After some co-occurrences, I started living in Rambagh Palace in Jaipur after reading John Zubarski Assembly of jaipur, A detailed account of the history of the royal family of Jaipur, which does not shy away from giving details of many current legal and financial disputes of the family. And when I returned to Delhi, I retested Quentin Crewe Last emperor, A biography of Sawai Man Singh II that came out in 1985, apparently with the blessings of at least part of the Jaipur royal family.
The point of selling Rambagh as a luxury hotel is that it gives you a glimpse of what life must have been in princely India. The ups and downs of that hotel remind us how much it costs to put that kind of show on the road. The Rambagh is now a Taj Hotel, which operates to extraordinary standards, but it only maintains its charm as the Taj spends millions on staff and renews regularly.
Unlike many other palaces, Rambagh has no ancient history — a part of it is in Umaid Bhawan in Jodhpur. There has been a structure at that site for ages but it was never more than a hunting lodge. The palace, as we now know, is a 1920s event designed primarily by Brits. It was constructed by Sawai Man Singh, who was famous for serving as a Rajput Doughton Abbey in the west. The dining room (lovingly renovated and still in use by the Taj) is directly outside a European chateau or palazzo or even an English country house. When Sawai Man Singh lived there, you had to wear white tie and tail for dinner.
In these more egalitarian times, most people have probably forgotten how glamorous the Jaipur royal family was when Sawai Man Singh (Jai to his friends) and his third wife Gayatri Davey (his friends from Ayesha) were alive. Unlike most Indian royalty, Jai was first with the British royal family. When Prince Philip went to Jaipur for Holi, he married easily with others in the palace and put on the faces of all those who attended the festival. In his introduction to Quentin Crewe’s book, Philip wrote, “I have met many people who can be described as attractive, but few, if any, of Jay’s particularly charming charm and character. Was a special brand of mildness. “
Jai and Ayesha spent almost half a year abroad (before and after independence) and in 1970, just before Indira Gandhi snatched her title, she died on a polo ground in England when she was in her fifties.
The glamor of the Jaipur family survived his death to a great extent as Gayatri Devi (Ayesha) remained a celebrity in the global jet set circle and maintained a residency in England. She was named to be left in the British aristocracy until her death in 2009.
I have no idea if Jayaparas actually did manage to transfer the bulk of his fortune overseas, as did family critics during the Emergency (when Gayatri Devi was unjustly arrested) but There is no doubt that, without the use of sufficient funds. The ruler, he could never maintain Rambagh in a suitable style.
Admitting that time had changed, Jai converted Rambagh into a hotel. According to Zubrazi, the first thing Ayesha heard was at a party organized by Oberoi in 1956. Jay knew Oberoi and the original plan was that they would run the hotel. It didn’t work and Jaipurs drove it themselves — very badly. They did not spend any money on the property and probably, as a result, it never made a profit. Just before he dies, Jai asks Taj (then there was only one hotel in Mumbai, not today) to take it and since then it has been a Taj Hotel (one of the two in the Jaipur family management is Jai’s son) .
Nevertheless, Taj ran it like a circuit house. I lived there as a teenager in the mid-seventies and was not impressed. Things improved somewhat in the eighties, but the hotel only reverted back to 2003/4, when crores were spent on a massive renovation program. Today, it is the glow and glamor that Rambagh should have had in the princely India before 1947.
I never met Jai but I sometimes bumped into Gayatri Devi. In 1977, when Memory of a princess, His autobiography, came out, I interviewed him in a small room in the Mumbai Taj, where instead of promoting the book, he complained about a number of mistakes that Santa Ram Rau actually wrote. In 1987, when I met him at Rambagh and then at Lily Pool, his residence, he asked me to urge all my readers not to buy the book. (Some problem with royalty, I think.)
He can be imperfect. During the 1989 election, two members of the Sunday magazine team (I was the editor then) went to him in Rambagh and said “Mrs. Singh, we are from Sunday and we wonder if you would like to comment on the election….” “He looked right through them as if they were invisible. (I guess she wasn’t thrilled to be addressed as Mrs. Singh.)
But he also had impeccable manners. I was once on a flight from Mumbai to Delhi. When we landed, everyone boarded their cars and left. Except for an elderly woman, who kept watching impatiently on the road, waiting for her car — this was before the mobile phone was caught. I was going to offer the woman a ride anyway, but when I got closer, I realized to my surprise, that it was Gayatri Devi.
I again introduced myself and gave him a ride. She was attractive and later wrote me a letter of thanks, finally, “And please don’t ask everyone to buy Memory of a princess. “
His step-son, Colonel Bhavani Singh, who became the new Maharaja, was a much less complicated man, a war hero, a straight-forward traitor. He was quite happy to be called Colonel Singh. His wife Padmini, now Rajmata, is perhaps the best member of the Jaipur family in centuries: warm and agreeable at the same time, but smart and funny.
Bhavani Singh and his family had nothing to do with Rambagh which was controlled by his half-brothers and Gayatri Devi, who lived in a small house Lily Pool in Rambagh grounds, had strained relations with some relatives. As Zubrzy pointed out, the gate between Lily Pool and Rambagh was closed after a dispute and after Gayatri Devi’s death, ownership of the property was contested.
In every sense, the age of Maharajas is over. In the West, too, they are now seen as anchronisms from an epochal era (such as Yugoslav royalty, perhaps) rather than as figures of serious glamor. Some Maharajas have joined politics and renewed their hold on their old states, but with each passing generation the relationship between the former ruler and former subjects has weakened further.
And while I agree that Mrs Gandhi treated the Maharajas very badly, going back on the guarantees given by the Indian state to make it a populist point, I do not believe it (as some Maharajas now claim) ) Was ever well administered and responsive to the needs of the people.
In fact, the royal tradition of India works best as a fantasy, a fairy tale. This is how A Princess Remembers is written and that is why despite Gayatri Devi’s talk, it continues decades after it was first published.
I was staying in Gayatri Devi’s room in Rambagh at this time. It is designed as a tribute to his legend (he probably now lived in the Empress Suite) and it was easy, living there, to fall under the spell of fairy tale. I am not sure that the service or food was as good when Rambagh was a royal palace, but these days they are flawless.
And who knows what things really were in that era? What was the reality behind those fairy tales? In his biography, Quentin Crewe acknowledged of Jay, “His taste was perhaps a shade chromium, but not as distasteful as the majority of his fellow princes.” “Everyone who knew Jay always referred to his prick,” says Crewe. And Sawai Man Singh’s romance with Gayatri Devi started when she was just 13 years old and she was a much older girl with two wives and a rumor with her mother. As an apology Crave offers: “It may seem strange to European readers that a man who will never lack a female partner should be interested in a thirteen-year-old girl. It must be remembered that in India, centuries From, it was completely normal. “
No. Actually it was not. But why let the facts get in the way of a fairy tale? Today’s Rambagh is a memorial to that fairy tale. And there is also a very beautiful monument.
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