SEPIA MEM­O­RIES OF A PRINCESS

Mem­oirs of erst­while Bikaner royal fam­ily was re­cently un­veiled in the form of a book and its au­thor ra­jyashree Ku­mari talks to So­ci­ety about the book, her ra­jput lin­eage and shoot­ing

Society - - CONTENTS - By Meeta Mishra

Princess of Bikaner and erst­while Ar­juna awardee, Ra­jyashree Ku­mari, talks about the mem­oirs of her royal fam­ily that she has penned in her re­cently re­leased book and denounces the film Pad­maa­vat for hurt­ing Ra­jput sen­ti­ments

As I walked up to Princess Ra­jyashree Ku­mari – of Bikaner’s erst­while royal fam­ily – at a cof­fee shop housed in Bikaner House, the pleas­ant irony wasn’t lost on us. The ma­jes­tic place fac­ing In­dia Gate used to be the res­i­dence of her fa­ther, Dr Karni Singh, and her un­cles when they were study­ing be­fore the In­de­pen­dence. Later when the ti­tles were abol­ished, the state prop­er­ties of var­i­ous king­doms were taken over by ei­ther the state or cen­tral gov­ern­ment. Bikaner House was taken over by the Ra­jasthan gov­ern­ment. Of late, be­cause of the initiative of the cur­rent Ra­jasthan CM, Va­sund­hara Raje, Bikaner House has be­come a pop­u­lar venue for events in Delhi. We had met to rem­i­nisce as Ra­jyashree Ku­mari’s third book, Palace of Clouds – A Mem­oir, was re­cently un­veiled. It is a mem­oir in which the au­thor de­scribes her for­ma­tive years dur­ing the six­ties when seis­mic changes in the world were tak­ing place and which were to take her on an ad­ven­tur­ous jour­ney from her home in Bikaner to life in Lon­don. She has pre­vi­ously au­thored two books – The Lall­garh Palace: Home of the Ma­hara­jas of Bikaner in 2009 and Ma­hara­jas of Bikaner in 2012. Daugh­ter of dis­tin­guished par­lia­men­tar­ian, Dr Karni Singh, erst­while Ma­haraja of Bikaner, Ra­jyashree holds the unique dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing won the Na­tional Air Ri­fle Cham­pi­onship at the age of seven. She was awarded the pres­ti­gious Ar­juna Award in 1969 at the age of six­teen. She feels that the per­for­mance of women shoot­ers at the re­cently con­cluded Com­mon­wealth Games was very im­pres­sive. “It is in­ter­est­ing to see that women are ex­celling in sports like shoot­ing, box­ing and wrestling that was sup­pos­edly re­garded as the do­main of men.” She, of course, was brought up in a fam­ily where she was given equal op­por­tu­ni­ties as the men. She says in her book that she was born in a fam­ily where daugh­ters were wel­comed. She didn’t re­alise it till much later that she was lucky to have been born in such a pro­gres­sive fam­ily. “For me, it was nor­mal grow­ing up with­out much re­stric­tions with a very sup­port­ive fa­ther,” she says. She has two kids of her own – a son and a daugh­ter – both of whom live and work in Lon­don as does her ex-hus­band. Her book traces the cul­ture, tra­di­tions and her il­lus­tri­ous an­ces­tors. Her great­grand­fa­ther Ma­haraja Ganga Singh was a great reformer, builder and an in­ter­na­tional fig­ure of his time. Her grand­fa­ther, Ma­haraja Sadul Singh, was the first prince to ac­cede his state into the In­dian Union at the time of In­de­pen­dence, thereby pro­vid­ing the im­por­tant his­toric lead to oth­ers to fol­low suit, which led to the cre­ation of a united In­dia. But she laments the fact that in keep­ing with global ex­po­sure, the lo­cal tra­di­tions and cus­toms are get­ting lost. “The tur­ban, for ex­am­ple, held such a pride that ev­ery male mem­ber of the fam­ily was taught how to tie it. But over the years peo­ple have stopped learn­ing this. So when­ever there is an oc­ca­sion to tie a tur­ban, a per­son is called to do the job. In the same man­ner, the lo­cal cel­e­bra­tions are giv­ing way to Valen­tine’s Day and other such. I can’t say if it is good or bad but I would cer­tainly like us to re­tain our lo­cal cul­ture,” says the 65-year-old au­thor. Talk­ing of tra­di­tions and his­tory brought us to the con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject of the re­cent block­buster, San­jay Leela Bhansali’s epic drama Pad­maa­vat. There was a lot of protest against the screen­ing of the film as

the Ra­jputs felt that it was de­grad­ing their pride and not show­ing their much revered queen Pad­ma­vati in a pris­tine way. The dis­sent turned vi­o­lent and was banned in Ra­jasthan. “I haven’t watched the movie. And I don’t want to,” she says firmly. It is, she says, her way of protest­ing against the movie. She feels that the way the film­mak­ers went about mak­ing the film was wrong. “They should have got in touch with the con­cerned fam­ily and got their facts right about the fam­ily and its his­tory. It is only fair to in­volve the fam­ily that was be­ing talked about in the movie. The ghoomar song, for ex­am­ple, I am told, fea­tured the lady danc­ing in clothes that ex­posed the midriff which was wrong de­pic­tion. We don’t talk about sati as we are a su­per­sti­tious clan and we re­gard them as de­vis (god­desses). They should have re­spected our sen­ti­ments. Of course the way the protests turned vi­o­lent was also not right,” says Ra­jyashree in her clipped Bri­tish ac­cent. Ra­jyashree might be writ­ing about his­tory and her an­ces­tors but she doesn’t like to delve too much into the past, whether it is a movie or her ca­reer as a shooter. She keeps her­self busy work­ing for the var­i­ous fam­ily trusts. She is chair­per­son of Ma­haraja Ganga Singhji Trust and four other pub­lic char­i­ta­ble trusts set up by late Ma­haraja Dr Karni Singhji. She founded a pub­lic char­i­ta­ble trust in 1999, the Ma­haraja Dr Karni Singhji Memo­rial Foun­da­tion. The trusts are charged with dis­tribut­ing funds across a wide range of ac­tiv­i­ties such as med­i­cal, sports and cul­ture. She is the life mem­ber of the INTACH (In­dian Na­tional Trust for Art and Cul­tural Her­itage). She is a pas­sion­ate an­i­mal lover and is a mem­ber of PETA, In­dia (Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals). “And what­ever time I get, I like to travel and write,” signs off Ra­jyashree Ku­mari.

“The tur­ban held such a pride that ev­ery male mem­ber of the fam­ily was taught how to tie it. But over the years, peo­ple have stopped learn­ing this.”

...with her fa­ther and sis­ter

Re­ceiv­ing the Ar­juna Award from Pres­i­dent V V Giri

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