India Today - - INTERVIEW -

in­trigued. We Pun­jabis have a radar for mem­bers of the com­mu­nity; I call it a ‘Pun­jar’. Sophia looked like one of my aunts and I knew in­stinc­tively that she was a Pun­jabi,” re­calls Anand. Born to Pun­jabi par­ents who moved to the UK after the Par­ti­tion, and mar­ried to pop­u­lar sci­ence au­thor Si­mon Singh, Anand was em­bar­rassed that she hadn’t heard of this Pun­jabi princess be­fore.

“The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment had made a con­certed ef­fort to bury her name. As the god­daugh­ter of Queen Victoria, cam­paign­ing against the gov­ern­ment of the time made her a prob­lem and an em­bar­rass­ment to His Majesty King Ge­orge V. Un­earthing her story was the best jour­nal­is­tic as­sign­ment you can ever get,” says Anand. The re­sult is a re­mark­able, metic­u­lously re­searched, and deeply en­gag­ing tale of a princess who turns rev­o­lu­tion­ary, tak­ing on the fight for women’s suf­frage as well as In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence.

Un­like the bi­og­ra­phy on Sophia Duleep Singh, the process of un­cov­er­ing the di­a­mond’s story was much like the first dis­cov­ery of the di­a­mond it­self. “Peo­ple as­sume that the di­a­mond was hacked out of rock, but as Wil­liam found out, it came out of the riverbed. It was kind of al­lu­vial, it just rose out of the earth. It was the same with the story, we just had to do a bit of brush­ing to re­veal the facts,” she says. Al­though Sophia doesn’t have a role in Ko­hi­noor…, her pa­ter­nal grand­mother the fierce Rani Jin­dan most cer­tainly does. Anand’s read­ers meet Ran­jit Singh’s last wife and Duleep Singh’s mother briefly in Sophia, where she de­scribes Jin­dan’s es­cape from her Chu­nar Fort prison cell. “Dressed in beg­gars’ rags, she (Jin­dan) fled un­der cover of dark­ness, taunt­ing her cap­tors as she went. Scat­ter­ing money on the floor of her cell, Jin­dan scrawled a note for the guards to find: You put me in a cage and locked me up. For all your locks and your sen­tries, I got out by magic... I had told you plainly not to push me too hard—but don’t think I ran away. Un­der­stand well, that I es­cape by my­self un­aided...don’t imag­ine I got out like a thief,” Anand writes in Sophia.

Jin­dan had been “drown­ing in her grief and fear” while her 11-year-old son, the last ruler of the Sikh Em­pire, was forced to sign over his king­dom, the Ko­hi­noor and his for­tune to the Bri­tish. Flee­ing to Nepal, it is years be­fore Jin­dan is re­united with her beloved son, who has by then given up his Sikh faith to be­come a de­vout Christian greatly pleas­ing the other ma­ter­nal fig­ure in his life— Queen Victoria.

“It was only when Jin­dan stroked the hair on Duleep’s head that she let out the howl of grief and rage she had sup­pressed for so long,” writes Anand, de­scrib­ing their re­union at the Spence Ho­tel in Cal­cutta in 1861. She never parted from her son again, fol­low­ing him to Lon­don, where she spent the rest of her life at­tempt­ing to in­flu­ence Duleep against the royal court and re­mind­ing him of all that had been taken away from him.

Al­though Duleep Singh never man­aged to re­gain what he had lost to the Bri­tish, and died pen­ni­less and alone in a shabby Parisian ho­tel in 1893, he is still revered among the Sikh com­mu­nity. Sikhs of­ten visit his grave at Elve­den Es­tate in Suf­folk, where he lived with his wife Ma­ha­rani Bamba, Sophia and her sib­lings, to pay their re­spects.

Anand, who heads to Pun­jab after her trip to Mumbai, plans to “rum­mage through some more boxes and at­tics” for her next novel while she’s in the land of her fore­fa­thers. “I won’t tell you what the next one’s about yet be­cause it’s still a bit early. But this one is drip­ping in even more blood than the last one!”

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