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20 October 2008 Society living history

'I Had Shot My First Panther Before I Turned Thirteen'

Gayatri Devi turned 13 in 1932
Roli Books

It was the year I had a huge crush on Jai (Maharaja Man Singh of Jaipur). I’d first met him when I was 12; he came to Calcutta to play polo and stayed with us. He cut such a dashing figure and although he was eight years older, I felt an instant connection with him. For one thing, he loved sports as much as I did. By 13, we had started dating, going on long drives, mostly when we went to stay in England. I was too young to think of marriage, but I spent hours daydreaming about my prince charming.

There was plenty of sports when I was 13—riding, cricket, croquet and tennis. And shikar on elephant back—I’d already shot my first panther before I’d turned 13. And there was a huge doll house where we played for hours on end. It was fun, having the run of the palatial grounds in Cooch Behar.

My mother (Rajmata Indira Devi of Cooch Behar), concerned that our education shouldn’t suffer while we shuttled between France, England and India, had employed two governesses, to teach us French, German and English, while two local teachers came to teach us all the other subjects.


There was no special training as such in being royalty but we had an excellent role model in our mother, who was a renowned hostess. She excelled in setting up beautiful homes for us. And when I married Jai, it was she who picked my entire trousseau.


(As told to Dharmendar Kanwar)

AUTHORS: Gayatri Devi
PEOPLE: Gayatri Devi
SECTION: Society
OUTLOOK: 20 October, 2008
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