Make way for the Maharaja
Legend has it that Rao Bika, the founder of Bikaner, left Marwar on September 13, 1465 to create his own kingdom after he was provoked by a stray comment from his father, Rao Jodha. Rajyashree Kumari Bikaner, better qualified than most to examine the veracity of this interesting tale, doesn’t mention the comment in question. She simply, almost dutifully, records the prince’s battles instead — some against the people of Bilochis and Shekhawati, others against the elements.
This was, after all, a place where ‘the sun blazed down mercilessly with temperatures often exceeding forty-five degrees celcius [sic], and where there was an acute shortage of water.’ The erstwhile princess does what she sets out to do, which is to tell the story of Bikaner starting with its pioneers and moving down the ages, to the life and times of Maharajas Ganga Singh, Sadul Singh and the last ruler (the twenty-third), Dr Karni Singh.
In between she mentions battles at home and abroad, discusses relations between the Maharajas and the British, talks about game shooting and the royals’ contribution to the arts. What lets these admittedly colourful dramatis personae down is the writer’s plodding prose. Drifting in and out of hagiography, it is a relentless accumulation of facts and recollections. Sample this memory of Ganga Singh: ‘The maharaja was fond of English scented soaps and colognes; his aides recall that when he finally emerged from the bathroom, a wonderful fragrance would fill the room.’ The book’s gorgeous photographs are its only saving grace.