anand’s obsession with the Duleep Singh family, the duo realised that they already had a wealth of trivia waiting to be penned together in one book. “We wondered why no one had done a book on this before and decided to do a fromground-to-crown story,” she says. The Indian government’s announcement, that the Kohinoor was neither “forcibly taken nor stolen” by British colonialists, gave their project a sense of urgency. “The announcement was wildly inaccurate. And as journalists would say, now we had a peg; a whopping peg to hang our diamond on,” exclaims Anand.
Her fascination with Duleep Singh’s family, particularly his daughter Sophia, began when Anand came across a photograph of the suffragette in a local newspaper in the UK. “I was on maternity leave after the birth of my eldest son. With a lot of free time, I read everything I could. When I found this black and white picture of a brown-skinned woman selling copies of a suffragette newspaper outside Hampton Court Palace in this local rag, which would under normal circumstances have gone straight to recycling, I was quite
Author and broadcast journalist Anita Anand