It’s an incident that transpired almost 70 years ago, but it’s etched forever in the memory of Brigadier Sukhjit Singh (retd). This is true of most of his interactions with his grandfather, Maharaja Jagatjit Singh, the last ruler of Kapurthala, who left an indelible mark on the grandson he was grooming as his successor.
“I had gone to him with a complaint about a dispute. He asked me to take a seat. ‘Were you there when this incident took place?’ I said no. Then he asked, ‘Did you investigate it? Were there any witnesses?’ To both, my answer was in the negative. Then he gave me a piece of advise I’ll never forget. He said in life when you are dealing with matters concerning justice or affairs of the heart, never listen to what you hear and never say what you think.”
The book Prince, Patron and Patriarch – Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala is a grandson’s tribute to a man who gave him life lessons that have withstood the test of time. The seeds of the book, says Brig Sukhjit, were sown by Cynthia Meera Frederick, a conservation architect. The two met at an INTACH event a few years ago. Cynthia was intrigued by the double roof at the Jagatjit palace in Kapurthala. “I had seen it in Europe, the US and even China but never in India,” recounts Cynthia, who returned home to read extensively about the maharaja.
To her surprise, there was nothing but for some fictionalised accounts of his royal lifestyle and his love for French architecture.
Brig Sukhjit says Cynthia persuaded him to co-author the book to do justice to this exceptional royal. He was a remarkable king who ruled democratically, promoting meritocracy instead of hereditary nobles, says Cynthia, pointing to his choice of chief minister Abdul Hamid, who he sent to Sorbonne to learn French.
The back cover of the book with the summary
A just and generous ruler, a lover of French culture, an inspiring chief to his army, a warm family man, a patron of arts, an enthusiastic traveller, and a perfectionist in all matters, true to his name the maharaja could hold his own both among aristocracy and commoners. Cynthia, who mined into Brig Sukhjit’s vivid memories of his grandfather as well as the royal correspondence and archives, says each of the 22 chapters are a potential book.
The maharaja’s fondness for French, she says, was not a political statement against the British as many like to believe. He was 18 when he visited Paris, then the cultural capital of Europe, it was natural for him to be drawn to its culture. The maharaja himself told his grandson,”I have never been happier than in Paris.”
His love for French extended to the cuisine. The book mentions his chef Amanat Khan, who had discreetly kept a French madame. When the maharaja found out, he made sure Khan sent her a monthly stipend.
In 1929, he circumnavigated the globe. So taken was he with Hawaii that he stayed there for four days. Later, he stopped at Angkor Wat, calling the ruins “grander than the grandest of Greek and Roman monuments.”
The maharaja was progressive and secular, his palace conducting both havan and akhand path on his birthday. He was the first to volunteer his army for the British effort in World War I, and his third son Amarjit Singh served in France. Brig Sukhjit, who was commissioned into 35 Scinde Horse, the regiment of which his grandfather was an honorary Colonel, in 1954, remembers how he cherished the soldiers. So when Lt Karamjeet Judge came to meet him just before he left for Burma. “My grandfather rose from his chair and embraced him,” recounts Singh. Judge was later awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.
Besides history and anecdotes, the book has a wealth of rare photos, including many of the maharaja with his youngest wife, Maharani Prem Kaur nee Anita Delgado, a Spanish beauty who’s inspired a host of fictionalised accounts.
This book, however, remains true to the monarch. It’s a warm but candid account that the exacting Jagatjit would have approved.
First Published: Dec 24, 2018 13:17 IST