It's that sort of a time.
Leela Naidu, who died yesterday, was on the same list of Vogue's 10 most beautiful women in the world as Maharani Gayatri Devi, the rajmata of Jaipur, who passed away today at age 90.
Both of them, incidentally, were also on Amitabh Bachchan's list of unforgettable women:
I consider the Maharani of Jaipur one of the most beautiful women of this century for her looks, her presence, the way she carries herself and the clothes she wears. In the latter part of her life, she has done a lot for Jaipur in setting up institutions of education and improving the lot of women.
The London-born princess of Cooch Behar was the third Maharani of Jaipur from 1939 to 1970 after her marriage to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II and was later known as Rajmata or Queen Mother.
She entered active politics on an anti-Congress plank when she founded the Swatantra Party in Rajasthan. She won a landslide victory from Jaipur Lok Sabha seat in 1962 and again emerged victorious in 1971. As Time magazine wrote during her campaign for the 1962 Lok Sabha elections:
...not in the 14 years of Indian independence has there appeared a candidate with her aura and appeal: she is rich, beautiful, intelligent, and a first-rate politician.
The maharani represents the most striking example so far of the return of India's onetime ruling class to national politics. One of the government's first moves in 1947 after independence was to start removing from power the 562 maharajahs who had ruled their states under benevolent English eyes. Pensioned off with handsome privy purses, some of the maharajahs retired to dream of past glories. But about 20 have entered the diplomatic service; another 40 are in politics. None has created the stir caused by the Maharani of Jaipur, who chose to join the new and growing Swatantra Party, a right-wing group that attacks the "socialism" of Nehru's Congress Party and calls for the kind of individualism sought in the U.S. by Dwight Eisenhower. The party's venerable founder is Chakravatri Rajagopalachari, first native-born Governor General of India, who lyrically describes the maharani as "a combination of Sita, Lakshmi and the Rani of Jhansi."
Khushwant Singh described her political career thus:
She fell foul of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi whom she had known since their short period together in Shantiniketan. Indira could not stomach a woman more good-looking than herself and insulted her in Parliament, calling her a bitch and a glass doll. Gayatri Devi brought the worst out in Indira Gandhi: her petty, vindictive side. When she declared the Emergency, Gayatri Devi was among her first victims. She had her Jaipur palaces ransacked by income-tax inspectors. All they found was petty cash. Nevertheless, Indira had her locked up in Tihar Jail. When Sanjay Gandhi got killed in a plane crash, Gayatri rang up Indira to offer her condolences. Indira refused to take her call.
After serving five months in the Delhi Jail for allegedly breaking tax laws, she retired from politics. But she remained a style icon for ever. Way back in 1961, Time had waxed lyrical over her " lithe figure wrapped in a peppermint chiffon saree" and almost 50 years later, when doing a story on the sari, it was still Gayatri Devi that Outlook was reminded of:
Last year, when the magazine turned 13, we asked 13 people what they remembered of their first teenage years. Gayatri Devi told us that she had shot her first panther before she turned thirteen.
Amita Malik, who passed away earlier in the year, described her meeting with the woman Sarojini Naidu once called the “little queen of a fairy tale land”, way back in 1998 in an Outlook diary:
As she sat down, one of Cecil Beaton's 10 most beautiful women in the world, I noticed she had retained her flawless complexion although her figure and face were both fuller, her hair, now snow white, framing her face in what used to be called a bob. "Yes, what is it you wanted to know?" she asked briskly. "You came to this palace as a bride, it was your home and now you come as a visitor to the bar and the coffee shop," I began. "Do you feel nostalgic, at all bitter"? "Why should I?" she replied in totally no-nonsense tones. "It is my hotel, I am one of the directors." She made it clear there was no more to be said and we left it at that and avoided the subject thereafter. "Do the tourists bother you?" I asked finally. "Surely they recognise you?" "Fortunately very rarely," she replied. And that was also that, except that her exit was as regal as her entrance.