Saturday, July 12, 2008

‘I should’ve been called full stop’

India’s royal dynasties held on to their property — not to mention much of their local power — and, like landed gentry everywhere, have been forced to diversify, to take bookings in order to prevent their outrageously extravagant homes from falling down around them. Pradyut is no exception; his Shillong home has been converted into the only heritage hotel in the northest, and he has, perhaps, the distinction of being a the only royal with a hefty bank loan, which helped fund its refurbishment. “My father would come and order chicken sandwiches, insist on paying and feel rather pleased by it all.”...

This king did not have to be taught to negotiate modernity. When the time came, after his father died two years ago, he just quietly — or not so quietly, considering six lakh people attended his coronation — truckled into his family business of being King. Being reductive about his legacy is a bit of a habit: “We are tribal chiefs, custodians of our customary laws and defenders of our boundaries,” and then “I have four older sisters; they should have called me full stop.”

Yet behind the fata morgana of lightness, there is pride. “I come from a long line of progressive rulers.” He reels off some firsts — education for women was made compulsory in the 19th century by his great grandfather; the first schools were opened by his great great grandfather; the Tripura airport was made by his grandfather; Rabindranath Tagore was financed by his grandfather, as was Shantinekitan. “That is why, I think, we’ve survived.”

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