Friday, July 31, 2009


By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant, VSM

A PRINCESS IS A PRINCESS and people are people. The twain shall never meet.(kipling , please forgive). There are exceptions and these exceptions prove the rule. Ninety years ago a princess was born in the state of Cooch-Behar and grew up to be a beauty par excellence. Her mother, the Maharani was a princess from the royal family of Baroda and thus the Marathi and the Bengali cultures left a combined imprint on the new born babe. Named Ayesha , she had her education in the school of life travelling from one country to another. It was in one of the Polo seasons of Calcutta where princely India and their British overlords including the Viceroy assembled every winter to play polo that His Highness Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur took a fancy for Ayesha, a teenager. He asked the Maharani of Cooch-Behar for Ayesha’s hand in marriage and in one of her weaker moments the mother-maharani agreed. Ayesha too fell for him and much against the advice of family and friends, their marriage was solemnised in Europe. The Maharajah already had two queens and three children but that was no barrier to the budding love.

Ayesha came to be known to the royalty of India and the fashion world beyond borders as Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. She called her husband Jai as he was the ruler of Jaipur. The royal couple was made for each other. They shared love of horses and never missed an opportunity to play polo in India and abroad. Gayatri Devi’s interests were not confined to pleasures of royals like a tiger hunt or shikar of big game but turned her attention to education of girls. The girls in Rajputana were rarely permitted to go out of the four walls of the house, the question of educating them in a school just did not arise. The new Maharani paid undivided attention to this problem. She opened a school for girls in Jaipur that was named after her as Maharani Gayatri Devi School for Girls. It is a successful institution and has brought good education to girls from developing areas. Gayatri Devi made it a point to promote interests of the school and did not let any obstacle come in the way of its progress.

In 1970 His Highness Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II had a massive heart attack while playing polo in Jaipur. Gayatri Devi was shattered but she did not let her widowhood come in the way of her welfare of common man programme. To let the country know of the woes of farmers and artisans she contested elections and entered the Lok Sabha as an M.P. three times. Her success at the hustings and defeat of the party in power at the Centre annoyed the powers that be. When Emergency was imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975, Maharani Gayatri Devi was put behind the bars for many months. Her Highness was kept in the same prison barracks as hardened criminals, prostitutes and psychic killers. It was so traumatic for Gayatri Devi that she chose to quit politics rather than keep company with harlots in prison in Tihar, Delhi. Unbelievable but true.

Gayatri Devi was a pretty woman and a class by herself. She was voted as one of the most beautiful women in top ten in the world by Vogue. She lived in style and built a small house with lily ponds inside on the premises of the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. She had her guests looked after well, irrespective of her absence or presence in the house. Her small modern bungalow was an open house to all her friends, acquaintances and even former subjects. No wonder she was so popular among the people that she won three elections to the Lok Sabha hands down.

Her own son pre-deceased her. The grand children are settled abroad. Lonely life was successfully kept at bay by her by espousing causes of man in the street. The cause of common man that she espoused alienated her from own kith and kin at times. Sometimes the administration did not relish the idea of an ex-queen pleading for the people. Nevertheless, she pressed on regardless and earned the gratitude of the have-nots. A busy schedule kept her in good health both physically and mentally and she touched 90 before calling it a day.

As a princess of the royal household she chose to represent the people and have them heard in the august House of parliament. No wonder she earned the name PEOPLE’S PRINCESS.
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