Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Life Lived King Size

Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur : Life and Legend, R.P. Singh & Kanwar Rajpal Singh, Roli, 212 Pages 

A simpler synopsis would refer to this book as a chronicle of the life and times of Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur. But given the aura surrounding the dashing ruler, that would not suffice. 

Born to Sawai Singh, the Thakur of Isarda, Mor Mukut Singh was adopted by Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II. Mor Mukut Singh was renamed Sawai Man Singh II and proclaimed heir apparent to the throne of Jaipur. He was the maharaja of Jaipur from the year 1931 until 1958 when it merged with independent India.  

Sawai Man Singh II was simultaneously betrothed to two princesses, married them individually in 1924 and 1932 and later, fell in love with Gayatri Devi, the princess of Cooch Behar and considered at one time by Vogue magazine as one of the ten most beautiful women in the world. Their romance has been touted as the stuff of legends, with Jai (after ‘Jaipur’), proposing to her when she was merely 13 years of age. They married in 1940.

Jai was a unique blend of western and Indian values, and his ability to be in step with the times ensured a relatively less turbulent transition into post-independent India. Besides being considered one of the most progressive of the Indian rulers, he is attributed credit for the infrastructural development of Jaipur, a key factor in the decision leading to the choice of Jaipur as the capital of Rajasthan. He was sworn in as the Rajpramukh of Rajputana in 1949. He was also India’s ambassador to Spain for a brief period.

Jai’s passion for polo is perhaps best described in his son’s foreword, ‘…established a record by winning all the tournaments in which he played. In 1957, his team topped up the Victory Crown by winning the World Gold Cup Championship in Deauville, France.”

The suave Jai died at Cirenster, England on June 24, 1970, true to his dream - to die “ a polo field, in the midst of a chukka, with my friends around me, my pony under me, my polo stick in hand, and my boots on.”

The book is structured chronologically and begins with a foreword by Brig. Sawai Bhawani Singh, the present ruler of Jaipur and Jai’s son. It then moves to the events surrounding the adoption of Mor Mukut Singh. It goes on to give a snapshot of the life of a Maharaja, along with the customs, the protocols and the duties that are an essential part of the responsibility. The photographs in the book trace Jai over the years, with his family, visiting dignitaries and with his polo team. There is a postscript describing the period just after Jai’s death and a section on the History of the Kachhwahas.

However, the core of the book is essentially the insight it provides into one ruler’s transition into post-independent India. The politics and policies of that time including the abolition of privy purses, is described in detail in the later chapters. 

(an edited version published on February 12, 2006 in dna.sunday, Mumbai)

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