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
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