A Maharaja does what socialist India can’t


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17 Mar 2013

 
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A Maharaja does what socialist India can't

This piece cannot be written without full disclosure at the outset. The Maharaja and Maharani of Jodhpur are friends of mine and have been for more than half my life. I first met Gaj Singh, or Bapji as everyone calls him, when he had just returned from University in England and when in the drawing rooms of Delhi, women of all ages swooned over his good looks. Hemlata Rajye was in school with me and my first memory of her is of a girl in pigtails standing at the edge of a playing field. It was after she became the Maharani that I first went to Jodhpur and where I have gone many times since for private events and public ones and have been witness in this time to how much a private citizen can do to bring about important and impressive transitions from the old to the new.

To understand the transformation Bapji has wrought in Jodhpur I need to paint you a backdrop. In the 1970s, when he came home, not only was socialism at its height but India was ruled by a Prime Minister who seemed to have a personal vendetta against the princes who ruled more than 40 per cent of India till 1947. She abolished their privileges and took away their privy purses so even rich maharajas like Bapji had no choice but to allow their palaces to fall to ruin. When I first stayed in Umaid Bhawan in 1976, most of the rooms in this splendid palace were no longer in use and its gardens and courtyards were filled with wild grasses and weeds. As for the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort, it was in such a state of disuse and decay that I remember dodging bats to pass under its high arches and being assailed in its rooms by that depressing musty smell that pervades old monuments that have been severely neglected.

So last week when I went for the ‘One World Retreat’ Bapji organised to raise funds for setting up a Brain Trauma Centre, I was bedazzled by the transformation. Bapji had gathered together princes from Europe, sheikhs from Arabia and some of the richest men in India in the hope that they would contribute to his efforts to raise funds for his Head Injuries Foundation. So on the first evening, a drinks party was arranged in the fort after which we walked up to the ramparts in a procession and lining our route were dancers and fire-eaters, acrobats and musicians from Rajasthan. As I walked up, I found myself dazzled by how this wonderful old fort has now been restored to its former glory. In a courtyard that I remember from the old days as having fallen into an advanced state of decay, we watched a dance drama called ‘Nari’ which included women dancers and dance forms from all over India. Lights in shades of purple, electric blue, pink and yellow flashed down from balconies that nobody would have dared step onto in the old days as women dancers scattered flowers from above.

The next day, there was a sit-down dinner in the splendid gardens of Umaid Bhawan and a performance by Sting against the lighted backdrop of the palace. It is today not just restored to its former glory but probably more glorious than it has ever been. The restoration has been painstakingly undertaken by the Taj Group who now run Umaid Bhawan as a hotel. Raymond Bickson, the head of the Taj hotel group, happened to be seated next to me at dinner and he told me that putting in modern plumbing and electricity into such an old building had been a major challenge.

With the concerts and the auctions and the glittering socialites, it would have been easy to be fooled into believing that the retreat was just one long party but it was not. There was a serious purpose that came out in the talks we listened to on head injuries and in Bapji’s own speech at the dinner in Umaid Bhawan. He explained that his efforts to improve facilities for victims of head injuries in India began because of what happened to his son after a polo accident in February 2005. Yuvraj Shivraj Singh survived a severe head injury and several weeks in a coma only for his parents to find that after he left Bombay Hospital in a wheelchair, unable to speak or walk, there was nowhere he could go for rehabilitation and speech therapy. Bapji said he was fortunate that he was able to afford to take his son to New York where the finest doctors from the Brain Trauma Foundation were able to help him recover enough to lead a relatively normal life but most Indians would not be able to do this.

With the increase in motorised transport there has been a horrific increase in victims of head injuries but for those who cannot afford to take their loved ones for treatment abroad there is nothing to do other than watch them vegetate slowly for years and years. The Prince of Jodhpur has managed to get well enough to get married and have a beautiful little daughter called, Vaara, and one of the most moving moments of the weekend was when he danced for twenty minutes to Sting’s music.

After 65 years of rule by socialist leaders you would think that there would at least be healthcare of the highest quality available to the common man, but this, as all of us know well, is very far from happening. So it is ironic that it should be a Maharaja who has taken upon himself the task of trying to make it possible for ordinary Indians to not suffer what he suffered when his son was injured.

On a lighter note, is it not ironic that the princes who were so reviled by our socialist leaders are now back in their good books because finally even the most socialist of them have realised the enormous potential of tourism in bringing prosperity. But, it is not the ugly buildings built in socialist times that foreign tourists come to see but those old palaces that were allowed for so many decades to fall into decline. India’s ironies are so overwhelming sometimes that they acquire a surreal quality. But the real lesson I have learned from what Bapji has done for Jodhpur is how much private citizens like you and I can do in our own ways to make India a better country.

Photo credit: jamesandthegiantearth.com


Tavleen Singh is an Indian columnist, political reporter and writer.

(c) NiTi Digital. Reproduction and/or reposting of this content is strictly prohibited under copyright laws.


 
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  • Rajalakshmi

    A much needed article. As Indian History taught in schools & congress party’s sycophantic treacly stories about Nehru & Indira Gandhi made me extremely demoralized.

    ” It is today not just restored to its former glory but probably more glorious than it has ever been”. This is very heartening.

    It is only under Nehru who was stupid enough to fall in love with socialism India’s fortunes plummeted. As Tamil Literature is full of uplifting accounts of our Kings , Queens , their devotion to Lord Siva/ Lord Vishnu & so forth. Not just that. If you read unabridged Periya Puranam , Maha Baktha Vijayam etc you would know India NEVER practised any discrimination including casteism as has been mendaciously propagated.
    That cordial relations DID EXIST among all Brahmins onwards.

    The other day I read something else about various Indian Maharajas that made me admire them for their ATTITUDE. The British in their superciliousness often delayed delivery of Rolls Royce cars to Indian Maharajas after taking full payment.To express their anger & hurt our Maharajas had the existing Rolls Royce cars converted into dustbins & kept in full display. Which jolted the uptight British enough to hurriedly send the cars. One Royal Maharani had the gumption to have her pedicure done in one such “converted” Rolls Royce.

  • Rajalakshmi

    Read about Vallala MahaRaja who had no child despite having many wives. How he prayed to Lord Siva to Bless him with a child & the Penance he undertook, the extent to which one of his wives The Queen was willing to push the boundaries only with a view to pleasing her husband The King Vallala Maharaja ……..the entire story is extremely ennobling. Makes my heart swell with PRIDE that our ancestors were far far superior.

    NOBLE & Enlightened beyond words.

  • S. Kumar

    Tavleen Singh, our Congressi socialism means keeping people poor and at the mercy of ‘votebank’ handouts. Their idea of equality is to bring down everyone to the lowest level.

  • Bharati

    “Bapji has done for Jodhpur” – what has he done? The whole article raves about what he’s done for a palace and a fort – which are his personal properties, aren’t they?

  • mayank

    Tavleen,

    I congratulate you for your courage in these times.

  • http://twitter.com/Sai_SRS Sonu

    It is another case to show that suffering comes to everyone. Right minded people not only come out of it but with their experience they help other also overcome while not so right minded people continue to shift blame. People like Gaj Singh are light house for society. They and religious institutions are doing what government is supposed to do. Another nice thing about the article is the writer herself. She started the article with disclaimer. very few follow this habit. congratulations to NitiCentral. may more of such writers, with integrity flock the space.

  • BlueLotus

    The Europeans are also welfare states but how they care for their heritage! I have seen in England the extent to which they go to save a mere 200 year old house and India has such rich history 100′s perhaps thousands of years old…such temples, forts, palaces falling to ruin…

    But then when we struggle to feed our people, heritage has to take a back seat. Socialism and communalism in the garb of secularism is the worst thing that happened to India!

  • Kumar

    Socialism, Congressi or of any other flavour, never worked anywhere. It remains in our text books and most unfortunately exists in the Constitution of India as well. I heard that no political party can be registered in India unless it declares itself to be “socialist”. Am I not right, Ms Singh ? I hope you writers will amplify on these aspects.

  • Siddharth

    Wonderfully written article. As an historian, I agree the prices did more than any Congress govt has but the reality is that monarchy form of govt is long dead.




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