The royals’ tryst with opulent design is historic. Anything they touch must be made in gold and encrusted with diamonds and precious stones. Fancy fables and larger-than-life coffee table books make you believe that they had emeralds for breakfast and diamonds for dinner.
Their link with European brands is amplified by global vested interests which make this uber luxe link work to their advantage, making present-day luxury-seekers feel like Maharajas when they invest in their brands. Fairy tales abound, like the famed Rolls Royce custom-built for Krishna Raja Wodeyar IV to shield his servants from the sun or the necklace Cartier crafted for the Patiala His Highness or the crystal chairs, tables, beds and sofas Maharana Sajjan Singh of Udaipur ordered from F. C. Osler in 1877. Such stories are found in abundance.
But even in this era of ‘Make In India’ and ‘Vocal for Local’, no light is ever thrown on the exquisite crafts that were made inside the Indian palaces by dexterous craftspeople who wove their magic in all they touched. From the finest robes in the softest hand-woven silks and chiffons, to the most exquisite silver artefacts and furniture, from precious ornaments to explicitly beautiful art and architecture – the royal families spent more time with their master craftsmen than they did in European ateliers, each one devising a design vocabulary that became a synonym for their legacy.
Every family dedicated a gracious part of their palace to a studio or atelier, that they called the kaarkhana. In these well-heeled spaces, artists, weavers, embroiderers, beaders, ornament makers, goldsmiths and silversmiths, all worked to make for the Maharaja and the Maharani anything they desired. Be it a Kinkhwab they might have dreamt of last night, a sculpture that they have a whim for, or a piece of jewellery they wish to adorn at the next auspicious occasion. These kaarkhanas developed a school of design deeply linked to each family’s history and heritage.
Patronage for art within these studios was legendary. Every Maharaja patronized a master artist who personified a distinct school of art, often synonymous with the region. The erstwhile royals nurtured in their courts a battery of artists who spent their entire lives either chronicling the queen and the king’s glorious lifestyle through art or representing the devi-devtas they bowed before.
Miniature art played the role that photographs do today: recording historic moments. Women in the palace were painted sitting next to a slender lotus, as beautiful as the proverbial flower. Conquests at war became the subject of a series of miniatures. The royal family often became a doting subject for portraiture, while the praja was seen floating around them, a reflection of their poetic beauty.
However, there were certain Maharajas who went down in history for their patronage and support of master artists who took their respective schools of art to the greatest heights. One of the most well-known among them was Maharaja Savant Singh of Kishangarh, under whom the miniature artist Nihal Chand flourished, devising his own style of miniature art that glorified the royal family’s beloved deity, Lord Krishna. In Rajasthan, where paintings with delicate detailing, a vibrancy of colours and a hint of gold and precious stones flourished, Nihal Chand, a surdhaj Brahman, started his artistic career at the age of fifteen. His palette consisted of rich reds, white and greens, with a range of greys and black. He received training in the local styles from the masters. He is believed to have been the one to initiate Bhakti paintings in the Kishangarh school.
However, the most famous among his (attributed) works is the jharokha bust portrait of Bani Thani, often referred to as the Indian Mona Lisa, which incorporates all the unique qualities and exaggerated features of this school, such as the large lotus-shaped eyes with arched eyebrows, and a pointed nose and chin. His other notable work, Godhuli Vela (The Hour of Cowdust), now showcased at the National Museum, depicts a tall blue-coloured Krishna with an hourglass waist.
The Gaekwads of Baroda have also left deep imprints on the cultural and socio-economic landscape of the city of Baroda. Under the late HH Sayajirao III, the state saw rich patronage given to art. His gracious support of Raja Ravi Varma, who created his studio within the premises of the Lukshmi Vilas Palace, is the most famed instance of his patronage.
It started in 1881, when Sir T. Madhavarao, the British Regent of Baroda, decided to invite Ravi Varma to paint the ceremonial portrait of Sayajirao III. Once in Baroda, Ravi Varma was welcomed as a privileged guest and all facilities were extended to him. The various assignments from the Gaekwads brought him much fame. Several of his best paintings were created in Baroda. The paintings depicting Nala and Damayanti, Radha and Madhava, Arjuna and Subhadra, Bharata, Shantanu and Ganga, Shantanu and Matsyagandhi were produced in this period. Many of these are on display today at the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery and the Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum.
The hill kingdoms of Kashmir, Chamba and Kangra brought the simplicity of the mountains in their form of miniatures too. The Kangra Kalam combined Mughal influences with the simplicity of the local artists who were greatly inspired by the atmosphere of the hills. The artistes adopted as their primary theme the eternal love between Radha and Krishna. This style reached its zenith during the reign of Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch, who was a great patron of Kangra art. An ardent devotee of Krishna, he used to commission artists to paint subjects based on the love and life of Krishna. Under his patronage emerged the great artist Nainsukh whose works personified the ethereal light of hill art.
According to B.N. Goswamy, a leading scholar on Nainsukh, «devices and mannerisms associated with Nainsukh include: a preference for uncoloured grounds; shading through a light wash that imparts volume and weight to figures and groups; a fine horizontal line that separates ground from background; a rich green in which his landscapes are usually bathed; a bush with flat circular leaves that he often introduces; a peculiar loop of the long stem of a hooka; and a minor figure often introduced in a two-thirds profile.”
Nainsukh’s miniatures went on to embody distinctive features of Pahadi art. The verdant greenery of the landscape, brooks and springs were recurrent images. The colours used in the compositions were extracted from minerals and vegetables and possessed an enamel-like lustre. Through his work, Nainsukh, master of this style, introduced a distinctive vocabulary in the realm of Pahadi miniatures, which combined Mughal elements with personal innovations.
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Bonjour, monsieur, it’s Ghoomar time at Cannes
You ought to be living under a rock if you find yourself unaware of the Cannes film festival that takes place on the French Riviera annually. The Festival de Cannes is no “ordinary soiree”. It is a magnum opus that draws world-class artists, filmmakers, patrons of art, and the who’s who of the film industry.
As the glitterati of showbiz descended on the red carpet, one peculiar gentleman graced the Festival de Cannes and, with that, registered a historic moment. With his head adorned in elegant headgear, not a French beret but a ‘Safa’ (a traditional Rajasthani equivalent of a turban), was Mame Khan, a celebrated Langa folk singer from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
Mame Khan has been triumphant in paving the way for the folk music of Rajputana into mainstream Indian cinema.
The Coke Studio fame not only walked the red carpet but performed a folk song, “Ghoomar”, which swayed the hearts of every Rajput kid. A song that I, along with a myriad of others, grew up listening to and watching our graceful ladies twirl with beautiful and meticulous moments of hand. A view that lends insight into an expression of a decades-long form of art.
Khan graced the bougie film festival with his suavity, and with his footsteps walked the unsung folk artists from the sandy towns of Rajasthan who deserve the representation of their art on a global platform.
GHOOMAR: A HISTORY OF GRACE
Ghoomar is an art which is irrevocably braided into the culture of Rajasthan. It is mainly performed by women in the secluded confines of zenana (inner parts of the house where women live). The exquisite dance form gets its name from the Hindi word “Ghoomna” (roughly translates to a twirling or spinning movement), showing the vibrant and mesmerising colours of the “Ghaghra”, a flared long skirt worn by women in Rajasthan. It requires remarkable effort and precision to maintain an elegant and uniform twirl. An online website ranked it fourth in the competition of local dances around the world in 2013.
The end of the monarchy marked the onset of a new era, and with that followed a wave of change. The royals, left with mere titular roles, made a move from the palace to politics, the ‘Thakurs’ made a conscious effort to preserve their heritage sites to turn them into cultural havens and create a bloom of tourism, and the middle class got on with their lives. While a lot has changed in the demographics of Rajasthan, the irresistible appeal of Ghoomar has been a common cultural denominator in the state. From the elite to the common man, the love for folk-dance courses through the veins of people from all spheres of life.
While the unwavering faith of our older generation in the culture has remained intact. The sun of liberalisation has shone on the younger sections of our society, and with that has risen a newfound angst to find oneself. The dilemma of how to find the perfect middle ground between the new world and the old world creeps inside the mind. I am no stranger to this labyrinthine complexity.
However, I believe that Ghoomar is a piece of history and a wealth that we can retain and further pass on to the next generation. Just like a chiffon saree or a Poshak in our closet, given to us by our mothers or grandmothers that holds the scent of their perfume, a tale of another time. The romanticizing of chiffons, necks decked with freshwater pearls, or the charm of our very own haute couture ‘Poshaks’ will always resonate with the status quo of our youth.
THE LANGAS AND MANGANIARS
The folk dance is performed to the soothing verses sung by the musical maestros of Rajasthan, the Langas and the Manganiars. The infamous Langas and Manganiars are the rhythm of Rajasthan. The ‘Raag and Taal’, which carries on the tale of times, these musical groups are the essence of Rajputana and the heart of Rajput weddings. Their unconventional voices, coupled with the rhythmic beats of dhol and the twirling of the Gaghra of Poshak on cue, create a frame so magical that it would inspire da Vinci to ditch “The Monalisa” and paint a “Thakurani” instead.
The Langas and Manganiyars have a diverse array of folk songs for different occasions such as weddings, births, and spiritual ceremonies. The folk songs usually begin with a philosophical commentary followed by the singing of ragas, usually accompanied by various instruments such as the Dholak, Khadtal, and Algoja.
THE QUEST FOR NATIONAL PROMINENCE
Ghoomar’s national recognition has seen a significant late bloom. While the art form has seeped its roots deep into Rajasthan, the national expansion of folk dance has a long way to go.
Maharani Rajmata Govardhan Kumari of Santrampur established the “Gangaur Ghoomar Dance Academy” in 1986 to preserve the dance form. She was awarded the fourth highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri, in 2007 for her laudable efforts in contributing to art and promoting the Ghoomar folk dance.
The folk dance recently took centre stage in mainstream Indian cinema with the 2019 released epic saga “Padmavat”, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and became a sensation.
The appearance of folk singer Mame Khan at the Cannes film festival and the international representation it draws paves the way for a monumental shift in the nationwide status of the dance form.
Rajasthan has birthed a culture and lineage of unsurmountable glory, grace, pomp, and pageantry. The culture continues to live in the spirit of Rajasthan. It is more than a mere fragment of bygone times. It is our identity, a part of who we are. Every person is a carrier of his or her ancestral legacy. Our culture needs us to keep it alive as much as we need it to fortify our sense of identity. So, the responsibility for the preservation of the authentic form of this divine art form falls on our shoulders.
MOHAN NIWAS PALACE IS A DELIGHT FOR LOVERS OF ARCHITECTURE AND WILDLIFE
Mohan Palace was the architectural outpouring of Raja Bhartendra Singh Ju Deo, who helmed the Panna State’s Forest and Police Department. He was overwhelmed by the United Kingdom’s Windsor Manor, where he fell in love with its architecture and decided to recreate it in the princely state of Panna.
Surrounded by forests where the majestic Bengal tiger resides, filled with the thick flora and fauna that this tribal region of Bundelkhand is known for and flanked by India’s most revered diamond mine, Panna was a princely state in colonial India. According to the accorded with 11 guns salute state, it belonged to the Bundelkhand Agency and covered an area of 1,008 villages within its borders. The state was founded in the 16th century by Chhatar Sal, who led a revolt against the Mughal Empire, establishing an alliance with the Maratha Peshwa. When he died in 1731, his kingdom was divided among his sons, with one-third of the kingdom going to his son-in-law, the Peshwa Baji Rao I.
When India gained independence, the ruler, Maharaja Mahindra Yadvendra Singh, acceded to the Government of India, and his family has remained as well-respected leaders who have always had the best interests of their people in mind.
Panna National Park is a deciduous and dry forest, home to the Bengal tiger. Among the animals found here are the Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, chital, chinkara, nilgai, Sambar deer, sloth bear, rusty-spotted cat, and Asian palm civet. The park is home to more than 200 species of birds, including the bar-headed goose, crested honey buzzard, red-headed vulture, blossom-headed parakeet, changeable hawk-eagle, and Indian vulture. A much-loved destination for wildlife enthusiasts, it is also frequented by tourists from across the globe, with the family turning many of their properties into warm home stays and cosy heritage hotels.
“Built by my forefather, Lt. Colonel Raja Bhartendra Singh Ju Deo, who was the younger brother of HH. Maharaja Yadvendra Singh Ju Deo,” says the tall, lanky, and handsome Rajkumar Prithviraj Singh of the Mohan Niwas Palace. An advocate enrolled in the Delhi Bar Council, he spends most of his time fighting pro bono cases for the tribals who reside in and around Panna. “Our family has always been considered their protectors.” These tribal people are truly marginalised and I feel most fulfilled in fighting for them in the court of law. “ Cases pertaining to their rights in land, livelihood, and against atrocities inflicted on them keep this handsome prince busy. His sisters, meanwhile, doctors Rajkumari Aditya Singh and Rajkumari Mrinalini Singh, treat the poor people of Panna for free.
Their parents meanwhile run the warm and friendly palace for tourists in quest to view the Bengal tiger. “Our parents Keshav Pratap Singh Ju Deo (Keshav Raja) and wife Divya Singh (Divya Rani) run the homestay, hosting the guests and allowing them the experience of living in a breathing castle with the royal family themselves as their hosts,” shares Prithviraj.
Mohan Palace was the architectural outpouring of Raja Bhartendra Singh Ju Deo, who helmed the Panna State’s Forest and Police Department. He was “overwhelmed by the Windsor Manor, where he fell in love with the architecture of it in the United Kingdom and decided to recreate it in the princely state of Panna,” according to an avid traveller.
The castle is surrounded by warm and generous arches and is made of the famous white sandstone Panna, which is mined. The walls are filled with a lime mix and immaculate Arabian work in the vintage style (where they used seashell to give the Arabian plaster a finishing shine as opposed to the modern marble powdered Arabian). Early morning jeep trips to the park for tiger sightings, laid-back afternoon siestas and a generous meal cooked by the chefs from the Bundelkhand royal kitchens make the stay in this quaint palace a wildlife lover’s delight.
CHATTISGARH’S TWISHA SINGH THAKUR IS A LITERARY PRODIGY
While most of us battle performance pressure around our board examinations, Chhattisgarh’s Twisha Singh Thakur goes above and beyond with her unique mettle. Just around her class X central board examinations in 2019, this wonder became India’s youngest writer of philosophical fiction. Her debut novel, titled A Carol of Him was received with much praise, and soon made it to the Amazon Top 100 philosophy bestsellers.
Twisha Singh Thakur.
“A piece of philosophical fiction, my debut novel is about the day-to-day dilemmas that we all face, like Carol.»Him» refers to two contemporary sides of a situation; the good and the bad, the white and the black, the God and the Satan. And how we often find ourselves in the middle of them, to choose either side in every turn of life, and how we, as humans, be in the grey”, Twisha elaborates. For this, the 18-year-old garnered significant critical acclaim as well as accolades for her authorial credibility.
The following year, the literary prodigy came out with her second book, titled Candour. Speaking of which, Twisha says, “Candour consists of various types and genres of poetry like sonnets and ballads, of nature, the supernatural, mysteries, courage, valour, philosophy and self-help. It is a perfect little book for everyone who wishes to tickle whatever mood they’re in, in a rhythmic and soothing way.”
News of Twisha’s inspirational authorial journey gains further significance considering the dismal state of affairs on Chattisgarh’s educational front. With a lesser literacy race, to begin with, recent census figures indicate Chattisgarh’s female literacy rates lagging behind by over 20 per cent. Given that it is this very region of skewed educational ratios that gave birth to the young writing genius is duly reassuring.
Twisha admits to having an instinctive connection with the art of writing. She reminisces over her childhood, wherein she would bail out of other activities to grant herself some writing space. In her own words, “I ponder a lot, I was a curious child, curious about the mysteries of the universe, the energies and the vibrations, the nature, complexities of humans and history.” For encouraging her to pursue her authorial dreams, Twisha gives immense credit to her family, especially her mother. “My source of inspiration for thinking, giving base to my writings is my mother, who herself recited thoughts of mysteries of the universe instead of bedtime stories to me when I was younger. And my family encouraged me to think, ponder, write”, she adds.
At present, the India Book of Records recognises Twisha to be the youngest writer of philosophical fiction in the nation, and Chattisgarh’s Chief Minister, Bhupesh Baghel too awarded the young author an eminence award. Her story comes as a breath of fresh air for all aspiring writers, thinkers, innovators and makers of social change. She concludes with an endnote that is as inspiring as herself, “I feel that it’s essential for the world to see the intellectual side of young Rajputs of India alongside their courage and valour. I am also a motivational speaker, motivating the youth with ideas of history, philosophy and essential skills like writing. Self-help, after all, is the first step towards social help.”
REGAL REMINISCENCES ON MAHARANA PRATAP JAYANTI
This year, Maharana Pratap Jayanti witnessed a unique commemoration when several royal and noble families of Rajasthan united on a common platform to pay obeisance to one of the most revered monarchs of Mewar.
The life and legend of Maharana Pratap has gained admirable distinction in the history of Rajputana for the strong display of valour and virtue against Mughal expansionism. His birth anniversary is celebrated with abundant enthusiasm and a strong flavour of patriotism at diverse venues across India. This year, Maharana Pratap Jayanti witnessed a unique commemoration when several royal and noble families of Rajasthan united on a common platform to pay obeisance to one of the most revered monarchs of Mewar. Organised by RRA, a socio-cultural association founded by the Rajput community based in the USA and Canada, this virtual event was curated by Parakram Singh Jhala and Janmejay Singh Tanwar, and graced by a distinguished panel of speakers.
Parakram Singh Jhala and Janmejay Singh Tanwar of RRA.
Maharana Pratap’s painting by Raja Ravi Varma.
Maharaj Kumar Vishvaraj Singh of Mewar commenced the event by reminiscing how his admirable ancestor surmounted great odds to secure the freedom of Mewar. “While there have been many legendary rulers in Mewar who have achievements of a very high standard to their credit, Maharana Pratap epitomises the history of my family,” said the eloquent scion of Mewar.
His address was followed by the talks of several members of other royal families. While Princess Siddhi Kumari of Bikaner expressed her joy over how the valour of Maharana Pratap is being celebrated not just within India but also in other parts of the world, H.H. Maharaja Sawai Jitendra Singh of Alwar and H.H. Maharao Vanshvardhan Singh of Bundi urged everyone to make a conscious effort to imbibe the values that he stood for and pass them on to future generations.
H.H. Maharao Ijyaraj Singh of Kota reminded everyone how Maharana Pratap’s resistance against the Mughal invasion earned him the title of India’s first freedom fighter. He also mentioned how some Rajputs still put a leaf under their dining plates and straw in their sleeping mattresses to honour his famous pledge to sleep on the ground and eat from a leaf plate till his motherland was freed.
Yuvraj Harshvardhan Singh of Dungarpur shared how his ancestor Maharawal Uday Singh I had fought alongside Maharana Pratap’s grandfather Maharana Sanga in the battle of Khanwa against Babur, and elaborated upon other historical connections between his family and the house of Mewar. H.H. Maharawal Jagmal Singh of Banswara was of the opinion that while we celebrate our heroes in all honesty and reverence, we must also understand the difference between the times they lived in and the times we live in, to truly understand and appreciate their policy decisions.
Rajrana Ghanshyam Singh of Badi Sadri, whose ancestor Jhala Maan Singh was one of the most venerated martyrs of the Battle of Haldighati, was the first among the Umraos of Mewar to pay his respects to Maharana Pratap. Umraos were the highest feudal barons in the service of the Maharana of Mewar, and the Maharana had the privilege of enjoying their unquestionable loyalty across generations.
Maharaj Dr Pushpendra Singh of Karjali, the senior-most speaker on the panel, was of the opinion that Maharana Pratap’s father Maharana Udai Singh must be credited for changing Mewar’s century-old war policy of ‘perish, but do not surrender’ to ‘neither perish, nor surrender’. He credited this changed outlook to be the prime reason for Maharana Pratap’s indomitable character.
Maharaj Ajayraj Singh of Begut threw light on the various accolades given to Maharana Pratap like ‘Veer Shiromani’ and ‘Prathah Smaraniya’, and elaborated upon the reasons behind them. Sharing how he idolised Maharana Pratap from a young age, he spoke very candidly about his childhood hero’s renunciation and sacrifice and expressed his happiness at how the narrative is finally evolving to reveal the lesser-known facts about Maharana Pratap.
Rawat Jitendra Singh of Meja said that while the term ‘equality’ holds strong significance in a modern democracy, Maharana Pratap pioneered and patronised this concept way back in time. “He promoted communal harmony by appointing Hakim Khan Sur as a General in his army. He also gave a strong social and morale boost to the Bhil tribesmen of his state by not only befriending them but also giving them the honour of serving in his forces on equal footing with the Rajputs.”
While Bhanwar Abbheraj Singh of Bansi traced his family’s lineage to Maharana Pratap’s brother Maharaj Shakti Singh, Rawat Mahesh Pratap Singh of Kotharia and Kunwar Jaivardhan Singh of Amet talked about the selfless services of their ancestors to the throne of Mewar. Thakur Himmat Singh of Ghanerao shared how his ancestors fought against the invaders to defend Kumbhalgarh—the birthplace of Maharana Pratap.
Major Maharaj Raghavraj Singh of Shivrati emphasised Maharana Pratap’s military genius and discussed how the battle of Haldighati saw one of the finest cavalry manoeuvres and a distinctive surgical strike directly on the commander of the Mughal forces.
To conclude, in his words, “Narratives may change, but facts will always reflect how Maharana Pratap’s patriotism remained unscathed and independent of any foreign rule.”
DECOLONISING MENTAL HEALTH PRACTICE WITH SAUMYA SINGH
As per Abraham Maslow’s iconic hierarchy of needs, mankind’s dilemma beyond basic needs of physiological safety opens up to a plethora of psychological needs. That is to say, surmounting material deficits and securing financial comforts open up spaces for psychological navigation and existential dilemmas. It can be argued that mental health problems are reported more widely in the more affluent strata of the world. After all, it isn’t unusual for CEOs of multimillion-dollar industries to suffer from insomnia. Or for a skyrocketing celebrity to be silently spiralling into depression? Or for privileged youngsters like you and me to have it all on the surface, while still grappling with anxiety and a sense of emptiness every once in a while. A common theme across each one of these simplistic examples is their joint accomplishment of basic needs in Maslow’s hierarchical pyramid. Often touted as ‘first world problems” by the less fortunate bottom half of the pyramid, this seemingly biassed human predicament is anything but selective. Rather, the universal sufferings generated by mental disquiet and torment grapple with our civilization with the gravity of a silent plague.
Similar to the massive gaps in mainstream healthcare across the spectrum of privilege and affluence, mental healthcare is an even more remote denominator. What does one say to popular rural practises of dealing with mild to extreme mental disturbances with clairvoyance and voodoo fixes? The relative absence of free accessibility to organised therapeutic recourse in most rural sectors further adds to the already complex problem. For the financially well-off, informed recourse is undoubtedly more accessible than it is for the rest. And yet, the disparate ways in which mental healthcare is perceived remains a ubiquitous fault line worldwide.
This rampant cross-cultural stigma vis-a-vis mental health often renders most of us hapless victims. But every once in a while, an outlier emerges out of their tribulations and takes on the systemic change that they’d wish to see in the world around them. Rajputana Collective proudly introduces Saumya Singh, an enterprising young psychologist who jointly endeavours to bridge the mental healthcare gap in privileged as well as less privileged strata of Indian societies.
Her recently-launched venture into independent counselling is known as The Talking Cure, wherein Saumya conducts hour-long sessions with working individuals between the ages of 20 and 60. During these counselling sessions, Saumya helps her clients navigate through a variety of concerns such as grief, anxiety, depression, work-related stress, and relationship issues. She introduces the multiple theories upon which her counselling approach is based. My approach to therapy is perhaps most deeply influenced by Carl Roger’s humanistic or person-centered framework, which emphasises the quality of the relationship between the therapist and client. In line with the Humanistic school, I strive to provide a space for my clients that is characterised by genuineness, empathy, positive regard, and equality. I believe that when working with clients, it is necessary to recognise their agency, dignity, and inherent capacity to grow.
I am also drawn to the post-modern therapeutic approaches, such as Narrative Therapy and Solution-Focused Therapy, as they view people as social beings, identify how many problems stem from dominant but oppressive social structures and discourses, and acknowledge individual and community strengths and resources. “Relatedly, I have also extensively used Interpersonal Therapy in my work, which is a model of therapy that focuses on how fractured social relationships and support networks cause or exacerbate mental health problems,” Saumya says.
A postgraduate in Counselling Psychology from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Saumya is preparing for her doctorate in counselling in the United Kingdom starting this September. For the time in between the two, she had started The Talking Cure to keep in touch with mental healthcare practise in the Indian context.
Saumya’s decision to opt for a career in mental healthcare stems from chance and choice in equal parts. In her own words, “I have personally struggled with emotional difficulties in my adolescence and was unable to seek the help I needed.” The culture of silence around mental health prevented me from recognising and expressing what I was going through at the time. This certainly contributed to my decision to enter the field, as I knew from first-hand experiences that mental health was an aspect of health and well-being that was insufficiently discussed and severely underserved. At the same time, I would not say that a career in mental health was always the plan, or that it came as a calling to me. I think I grew more comfortable in this role gradually, and only after I gained hands-on experience of the work during my master’s training in counselling psychology from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.”
Beyond her independent counselling venture, Saumya’s journey as a mental healthcare professional extends to the relatively underprivileged sections of society as well. Speaking of which, she introduces us to another venture she led alongside some of her peers, known as The Coping Corner. Born in times of the pandemic, this is a voluntary organisation that provides mental health counselling services to the underprivileged at no cost. Last year, during the worst period of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were successful in bringing together 8 volunteer therapists and 6 supervisors who conducted over 150 pro bono sessions. Motivated by the positive feedback we received in 2021, we are preparing to run the project this year as well. I am quite proud of the work we have done through the Coping Corner, particularly because this initiative allows me to translate my passion for accessible and culturally competent mental healthcare into action. Moreover, it is a small step towards decolonizing mental health practise by creating spaces that are accessible, collaborative, and cognizant of social realities, “she elaborates.
Returning to the opening paragraph of this feature, Saumya makes a very interesting point that largely challenges and expands the scope of the argument. She states, “Research evidence overwhelmingly suggests that poverty, stigma, and social marginalisation are all serious risk factors for mental health issues – indicating that, contrary to popular beliefs as well as Maslow’s theory, mental health issues are not first world problems/issues that only come to the surface once material and physiological needs are met. Mental health problems are consistently found to disproportionately impact the less affluent in society”.
Thus, Saumya’s two-pronged approach to broadening counselling access across India’s diverse population is indeed a trailblazer in its own right. Her story is also indicative of a wider contingent of educated youngsters broadening the scope of mental healthcare in India. Despite securing her pedagogical seat in distant lands, Saumya deliberately chooses to serve her remaining time in India as a counsellor to those in need. And for this reason amongst others, she is an inspiration to many other young aspirants across disciplines. Rajputana’s freshest advocate of accessible, culturally competent healthcare poignantly concludes, “Over time, I also became cognizant of some of the reasons for the mental health treatment gap in India, including significant social stigma, inadequate or inaccessible services, and low levels of public investment. I strongly believe that these challenges are reflective of the traditionally individualistic lens of psychology that has often neglected to take into account structural, social, and cultural factors in understanding and treating mental health issues, and has thus alienated many people in the developing world. Such learnings now motivate me to continue in this line of work and to do my bit to address the limitations I see within the field.
‘QUEENIE OF THE HILLS’ LOOKS AT PALACES THROUGH THE EYES OF A ROYAL CANINE
Adults of all ages will enjoy Queenie’s satire-laced chronicles as she narrates exploits with a memorable cast of characters, most of whom she parodies with bestowments of hilariously fitting monikers.
An author and an art historian, Cynthia pens a very endearing book looking at the world of palaces from the eyes of a royal canine. Born a member of the notable working breed Gaddi, Queenie witnesses life from, “ Her palatial turreted mansion situated in the Northern Indian hill station of Mussoorie. The designated royal canine of Pookajeet, she gives an exclusive peak into the day-to-day life of her seemingly rarified abode.
Cynthia Meera Frederick
Queenie’s narration gives creative licence for an imaginary account of life within the fictitious Pookajeet Palace. Author Cynthia Meera Frederick says, “I was inspired to write this during the pandemic after rediscovering former American First Lady Barbara Bush’s runaway bestseller, “Millie’s Story” (first read in 1991), which is about life in the White House told through the Presidential family’s springer spaniel, Millie. This paved the way to emulate this genre and share tales via the frankness of a dog’s voice.
Queenie’s mouthpiece has also allowed her to take unabashed jibes at perplexing human behaviour and parody hypocritical traits as an amalgamation of amusing characters and situations are revealed. Adults of all ages will enjoy Queenie’s satire laced chronicles as she narrates exploits with a memorable cast of characters, most of whom she parodies with bestowments of hilariously fitting monikers. This galaxy of personalities she encounters and pokes fun of includes a prima-donna Yorkshire terrier, an insidious politician, and numerous others. She classifies all who enter the palace portals as either a Gracious Guests” or “Beastly Bores” the later whom she feels needs a refresher course on matters of etiquette. “Queenie also reflects on life’s lessons, mores, and values, which are universally shared by all species,” adds Cynthia.
American-born and of Indian origin, Cynthia spent her initial years travelling to Garhwal and the hills of Mussorie. She is now domiciled in her ancestral homeland, where she is a keen traveller around the country. She lectures and writes extensively on subjects about Indian history, heritage and royalty, and has provided historical content and logistical support
for numerous production companies filming in India. In addition, she is a passionate advocate for the welfare, adoption, and safe sterilisation of the indigenous Indian breed of dog, of which she is a dog mother to one dozen, along with one Himalayan Gaddi. She only became a dog lover late in her adult life.
CHAPTER ONE: DESTINED TO BE QUEEN
First, let me tell you a little bit about me. I am a GaddiKutta, a peerless breed of mastiff-type mountain dog belonging exclusively to the Western Himalayan belt in Northern India. In earlier times, we were bred for hunting purposes and were widely used to assist nomadic shepherds throughout the region. While herding sheep is indeed a noble profession, it simply was not my destiny to follow my ancestors’ path. However, such inherent guardian skills are still vital to this very day, and I am indebted to this legacy. While I do not guard flocks of sheep or am otherwise engaged in the field as a working dog, I still take my job of protecting my family and the palace very seriously. I do not remember too much from my early puppyhood. However, I can distinctly recall that there were six of us in our litter. We were all taken on a journey up to Mussoorie by a weather-beaten Garhwali who wore an embroidered woollen cap, which is a proud cultural identity of the Pahari men.
Another ode to his heritage was the traditional woven basket that was hung across his back; where, inside the basket, we were all huddled close togetherundefinedvery warm and snug. I was the only female in the brood, and as the weather-beaten Garhwali went from door to door, one by one and little by little, my siblings all found new homes. The first pup went to a Bengali family who lived in a quaint heritage bungalow. So, now we are down to five. Plodding on, the weather-beaten Garhwali found another taker for one more pup, and so, we dwindled to an even four. His pace quickened as he descended Vincent Hill and our basket got bouncier with each step until he stopped at a household to hand over another puppy. Now, I and my remaining siblings held out like a dejected little threesome. The next sibling was taken in by a well-known television journalist, and so, only two of us were left now. The weather-beaten Garhwali was sagely aware that, as a female, I was always discriminately passed over. It is beyond unreasonable and so unfair, but here in India, an inexplicable prejudice exists against the girl puppy. This is perplexing and I cannot comprehend the mentality behind this irrational logic. Unquestionably, female pups are more affectionate, cleaner, better behaved, and, above all, loyal and devoted companions. Yet, everyone preferred my brothers without paying me the slightest heed. Eventually, the last male pup found a home, leaving me all alone in the basket.
The now very tired weather-beaten Garhwali took a chance and trudged up to the wrought-iron gates of the grand Pookajeet Palace. Waving his crinkly wrinkly hands, he caught the attention of the palace cook, who wildly gesticulated with flapping arms and a shaking head in protest. He emphatically specified that he was not interested one bit in acquiring a puppy let alone a female one. But cleverly, the weather-beaten Garhwali took me out of the basket to show me off. Cook gasped at the sight of me. I, then, was a small fuzzy ball of fur, part fawn, tan and black, and I ought to add that I have enticing amber eyes, which can cast an irresistible spell. So I gave an earnest look to the cook, imploring him to take me. Thankfully, this manoeuvre worked its magic. I was handed over to him by the weather-beaten Garhwali, whose deeply lined face was now broadly fixed in a broad smile. He folded his crinkly-wrinkly hands in a Namaste and then set off back to his village quite merry with his basket empty of puppies while his pocket plentiful of rupees. The best home, as it were, appeared to have been saved especially for me and I was euphoric in my newly found haven. Yet, while I entered the indisputable gates of paradise, I felt a twinge of sorrow because most girl puppies are not accorded a fate so blessed. Thus, I remain eternally grateful for my good fortune.
The grand Pookajeet Palace stands as one of the last abiding vestiges of Mussoorie’s heritage. Built-in the style of a grand Scottish baronial castle, this illustrious backdrop offered ample recreational space, with its spacious lawn and gardens, for a growing puppy full of vitality. Additionally, I discovered that it boasts a library, a billiards room, and a sizable ballroom, along with lots of other nooks and corners for me to explore. Outside, there is a long veranda spanning the entire length of the palace, which provides a space for me outside on rainy days. I also claimed a prime resting perch high up in one of the lofty turrets where I can peek out of its keyhole window. This affords the windows and the dusting of everything with intense fervour. To my great unease and displeasure, the high level of attention previously accorded to me was now transferred to mundane cleaning. However, my fears were assuaged when I heard Cook say, “It is essential the palace be ready in time for Maharaja Sahib.” Oh boy was I excited and honest to goodness, real-life Maharaja was coming! Would he arrive on the back of a caparisoned elephant with a grand procession, similar to how Grandfather rolled, as can be seen in the old photographs? Then, I also learned that the current Maharaja had served in a cavalry unit of the glorious Indian Army. That meant he would certainly arrive with tanks and horses and maybe a column of marching troops with bands and colors flying in the wind too! I simply could not wait for this grand cortege.
The eagerly awaited day was upon us at last, and I rushed up to the turret to keep a watch on the great entourage. My heart was beating so fast when the palace’s iron gates opened. But when I looked down the road, all I saw approaching was an ordinary-looking Innova car. What a letdown! Despite my disappointment, I was still overcome with curiosity. So, I sprinted down to proffer my felicitations to the Maharaja. As soon as he emerged from the vehicle, Cook and all the others thronged about at his side, but he noticed me at once. Spellbound, he asked, “Now, who is this petite princess?” He was simply enchanted with me, and I venture to say that it was love at first sight. I should add that I started with the name “Princess”, which he initially gave me. Having said that, gradually over time, I grew more confident in my rank and position in the household, which, in due course, led one of the guests to make the declaration, ‘That Gaddi rules the roost.” She is truly the Queen of the Castle. ’ So, in true form, fitting to my firmly avowed stature, henceforth, I was called ‘Queenie’. The Maharaja of Pookajeet is formally addressed as His Highness, but he prefers to be called Pookhie by friends, although I simply address him as “Sir”. I feel that this strikes the correct balance of not sounding too formal while at the same time not appearing too intimate or overly familiar. He was accompanied by Madame, an old family friend from America named Clarissa Cross. Facetiously speaking, whoever gifted her that surname, was bang on the money because she often acts like a cranky spoilsport.
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