Royalty in all splendour caught on camera

This is a chance to go back into fairytale times and relive the `royal' past. A walk down memory lane through the dusty pictures which usually covered the walls of palaces of the Maharaja, Roli Books now gives commoners a peep into the private lives of the India's erstwhile rulers.

Bringing alive the lives and times of these princes who found Buckingham Palace too `cramped', "The Unforgettable Maharajas" is a book which documents their world. Going beyond the lens of the camera, the book also has some miniatures. Obsessed with the desire to be remembered forever, the Maharajas found a faithful chronicler in modern times - the camera. Fascinated by the power to freeze time forever, they left behind many pictures for future generations, to prove that they were real.

Besides the `dressed up' portraits of proud moustached men with their numerous wives heavily laden with jewellery, the book also has a few personal pictures capturing the essence of their lives. The picture of Princess Harshad Kumari wearing a white bonnet squeezed in with her father Divijaysinh of Jamnagar in a tiny car custom-made for her, is just one of the interesting photographs.

The book also has an impressive array of portraits, which was the norm of the time despite the increasing popularity of celluloid. While some traditional princes preferred to stick with the old claiming that photography was the refuge of failed painters, there were instances where these two mediums came together. With painted studio portraits also making an appearance, skilful painters highlighted details that needed to be stressed.

While the book has plenty of pictures that capture the richness of their lives, it also has lots of pictures which showcase their more colourful side. Known for their eccentricity, legend has it that they even bought a fleet of Rolls-Royces and turned them into garbage collection vans. The pictures of that particular aspect might be missing, but the book has enough of `action' pictures too.

With some of them being good at the willow, the book has pictures of Indian princes who distinguished themselves on the field. They might have been eligible young men in some cases; they would have certainly been in serious trouble with environmentalists today. Enthusiastic hunters, the Maharaja of Bikaner even had a blackbuck carriage.

More than just a brief look into their fascinating lives, Dr. Karan Singh will release "The Unforgettable Maharajas" on November 14.

By Mandira Nayar

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