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A fairytale love, a bitter ?sunset?

The summer of 1978 was mellow ? and heady. And the English roses were in full bloom, writes Jaydeep Ghosh.
By Jaydeep Ghosh | None, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JUL 29, 2006 01:56 AM IST

The summer of 1978 was mellow — and heady. And the English roses were in full bloom. Princess Rajawongse Priyanandana Rangsit of Thailand met the dashing Jagat Singh — the former maharani of Jaipur Gayatri Devi’s only son — in London. Rangsit was studying in the London School of Oriental and African Studies and Jagat was spending the summer at his holiday home in Ascot. It was slated to be a fairytale romance. But the prince and the princess did not ride into the sunset.

“We decided to tie the knot after a five-year courtship. But we skipped the pomp and show of the usual royal marriage in Jaipur. Jagat suggested that we get married in London,” recalls Priyanandana. “We had a civil marriage, but a grand reception graced by the Queen of England, Lord Mountbatten and Prince Alexander.”

Back in Jaipur, the newly-weds moved to the Dongri Palace where Jagat and Priya’s first child, Lalitya, was born — followed by son Devaraj two years later. Life was a bed of roses. Rangsit wore the poshak (traditional dress), covered her head as was expected of the palace women.

But the marriage hit a rough patch. “My (late) husband had a drinking problem. My mother-in-law Gayatri Devi was a solace, but she used to be abroad most of the time. Jagat’s philandering ways distanced us,” she said.

Priyanandana split from Jagat Singh in 1981. “I only sought custody of my children and not a single penny, which Jagat agreed to. I went back to Thailand.” But the ties did not sour. Priyanandana remained on cordial terms with her mother-in-law, step brother-in-law Bhawani Singh as well as her former husband. The children — Devraj Singh and Lalitya —occasionally visited Jaipur and stayed at the Jaipur City Palace. Devraj has fond recollections of the palace. “I was six when my parents separated and I spoke to my father only when I was 16. We came closer over the years, but he passed away in 1977.” As the son and daughter of Jagat Singh, Devraj and Lalitya inherited the Jai Mahal Palace under the laws of succession. But as the siblings were minors, Jagat Singh’s step brother — Prithvi Singh — was appointed the palace caretaker. The Jai Mahal Palace was later converted into a luxury hotel. The succession certificate, according to Devraj, gives them the right to 99 per cent equity and uncle Prithvi Singh one per cent.

Bangkok-based Priyanandana and her children say they were unaware of Prithvi Singh’s “designs”. “Whenever we demanded our share of profits, we were told that the property was in the red,” says Devraj. “When I wanted to take control of the palace, but found that Prithvi Singh had somehow manipulated our shareholding to seven per cent.” He alleged that Prithvi Singh was trying to prove that Jagat Singh had revoked his children’s succession rights through a will — a probate of which is pending in the civil court. The dispute is now with the Company Law Board, where Devraj and Lalitya has filed a case.

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