Part 4: Rajmata’s other love: the City Palace Museum, Jaipur
I am lucky that I knew Rajmata slightly personally. She had heard of my father in London where he was pursuing his Phd at SOAS and on his return to his job as Deputy Keeper at the Indian Museum, Kolkata, she had tried to contact him. My father’s evil boss had thrown away Rajmata’s letters of invitation so when my father received a call from someone calling himself Maharaj Prithviraj from Jaipur inquiring why the letters were not replied to, Baba thought it was a prank by his evil boss. Then Maharaj Prithviraj met with him and that started a lifelong bond between them.
Two days after my brother turned 2, in November 1972, my 35 year old father Asok Kumar Das set off with my 24 year old mother Syamali and my 46 year old maternal grandmother for Jaipur to join the Sawai Man Singh II Museum (MSMS) at City Palace as its Director. They couldn’t even understand, forget speak Hindi! They took this adventure just because they knew of a Bengali princess who was a Queen at Jaipur who had personally spoken and requested Baba to join! Such was the power of Rajmata. They left a burning Bengal, the hotbed of the Naxalite movement, a permanent Gazetted central government job to a non-pensionable, low salary job at an extremely feudal Jaipur, only to land soon into the Emergency.
I was born in Jaipur. I spent the first 12 years of my life inside the City Palace complex, learning boy’s games like ‘Pittu’ or ‘Sitolia’ and cycling and climbing trees, chasing monkeys, jumping over high parapets and sliding down 200-year-old ramparts! Of course, I had to study at MGD 😛 there was another girls’ school in Jaipur but as I was growing up in the palace, MGD was the only option 🙃 My mother also joined there as an English and History teacher in 1980 (though I was never taught by her). Rajmata knew my mother was an MA and Museologist too, so she encouraged my mother to join MGD as a teacher, she could not bear an educated woman sitting at home not utilising her time to contribute to society. Ma later joined the Museum as the Curator of the Textiles section in 1985.
Transforming the City Palace Museum into a world class one!
Rajmata used to visit the City Palace Museum nearly every week, with guests or on her own to discuss museum matters with my father. She had excellent business acumen and my father had none, so she counted on him for his scholarship and together they made the Museum one of the best in the world.
Several articles and folios were written by my father on the Museum’s collection and Rajmata ensured they were published with best paper and best colour. She used to carry several copies wherever she travelled. My father wrote his first two books at the Museum in the 1980s. The Museum’s collection was represented at all the Festivals of India to USA, UK, Switzerland and Russia between 1976 – 1987 and my father would travel with them as the government had a rule that the Director had to accompany its collections to these countries. She encouraged him to research, talk and publish about the Museum’s collection and tried to cooperate in every possible way. The museum was her and her late husband’s love child and she treasured it ❤️
Some of the pioneering exhibitions curated and designed at the City Palace Museum included one on Jaipur’s old maps, Rajpex on stamp collection including the stamp selected for Asiad Games showing the Museum’s miniature painting of Arjun shooting at the fish – the ‘Lakshyaveda’ – and the famous glass negative photographic collection of Maharaja Ram Singh II that my father discovered when they were being thrown away by mistake at the Museum. I remember this exhibition was called ‘The Photographer Prince’. Rajmata used to visit every single day, sometimes several times, when these exhibitions were being mounted, she used to look regal and glowing with pride and happiness while standing amidst the sawdust, wood shavings and drilling machines!
As a child watching all this, I never saw her angry or lose her temper – my parents cannot recall one incident when she got angry at them. After she left, I would run to sit on her spot on the couch, the office room would smell of her and the cup would be stained with her bright lipstick – childhood memories 💋
The relationship between Rajmata and my parents lasted over several decades. Once she was travelling to London and recording something for BBC and she requested my mother to sing the Cooch Behar national anthem, it is similar to the song ‘Dhono dhanye pushpe bhora’ with a few variation in the words– both written by Tagore. My father believed a museum should serve the local population and he fought hard to keep the entrance ticket fee at Rs. 2/- and Rajmata and the Trustee Board eventually agreed and this remained for two decades.
The Museum and hooligans
Both MGD School and the Museum gave her immense satisfaction and pride ❤️ Losing her dear husband had shattered her and she had hugged on these intensely creative projects but now even that was broken.
It deeply pained her when the Museum was wrested away from her in the late 1980s due to the Jaipur royal family’s internal feud. Rajmata, her step sons Maharaj Jai Singh and Prithviraj Singh ((both sons of Kishore Kumariji, the second wife), her own son Jagat Singhji were on one side. Local goons or ‘goondas’ were set upon my father and another senior staff by the other side and they were ultimately sacked, my parents are still fighting a court case over this. My family had to leave City Palace in 1988. I don’t think Rajmata was ever allowed to enter the Museum after this, her most passion project shared between her and her darling husband was not to be hers anymore! Anyway, this makes for a book authored by my parents, I was too young to digest any of this so have faint memories…
My parents left Jaipur, with a broken heart, in 1998. By then, Rajmata had lost her own son, Jagat Singh, and these combined events gave her a jolt. There was hardly any communication between them and Rajmata, except for the occasional New Year greeting cards. A few years before her demise Rajmata had called up my father asking him to write a short profile on Maharaja Man Singhji as his statue was being erected at Jaipur and she could trust no one else with accurate information on their family, not even herself.
That was the last time they spoke.
Tbc… Part 5: Rajmata’s legacy and labour of love
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 🙏🏾