Part 2: The Gayatri Devi ‘Aandhi’
…And, she arrived. In style.
Not because of her beauty, garments, jewellery, handbags, perfumes or shoes. But because when she reached Jaipur for her marriage, it is believed, she had told her husband that she would not follow him by three steps as all Rajasthani women had to but she would walk beside him. He agreed but also told her to be patient as it would take his court some time to accept someone like her.
When Man Singhji had expressed his desire to marry the third time, it did not go down well with his court or the British (Indian rulers had to take permission from the British rulers before getting married or undertaking anything important!). Ayesha was not considered a Rajput of the same standard as the Jaipur ones! But Man Singhji was so well loved and admired by his court that they secretly arranged for the funding for a grand wedding. Even the British Resident from Cooch Behar attended, and all the Rajput leaders from princely states 😍 (info from Quentin Crewe’s book ‘The Last Maharaja’).
Everyone had been immediately aware, in 1940, that an ‘aandhi’ (desert sandstorm) had blown in and everything would change. No one could predict then if that change would be positive or not but change it would be…
Gayatri Devi could play badminton and tennis, swim, ride horses, drive cars, fly small planes, wear ‘men’s clothes’ as elegantly as wearing the most sheer chiffon saris, balancing one end of it on her head but never covering her face, talk several Indian and foreign languages with the poorest of the poor and richest of the rich respectively, zip around in Bentley, Rolls Royce, Mercedes and Jeep, partying all over the world with a cigarette in one and a glass of wine in another hand. Yes, iconic in every way, exactly as portrayed by the media. But was she only the perfect party hostess having the time of her life?
There were several beautiful women in Jaipur and Rajasthan but rarely one who could command so much respect and awe as her. Not only did her extremely strong French perfume announce her presence but the tizzy that people went in to please her and win her admiration ensure that our Rajmata had arrived!
And, what a change!!!
How many in the world really know that Rajmata transformed India with her one brilliant idea? What was that? A gushing young bride, madly in love with the love of her life, walking hand-in-hand beside him, living her dream, did not want to live through life with her eyes closed to the reality around her! Instead, she requested from her husband something bizarre that no one before her had thought of!
In 1943, Maharani Gayatri Devi requested her husband Maharaja Man Singhji, to set up a school for the girls of Jaipur to eradicate the vile ‘purdah’ system. In this system, women of all ages were confined to the inner parts of their home, had to cover their face and could step out only if accompanied by a man, usually her father, brother or husband, she had no opinion or voice in the public space as she was just not visible. Social evils like female foeticide, child marriage, dowry deaths, violence against women was rampant. Gayatri Devi figured that the best way to tackle these problems was through education, leading to women empowerment. Once empowered, women would find options and decide for themselves what they wanted, nothing could be forced upon them.
It started as a tiny kindergarten with a few little girls at the one of the royal residencies, Lillypool. A tiny seed was sown that soon grew into a strong tree and blossomed, giving shade to many ❤️
Our MGD is born ❤️
The Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public school was established in 1943, India’s first boarding school for girls with the vision:
“The aim of the institution is to make its pupils cultured and useful members of society. When they enter the world, they should be able to take an active interest in the betterment of their homes and community, and when they grow up, they should be able to fit themselves usefully into the world of tomorrow.”
Rajmata says in a 21st century interview that when she asked her husband why it was being given her name when his other two wives were alive, he replied that you were the one who asked for it!
At MGD, we were taught to dream and ask beyond our means, to not feel trapped by our circumstances and situations, to try to look beyond darkness and depression. We were not taught to demand, fight, shout but to politely ask with a clarity of vision, a positive spirit and honest heart. We were taught that failure was a part of our whole lives and that it was not a deterrent but a way to aim and achieve success. There was nothing called failure, if we did not get what we set out for then we would have to plan a new approach.
MGD School started in the present building with only 26 girls, who were sent only after the young Maharani went to each of their homes with a request to the senior most patriarchal member of that family to kindly consent to send in their daughters and granddaughters to a school for the first time in their lives. They grudgingly obliged to please the King and not upset him or the young Maharani in their home with the wildest of ideas! Women’s education was still unheard of in Rajasthan, even for those who could afford it.
Between 1943 to 2022, MGD has educated thousands of girls from all over the world. It is India’s first boarding school for girls from all walks of life from India and even her neighbouring countries.
Our school motto remains “Our utmost for the Highest” and we were always motivated to keep aspiring for even better and fighting for it as nothing comes easy in life, especially for women in a patriarchal system.
We MGDians idolised her, respected her and wanted to have her poise, elegance, charisma, clarity, brains and personality… the list is endless. We still absolutely madly love her, our Rajmata ❤️
Tbc… Part 3: A passionate affair begins
This five post series is a tribute to the Rajmata, written to share with the world her immense grit, determination, strength of purpose and unconditional love for us ❤️ what she still represents for little girls from Rajasthan, a western desert of India, recognised for its valour, colour and cultural heritage.
This series is dedicated to our beloved MGD – all students, teachers and staff – especially the batch of 1992 and our departed friends Swati Pareek and Aparajita Chauhan 🙏🏾
Thank you Dharmendra Kanwar Jija for your help and Sadhna Bohra Jija for encouraging me ❤️
Forever in deep gratitude to the family of Aarti Gupta Jija for starting the scholarship in her memory of which I was one of the first recipients, I would not have been able to complete my education at MGD without it. RIP Jija 🙏🏾