A sense of royalty is glimmered when one talks about the grandeur of the city of Jaipur. A city that permeates traditionality, sleek architecture, resplendent forts, and the ever-healthy history of its kings and queens. Let's talk about the third Maharani of Jaipur, Rajmata Gayatri Devi, and her life that scales through the breeze of evolving public roles, a fashion icon, record-holding politician, and a prisoner in an emergency.
A princess born in the royalty of Cooch Behar in Bengal, her father and mother descended the Koch Rajbongshi dynasty and the Gaekwad dynasty in Maharashtra respectively. She went to marry the then-Ruler of Jaipur, Sawai Man Singh II.
A strong opinionated royal, the first challenge that came in her way was the purdah system in the kingdom of her marriage. Women were required to cover their faces, and that was strongly objected to by her. She went on to institute a unique school for young girls, and educate them about rights throughout her tenure of service. The then major transformation of her career took place post the independence of India in 1947, while she was still 28. The conventionality of royal households had completely transformed, and they had been reduced to merely influential voices. The family supported the new Republic of India and merged in, supporting the instrumental party, the Indian National Congress.
Rajmata Gayatri Devi had other plans, and joined hands with the Rajagopalachari founded Swatantrata Party in 1962, and also went on to reject the 2nd PM of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri's offer to join the Congress. The then young Jana Sangh, landslides the elections in 1967 in an alliance with the Swatantrata party, while Gayatri Devi registered a Guinness world record for claiming a whitewash win in her constituency. Time escalated quickly when she lost her husband in 1970 in a polo match. Things hardly improved though, when her princely state along with the title was taken away by the central government, led by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The then period of emergency shook everyone, and for Gayatri Devi, it was a period of dark, gloomy nights that reduced her to a prisoner arrested for alleged non-disclosure of assets. The arrests were made under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities [COFEPOSA] Act when pounds and coins of varied nature were located in her residence in Jaipur's Moti Doongri. Much written about her experience in jail is caliginous and bleak.
As spoken about her days in jail, her cell was smelly and appalling. Her privilege allowed her a newspaper and a cup of tea, along with permission to evening walks and a neighboring prisoner cleaning her room. John Zubrzycki, in his book "The House of Jaipur: Inside Story of India's most glamourous royal family, writes about the eve of Christmas in 1975 when Rjamata supposedly sat in her cell with her cassette recorder, eating a Christmas cake, in the company of quite a few sewer rats.
She went on to win her constituency seat thrice before leaving the service completely, citing strife with Indira Gandhi, whose regime was nothing short of dictations, un-regulated practices, and controversies. Her apparent dislike of Gayatri Devi was not avowed, also calling her a 'doll of glass' in parliament. She is said to be irked by her status and royalty which she observed right from the days of their youth in Shantiniketan, West Bengal.
The queen spent the final years of her life mediating property disputes within her family, which finally settled in by a Supreme Court intervention. The recently 15,000 crores suit involving the Rambagh and Jai Mahal Hotels and palaces were distributed. The properties were handed over to Gayatri Devi's son Jagat Singh whose death in 1997 left the further distribution in conflict.
Maharani Gayatri Devi was unarguably ahead of her time. She was surprisingly elegant and her beauty was talked about worldwide, courtesy of her name in the Top 10 most beautiful women in a magazine by Vogue. Her love for royal sports such as Polo and shooting, as well as horse-riding, added glitters to her royalty status. Being born in two royal families to getting married in another, from her education in London to India's finest in Shantiniketan and further in Switzerland, she held all special privileges to her helm. Her private collection from the imported Rolls Royce, to Mercedes and aircraft, made her status unmatched. She died of lung ailments in 2009, after leading a life of a Royalty, Politician, Emergency Prisoner, and Tragedy, Dispute, alongside a loved public figure. Her desire to return to Jaipur was remained fulfilled.