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French kiss to Kapurthala

world Updated: Nov 24, 2009 23:46 IST
Vikramdeep Johal

From the looks of his well-kept beard and jauntily tipped turban, he was a typical Indian king. But inside the late Maharaja of Kapurthala Jagatjit Singh beat the red-as-bordeaux-wine heart of a Francophile.

And in the year of his 60th death anniversary, the French are saying namaskar to the king's lifelong bonjour to the land of Napolean and cheese.

An exhibition to be held in New Delhi from November 28 to December 24 will show more than 20 autochromes (a pioneering colour photography technique) and a black-and-white documentary on the golden jubilee celebrations of the Maharaja's reign, circa 1927. The event is part of Bonjour India, the two-month-long mega festival of France in the country, which kicks off later this month. The exhibition will travel to Mumbai in January 2010.

The exhibits, sponsored by French fashion giant Louis Vuitton, are being brought to India by the Albert Kahn Museum, located in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris.

Key to legacy

It is no coincidence that Jagatjit Singh's grandson Tikka Shatrujit Singh is French fashion house Louis Vuitton's — for the logo-stamped handbag of which many a society matron would sacrifice her Jimmy Choo shod foot — representative and chief advisor in India.

From 1895 to 1930, the Maharaja ordered more than 50 customised LV trunks, all bearing his name, for his European hats, clothes and shoes. And today the grandson uses the same master key the grandfather once wielded to open his Louis Vuitton trunks.

Happy as Shatrujit Singh is about the French focus on his family's legacy, it seems the apathy of the Indian government has left him the bitter aftertaste of having bitten into a bad oyster.

“How ironic it is that the French are preserving our heritage,” says Shatrujit Singh, based in New Delhi.

“There is virtually no respect for historical and cultural legacy in India. The powers that be did not even bother to celebrate he centenary of the Maharaja's palace last year."

Shatrujit wants the people of Punjab, especially Kapurthala, to have a glimpse of their heritage. “I request the government to procure copies of the autochromes and the documentary so that these are shown and preserved in Jagatjit Palace," he adds.

The Palace that he speaks of houses a Sainik School, and was modelled on the Palace of Versailles by French architect M. Marcel. Kapurthala's Moorish mosque was designed by another Frenchman, M. Manteaux.

“The exhibition is also featuring rare colour photographs of Rabindranath Tagore, one of Albert Kahn's several illustrious friends,” museum Director Gilles Baud-Berthier told HT.