Fea­ture

WHEN OPRAH FIRST GOT IN TOUCH

Esquire (Singapore) - - Style -

with Prince Man­ven­dra Singh Go­hil in 2007 to grace her couch, he dis­missed her email, un­sure of who she was. Who doesn’t know Oprah? Go­hil ad­mits he’s not much of a pop cul­ture en­thu­si­ast and wasn’t tech­no­log­i­cally savvy back then. It was only upon re­ceiv­ing a call on his land­line—from the woman the In­ter­net hopes will be Amer­ica’s next pres­i­dent—that he agreed to ap­pear on her show; a ground­break­ing mo­ment and mile­stone for him, he con­fesses. To­day, she’s a great con­nec­tion to have.

When we meet for this in­ter­view, I see Go­hil step­ping out of an Uber and into the Star­bucks I’m wait­ing at in subur­ban Mumbai. He’s wear­ing an airy kurta and py­jama, col­lapsi­ble Nike sneak­ers and a back­pack slung across one shoul­der. No big deal. It’s an es­pe­cially muggy March af­ter­noon and he could eas­ily pass off as one of the many free­lancers or reg­u­lar folk pop­u­lat­ing the cof­fee shop. What stands out is the rich ver­mil­ion ap­plied with per­fect pre­ci­sion on his fore­head and the eye-catch­ing ma­genta topi akin to some­thing Child­ish Gam­bino would don on stage. Un­like us com­mon­ers present here, Go­hil is a prince from the King­dom of Ra­jpi­pla in Gu­jarat, not far from where In­dia’s cur­rent prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi was born.

Go­hil tells me that the ver­mil­ion mark—the ti­lak— is a tra­di­tion passed down from his an­ces­tors who would sac­ri­fice an an­i­mal be­fore the Hindu god­dess Devi and ap­ply its blood on their fore­head as a sym­bol of good luck be­fore go­ing to war. Luck­ily, prior to the in­ter­view, no an­i­mals were harmed, but the ti­lak still em­bod­ies its orig­i­nal mean­ing—as a third eye—in a bat­tle Go­hil’s been fight­ing for the past 12 years: as In­dia’s first and only openly gay prince and poster man for LGBTQ rights in a coun­try where ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is il­le­gal.

Be­ing a prince in mod­ern-day In­dia is a cool job ti­tle to have, but the value is of­ten com­pro­mised in the public eye ever since in 1948 the law did away with monar­chi­cal rule in favour of democ­racy. That ex­plains why Go­hil can use public trans­port and non­cha­lantly wan­der into a crowded space with­out get­ting mobbed. “Now when you think of roy­alty, it’s noth­ing like the olden days. But even though we don’t have the priv­i­leges and ti­tles, we still have cer­e­mo­nial pow­ers,” Go­hil re­minds me. That and they re­tained their enor­mous palace grounds wor­thy of a men­tion ev­ery time Buz­zfeed does a lis­ti­cle of places to visit be­fore you die. “In our ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­eas, we still have to fol­low cer­tain cul­tural tra­di­tions and re­li­gious rit­u­als which can only be per­formed by the royal fam­ily. Even when the prime min­is­ter came and he wanted to visit a tem­ple in Ra­jpi­pla, he had to take per­mis­sion from us in or­der to en­ter it. It’s a tra­di­tion that’s been car­ried down for 600 years,” he says. “That’s what sep­a­rates us from com­mon­ers.”

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