Saturday, July 5, 2003
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Codes of conduct that received a royal ignore
Khushwant Singh

OUR rajas, ranas, maharajas, maharanas, maharaos, nizams, sultans, nawabs, nawabzadas and others of the ilk who had pretensions of being the blue-blooded lauded aristocracy of India, had unwritten but commonly accepted codes of morality which even they could not justify when not in their cups. As a matter of fact, they had two parallel codes of conduct: one to be observed in their dealings with their British overlords, another in their dealings with their Indian subjects.

They did their best to keep the British happy by paying court to Residents of States, Governors of provinces and Viceroys, by arranging lavish receptions and shikars for them, loading them and their wives with expensive gifts of precious stones and gold jewellery. In return, the British gave them titles like the Exalted Highness, Maharajah Dhiraj, faithful son of the British Empire, Knighthood, etc. and fancy sounding honorifics in Persian and Urdu. They graded them according to the number of guns to be fired in their honour. The behaviour of the princely order towards the sahibs could be best described as bootlicking. The British had very little respect for them and regarded them as spoilt, pampered children given to self-indulgence who occasionally required to be chastised. It suited them to let them live their merry lives because they swore loyalty and kept aloof from the Freedom Movement.

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Their attitude towards their subjects was that of masters towards their slaves. They had power of life and death over them and were a law unto themselves. They built magnificent palaces for themselves, filled them with expensive artifacts bought in Europe. They maintained large harems of women and had eunuchs to guard them. Their harems observed caste hierarchy of maharanis, ranis and concubines. If they fancied wives or daughters of their subjects, they got them for the asking. The word love did not exist in their vocabulary.

If they fancied a woman, they took her as a collector’s item, expended their lust on her and put her away for safe-keeping. The one who who produced the first son and heir presided over the household. Others conspired to get rid of them by having them poisoned. Indian rulers spent more time in drinking and fornicating than in administering their states. Most of them took their long vacations in Europe where they had chateaus and villas, gambled in casinos and threw huge parties. If they did not go abroad, they spent their summers in Mussoorie (Shimla had too many British officials which made them uncomfortable), and winters in Calcutta. Nevertheless, their subjects worshipped them as demigods.

What irked the British rulers most was Indian Princes wanting to acquire white women for their harems. They were never able to make alliances with aristocratic families but had no difficulty in getting nurses, stenographers, ballet-dancers and the likes to become their consorts. The British refused to recognise them as maharanis or their sons as princes. They were never invited to official functions and officials were ordered not to accept their invitations. They made no secret of their disapproval of black-n-white matrimonial alliances.

Most white women who married Indian princes were English, Australian, American, Spanish or in the case of Kapurthala, French. The dice was heavily loaded against happy marriages. They amassed enormous wealth in jewels and real estate, but could never come to terms with the claustrophobic atmosphere of harems and the intrigues that went on all the time. Like their husbands; they took to drinking heavily, having extra-marital liaisons and ended up in lunatic asylums or took their own lives, as did the Spanish Maharani of Kapurthala by jumping off the Kutab Minar.

This sordid tale is told in a collection of profiles of white women who married Indian princes in Wicked Women of the Raj (Harper Collins) by an Australian Indophile Carolie Younger. The impression that remains is that though most of these women were gold-diggers, it is the men they married who were both wicked and stupid.


Though born and bred in Punjab, I have no passion for Punjabi food. Their top favourites like saag with blobs of fresh butter, makki ki roti liberally spattered with ghee and washed down by a tumbler full of lassi is all very well for men and women who work on land, plough, sow, irrigate and harvest their crops but for those like me who lead sedentary lives, working in offices, it is not only indigestible but also produces gas, sluggishness and a fuddled head. The only exception I make is for sarson ka saag, which is strictly not spinach but a mash of mustard leaves. Taken without butter or bread, it is the best thing I know to keep one’s stomach in good order. It is my staple diet through autumn and winter. When well-made with proper ingredients and spices, it is tasty as well. On my last visit to the States, I took a few tins marketed by Punjab Government’s Markfed with me. I was disappointed. It tasted nothing like I was used to eating at home. I decided home-made delicacies could not be tinned or preserved in cartons.

My reaction to lassi, chaach, or adhrika was much the same. They are byproducts of yoghurt with different proportions of water added and taken with salt-n-pepper or sugar. They make a cooling wholesome drink for hot summer days. I stopped taking them after I was past middle age as I found it hard to digest. In my recent sojourn in Kasauli, Poonam Siddhu who has taken over as my mentor in culinary matters brought me a hamper full of a range of products of Milkfed, including cheeses, kheer, fruit juices and two kinds of lassi. They are marketed under the name Verka, which is a village close to Amritsar where the first cooperative based on produce of imported cows was put up. Since then Milkfed has extended its activities to different towns of the state on the pattern laid down by Verghese Kurien of Amul (Gujarat). What would please Kurien is that Verka has beaten Amul to the second place in the state. This man Kurien is one of the builders of modern India and the Father of India’s milk revolution. If the government does not give him the Bharat Ratna, the people should confer sainthood on him. However, after initial reluctance I tried Verka lassi. It was delicious. Now I enjoy a glass of it every mid-morning. I was doubly pleased to see that the formula for making it was prepared by my protege Jiggs Kalra. I am glad he is doing something more worthwhile than jouralism.

Why is Verka lassi not served on our flights and railway trains ? It is much tastier and more health-giving than any of the fizzy stuff and junk they serve with meals.

Ironic purush

He wanted to play Loha vs Vikas game

To enhance the leaders and their fame

But it got misfired

In controversy mired

Poor Venkiah had to swear in Vajpayee’s name.

Or was he testing popularity depths anew

And stirred the murky waters askew

All hell let loose

Nothing much to choose

But catching on straws for a possible rescue.

(Contributed by J.R. Jyoti, Secunderabad)