On 8 July 2021, Himachal Pradesh and the rest of India awoke to a day of mourning. Their ever-reigning Raja Virbhadra Singh of Rampur Bushahr was no more. At 87, the star statesman and political veteran of unparalleled stature had succumbed to a cardiac arrest post his second battle with coronavirus.
Startled by the tragic news, I was almost instantaneously thrown back to the various flashbacks of my childhood, when my family visited the man they most admired at his Simla-based Holly Lodge. The ever-green exemplar of chivalry, humility and selfless service, his poised image as he sat reclined on his living room chair adorning a Rampuri cap shall continue to remain entrenched in my memory. Grateful to have been blessed by him during my visit to Simla exactly two years ago, I shall forever regard the late Raja Sahib as a bastion of a bygone era, and this humble piece is my own tribute to the true exemplar and legend, who now rests in peace.
Born on 23 June 1934, Himachal’s Raja Sahib stood out from within the Indian National Congress as its most significant Himachali leader. A noticeable presence at the Lok Sabha from 1962 to 1971, Raja Sahib made two more returns in 1980 and 2009. In 1983, he was elected for his first term as Himachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister and has served a sum total of six successful terms. Raja Virbhadra Singhji has departed as the state’s longest-serving Chief Minister with legendary triumphs at the poll booths of Jubbal, Kothkai, Rohroo and Shimla (rural).
An alumnus of Simla’s Bishop Cotton School and St Stephen’s College, Delhi, Raja Sahib was a scholar of liberal arts and took keen interest in literature and diplomatic relations. In his lifetime, he presided over the Sanskrit Sahitya Sammelan and Himachal’s branch of the Friends of the Soviet Union. In fact, his diplomatic skills earned him a membership in the Indian Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 1976. From the mid seventies onwards, he held prominent ministerial and deputy ministerial portfolios, namely those of civil aviation, industries, steel and MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises).
As is the case with any odyssey, Raja Sahib’s journey too met with its fair share of hurdles. The tumultuous years from 2009 to 2012 in specific spelled numerous cases of political vendetta for him and his family, but before the end of 2012, Raja Sahib and his wife, Rani Pratibha Kumariji had been acquitted by the court on the very eve of him being sworn in as Himachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister for the sixth and last time. The political mudslinging ensued even after 2012, but Raja Sahib valiantly treaded on.
His unmissable political legacy notwithstanding, Raja Sahib was also the patriarchal head of one of the oldest princely hill states of modern-day Himachal Pradesh. Believed to have been founded by Lord Krishna’s son Pradhumna, Rampur Bushahr was amongst Himachal’s wealthiest princely states, and bore immense geopolitical significance for sharing its borders with Tibet, Spiti and Punjab. Dynastically aligned to the Bhatis, the late Raja Sahib and his son, Yuvraj Vikramaditya Singh constitute the very few remaining Rajput families of uninterrupted, direct descent, which essentially points to an absence of adoptions or brotherly feuds having prevailed in the long history of the state.
Today, Raja Sahib’s 87 year-old legacy, and Rampur Bushahr’s centuries-old legacy lives on through its now Rajmata Sahiba and his many children, each of whom has gained prominence in their own field of expertise. One of his daughters, Abhilasha Kumari has made her mark amongst the Indian judicial system’s pioneering female justices, and Vikramaditya Singh himself has emerged as a young and promising legislator in Himachal Pradesh’s Assembly, where he represents the Simla (rural) constituency.
Clearly, Vikramaditya has big shoes to fill, and his doted flanking of the late Raja Sahib during their various public appearances in the past only went on to highlight his sheer admiration and adoration for his father. May the entire Rampur Bushahr family find the strength and resilience to endure this tragic loss, while I and the rest of the country mourn the setting of our ever-shining, ever merciful and largesse-drenched sun.
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SIX AVID VINTAGE CAR COLLECTORS LAUNCH INDIA’S FIRST AUCTION HOUSE HISTORIC AUCTIONS
“The love for cars is closely linked to always keeping the child in you alive. I recall playing inside my father’s Isotta that would be parked outside our fort in Kotwara,” says Raja Muzaffar Ali of Kotwara. Walking us through his automobile art exhibition, he well defines the junoon with which six avid vintage car collectors have got together to launch India’s first auction house that will be dedicated to the world of wheels Historic Auctions Private Ltd., India’s first specialist automobile and automotive fine arts auction house, founded by renowned collectors, connoisseurs and automotive historians of international repute came alive this week with a silent auction of collectable cars and Muzaffar Ali’s art at Camera Museo. The quaintness of the museum adds to the occasion.
Rana Manvender Singh Barwani, Madan Mohan, Muzaffar Ali Kotwara, Avijit Singh Badnore, Amal Tanna, Sidhraj Singh, Diljeet Titus.
Rana Manvendra Singh Barwani, Emmanuel Lenain with his wife Géraldine Lenain.
Aman Nath, Diljeet Titus.
Diljeet Titus, Muzaffar Ali.
MK Ranjitsinh Jhala, HH Maharaja Gaj Singh Ji, Maharajkumari Kalpana Kumari.
Yuvraj Lakshya Raj Mewar and VP Singh Badnore.
Vintage cars and the Maharaja era are closely linked together. It were the Indian maharajas who imported for themselves the rarest of cars, fitting them with the finest of accessories and upholstery. Many a jenana cars that were often Rolls Royce had their windows covered with a curtain in soft velvet and embellished with gold. Meanwhile, the car for the Maharaja often had an LV picnic trunk tucked away for shikaars or a tiny cigar case to indulge the maharaja in his travels.
With HH Maharaja Gaj Singhji of Jodhpur inaugurating the show, the exhibition was a coming together of 15 paintings that had the signature stamp of Muzaffar’s near ethereal abstractions juxtaposed with the beauty of classic cars like the Minerva, Isotta Fraschini, the Stutz that he painted from the annals of his memory. On view were also 18 select, collectable cars with pre-sale estimates varying from 2.5 lakh to 1.8 crore including a 1959 Cadillac Sedan de Ville, a Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser and a Fiat 500. With a 1981 model Mercedes Benz 200 getting auctioned in aid of the CKS Foundation. An army Mahindra & Mahindra CJ-3B army utility vehicle (jeep) project will also be auctioned, with a part of the proceeds going towards Army Veterans welfare groups.
Helmed by HH Maharaja Manvendra Singh Barwani, author, historian, recipient of the prestigious Pebble Beach Lorin Tryon Trophy in 2018 and legendary restorer who is globally acclaimed for his work in this world, the auction house has Diljeet Titus (Founder Titus Museum) as its advisor. “The collector car hobby is growing in India. First timer enthusiasts don’t have trustworthy and transparent access to sales and after-sales services, guidance and mentors. The Vintage and Classic Car hobby needs to move into an organized sector. With Historic Auctions, we hope to take the first steps towards that,” shares Titus. Forums like Pebble Beach, Cartier De Concourse etc Manvendra feels are important but “it’s equally important for Indian collectors to have a forum that celebrates the world of automobiles.”
The opening night saw veterans collectors like former Governor Punjab, V. P. Singh Badnore, Yuvraaj Lakshyaraaj Singh Mewer, Gul Panag, Ragini Sanghi, Madan Mohan, K. T. S. Tulsi grace the occasion along with Amitabh Kant, Ambassador of France to India Emmanuel Lenain, Maharaj Kumari Kalpana and Maharaj Kumar Ranjeet Sinh Wankaner, RK Chandni Kumari, and Shivani Rana Nepal amongst others.
SIDDHARTH DASPAN TURNS HIS FAMILY HOME INTO A HAVEN FOR CULTURAL CONNOISSEURS
The aim of the Soapbox initiative is to offer our patrons a chance to discover and appreciate extraordinary music, timeless traditions, and eclectic cuisine against the quaint backdrop of a century-old family home recently restored into a vibrant heritage hotel.
Every once in a while there are nights that make you fall in love with a city. At Daspan House Jodhpur, such nights seem to come one after the other courtesy of the Soapbox Initiative — a series of artistic collaborations discerningly curated by its young and ever-so-gracious owner Thakur Siddharth Singh of Daspan along with his childhood friend Varun Jalan.
Siddharth Daspan and Varun Jalan with the performing artists.
“Soapbox was conceived with a vision to celebrate diverse ethnicities, cultures and performing arts under the unifying umbrella of great hospitality,” says Siddharth, an alumnus of the prestigious Mayo College Ajmer and Istituto Marangoni Milan. “The aim of this initiative is to offer our patrons a chance to discover and appreciate extraordinary music, timeless traditions, and eclectic cuisine against the quaint backdrop of a century-old family home recently restored into a vibrant heritage hotel.”
Masked behind a discreet façade in a quiet residential area, Daspan House, with its symbolic long-standing palm tree, is like the proverbial oasis of peace and tranquillity. Whether it’s the intricately carved sandstone structure shimmering breathtakingly under the desert sun, the soothing sound of the marble fountain gently reverberating in the courtyard or the exquisite taste of culture-soaked cuisine accompanied by choicest home-grown liquor, Daspan House is a destination that satiates all five senses to perfection.
Besides its elegant design sensibility and personalised detail to attention, what gives further impetus to this marvellous destination is its ever-growing culture quotient with the Soapbox Initiative. From hosting an artist residency program to inviting a celebrated guest to take over the bar for an evening to partnering with diverse performing artists, Siddharth believes in brewing something new every few days.
“With an aim to push the boundaries of what typically constitutes the music genre in our city, we recently planned a unique event to appeal both to the ears and feet of our patrons,” smiles Siddharth. Jazzing up the music scene of Jodhpur, Daspan House hosted an experimental celebration of new age jazz with the brilliant Vashita Ramesh aka Huyana. Thrilled with the response of the attendees, he says, “The jazz night was a shot in the dark, but an increased curiosity about this genre since our event endorses my belief that it perfectly reflected the spirit of cultural exchange.”
Nothing spells cultural camaraderie better than food. The idea to promote regional cuisine in a non-restaurant like ambience led to Soapbox Tastemakers where one long community table is set up on a chosen evening, and one home chef is invited to cook up their specialities which the guests can relish in family-style sharing portions in the cosily lit gardens of Daspan House. The first home cook in this series was Kunwarani Lakshmi Kumari from the house of Hariadana whose love for cooking and feeding was confined to her social circle all these years. For the first time, people from her city and travellers from beyond got the opportunity to savour her specialities like slow-cooked mutton bootha, buttermilk fried chicken, baingan bharta ka raita and rasgulla ki kheer among other delicacies. “The idea is to enable our guests to savour the taste and soak in the legacy of the cuisine,” says Varun, Head of Guest Experience at Daspan House. “We have created this event in a way where the tastemakers not only cook but also play host to a party of guests and regale them with stories of their family’s culinary traditions.”
While each event under the Soapbox Initiative has earned rave reviews, the occasion I attended was an evening filled with Sufi ragas, poetry and nostalgia about a month ago, featuring a talented repertoire of artists from Marwar. Sufi Rang by Govind Singh Bhati and Co. was one of those rare events where the performers enjoyed performing as much as the audience enjoyed listening to them. Seeing the artists lose themselves in their performances and sing purely as people who love their art was such a rewarding experience.
Sufism is never defined by boundaries. The way the music of the mystics transcends across forms, Siddharth’s Soapbox Initiative brings together an unusual assortment of patrons from all walks of life. While attending this event, I made friends with a museum curator from Mehrangarh, a political strategist from New Delhi, a history professor from Ajmer, and a lawyer from Ahmedabad all of who reiterated the Soapbox Initiative’s syncretic faith.
“Every art whether culinary or performing must grow organically in the mind and soul of the audience,” feels Siddharth.
The beauty of this collaborative culture series lies in the fact that it does not assault your senses. It paves way for you to surrender. No wonder, it has rightly earned a proud place in the city’s ever brimming social calendar.
THE CAUSE OF GIVING WITH DHANANJAI SINGH KHIMSAR
Amidst the famed season of opulent weddings, festivities, and gifting, I decided to dedicate this week’s column to a special cause of giving that hits home. Possibly because, amidst all the hustle and bustle that surrounds me, I intuitively imagine a rural household far away from here. One which prepares to give away its daughter in a similar betrothal ceremony, but is devoid of the means that we are privileged with. One which struggles to provide for the basic requisites of a wedding ceremony, while in the meantime our likes are more preoccupied with smaller frivolities, like which outfit to better match with the evening’s pair of shoes.
The Annadata Charitable Trust was founded by Dhananjai Singh, who hails from a royal family of Khimsar
I don’t intend on sounding preachy when I would rather be celebrating the union of my cherished girlfriends with their better halves. Instead, my sense of revelry is multiplied through this act of introducing a philanthropic venture that my older sibling, Dhananjai Singh recently launched. After graduating from a Swiss Hotel School, Dhananjai returned to his ancestral home in Khimsar, where he felt an urge to help the local community. Despite numerous charitable organisations that concentrate on specific issues, he believed in a broader and more versatile scope of service. Moreover, considering the ever-increasing and multi-faceted problems encountered by people in rural India, this approach, according to him, would prove to be more feasible.
Thus, he conceived the Annadata Charitable Trust, a Khimsar-based foundation that has been impacting millions of lives through twelve projects and counting. Amongst these, Project Beera is the one project that finds immediate relevance to my opening paragraph. Titled as “Beera”, which ideally translates into a brother that can be relied upon, this project is exclusively dedicated to providing for financially disadvantaged families upon a marriage occasion. In the situation whereupon the typical financial providers of a family are deceased, the Annadata Charitable Trust steps in to contribute a minimal sum amount that helps substantiate the wedding ceremony.
This initiative is premised upon the idea that western parts of Rajasthan bear a socio-economic disadvantage in comparison to the rest of the state due to its starker landscape and harsher weather conditions. As a result of their accompanying economical limitations, a significant strength of its population struggles to make its daily ends meet. Added to that is the financial pressure wielded by sociocultural norms on the family members of prospective brides, and the brides themselves. After all, undertaking the costs of a wedding is a major live expense, thereby factoring itself into the prevalent reluctance suffered by the society towards the girl child. Added to that is the rampant prevalence of the bride’s family bearing most of the expenses, as compared to a more equal participation from the groom’s side. Such families are steeped in patriarchy, and more often than not, their male members continue to be the sole breadwinners. Such families are faced with desolation upon the death of a contributing member, or a misfortune that compromises their means to earn a livelihood, such as an amputating or handicapping accident.
In considering every person of the society as his own, founder Dhananjai Singh joins hands to reduce the gripping financial pressures of such households in rural belts of western Rajasthan. Within the past few months, his trust has helped partially sponsor over 19 weddings in the region and hopes to impact the lives of many more in the time to come.
Annadata Charitable Trust’s other projects help round its social impact goals with far-reaching objectives. Amidst the dreadful Covid-19 waves, the acute shortage of oxygen concentrators had cost many pandemic victims their lives. In this light, project Jeevandan has helped provide over fourteen oxygen concentrators to Rajasthan’s rural hospitals. Similarly, project Nivala addressed the needs of daily wage labourers, whose livelihoods and basic means to food had been placed under serious threat amidst the consecutive lockdowns. Over 14,000 food and ration packets had been distributed to help alleviate mass hunger and deprivation.
In the sphere of women and child development too, the Annadata Charitable Trust joins hands to provide for free menstrual healthcare. Project Garima in particular has helped generate the distribution of over 5000 sanitary towels and aims to spread better awareness around their safe usage. Furthermore, project Bhavishya gears itself to sponsor school kits for underprivileged children who lack basic schooling resources. It has also provided tricycles to help mobilise the specially-abled, and in the incidence of a fire hazard, provides one-time monetary support to a household of such misfortunes. Other drives include sapling plantation drives for environmental awareness, as well as the provision of water-containing canisters for households in more barren localities.
Inspired, determined and resolute, the trust’s founding figure, Dhananjai Singh intends to multiply this existing impact in the near future. “We at the Annadata Charitable Trust focus on instilling hope in the people of rural Rajasthan for a better tomorrow. We direct our goals towards active participation in various social and political programs to develop our region. When it comes to delivering effective and accountable services, we identify a genuine solution by serving at a more micro level. We intend to solve the problems in Rajasthan’s day-to-day lives who fall below the poverty line by facilitating holistic growth and aiming at their common welfare”, he concludes.
ROHIT CHAWLA’S CLASSIC ARTWORKS AND MINIATURE ART
Rohit Chawla is all set to present a self-curated exhibition of handpicked photographs from some of his classic series at DesignEdit.
Art is his playground for visual expression, reality his source of showing a cerebral hope in the prevailing madness, power and powerful people mere creative souls that stare through his lens. Rohit Chawla, media world’s most iconic face, a leading Indian contemporary photographer is all set to present a self-curated exhibition of handpicked photographs from some of his classic series at DesignEdit, curated by him at Spin Studios, Dhanmill Complex, New Delhi. Someone who could within a gap of a month churn two covers for India Today, one with PM Modi and the other with Rahul Gandhi, with a Jeff Bezos caught in an Indian tuk-tuk in the middle. Rohit admits to being most enamoured by the world of yore. The regal, royal era of art and architecture that he uses as illusionary bastions for his expression.
Showing up in Delhi after a gap of two years (“I spent the entire pandemic safely in our home in Assagao Goa.”) the artist throws special light on his Taj series that captured the monument of love through the most striking of frames that were often set in sepia or starkly black and white tones. Royal India and the arts that lived within that era too are the subjects of his creative expression. He is known for his creative genius in re-creating classic artworks of Raja Ravi Verma and miniature art into photographs. He creates an illusion of the original painting while bringing his own unique touch. Recreating that mystical world of music, minarets, durbars and dancers, he recaptures the sheer aura of the Mughal era. Of palanquins that carried the Emporer to his Diwan-I Khas. Dance apsaras who decorated the durbar and nightingales who regaled all with their classical music Ravi Varma’s art through his lens. The men and women in the miniature series have immersed themselves in the ‘physique du role’, understanding the physical and mental sense of the roles they are playing. All of them appear to have, with great elan, slipped into the ‘King for a day’ feeling, surrounded by accessories and accouterments that are intrinsic to the nobility they portray and enjoying the lavish costumes designed by Tarun Tahiliani.
He, interestingly made modern-day muses: women like silversmith Kalyani Chawla, industrialist Ayesha Thapar, film producer Saloni Puri and Sal Tahiliani pose aka Mohini, the Raja of Travancore: Ravi Verma’s eternal muse. “Rohit Chawla creates an illusion of the original painting while bringing his own unique touch. In this combination of pixels, paper, cloth, paint and diverse decorative elements. He creates the magic that turns an old work of art into an established fact, a contemporary modern-day image, “ shares Rupika Chawla.
Presenting a creative medley of his works in a neo real setting of the Spin Store, Rohit Chawla presents photographs from some of his selected series. The beauty of the show is how the paintings are set inside real-world design settings that emulate a home.
Rohit Chawla spent close to two decades in advertising at JWT before moving out to start his own design and film production company. His solo exhibitions include Wanderlust, Tribute to Raja Ravi Verma, ‘Klimt – The Sequel,’ ‘Freeda! – The Homage,’ ‘World of Wearable Art,’ ‘Goa Style’ and ‘The Inspired frame.’ He lives and works between Delhi and Goa.
ROYAL AFFAIR AT INDRI INDIAN OPEN POLO CHAMPIONSHIP
Mr Navin Jindal and team with a young lad
The unsung hero: Maharaj Madhusudan Singhji of Danta
The story of a man who was born as a Maharaj Kumar but lived an ordinary life and won people’s hearts by his selfless deeds and work.
In my mother tongue, ‘Nanosa’ means grandfather. I was brought up in front of his eyes, and have been staying with him ever since. He’s seen me grow from a tiny baby into an independent young lady. Back in the day, Nanosa’s work remained restricted to a specific area. There was neither social media nor cellphones to click selfies that would go viral on the internet. Hence for me, he remains an unsung hero. Here is a little tribute to my grandfather for the work he has done, being an honest politician for his country, and a true inspiration for his people.
Maharaj Saheb Madhusudan Singhji of Danta
My grandfather’s name is Maharaj Saheb Madhusudan Sinhji of Danta. He was born on 31st May 1933 in the old palace of Danta. Named Maharajkumar at birth, he was the second son of the late Maharana Saheb Sri Bhawani Sinhji. He completed his schooling from Daly College, Indore, and Rosary High School, Baroda. Following this, he graduated in History and Law from Maharaja Sayaji Rao University, Baroda in the year 1958.
Upon his graduation as a scholar when Nanosa returned home in 1958, Danta’s façade had completely changed because princely states had merged with independent India. Danta was the last state to sign the merger on 16th October 1948.
Since Rajputs are known for their administration and service to their soil, Maharaj Madhusudan Sinhji decided to join politics with the intention and interest to serve the people and better their life. Thus, he made his political debut in 1962, wherein he emerged victorious in the Gram Panchayat elections and as a result, was appointed as the Sarpanch. Later, he became the Taluka Pramukh of Danta, where he constantly governed for 25 years with an uninterrupted incumbency. However, even after winning the Taluka Panchayat elections afterward, he stepped down from the post to make way for the governance of the younger generation. Under Chiman Bhai Patel’s government, he became Director of the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation and employed the needy.
Upon becoming the director of Banas Dairy, he along with the help of Galba Bhai Nanji Bhai Patel worked in Danta Taluka and encouraged people to engage in dairy farming. This was especially directed at the tribals in a bid to prevent them from getting involved in anti-social activities. For their socio-economic upliftment, the first milk depot was set up in Danta. Today, it runs as a successful business for several small-scale farmers.
During the governance of Shankar Sinh Vaghela, he was the chairman of the House Gujarat Water Works Department (Pani Parotha). He initiated the project of supplying water from Dharoi Dam to the areas where there was a scarcity of drinking water. However, later due to political factors, the government underwent a change and the credit was passed onto someone else. Nonetheless, he remained unabashed—his motive and objective of serving people never subsided.
In the olden days, Nanosa was very fond of shikaar. However, one incident had an impact and changed his life forever. While walking unarmed through the Aravalli Range behind Gabbar, he realised that a tiger was walking towards him. He paused for a while but was perplexed in how to avoid serving the beast as its prey. Amid his mounting fear, the tiger casually strolled towards the stream and drank water as it was a hot summer evening. The majestic cat took a break to cool himself down, during which he briefly locked his gaze upon Nanosa’s before casually wandering past him. This incident left Nanosa in guilt. He couldn’t help but think that he would have shot the big cat down had he had a weapon. Perhaps that day, the wild cat had gifted him a second life, which came as a turning point for his outlook towards wildlife, making him into a devoted conservationist. Two years ago, he retired as the Banaskantha district’s wildlife warden. One of his articles titled ‘Rape Of The Forest’ has been published in the Times of India.
He departed from the palace in which he was born and lived at his farmhouse in Diwadi near Danta ever since, where Nanosa loves to call himself a farmer.
This is the story of a man who was born as a Maharaj Kumar but lived an ordinary life and won people’s hearts by his selfless deeds and work. He believes in ‘simple living, elevated thinking’. He has inculcated the same values in his children and grandchildren.
This write-up is a tribute to a grandfather from his super proud granddaughter who has inherited from him, among the many values and ideals, the love for wildlife, nature, and farming.
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