Statement by Understatement
When over embellished Mumbai divas became a perfect foil for the Duchess’s restrained adornment
challenged- according to “gun salutes” in descending order. The dexterity with which the British preserved this unequal status quo by pandering to the egos of the erstwhile rulers must be appreciated, at least in hindsight.
Almost all those maharajas also took advantage of the latest invention of the time - photography - to have themselves clicked for posterity in all their finery. Which is why keen eyes can also spot in many photos a British person, conspicuous by his lack of spangles and baubles. The disconnect between glitz and power cannot be more eloquently portrayed.
Of course, that was also the time when the British monarchs wore much more jewellery. Ironically, most of precious stones - including the Kohinoor, of course - also came from the Empire, sometimes willingly or unwillingly donated by the “princes” or their vassals. But times have changed, especially since the British Empire has been reduced to a series of islands in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Even the current British Queen wore more in the early days of her reign than she does now, reserving her coruscations for official banquets for visiting heads of state or the opening of Parliament. Ditto other European royals. The Asian royals, with the notable exception of the Japanese, of course, still prefer to bedazzle. Her granddaughter in law is also not known for wearing much jewellery, which is why she caused a flutter when she wore a tiara for the first time since her wedding at a diplomatic reception in 2013 and wore an elaborate diamond necklace for the first time in 2014, borrowed from Granny-in-law but (aptly) presented by the Nizam of Hyderabad. So were the over embellished Mumbai divas latter day victims of the same old British gambit of statement-by-understatement? For by trotting out their multi strand polkis and uncut emeralds, not to mention gems in all their faceted glory, they became a foil for the Duchess’s calculated (or perhaps even unwitting) restrained adornment.