Part memoir, part oral testimony, part eyewitness account, Binodini's The Maharaja's Household provides a unique and engrossingly intimate view of life in the erstwhile royal household of Manipur in northeast India. It brings to life stories of kingdoms long vanished, and is an important addition to the untold histories of the British Raj.
Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi, who wrote under the single name of Binodini, published The Maharaja's Household as a series of essays between 2002 and 2007 for an avid newspaper-reading public in Manipur. Already celebrated in Manipur for her award winning novel, short stories, and film scripts that had brought her to the attention of international followers of world cinema, Binodini entranced her readers anew with her stories of royal life, told from a woman's point of view and informed by a deep empathy for the common people in her father's gilded circle.
Elephant hunts, polo matches and Hindu temple performances form the backdrop for palace intrigues, colonial rule and White Rajahs. With gentle humour, piquant observations and heartfelt nostalgia, Binodini evokes a lifestyle and an era that is now lost. Her book paints a portrait of the household of a king 'that only a princess - his daughter - could have written.
Our lives as children were very happy. We ran and played in the large estate of the palace. We did not care whose estate this was, or whose residence that was. We believed it was the palace of Sovereign Father, Maharaja Churachand, and he was the ruler of the entire land. But we did not truly comprehend that it was a palace. We never knew the real purpose of Sovereign Father's appearance on an elephant or in a palanquin with his nobles at various events and occasions. We merely looked on in wonder, holding on to the edges of our nurses' sarongs. Our nurses were our mothers at the time. We do not remember Sovereign Father or Her Highness the Queen ever carrying us or holding us as a father or mother would. We only felt deep inside that someone very powerful stood guard over us. We did not think of them as our parents. But I do remember our sovereign father calling us children to sit around when he ate his flat breads and giving them to us to eat. But we did not realize we were princes and princesses. So we grew up quite simply in the palace. When realization dawned upon us, we felt deeply the importance of the man who had given birth to us.
I was intoxicated by the stories of Maharajah Churachand's household. So I began my search for a way to introduce a large palace, to find out about it, to try to write the stories of its fascinating household. I was very excited when a photographer called Sudarshan showed me a photograph of my father's fourth wife, the beautiful Tampak, the Lady Chongtham. The unfortunate Maid of Chongtham did not bear a child from the child king she loved. She was childless. I wanted to find out and write about her. The story of the unfortunate wife of the child king has become my opening chapter.
I next approached Tada Khelchandra. He had always said, Your Sovereign Father was a king sent by the gods. His stories are endless; they are legion. There is much to learn. I will tell you one day. Though I did not say it with my lips when I heard Tada's words, I said in my heart, Tada, do not tell me. May I be satisfied with what little I know. This is my foreword; please accept it.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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