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Gayatri Devi: A maharani and a beauty
Gayatri Devi, once described as one of the most beautiful women in the world, has died at the age of 90.The fashion icon broke with tradition by winning election to parliament in 1962. She was re-elected twice.She supported education for women, and founded a prestigious school in Jaipur.
My salute to the lady who was the epitome of beauty, lived a graceful life and promoted girl child in India.
I’ve had a happy life, with no regrets: Gayatri Devi
Rajmata Gayatri Devi's a legend who will live forever. That was her aura. The world's most stylish royal woman always insisted she was ordinary. Yet, she was one of India's most stylish, most independent and most modern of Maharanis.
In an exclusive interview just before her death, she said, “I’ve had a very happy life. I have no regrets. I'm not a nostalgic person. I live in the present. I just try to do what I can, when I see unhappiness around me. Why grumble about things that don't go your way. Make the most of life. Don't make me sound arrogant or extraordinary.”
Her story was almost fairytale, of how Ayesha metamorphosed into Rajmata Gayatri Devi. She loved talking about her childhood. Her tales were always endless and there was always a lesson in her stories. She talked about the days of innocence as a child in Cooch Behar, the first blush of love, of how she was taught to behave like a Maharani after she married Jai Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur and the loneliness of losing her family members one after the other.
In her crisp English accent, she talked in a matter-of-fact way about her happy childhood days, “When I close my eyes, I recall my happiest days were as a child in Cooch Behar. Those were days of innocence. When I read comics like Tiger Tim and Puck. When I'd go shooting, I would plead with the mahout to let me sit on the neck of the elephant. There I used to lie down, my head between the elephant's ears. At dusk, I would come home riding on my elephant. When I remember this moment, it takes me back to a time when my life was untouched by change and the loss of people dearest to me. I often dream about my childhood days, we had so much fun with my brothers and sisters.”
Looking back, how did she overcome the odds in her life? What were the toughest lessons learnt? There was a long silence and she replied. “As time goes by, everything changes. You start seeing things from a different perspective. Really, the toughest thing in life is to live without people you love. It was tough when I had to be on my own after I lost my mother, brother and husband, Jai. But I've had a very happy life. No regrets.”
She came from a family, where women were fiercely independent. In fact, in her book, Maharanis: The Extraordinary tale of Four Indian Queens and their journey from Purdah to Parliament, Lucy Moore follows the life stories of three generations of path-breaking maharanis: Chimnabai, (Gayatri Devi's grandmother) who refused to live confined and entered the world of men; her daughter Indira, (Gayatri Devi's mother) who refused to accept an arranged marriage and married for love; and Ayesha, (Gayatri Devi) who moved so far beyond the traditional restrictions that she won a seat in the Indian Parliament.
She writes, “These Maharanis and their husbands were cosmopolitan in their tastes and Anglophile in culture.” They had an aura of glamour and even celebrity clung to all three women, Moore says, and their extravagance and adventurism became legendary. There were tales of Rolls Royces won and lost at the gambling tables of Monte Carlo, of millions of pounds spent to maintain dozens of residences and hundreds of servants, of promiscuity and reckless, gilded bohemianism.” Moore writes, this was a time when modernity, independence and internationalism were swiftly replacing tradition, colonialism and provincialism. And thus these three Maharanis lived confused, sometimes deeply unhappy lives.”
Right now, she spends her time between Jaipur and London. “I was born in London. Every summer, I like to spend my time there, as it gets very hot in Jaipur.”
There's a certain charisma that makes a timeless beauty. She was listed by Vogue as one of the most beautiful women in the world, and her beauty was compared to the sensuality of Hollywood actresses. Figuring among the most-stylish and beautiful women in India, there's was something ageless and eternal about her. To that, she had said, “I really don't think so. Style comes naturally to me. I guess, you're just born with it. My mother has been my role model and icon. When I was young, I watched her dress. Ma was very fussy about her clothes. Did you know, she was the first person to start wearing saris made of chiffons. But her greatest passion was for shoes. She had hundreds of pairs and still went on ordering them from Ferragamo in Florence. She always knew the best place to buy anything and she shopped all over the world. I guess, I learnt about style from her. She taught me all about style. Life was more glamourous in the olden days, a lot has changed now.”
It was her love for Maharaja of Jaipur, Jai that changed her life forever. In her memoirs, A Princess Remembers, she talks about how there was gossip as the news of a happy partnership between Jai and her got around. In fact, people warned her mother that life as a third Maharani would be tough. “Looking back, I see that those times were much more ahead than an ordinary approved courtship would have been. There was the challenge of outwitting our elders, of arranging secret meetings... And every now and again, there was a marvellous, unheard of liberty of going for a drive in the country with Jai, of a stolen dinner at Bray, or of an outing on the river in a boat. It was a lovely and intoxicating time.”
In your private life, would she call herself an outgoing person or an introvert? “I like meeting my friends and going out with them. I guess, that means I'm not an introvert. I'm very normal. Of course, there are times when I'd rather be alone.”
But she's been a woman of immense strength, role model to millions of Indian woman. “I'm flattered that you say so. I don't agree though. But I'd like to tell women of India that they must lead a full life. They must give their everything to life and be faithful to their families.”
That's when we asked her the tricky question about her grandchildren Devraj and Lalitya's claim to her inheritance. “No comments.” Her silence is a mark of grace and dignity.
In her memoirs, A Princess Remembers, Rajmata talks about how her son Jagat married Priya, the daughter of Prince Piya and Princess Vibhavati of Thailand. She writes: “We had a reception in London and the Queen of England and many friends attended it. A year later, Jagat and Priya had a daughter named Lalitya and two years later they had a son called Devraj. My time was spent not only in India and England but also in Thailand where I went often to visit Priya's family. Bangkok is a fascinating city. And I love my grandchildren.”
Certainly, Maharani Gayatri Devi lived life to the full. With no regrets. There won't be another like her! In fact, Princess Diya Kumari of Jaipur, Maharaj Bhawani Singh's daughter says, “She'll be an eternal legend. She was a great influence to the women of Jaipur. She was the first woman of substance and style of her generation. The world bowed to her beauty. Indeed, she was a people's Princess.”
Gayatri Devi: A maharani and a beauty
JAIPUR: A maharani's death is always momentous but Gayatri Devi's may be specially so because she left behind a rich and detailed account of her
life of blue-blooded privilege. Her memoirs, 'A Princess Remembers', burst upon a wondering world much before the modern blizzard of tell-all biographies.
The world of extraordinary wealth and access was there for Gayatri Devi from the very start. She lived with her parents in the swish part of London, close to Harrods, the world's most famous department store, which boasted it could get anything in the world for its customers.
Though she was just the lisping four-year-old daughter of a prince of Cooch Behar, a small princely state compared to Jaipur, Baroda and Hyderabad, the young princess describes the courtly respect she received from the shop attendant. Soon enough, her shocked mother Indira Devi found that Gayatri’s daily forays into Harrods had left the family with a large bill.
That early extravagance was somehow in keeping with the life she was soon to lead, as wife and companion of the dashing and very rich Sawai Man Singh, known as Jai for Jaipur. The princess describes the subterfuge of their romance, mainly in London because her family disapproved of a man who already had two wives, the younger of whom was called Jo after her home state Jodhpur.
But Gayatri, who had fallen in love with Jai when she was in her early teens, remained undeterred. Eventually they married and Jai carried her into a world of unimaginable opulence. She adjusted to her new life — the hunting, polo, huge household bills and her relatively minor place in the maharani pecking order, given there were two Didis (Jai’s other wives) ahead of her. Looking back, she realized she got used to having a private plane from the age of 21.
Dr. Ghulam Nabi Kazi