Running for cover
This story goes backwards. At a family gathering some years ago, we were talking about the practice of covering one’s head as a mark of respect. My mother then told us how, in the state of Bijawar where her father was the Diwan during the 1930s, everyone covered their heads in the presence of the Raja or his principal minister. Such was the practice that every time they rode down the main street in a horse carriage, they could see people on the road side cover their heads faithfully. The people would include urchins wearing long kurtas and nothing underneath. So whenever either of the two eminences rolled by, they too would promptly lift their shirts from the front and cover their heads.
My grandfather, Niranjan Prasad, scion of a landed family in Patiala, had been sent to Bijawar by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala to help the local Raja out of the mess he had made of the administration. A minister in the state, Niranjan was a Gandhian by temperament and was happy to get away from the bacchanalian atmosphere of the Patiala court.
But why was the Patiala ruler, Bhupinder Singh, so interested in this state so far away from his own principality? It seems that Bhupinder Singh had a big problem on his hands because of his legendary libido. He had to marry off his battalion of children (some shown in the photo above). There weren’t enough takers among the ruling families of the Sikh states. So he had to invoke his Rajput connection.
It appears that the Patiala family had Rajput roots. As the 1879 Imperial Gazetteer of India records: “The Maharaja of Patiala is descended from Rama, the second son [of Phul], and is a Sikh of the Sidhu Jat tribe. Like most Jat tribes, the Sidhus are of Rajput origin, and trace their descent from Jaisal, a Bhatti Rajput.”
Once the Rajput lineage was confirmed, the field was thrown wide open. Patiala children could be betrothed to princely families all around. The Patiala DNA was thus scattered all over North India. And in the process, one of the girls got married to this oaf in Bijawar. Which is how my mother’s family got to spend a few years in the boondocks of central India where street urchins provided one of the few bookmarks for her memory.