A maharani's death is always momentous but Gayatri Devi's may be specially so because she left behind a rich and detailed account of her life of blue-blooded privilege. Her memoirs, 'A Princess Remembers', burst upon a wondering world much before the modern blizzard of tell-all biographies.
The world of extraordinary wealth and access was there for Gayatri Devi from the very start. She lived with her parents in the swish part of London, close to Harrods, the world's most famous department store, which boasted it could get anything in the world for its customers.
Though she was just the lisping four-year-old daughter of a prince of Cooch Behar, a small princely state compared to Jaipur, Baroda and Hyderabad, the young princess describes the courtly respect she received from the shop attendant. Soon enough, her shocked mother Indira Devi found that Gayatri’s daily forays into Harrods had left the family with a large bill.
That early extravagance was somehow in keeping with the life she was soon to lead, as wife and companion of the dashing and very rich Sawai Man Singh, known as Jai for Jaipur. The princess describes the subterfuge of their romance, mainly in London because her family disapproved of a man who already had two wives, the younger of whom was called Jo after her home state Jodhpur.
But Gayatri, who had fallen in love with Jai when she was in her early teens, remained undeterred. Eventually they married and Jai carried her into a world of unimaginable opulence. She adjusted to her new life — the hunting, polo, huge household bills and her relatively minor place in the maharani pecking order, given there were two Didis (Jai’s other wives) ahead of her. Looking back, she realized she got used to having a private plane from the age of 21.
Snatches from a shuttered life of privilege? Her grandmother told Gayatri the three etiquettes of a maharani — the most important among them was to "never wear emeralds with a green sari as I had because they look so much better with pink".
From that — to life as a commoner? Gayatri Devi adjusts to Indian independence and her reduced role. Jai becomes Rajpramukh of the new Rajasthan sate; she enters Parliament with the largest majority ever in a democratic election, something she proudly recalls JFK mentioning on his visit to Jaipur.
Gayatri Devi's memoirs were fashioned into a book by Santha Rama Rau, but sold in huge numbers and was reprinted over and over because of the woman who graced its cover — the maharani with perfectly chiselled features, lips like a perfect bow and a wistful, faraway gaze.