UNLIKE THE BIOGRAPHY ON SOPHIA DULEEP SINGH, THE PROCESS OF UNCOVERING KOHINOOR'S STORY WAS LIKE THE FIRST DISCOVERY OF THE DIAMOND ITSELF
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!”