By some co-incidence I ended up staying at Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace simply after I had completed studying John Zubrzycki’s The House of Jaipur, an exhaustive account of the historical past of the royal household of Jaipur, which doesn’t shrink back from detailing the household’s many present authorized and monetary disputes. And after I returned to Delhi, I reread Quentin Crewe’s The Last Maharaja, a biography of Sawai Man Singh II which got here out in 1985, apparently with the blessings of at the very least a part of the Jaipur royal household.
The promoting level of the Rambagh as a luxurious lodge is that it provides you a glimpse of what life in princely India should have been like. The fluctuating fortunes of that lodge remind us how a lot it prices to maintain that sort of present on the highway. The Rambagh is now a Taj Hotel, run to distinctive requirements, nevertheless it solely retains its attract as a result of the Taj spends tens of millions on employees and common refurbishment.
Unlike many different palaces, the Rambagh has no historical historical past — a trait it shares with Jodhpur’s Umaid Bhawan. There has been a construction on that website for ages nevertheless it by no means amounted to rather more than a searching lodge. The palace, as we now understand it, is a Twenties phenomenon designed primarily by Brits. It was constructed by Sawai Man Singh, who was famously Westernised, to serve as a kind of Rajput Downton Abbey. The eating room (lovingly renovated by the Taj and nonetheless in use) is straight out of a European chateau or palazzo and even, an English nation home. When Sawai Man Singh lived there, you needed to put on white tie and tails for dinner.
In these extra egalitarian instances, most individuals have in all probability forgotten how glamorous the Jaipur royal household was when Sawai Man Singh (Jai to his pals) and his third spouse Gayatri Davi (Ayesha to her pals) have been alive. Unlike most Indian royals, Jai was on first identify phrases with the British royal household. When Prince Philip visited Jaipur for Holi, he mingled simply with others on the palace and had his face rubbed with gulal by everybody who attended the festivities. In his introduction to Quentin Crewe’s e book, Philip wrote, “I have met many people who could be described as charming but few, if any, had Jai’s special brand of kindly charm and gentleness of character.”
Jai and Ayesha spent practically half the yr overseas (each earlier than and after independence) and in 1970, simply earlier than Indira Gandhi stripped the princes of their titles, he died on a polo area in England when he was nonetheless in his fifties.
The glamour of the Jaipur household survived his demise largely as a result of Gayatri Devi (Ayesha) remained a effectively-recognized determine in international jet set circles and maintained a residence in England. Till her demise in 2009 her’s was a identify to drop in British aristocratic circles.
I do not know if the Jaipurs did actually handle to switch huge parts of their appreciable fortune overseas as critics of the household alleged throughout the Emergency (when Gayatri Devi was unjustly arrested) however there may be little doubt that, with out entry to the substantial wealth of ruling princes, they might by no means have been in a position to keep the Rambagh in a appropriate fashion.
Recognising that instances had modified, Jai turned the Rambagh into a lodge. According to Zubrzycki, the primary that Ayesha heard of it was at a occasion hosted by the Oberois in 1956. Jai knew the Oberois and the unique plan was that they might run the lodge. That didn’t work out and the Jaipurs ran it themselves — very badly. They spent no cash on the property and maybe, as a consequence, it by no means turned a revenue. Just earlier than he died, Jai requested the Taj (then simply a single lodge in Mumbai, not the chain it’s in the present day) to take it over and it has been a Taj lodge ever since (the Jaipur household is represented within the administration by two of Jai’s sons).
Even then, the Taj ran it like a circuit home. I stayed there as a teenager within the mid Seventies and was not impressed. Things improved considerably within the Eighties however the lodge solely returned to glory in 2003/4 when crores have been spent on a huge refurbishment programme. Today, it has the glint and glamour that the Rambagh should have had earlier than 1947 within the heyday of Princely India.
I by no means met Jai however I typically ran into Gayatri Devi. In 1977, when A Princess Remembers, her autobiography, got here out, I interviewed her in a small suite on the Mumbai Taj the place, slightly than promote the e book, she complained in regards to the many errors that Santha Rama Rau who truly wrote the textual content, had made. In 1987, after I met her on the Rambagh and then at Lilly Pool, her residence, she instructed me to induce all my readers to not purchase the e book. (Some downside with the royalties, I believe.)
She may very well be imperious. During the 1989 election, two members of the Sunday journal group (I used to be then the editor) went as much as her on the Rambagh and stated “Mrs Singh, we are from Sunday and we wondered if you would like to comment on the election….” She regarded proper via them as although they have been invisible. (My guess is that she was not thrilled at being addressed as Mrs. Singh.)
But she additionally had impeccable manners. I used to be as soon as on a flight from Mumbai to Delhi. When we landed, everybody obtained into their very own vehicles and drove away. Except for one aged woman who stored trying impatiently on the highway, ready for her automobile to drive up — this was earlier than cell phones caught on. I used to be going to supply the girl a journey anyway however after I obtained nearer, I noticed to my shock, that it was Gayatri Devi.
I re-launched myself and gave her a journey. She was charming and afterwards wrote me a letter of thanks including, on the finish, “and please tell everyone not to buy A Princess Remembers.”
Her step-son Col. Bhawani Singh, who turned the brand new maharaja was a a lot simpler individual, a warfare hero with a bluff, straight ahead method. He was fairly blissful to be referred to as Col. Singh. His spouse Padmini who’s now the Rajmata might be the nicest member of the Jaipur household in centuries: heat and approachable, however good and witty on the similar time.
Bhawani Singh and his household didn’t have a lot to do with the Rambagh which his step-brothers managed and Gayatri Devi who lived in Lilly Pool, a small home on the grounds of the Rambagh had a tense relationship with a few of her kin. As Zubrzycki factors out, the gate between Lilly Pool and the Rambagh was locked after a dispute and after Gayatri Devi died, possession of the property was contested.
In each sense that issues, the age of the maharajas is over. Even within the West, they’re now seen as anachronisms from a bygone period (like Yugoslav royalty, maybe) slightly than severe glamour figures. Some maharajas have renewed their maintain on their previous states by becoming a member of politics however with every passing era the bond between former ruler and former topics weakens additional.
And whereas I consider that Mrs. Gandhi handled the maharajas very unfairly, going again on ensures supplied by the Indian state solely in order that she may make a populist level, I don’t consider (as some maharajas now declare) that the majority of princely India was ever effectively-administered and aware of the wants of the individuals.
In truth, India’s princely tradition works best as a fantasy, a fairy story. That is how A Princess Remembers is written and that’s the reason regardless of Gayatri Devi’s fulminations, it continues to promote many years after it was first revealed.
I stayed within the Gayatri Devi suite on the Rambagh this time. This is designed as a tribute to her legend (she in all probability lived in what’s now the Maharani suite) and it was straightforward, staying there, to fall beneath the spell of the fairy story. I’m not positive the service or the meals have been as good when the Rambagh was a royal palace however, nowadays they’re faultless.
And who is aware of what issues have been actually like in that period? What was the truth behind these fairy tales? In his biography, Quentin Crewe admits about Jai, “his taste was a shade chromium perhaps but by no means as vulgar as that of the majority of his fellow Princes”. Adds Crewe, “everyone who knew Jai, always mentions his stinginess.” And Sawai Man Singh’s romance with Gayatri Devi started when she was simply 13 and he was a a lot older man with two wives tucked away and a rumoured friendship along with her mom. As an apologetic Crewe provides:“to European readers it may seem strange that a man who would never lack female companionship should take an interest in a thirteen-year-old-girl. It must be remembered that in India, over the centuries, it was perfectly normal.”
Well, no. Actually it wasn’t. But why let the information get in the best way of a fairy story? Today’s Rambagh is a monument to that fairy story. And a very pretty monument it’s too.
To learn extra on The Taste With Vir, click on right here
Follow extra tales on Facebook and Twitter