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Royally Speaking

Amitabh Baghel: Prince who chose to be a poet & photographer

Anshu Khanna



Social researcher, reader, photographer and an amateur poet, Amitabh Baghel has an interesting family history of attacks and war that perhaps defined for his ancestors, a story different from the expected. Originally from Rewa, an erstwhile princely state in today’s Madhya Pradesh. They moved north to the State of Majhauli Raj in 1704-1705. Constant attacks on Majhauli Raj from neighbouring states caused the permanence of this move.

Amitabh, however, is a romantic at heart, far from his warrior background! Passionately in love with the hills of Kumaun, he lives in Nainital and perhaps derives a natural inspiration from the beautiful Himalayas for his photography. His oft composed photographs feature birds, landscapes and monuments.

For those who appreciate the allure of the natural world or the mysterious romance of historical ruins, his passionate photographs in aesthetically creative compositions are a treat. They show a rare & pleasing combination of art and science in photography that appeals to one’s mind while equally touching the soul. His sunsets create an intense longing while the birds and butterflies on his palms fill the heart with affection. His monuments have beautiful insights and perspectives that show off his technique along with the incurable romantic artist in him. With every frame, he truly captures the moment in time or history and freezes it for posterity.

Urdu poetry has been a natural enhancer of the artist in him, and his love for Lucknow and the poetic mysteries of its monuments are very evident in his very musical captures. He is an ardent reader of poetry as well as prose, and has lately dabbled in writing poetry as well.

The following are excerpts of The Daily Guardian’s conversation with Amitabh Baghel:

Q. What appeals to you about photographyWhen did you realise that you are going to take it up as a profession?

 A. It all began with an appreciation of nature in its splendorous beauty. It created an urge within me to capture a moment forever. It follows that my first subjects were landscapes and thence the details that they offer. Every bit of nature is beautiful as is very monument that speaks silently of the very real history that it has witnessed.

Q. Do you have any formal training?

A. No, the field has been my teacher. I have learnt through trial and error, and still am in the process of perfecting my art. However I enjoy it immensely and positive appreciation of my pictures has given me endless joy. It is an opportunity to spread the happiness of the moment beyond myself.

Q. Is there a specific favourite place that you love capturing?

A. There is a place in Nainital from where one can experience the most amazing sunsets. It’s more by default really, as this place lures me. But I’ve just begun my journey and I hope I have many special places to capture in the future with some luck and encouragement. If I had to rank subjects, they would be in this order: Birds, butterflies, monuments and landscapes.

Q. How did poetry come about?

A. Poetry is inherent to life itself; it’s about how one realises it! My appreciation of poetry came from my readings and musings. My own poetry is amateur yet, and mostly extempore. It is an expression of a moment or a feeling that fills my heart or creates a yearning, or empathises with an issue.

Q. Do you have any favourite poets?

A. Ghalib and Sahir Ludhianvi are my favourites. I relate to their poetry very naturally.

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Royally Speaking

A princess in pursuit of reviving Kishangarh’s legacy

Anshu Khanna



Of all the miniature schools of art, the Kishangarh School is the most unique and often acknowledged as the ‘finest of all Rajasthani miniatures’. It was founded in the 17th century by the then Kishangarh ruler, Maharaja Savant Singh (also called Nagari Das), a staunch Vaishnavite, and his chief court artist, the famed Nihal Chand, a follower of the Vallabha sect. Among the painter’s masterpieces, the “Kishangarh Radha” and Lord Krishna portrait (which was actually a portrait of the Maharaja) are the most iconic. His unique style is marked by elongated, aquiline features and exaggerated almond-shaped eyes. The famed Kishangarh Radha, often misquoted as “Bani Thani”, has also been turned into a stamp and is sometimes referred to as the Indian Mona Lisa.

 Cut to the 20th Century, the iconic style of the miniatures is still alive thanks to Princess Vaishnavi Kumari of Kishangarh. A postgraduate student of art from SOAS University, she is the founder of Studio Kishangarh which is aimed at reviving the glorious era of Nihal Chand. Vaishnavi had rekindled the world’s interest in the style about a decade ago when she recreated his masterpieces with a pop art element: almond-eyed Kishangarh cows, with their feet lined with alta, emerged on Andy Warholesque backgrounds, Krishna was put against a coat of bold red colour, and her love for chintz was turned into a watercolour painting.

The studio is situated at the foot of the Kishangarh Fort, with resident artists and a few surviving practitioners of the miniature art style. Vaishnavi credits her parents for her love for the arts, especially her father, Maharaja Brajraj Singh of Kishangarh, who is a “living encyclopaedia of miniature art”. “In our family all we ever talk about is art and history. I think one of my earliest memories as a child is being told stories about Hindu mythology, the Mahabharata and Ramayana. And because we grew up in our ancestral homes, we had a lot of art around us. I think when you see things around you on a daily basis and are exposed to something often, you tend to imbibe it on a subconscious level and that has helped me develop certain aesthetics and tastes over the years.”

Speaking about the iconic features of the Kishangarh school of miniatures, she says, “The “Bani Thani” is actually Radha and it’s a painting that idolizes beauty. It has very strong aesthetics, because of the strong features shown in the painting. However, that is not what Krishna paintings are all about, there’s a very deep undercurrent of Bhakti. My ancestors have been devout worshippers of Shrinath ji and have also written poems and books about the same. Thus, there has always been a very strong connection with Lord Krishna that we are still incorporating in our art.” “Our very successful divine cow series is something auspicious and yet an abstract depiction of god through the eyes of Bhakti. We also work a lot with peacock feathers, which is another emblem of Lord Krishna,” she explains about her current practice, mentioning her reverence for the Pichhwais which are used for worship and are now being recreated in her studio.

 Remembering the glorious era of Nihal Chand, she shares, “He was a great artist. Before him was another artist called Bhavani Das who was trained in the Mughal court and worked with AzimUsh-Shan, who was the third son of the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah. When Aurangzeb came to the throne in the 1700s, he stopped all his artistic pursuits. A lot of imperial artists went to sub-imperial centres like Pahadi centres or to different Rajput courts and developed their own styles there.”

Her husband, Kumar Saaheb Padmanabh Jadeja from the Gondol family of Kathiawar, Gujarat, speaks highly of her pursuit. “The legacy of Kishangarh is historic and I am proud of Vaishnavi for taking it forward,” he says.

However, Vaishnavi laments the decline in the quality of miniature art in recent times. She blames it on a lack of imagination and the tendency to produce copies. But her resolve to revive and maintain her legacy cannot be discouraged easily. “My underlying motivation in pursuing art history and design was always to identify the ways in which I could nurture it in my capacity as a patron in Kishangarh and preserve our artisans from the malady of stagnation and lack of inspiration,” she says.

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Royally Speaking

Loyal royals: Pampered pooches of the Maharajas

Indian royals and their passion for the four-legged family members is no less than an illustrious affair. From regal grooming to opulent weddings, their canines live a life of luxury.

Urvashi Singh Khimsar



Over the past hundred thousand years, our four-legged best friends have served mankind as its loyalist companions. Right from the ‘hunter-gatherer’ phase of our ancestors, pooches have evolved alongside humans, and are recorded amongst the first animal species that we domesticated. In colonial times, Britishers brought shiploads of diverse pedigreed breeds to the Indian shores to accompany them oceans away from their native soil. Their fancy was jointly imitated by the rajas, maharajas and the nawabs.

Soon enough, Kennel Clubs were established all over imperial India, including the respective kennel clubs of Hyderabad, Ootacamund, Mysore, Calcutta to name but a few. However, as India gained her independence, it was time for the Britishers and their beloved pooches to leave the country. At the time of leaving the country, many Englishmen were compelled to give them away for local adoption. Some even decided to euthanize their dogs, as they could not bear the idea of risking their pet’s abandonment once they departed.

The passion that the British rulers held for their four-legged family was by no means an alien concept amongst the Indian nobility. In her essay ‘Passion Royale for Pampering Pets’, Roshni Johar gives a fascinating account of the eccentricities involved in regal pet grooming. “The Maharaja of Junagadh owned 800 dogs, each with its own room, a telephone and a servant. A white-tiled hospital with a British vet, attended to their ailments. When a dog died, Chopin’s funeral march was played and a state mourning was declared.” To annoy the Raj whose airs and graces he resented,” the Maharaja of Junagadh had his liveried staff dress his dogs in formal evening suits, mount them on rickshaws and drive them on British summer capital Shimla’s fashionable Mall, writes Johar.

Similarly, Ann Morrow in her highly readable book “Highness, The Maharajas of India” writes that the women were infuriated, often feeling a dog’s breath on their pale powdered faces as the rickshaws jostled for space on the way to Cecil Hotel for a dance. “The Maharaja had a stormy meeting with the Viceroy and promised to keep his dogs locked away. He had to agree but waited until there was a ball at the Viceregal Lodge and ordered his servants to round up every crazed, lunatic pi dog in Simla. He set them loose in the grounds and was rewarded by the sound of horrified memsahibs shrieking like peacocks,” writes Ann. Taking this account into consideration, it is of no surprise that when the Maharaja migrated to Pakistan during the partition of 1947, he left behind many weeping wives so that his pampered canines could fly with him on his plane.

The regal association towards dogs was not contained within north India alone. The illustrious Paigarh family of Andhra Pradesh carries on their family tradition of dog-loving till date. Amongst them, the late Nawab Moin-Ud-Dowla Bahadur maintained a vast private zoo, filled with an entire plethora of dog breeds. It was particularly known for its hunting dogs. The late Maharaja of Charkhari’s wife was known to have eighty dogs, pedigreed and mongrels of all shapes and sizes. The erstwhile princess of Tripura, Maharani Jayati Devi lived with all her dogs in one compound and remembered the name of every dog she owned.

 Roshni Johar unveils yet another amusing account in her essay, “While some intensely loved them, others hated them with equal candour. The Maharaja of Junagadh, Nawab Sir Mahabet Khan Rasul Khan invited Lord Irwin to grace the occasion of marriage of Roshanara with Bobby. But the Viceroy refused, understandably so. After all, Roshanara was the Maharaja’s favourite pet dog, while Bobby, a royal golden retriever, belonged to the Nawab of Mangrol, and Lord Irwin was in no mood to indulge the eccentric Maharaja in this unprecedented and frivolous pastime. Films and photographs were taken of this widely world-reported unique three-day event, where no less than Rs. 22,000 were spent. A number of ruling royals and dignitaries attended the marriage. Shampooed, perfumed, bejewelled and decked in brocade, Roshanara was carried in a silver palanquin to the Durbar Hall. Earlier 250 dogs attired in brocade, a military band and a guard of honour had received the groom Bobby, bedecked in gold bracelets and necklace, at the railway station. This had been followed by a grand wedding feast. After this, dog weddings were much in vogue among rulers in North India. Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Jind and Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala celebrated the weddings of their dogs in a pompous manner.”

These baffling eccentricities aside, dogs today have sustained an intimate relationship with mankind and continue to remain the exemplars of loyalty in the mammal world. Amongst the contemporary Rajput community, one would find very few houses without the presence of the family pooch. Be it the Jodhpur fox terriers, Axle- the Ajairajpura Doberman, Zara- the Gamph Alsatian Zara, Rajkot’s harlequin great Dane- Fundi, or her Khimsar-based cousin Khaleesi, each one of them descended from a diverse culture of hound-domestication and dog-loving. As the most widespread and probably the oldest domesticated animal, the dog lives up to its title, ‘a man’s best friend’.

With inputs from Bhumendra Pal Singh of Awagarh.

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Royally Speaking

Why Korean royal family is celebrating the bhoomi pujan in Ayodhya

Anshu Khanna



When the Babri Masjid episode happened nearly three decades ago, it was the elegant royal family of Ayodhya that took the statue of Shri Ram into its palace temple. On 5 August 2020 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, no doubt, Raja Bimlendra Pratap Singh, being one of the members of the Ram Janmabhoomi foundation, was excited.

 The history of the royalty of Ayodhya is very old. The current Ayodhya dynasty is associated with the lineage of King Darshan Singh. Bimalendra Mohan Pratap is the eldest son of the Mishra dynasty.

However, the Ayodhya family has a unique connection with the royal family of South Korea. Some 2,000 years ago, Ayodhya’s princess sailed to Kaya kingdom, now Kimhae city in South Korea. She fell in love with its ruler, Kim Suro, and they got married.

Keeping this historical connection in mind, Bimlendraji was invited to Korea. He recalls, “In 1999 the then Prime Minister, John Pilkin, invited me to Korea. I told him that the princess was of the earlier dynasty. But since my family was the titular heads of the state in 1947, I was invited to Korea and their delegation came to Ayodhya and constructed a shrine by the Saryu river in the memory of their princess who was the founder of the Kim dynasty.”

 In the South Korean literature, Ayodhya is referred to as Ayuta. The Korean text, Samguk Yusa, authored by the monk Iryon, mentions the temple city’s Korean connection. Hence as the foundation stone of the Ram temple was laid in Ayodhya on 5 August, echoes of the celebration must have been heard in Korea as well.

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Royally Speaking

Man who dared to pursue his dreams

The incredible journey of Shivendra Singh Dungarpur to become India’s Celluloid Man, against all odds.

Urvashi Singh Khimsar



Summer vacations during his childhood years meant a visit to his maternal grandmother in Dumraon, where the two spent their time indulging in their love for cinema. Those were princely times in which, his grandmother wielded her regality by booking the entire theatre hall for a private screening of two. Seated in the stalls, the grandmother and grandson would savour cinematic montages all day long. The star-struck little boy was captivated in absolute wonder as Pakeezah’s Meena Kumari scintillated to “Inhi Logon Ne”. His liberties extended his small hands towards the film cupboard, which the projectionist would open up for him to pick from a series of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, John Ford and Frank Capra films.

 Even today, he fondly recalls the nostalgic smell that emanated from the cupboard. This early interaction with moving images drove Shivendra Singh of Dungarpur to become one of India’s pioneering film veterans and its foremost film conservator. With a legacy that includes nearly 600 commercials, documentaries and short films, two national accolades and the foundation of India’s very first conservatory initiative for films, Shivendra’s journey makes for a compelling story of an extraordinarily spirited man, who dared to pursue his dreams.

Hailing from a lineage of Oxonians and Cantabrigians, the professional expectations held out of Shivendra maintained their predicted loftiness. His exemplary record as a student of Delhi’s St. Stephens’ College paved a likely path towards law. Back in the days, filmmaking was not frowned upon so long as it remained a hobby in the mere shadows of a conventionally approved career. So when Shivendra voiced his dream of becoming a professional filmmaker, his family’s vehement disapproval came as no surprise.

But just then, there emerged a silver lining that would drive away the young man’s despair. His uncle, the notable cricketer Raj Singhji of Dungarpur invited him to pursue his struggles in Mumbai and proffered him his shelter with open arms. In reminiscence of those days, Shivendra says, “I came to Mumbai to assist Gulzar Saheb. For the sake of my father’s wishes, I enrolled at the Government Law College, although I didn’t attend a single lecture there.”

Upon the advice of Gulzar Saheb, Shivendra departed Mumbai for his film scholarship to Pune’s FTII (Film and Television Institute), which placed him under the mentorship under India’s greatest film archivist — P.K. Nair. This would bear resonance with the latter half of his career in film conservation, but he only arrived there after tedious years of hard work and struggle. At 23, the fresh FTII graduate was offered his big break in a known production’s multi-starrer, which also happened to be music maestro A.R. Rahman’s first Hindi film. But before he could fully rejoice this opportunity, financial impediments stalled the project mid-way. Fate seemed to have other plans for Shivendra, as the following six years would come to prove. “I had no financial assistance from my parents and had to live hand-to-mouth, living off the generosity of my uncle and friends, who gave me a roof over my head. It was perhaps the hardest time of my life, but I stuck it out”, he says.

One day, Shivendra’s unflinching patience and perseverance encountered his first break in the form of a Lux soap promo. An absolute lack of advertisement shooting notwithstanding, he took the plunge and created history. Soon after, in 2000 he launched his very own production house, titled Dungarpur Film, which waddled through its initial years with hit-and-tries for Shivendra, who was still only learning finer nuances of the craft. Then, a Vim bar commercial starring Rajpal Yadav and Rimi Sen formally launched him into the world of advertisement films, where he became an artist well reputed for his natural style, eye for casting and detailing. Dungarpur Films then became one of the most successful production houses, winning him several awards for his work.

Shivendra attended a cinematic festival in Bologna, Italy, in 2009, which exclusively dedicated itself to preserving and restoring films. It was here that he noticed India’s hapless absence despite being the largest film-producing nation in the world. There wasn’t a single Indian film to be screened at this festival, and Shivendra returned pensive and fixated on changing this. By virtue of being the erstwhile Director of the National Film Archive of India, P.K. Nair guided his erstwhile student to Pune’s film archive vaults. He was stunned at the dismal condition in which India’s most prized films were kept. Their unfavourable temperature conditions had caused the films to emanate a negligent odour of decay.

“Despite the fact that we have been making films for over a hundred years and that we are currently the largest and most diverse film-producing nation in the world, making close to 2,000 films a year in 36 languages, our record of film preservation is abysmal. We made 1,700 silent films of which just about five or six complete films and about 15 films in fragments survive. Our first talkie, Alam Ara (1931) is lost as are most of the first talkies in other languages. By the 1950s, we had lost almost 70 percent of our film heritage and we continue to lose more every day — even films as recent as Mansoor Khan’s Quayamat Se Quayamat Tak (1988) and later films. Many films were sold for silver, others lost in fires and most of all due to apathy and neglect”, he explains.

His intention to preserve films was further encouraged by the Bachchans, and Shivendra finally established the Film Heritage Foundation (FHF) in 2014, which continues to remain India’s only non-governmental organisation dedicated towards the preservation of films. In his words, “FHF is dedicated to supporting the conservation, preservation and restoration of the moving image and to develop interdisciplinary educational programs that use film as an educational tool and create awareness about the language of cinema.”

 Ever since then, Shivendra has been conducting workshops to aptly train film archivists and has even solicited the mentorship of the highly acclaimed Hollywood director, Christopher Nolan. Moreover, he has carefully cultivated a film collection across the 8, 16 and 35 mm spectrums in a temperature-controlled storage facility. It ensures the periodical checking, cleaning and winding up of its collections, with inspection reports that record the condition of its stored films. He has successfully published two books, From Darkness Into Light (2015) and Yesterday’s Films for Tomorrow (2017), compiling the topics of film preservation and writings of P.K. Nair respectively.

 Today, FHF has Amitabh Bachchan serving as its brand ambassador and is governed by a diverse and credible board of advisors, including veterans such as Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, Jaya Bachchan, Kumar Shahani, Kamal Haasan, Girish Kasarvalli, Gianluca Farinelli, Krzyszstof Zanussi and Mark Cousins. Within a year of its inception, FHF became an associate member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), which elected him to its executive committee last year. Shivendra is only the second Indian to ever be elected to this august body, after his mentor, P.K. Nair.

He concludes by voicing his future vision, “Given what a cinema-crazy nation we are, it is astounding that we don’t have a centre for cinema. My vision is to build a world-class centre for film that will include a film archive, a museum, cinemas that will screen films in all formats, a library, research and training centre. We are in the process of raising funds to make this dream a reality.”

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Royally Speaking

The tiger prince from Wankaner



Bureaucrat, author, activist, conservationist and an encyclopedia in wildlife and animals, he is currently, during a pandemic, burning the midnight oil writing his next book. The third one, A Life with Wildlife, being a bestseller already. He is writing his fourth book during quarantine.

 He drafted and piloted the passage of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. As Member Secretary of the India Tiger Project ensured many generations of striped babies thrived and roamed free in wildlife sanctuaries. Not to forget the fact that he singularly doubled the size of two tiger reserves: Bandhavgarh and Kanha. Possibly the only two forest parks where you are sure to encounter the king of the jungle.

On the occasion of the World Tiger Day which was on 29 July, Maharani Radhika Raje Gaekwad of Baroda salutes her father, the legendary R.K. Ranjitsinh, the man who is best titled as the Gujarat Tiger.

“I don’t remember the first tiger I saw, probably as a baby in my mother’s lap, behind my father’s camera lens in an open dusty jeep in the thick of the Saal forests. Over the years I have witnessed many times over, the majesty of the tiger and I am proud to say my father Dr M.K. Ranjitsinh through continued efforts has ensured that many generations of little children have beheld these flaming stripes in the wild.

“Today the sole repository of the fate of our forest and its wildlife is our government but there was a time when our natural heritage enjoyed both the pride and protection of India’s royal families.

 “Royalty had an unsurpassed communion with wildlife. Infamous for shikar, there was also the patronage that the forests received that sustained our Indian wilderness far more than our democracy has. My father, Maharaj Kumar Dr Ranjitsinh, born in the princely family of Wankaner, not only witnessed this transition — but as one of the few royals who chose not to recline on his lineage, he joined the administrative service and was selected director for wildlife twice – but also was perhaps the single-most influential contributor to our present-day ecology. He carved out new havens of nature. To his distinction are the birth of 8 national parks and 14 sanctuaries and he more than doubled the area of three existing national parks, adding forest protection to an area of almost 9,000 sq km. His is a contribution unprecedented in the history of independent India.

“He is perhaps the only living person to have a large mammal named after him. A sub-species of the Indian Barasingha has been named cervus duvauceli Ranjit Sinhji in recognition of his contribution to saving the central Indian Barasingha only found in Kanha, Madhya Pradesh, and the Manipur brow-antlered deer, only confined to one place in Manipur. A living legend that dedicated his life to the survival and sanctity of nature, A Life with Wildlife is his account of the trials and triumphs of his world of wilderness.”

 “For every girl, the father is a hero but mine is one for generations of both students and proponents of ecology and wildlife. So have you seen a tiger in the wild lately. I have seen one in my home.”

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Royally Speaking

Iconic siblings: A rakhi to remember

Anshu Khanna



Rakhi, the first major Hindu festival to land in the midst of a pandemic, is also special within the royal circles. Many families are getting set to celebrate the day amongst each other. Here is saluting three of the most iconic siblings of royal India:


Maharaja Yaduveer Chamaraja Wadiyar of Mysore and Yuvrani Jayathmika Lakshmi of Sailana

A quiet, dignified Maharaja, Yaduveer was made the twenty-seventh head of the erstwhile ruling family of Mysore and also the head of the Wadiyar dynasty. A graduate in English literature and Economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, he helms the Mysore Palace, possibly the most richly endowed palace of India and spends a lot of his time in conservation and restoration.

A truly caring brother to his sister, Jayathmika Lakshmi, he gave a fairy tale wedding to her recently as she tied the knot with Yuvraj Divyaraj Singh, the scion of the Sailana, a princely state in Ratlam that is often called the “Cooking royalty”. Given that the most legendary book on royal cuisine Cooking Delights of the Maharajas was written by their ancestor Maharaja Digvijay Singh. Meanwhile, Jayathmika, a graduate from London School of Fashion, is writing for journals across the globe.


Maharaja Padmanabh Singh and Princess Gauravi Kumari of Jaipur

 He is possibly India’s most iconic royal, celebrated the world over. A polo player, a fashion icon and a symbol of princely India’s grandeur, he has made it to every cover of lifestyle magazines across the globe. Adopted and crowned by his grandfather, the late Col Maharaja BhawaniSinghji of Jaipur, he and his sister, a demure, quiet girl, share a great camaraderie.

Made evident when they both were invited by the 25th Le Bal des Débutantes in Paris to represent the nation. While Padmanabh debuted with the daughter of Reese Witherspoon, Ava Phillipe; Gauravi debuted with the Prince of Luxemburg. She is currently studying at the University of New York.


Lakshmi of Sailana Prince Martand Singh and Princess Mriganka Devi of Jammu and Kashmir

The grandchildren of the intellectual Maharaja, Dr Karan Singh, Martand Singh and Mriganka Kumari are truly accomplished young Indians who are pursuing their careers with deep conviction. Martand, a newly minted lawyer with interests in constitutional and international law, works closely with his father Yuvraaj Vikramaditya Singh, a leader of the Congress from Kashmir. Mriganka, a graphic design graduate from Raffles University, Singapore, and a polo player and champion, now lives with her in-laws in Chandigarh. Her husband, Nirvaan Singh, grandson of Captain Amarinder Singh, handles his grandfather’s political career.

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