The people's princess
Tribute to a royal lady
She had many facets to her persona that ranged from beauty queen to political leader and social worker to sportswoman
From the early magnetic days of her elegance and crowning glory to getting graciously and yet charmingly, old, what remained paramount to the heart of the great princess (of late, Queen Mother) was an abiding interest in the people of Jaipur. She was in all respects a people’s most popular princess, princess la majestie.
In the passing away of Rajmata Gayatri Devi, a glorious chapter in the royal pages of Rajasthan comes to an end. She will be long remembered as an icon that brought the benign royalty closer to the masses. She wanted to share her joys-and frustrations-with them equally. Thus, in March 2005, on the memorable occasion of the unveiling of the statue of her late husband, the last Maharaja of the Pink City, Sawai Man Singh II, she was deeply saddened by the conspicuous absence of local people at the function.
“Jaipur ki Janta Kahan hain? I don’t see my people here to share my moment of joy.” While profusely thanking the then chief minister, Vasundhara Raje, for fulfilling her long-cherished desire, she could hardly identify any real local audience in the galaxy of invitees, mostly bureaucrats, well-to-do Rajput families and thikanedars.
Since the Rajmata wanted to see happiness in the eyes of Jaipurites too, a few days later, after the official function, she returned to the statue, installed near the historic Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur, to reminisce the fond memories of the Maharaja with the common people of Jaipur, away from the inhibiting protocols and formalities of official ceremonies.
Apalled by unplanned urbanisation
She did not even hesitate to sit on a dharna with locals to avert the attempts of an influential coloniser (land mafia) to encroach upon some land that was donated for a public park near the Rajmata-owned Moti Doongri fort.
She was also often appalled by the sight of growing hoardings and banners in the city, declining greenery and accumulating filth around. She openly supported a campaign for a better town planning launched by a local daily. And she poured her heart for the city she had seen as a young bride: “When I came to Jaipur, it was so beautiful that people today can’t imagine. Now it’s a jungle of hoardings and banners.”
The people of Jaipur equally loved, admired and revered her. She represented Jaipur thrice on a Swatantra Party ticket, in 1962, 1967 and 1971. Her maiden landslide victory by a margin of 1,92,909 votes out of 2,46,516 votes is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records. She was probably the first notable royal lady in Rajasthan to plunge in politics with great success.
By showing exemplary courage to come out of the traditional purdah and play polo, badminton and tennis, prohibited activities for the royal females, she sincerely wanted every woman in Rajasthan to have her own identity. Setting up the now world famous Maharani Gayatri Devi School, way back in 1943, was a great step in that direction.
Daughter of Cooch Behar
She saw the best and worst of times. From the days of her blossoming glory to the untimely demise of her beloved Maharaja, to her widowed days in Tihar jail during the dreaded emergency, to the precocious passing away of her only son, Jagat Singh, in 1997, the charmed and blissful daughter of Cooch Bihar had her own cursed an unexcruciatingly painful moments of deep grief and sorrow. But she always maintained perfect grace and equilibrium amidst any such adversities.
Jaipurites will sadly miss her endearing presence, at the annual polo session in the Pink City. Rajmata’s symbolic participation at the vintage car rally, where she drove her Bentley, will be hard to forget. So will be her connoisseur presence at the famed jewellery shows. Dressed in classy chiffon sarees, she was always an epitome of remarkable grace, poise and Byronic elegance,”she walks in beauty.”
It is a curious, though, sad coincidence that Pink City has lost within a year, its three most lovable icons. Pink City mourned the death of Habib Miyan, the grand old man of Jaipur (19 August 2008), followed by Pink City's most popular legislator Girdhari Lal Bhargava (18 March 2009) and now the most charismatic Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur.