Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gayatri Devi and Khushwant Singh - ENCOUNTER

In my long life, I have had the good fortune of meeting many beautiful women, ranging from film stars such as Ingrid Bergman to a few Bollywood celebrities, including Nargis, Parveen Babi and a host of others whose names now escape me. However, if asked whom I thought to be the most beautiful of the lot, without hesitation I would reply Gayatri Devi of Cooch Behar, Rajmata of Jaipur.

............... Besides having been a stunner in her younger days, I found her most unassuming, totally free of arrogance and unusual in her behaviour. ...... Following prolonged illness, she died at the age of 90. She was listed among the world’s ten most beautiful women.

I first set my eyes on her at a lunch party in my father’s home, given in honour of her husband. She was then newly married. I kept gaping at her from a distance and wondering what made her agree to become the third wife of a man with a family of his own. I never understood the code of immorality of our princely order. She killed her quota of tigers, played Polo, married an already-married man, who was also a Polo player.

Next, I ran into her in the home of Minoo Masani, the leader of the Swatantra Party. Jayaprakash Narayan was the chief guest. Gayatri Devi had recently been elected a Swatantra Party member of the Lok Sabha. She came in late and promptly sat down on the carpet beside Jayaprakash Narayan’s feet. He remarked in Hindi, “Dekho zamana kaisey badal gaya hai — see how times have changed — a maharani sits at the feet of a commoner.”

She invited me to Jaipur to address the students of the Maharani Gayatri Devi High School on Parents’ Day. I went. I told the students, “Don’t let your fathers choose your professions, choose what you like the best; don’t let your mothers choose your wives or husbands, choose your own. If it does not work out, get a divorce and try again. Learn to make your own mistakes. Don’t waste your time on prayer; it’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo. Instead, read, work, have a good time.” And so on. Needless to say, it went down very well with the boys and girls. Parents were appalled and protested to Gayatri Devi. She was amused.

Later that evening, she had hosted a dinner party for me in the hotel she owned. She was a little late. I asked her why. She replied with a smile, “I was doing my mumbo jumbo.

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