All who knew her said that there was something stunning about her beauty. The kind you may find in fairy tales. Every gesture carried with it an inborn grace without effort which further enhanced what had been God given. My father would say that when they walked into a cinema hall or public gathering every head would turn as she passed. There was an inner beauty too which shone out when she smiled or turned her lotus like eyes towards you thoughtfully  piercing unforgettably the innermost elements of your being.

But much later for us we realized it was bestowed on her by nature with a heavy price. She was allowed to enjoy it only for a brief period till her 26th year of life though ironically with full permission to live that short period in a manner which many could not experience in a lifetime. Strange indeed are the ways of providence , quite unfathomable. We can never dare ask questions or receive answers to its mysterious  purposes and overwhelming consequences.

My mother Kamala was born in the fiefdom of Bissau in the region of Shekhawati in Jaipur state in Rajasthan before India’s independence in 1920.

Her father Bishen Singh was an aristocrat Rajput who ruled over that desert fiefdom. He had two wives, the first gave birth to a daughter whom he loved dearly as her mother did not survive her infancy. His second wife from a Jodhpur fiefdom called Chandawal gave him an heir and two daughters. Bishen singh was happy to have a son and heir but when it came to daughters his first born remained his favourite. In this atmosphere  my mother Kamala grew close and inseparable from her brother the heir Raghubir singh who was an Oxford educated handsome favourite of the Jaipur royalty and eventually became ADC to the famed beauty Gayatri Devi the third wife of the maharajah Man Singh.

Thus the influence of modernity percolated from his association with the Jaipurs and provided a window to the west to the young lady and doubtless shaped her thinking away from the confining traditions of Rajput society.

Kamala right with her mother and sister early stoic upbringing

As she grew up she moved from the stoic to the modern outlook influenced by the Jaipur royal house

Adolescent fantasy inspired by Hollywood though she never smoked or drank

This was a time when Purdah or the veil had been virtually set aside and maharanis were riding horses attending balls and roaming the west. and these influences affected the nobility where some had more courage than others.

Her sister was to be married but unfortunately she died of typhoid before the marriage was to take place. her father suggested that she should take her place but she refused making him quite livid. Later her brother who loved her decided that he had to help her find a good connection and knowing my father , his age and generation decided to arrange a marriage which thankfully got sanctified despite the absence of the father at the ceremony where with the sacred fire as witness he gives away his daughter in marriage. It was a patriarchal society which brooked no compromise and defiance of a fathers orders however unpalatable resulted in punitive consequences. Absence of a father to  give away the daughter was considered inauspicious but the presence of her brother the heir made the impossible come about particularly because my father was most attracted to the idea and was his own master as he was a full fledged Raja over a fiefdom. Issues of ego and intolerance were also involved with bishen singh both for the defiance of a mere daughter and the fact that she found a  most eligible spouse who was no less a Raja. He probably felt insulted that despite her disobedience she had found a better match for herself than might have been possible for him to get for her.

Kamala married to Narayan Singh Raja of Masuda

She then became the Rani of Masuda and began her life anew.

pic just after marriage

Her only solace was that her father reluctantly joined the reception thrown after the marriage under pressure from her loving brother.

The marriage reception with her father at extreme right and groom at centre with child in lap

In the feudal past life even for a Rani could be quite challenging though coming from the same background she knew what to expect from living in a fortress in a village. There was of course much activity and many traditional responsibilities to fulfill given her new status. Undoubtedly she would have been relieved that she could marry a young handsome ruler, her own age, rather than fill in  with someone unknown as a replacement for her late sister. Furthermore she neither had to take orders from anyone nor seek favours from others. She was the mistress in complete charge of all she surveyed. My father was totally enchanted by her beauty and personality and hastened to please her in every possible way. His mother having passed away in his infancy there was no imperious mother in law to contend with. She had the valuable asset of total independence and a husbands unwavering love. Yes feudal society demanded women remain behind the veil -‘Purdah’ inherited from Muslim rulers of India. There was no freedom to venture out without arrangements for barriers to prevent others from looking at her and even driving in a car one had to be confined  behind lace curtains. All this she was familiar with but there was no one who could challenge her will to bring about transformations in one way or another. In such situations even the maharanis of major states in Rajputana had little choice but to conform to the stifling traditions of the times. Having felt the whif of change blowing from the Jaipur palace she determined not to lead the life of other ladies in the numerous fiefdoms  but to find ways to have her own way.

The first necessity was to venture out from the fiefdom and explore the world to the extent possible. Bombay shone bright as a place to explore  where film-stars roamed, the great ocean breeze filled your hair, cinemas were aplenty, parties held by  the likes of the Tata industrialists common, race courses filled with the elite, fashion and jewellery the issues of interest, people from all climes and categories to freely mix with without the ‘Purdah’, shopping and grand buildings to view and admire, limousines to acquire and drive around in, hotels like the Taj mahal with their numerous social events and festivities to participate in, Restaurants with exquisite cuisine, french perfumes to buy and use, in a word the window to the modern world of which she had become enamored. Bombay was a magnet not just for Indians but the likes of Australians then and middle easterns, not the squalor it is today. the Parsis and the British turned it into an eastern metropolis with grand stores like Army and Navy  opera houses where great concerts were held ( today it is like a delapilated cinema house) The beautiful Eros cinema at churchgate, race courses, exclusive clubs to envy,  Jewellers of international fame like the Gazdars, clean streets etc etc.

She then proceeded to fire the somewhat inhibited imagination of the new Raja Narayan with no experience of this emerging world and before long they took their first foray to the Gateway to the modern world BOMBAY. There having shopped and acquired a suitable wardrobe, advanced in fashion and perfumery, partied with well wishers and the new gentry wined and dined at the favored jaunts, acquired a Buick  and eight seater red velvet Oldsmobile with liveried chauffeur, found a flat at Mehervan Mansions on the beach front at Pedder Road and settled there they dressed and went to the great Indian cinemas one after another enjoying and learning about the emerging new India far from the fiefdoms and its confinements.

They learnt that it was the practice among the elite to visit Hamilton Studios India’s premiier photographer to be remembered in style by posterity (though real costly). Kamala had seen such pictures from the Jaipur royals and persuaded Narayan that this was not a photographer for passport sized necessities. It was a pilgrimage of sorts  and the done thing. she knew this from her Oxford returned brother now called GEORGE by the jaipur house ( all were named thus with pet names by the the Jaipur house, there were now only Marys Johns Dimples Twinkles Robins Ayeshas Pats Bubbles etc) where those who mattered got themselves preserved for posterity. Narayan had little option but to agree not knowing much better and trusting her judgement – so they began their long association with the famed Hamiltons. his speciality in the days of Black and white photography was to colour the photos expertly so that you never knew even that it was not colour photography. later it became an extinct art which no longer exists. a kind of half way point between an oil painting by the likes of Rembrant and colour photography.

Hamiltons Kamala

posing for posterity

 

 

 

 

HAMILTON STUDIOS BLACK AND WHITE

 

 

portrait by Deware Studios Bombay

 

The days passed and they had to return to Masuda to meet the demands of the fiefdom. The Kamdars were concerned that their Raja had been ‘abducted’ by the Bombay world. When they did return Kamala said she wanted a new home as she could not bear to live in the ancient fortress. So the process began to give her, her dream house. On a hillock opposite the fort a project was conceived to build a villa like the ones one found in Warden Road Bombay.

POSING BEFORE WARDEN ROAD VILLAS IN A HOTCHKISS SPORTS CAR -KAMALA AND NARAYAN ALL SMILES

The best architects were engaged and to furnish it the best interior furnishers of Bombay the Kamdars, so that the Art Deco style could be impressed on both the villa and its furnishings. The hillock was ideal being both in the village and high above it overlooking the village of Masuda and looking at the ancestral fortress. In a year or so the project was completed and narayan and kamala happily moved in.

             The new Art Deco villa at Masuda hilltop Like the Warden road villas

Life then began in Masuda as if they were in Bombay,  with a perfect retinue of servants both from Bissau known to her from childhood and Masuda known to Narayan, with the finest cooks and attendants. People from the neighborhood were delighted to visit them in their stately home decorated with the finest interior decorators and furnishings.. Duck and Pig shoots were organised for British friends in the area and life began to be a splendid mix of East and West. Narayan a lover of the arts decorated his home with fine portraits from Indian  and Chinese masterpieces and art deco vases and Persian carpets. The art Deco furnishings by the Bombay fursnishers added splendour to the ambience. and the couple now lived happily together doing their feudal duties arranging festivities on Diwali, Holi and Navratra, paying homage to the gods and their ancestors.

In this perfect ambience they Inevitably  were blessed with their first child in 1940 a beautiful baby girl they decided to call VijayLakshami as that year there was all round productivity and prosperity.

Mum and first child Vijaylakshmi

They were joyous with their first born whom they pet named nakki because when people asked her what her name was instead of Lakshmi she would say nakki.

The Rani was now in full bloom with a first born, happily in love with Narayan., as people said they were a perfect couple named Narayan and Kamala, like the lord Vishnu and his consort Lakmi, known as Narayan and Kamala.

However people as they always do, particularly in fiefdoms. demurred that they wanted to see an heir. The happy couple deeply in love then gave them what they wanted. In 1941 Kamala gave birth to a son, the heir to the joy of all concerned.

Kamala and me

Now with a loving marriage a daughter and son and heir, a desired place of residence, so beautiful and well decorated in the village of Masuda, the couple visited Bombay again to crown their happiness. There was  another upcoming studio this time Indian known as Deware Art Studio a Maharashtrian studio where they sought to get themselves photographed. The result below:

with a daughter and son they felt fulfilled

Once again having done all their duties diligently and provided progeny and heir for the fiefdom The couple left for their window to the world Bombay with their children. . Studio photos shows how the couple and kids loved this.

Happy Family -mother and son smile father and daughter appear serious

 

HAPPY FAMILY COURTESY HAMILTON IN COLOUR

By 1941 already three precious years had passed in a state of blissful happiness. But time was running out and the clock ticking away the minutes.

On return to masuda she then sought to assume greater responsibilities and helped the retinue of female attendants who had accompanied her from Bissau by finding well placed grooms for them in Masuda fiefdom. In those days it was the practice for ladies to bring their maids and companions with them so that they felt secure in the new home and not be subject to the machinations and intrigues which inevitably arose in royal houses. It was also the practice to make them settle permanently in the grooms home by getting them married to the grooms servants, aides and officials. She would often be seen surrounded by her retinue on a throne at the villa receiving petitions from the village folk (women) seeking to resolving their problems .

During festivals and receiving petitions on her throne Portrait by DEVARE STUDIOS BOMBAY

We should remember that even for the royals, life in the forties was not without its challenges. India had yet to gain Independence, the British were the overlords and to compound matters the Second World War had begun with d the fiefdoms being required to contribute to the war effort. Even for daily needs a special effort had to be made as provisions got reserved by the authorities for the war effort. For instance ghee was not easily available even for a Raja. In many of her letters Kamala would be pressing her husband to arrange essential supplies. Limousines booked from the USA got delayed on the high seas. Marriages had to be celebrated with economy and due restraint.Visiting Sahebs and dignitaries had to be suitably entertained and given  appropriate respect. In all this the Rani had a crucial role to play despite the limitations of the war years. The fact that her relations with her father were strained did not help matters and as far as i know he never visited her in Masuda nor encouraged her beloved brother and sister in law to do so. Neither did she visit her ‘Maika’, mother’s home. All these misunderstandings created stress and unhappiness. in india the practice of caring for daughters after their wedding and departure are known to be fundamental duties of parents rich and poor. With no natural mother in law to guide, despite the advantages of such an absence, rejoice at birth of progeny, participate in festivities in a customary manner and with her own parents distant and aloof she had to rely on the sole support of her loving husband. But that too could be challenging for a very young couple in their twenties with no elders to lean upon when differences arose. Further she gave birth in quick succession to a daughter and son in just two years. No one to advise with nursing help or experience in these matters except for trusted maids. My father then got her a British nanny which must have been a great relief. After I was born he managed to get a Jewish Nanny for me.

Kamala then felt inclined to acquire great jewellery the fashion of the times. She wanted the Gazdars to help her have the best. She asked Narayan to allow her to visit the treasury to see what was there. The Kamdars said a woman had never entered there and it was most inauspicious as custom dictated that a woman entering it would mean the loss of the treasury. Kamala insisted and saw all. The jewels worn by our great grand father on ceremonial occasions were taken out and handed to the Gazdars to make into modern jewellery for  ladies. these were priceless uncut emeralds which then were turned into chokers with diamonds. Thus the jewellers helped her wear what she wanted.

The war, two quick kids, settling in a new palatial home and managing it along with her duties as Rani for petition seekers, and visiting Sahebs whom she could not meet and the absence of parental concern did not defuse her passion for a glimpse of the outside world. The visits to Bombay continued and this time visits to Hamilton with kids. They of course travelled in luxury by Saloon class and met the outside world in the Dining car. There the curious Kamala looked at everyone present despite dads admonishings that it was not polite and no Purdah restrictions were not any excuse. Dad said more than her everyone in the dining car glued their impertinent eyes on her, but she remained unabashed. This time in Bombay she had the good fortune of meeting up with her darling brother. As usual he kissed her all over the face and she drove with her sister in law through Bombay enjoying the sites and happy to have such special company. During this visit ‘George’ Bissau introduced his sister and bro in law to friends who like him were modern and not restricted by feudal custom. Thus she got to befriend none other than the famous film star of Bollywood of the times, Nasim Banu Begum (mother of Saira Banu wife of Dalip kumar) and the Gazdar famous Parsi jewellers with a show window at the Taj. 

About the same time Kamala developed a recurrent cough which would not go away. Narayan , concerned, consulted the best Bombay docs. They diagnosed  pleurisy,and provided medications. We must remember that the circumstances of Kamala’s life, father’s opposition, mothers absence. absence of elders like a sensible Ma in law, youth and innocence of both Raja and Rani, pregnancy year after year, power and plenty without experience to handle it, presence of interested predators in close  confidence, became a deadly combination which the best of us could not have faced even in maturity. The coughing continued shattering the idyllic life led so far. No one knew what to do or what advice to receive. Narayan, motherless had no clue and given his background relied more on the occult than modern medicine. Narayan was always very spiritually inclined with prayer, fasting and rituals. not unlike other Feudal lords. They suspected the modern, the west, and the Sahebs, relying more on the magic of the past. Horoscopes, astrological dates for events, determinism of fate and Karma came above all else. Add to that the revelations of obtuse TANTRA and all were taken in by such revelations. Who cared about science the modern world and cures.

As the disease progressed within 2 years and turned into the dread diagnosis of Tuberculosis, very common at the time like Covid now, even the likes of the eminent Jawaharlal Nehru’s wife also called Kamala was a patient of TB. At the time there was no cure for this dread disease and a  diagnosis constituted a death sentence like the present day Cancer pronouncement, The happy environment collapsed and reliance on faith grew as medical science appeared to have nothing to offer.Both Kamala and Narayan’s mental state became totally irrational and reliance on faith an obsession. They travelled by train to Dhamngaon a village in Maharashtra where a great sage Mungsajimaharaj resided to seek his protection and blessings. He was what people called a Sidh with great powers  and he became their spiritual guide and Guru.  But the connection with Tantra continued. Meanwhile the Bombay doctors, eminent physicians like Dr BALIGA warned that whatever was available and all due precautions should be followed. But the couple still in their twenties insisted that faith was more important. A stage arrived when their tantrik advisers stated that  modern medicine and cures should be discontinued and reliance placed solely on Tantrik cures and magical rituals. They also stated that the problem resided in the ancient jewellery which was responsible for her disease and should be got rid of.

By then both Narayan and Kamala were distraught and unable to handle the situation. They decided first to do away totally with  Allopathic support and rely instead on Tantrik medications and rituals.

the final family two sons and a daughter last pic at HamiltonsAs if this was not enough Kamala got pregnant again and delivered a second son to Narayan in 1944 despite her deteriorating health.

Now only two years were left with the ticking clock. The disease then took full grip of her and without allopathy progressed fast. Finally her mother came over and remained beside her ailing daughter at Bombay. But this was little consolation as she would constantly complain of inconveniences till Kamala has to tell her to go back which of course she did not.

Meanwhile we the two sons and daughter were dispatched to a villa at Baroda to be away from infection and continue our studies at Rosary High School. My sister was in fact even allowed to pursue Piano lessons as was the practice among the royals. A full retinue of servants and staff were of course provided with a governess  in overall charge.

Kamala then gave away the ancestral jewellery to save her from the inauspicious. The Kamdars at Masuda thought that their Raja had gone mad. With no allopathy, and the discovery of streptomycin still some years into the future  there was yet no cure for TB

 Kamala then entered the final stage of the disease with much suffering aided only with Tantrik powders mixed with brandy, and unable to tolerate her mothers presence and unhelpful complaints. She even asked to see her dear beloved brother but he was advised against it because they knew he would as was his wont kiss her and ineviably the dread infection would be passed on.  so he never came to see her on her death bed and finally she tragically breathed her last with a hand extended to heaven before releasing her soul to God on 10th October 1946 at the tender age of 26. Just before that she expressed her final wish, to be able to see her second son for one last time.  He, Mohan  was brought from Baroda where we were confined in a villa  to Bombay by an attendant from Bissau and she saw him finally and bade goodbye. My father as a final gesture of love dressed her as a bride for the cremation replete with jewels. She was cremated in Bombay and my father more or less lost his mind in grief.

As for us we had no clue of what was happening and only later came to the flat at Bombay, being told that she had gone to the Himalayas to pray and would shortly be back. So we waited with abated breath for that to happen. Every time the flat bell rang we rushed to the door to see her but she was never there. The many pictures of her by Hamilton and Deware helped us to know what she was like. She remained a young lady throughout our lives, beautiful and unattainable.

Unfortunately we never shed a tear and were denied even grief, So she became our eternal desire unfulfilled to this day.

Us three, some 8 years later

LAST PHOTO TAKEN – A RITUAL LUNCH TO WARD OFF EVIL AND SAVE HER LIFE