Confessions of a teenage Maharaja

Polo, Indian heritage and Netflix – in sync with the new order of modern India, Padmanabh Singh of Jaipur shares his big passions

March 10, 2017 05:04 pm | Updated 05:04 pm IST

“May we meet at the race course? I need to check on my horses,” asks Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh of Jaipur, upon landing in Mumbai. Although he’s playing a polo game an hour after we are scheduled to meet, he doesn’t seem stressed. Fresh off two consecutive wins — the Scindia Cup and the RMRM Cup — in Delhi and selected to play for the Indian team at the world polo championships, the 18-year-old Maharaja is already making a name for himself on the field. But with his heady mix of youthful glamour, good looks, sartorial flair and royal heritage, the young king is equally intriguing to watch off the field.

Rise to the throne

Not everyone can claim Prince Charles as godfather, but the young Maharaja of Jaipur is not your typical teenager. Pacho, as he’s affectionately known, first made waves at the age of four, when he was officially adopted by his maternal grandparents Maharaja Bhawani “Bubbles” Singh and Maharani Padmini Devi as the 303rd descendent in Jaipur’s royal lineage.

The eldest of three children born to Bhawani Singh’s only child, Princess Diya Kumari, and Maharaj Narendra Singh, Pacho was declared Maharaja nine years later, upon Bhawani Singh’s death. When he turned 18 last summer, the palace pulled out all the stops, holding its first durbar in 67 years. With all the pomp and pageantry fit for a king, the public outing was attended by the who’s who of Jaipur, and hit the national and international press. Seated on a throne emblazoned with the Jaipur seal, Pacho looked exactly like the modern-day maharaja he is — resplendent in a cream-coloured sherwani and orange-and-red safa.

“What was interesting was that even though it was ceremonial, everyone in Jaipur came,” recalls Pacho. “They were not paying their respects to me, but to the crown and to the family,” he says, an unusually mature observation for someone so young. Athletic and lean, the titular head of Jaipur cuts a dashing figure with his aquiline features and casual charm. He comes alone for our interview, not an attendant in sight. Polite to a fault, he projects an alluring air of vulnerability — given his age — and poise, given the predestined role thrust upon him.

Since finishing school last summer, the polo-mad royal has taken a year’s gap to be active on the international polo circuit. He took the Jaipur polo team to tour the United States, and is hoping to have India qualify for the world championships later this year. Pacho plans to attend college in the United States, to study political science. It’s too early to think about a career, but it wouldn’t be altogether surprising if he eyes politics. After all, his mother is an MLA from Sawai Madhopur and a member of the BJP.

As normal as it gets

What’s it like being a maharaja in this day and age, when royal titles are no longer recognised? Pacho smiles before replying, “People look at you as a kind of an ambassador or as a role model,” he says. “That’s a big responsibility. I don’t think about being a maharaja; it is what it is. We are in a democracy. You can’t let it go to your head. You’ve got to lead a normal life, but this is our history. Like it or not, you can’t escape it.”

If he sounds grounded, it’s because he was brought up so. By his own account, Pacho’s parents and grandmother have ensured that neither he nor his siblings behave with a sense of entitlement. A journalist friend of mine told me a story of how when she went to Jaipur to visit Princess Diya a few years ago, Pacho had run into the room. He was immediately asked by his mother to touch the visitor’s feet — as she was an elder. Designer Raghavendra Rathore, who has known Pacho since he was a child, says, “He’s humble to the core. Even at this young age, he has managed to sensitise his personality to the new order of modern India, giving weightage to substance over opulence, channelling his energies and effort in preserving the idea of Indian heritage.”

Pacho notes, “If we ever acted in a way that wasn’t correct, my parents and grandmother brought us back to reality.” Boarding school (Mayo College in Ajmer) helped toughen up the royal. “We would live in the jungle for months, and be up at 5 am.” He finished school in England, where he went by ‘Pacho Singh.’

Polo for all?

The game of kings runs in his blood. Jaipur is synonymous with Indian polo, its legacy forged by the dashing Sawai Man Singh II, who led his team to an incredible victory in the 1957 World Cup in Deauville, France, and carried on by his grandfather and father. Pacho will play with Prince William and Prince Harry in England this summer.

“It’s a strenuous sport and takes up a lot of time, but it’s my passion,” he says. “I am always devising strategy and would love to bring polo back to its glory in India. I know it is an expensive sport, but eventually, I would love to help talented kids who don’t have resources to participate in the game.” With 20 horses in India and eight in England, he also hopes to grow his stables over time.

When he’s not atop a horse, or travelling for polo, the teenage royal confesses to being a Netflix addict. He just finished binge-watching The Crown , the hit TV series based on Queen Elizabeth II, with his grandmother, Maharani Padmini Devi, to whom he is extremely close. “The show reminded me a lot of her and what she went through coming into this large royal family. In India, we should talk about our heritage. It could generate so much tourism. One shouldn’t be ashamed of it or resent it. It’s something we need to preserve and celebrate.”

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