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Prince and pauper? No, princess and nanny
Royal’s baby mission in Delhi

New Delhi, Dec. 4: Norway’s Crown Princess rocked, kissed and cradled her friends’ twins at a Delhi clinic for two days, with so much expertise that everyone mistook the future queen for a nanny.

Princess Mette-Marit, a commoner who had married Crown Prince Haakon Magnus, travelled to Delhi incognito in October after her friends, a gay Norwegian couple who had hired a surrogate mother in India, failed to secure visas to be at the birth.

The 39-year-old princess, a mother of three, used her diplomatic passport to step in at the last minute so she could take care of the newborns at Manav Medicare, set in a crowded alley in an upscale south Delhi locality.

“She was a princess? I would have never guessed! I thought she was the nanny of the children,” said a member of the staff at Manav, where the twins were born on October 23.

“She took care of them so wonderfully! She held them, caressed them and even fed them sometimes,” the employee, who wouldn’t be quoted, added.

“I remember her because she was a foreigner and very beautiful. She dressed simply and if I didn’t know better, I would have thought she was the mother.”

If the princess’s dash to babysit in India was an act of personal generosity, the jail sentences handed to two Indian parents in Norway today seemed to provide a cultural, if somewhat ironic, context.

Software professional Chandrasekhar Vallabhaneni and wife Anupama received 18 months and 15 months, respectively, for allegedly burning their young son’s leg with a hot spoon and threatening to brand his tongue, too.

Dr Vinay Aggarwal, director of Manav, refused comment on the princess’s visit citing patient-doctor confidentiality, but it was confirmed that Mette-Marit had indeed been at the clinic from October 23 to 25, taking care of the babies’ every need.

Sources said the princess then moved the babies to an undisclosed location and left Delhi on October 28, soon after a relative of the surrogate mother assumed care of the newborns.

The fathers, one of whom works closely with Mette-Marit as director of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess’ Foundation and holds a position in the Royal Secretariat too, arrived in early November and took the twins home to Norway.

Surrogacy is illegal in Norway but it is not illegal to seek a surrogate mother abroad and bring the child to the Nordic country. The loophole has sparked a debate in Norway but the princess has clarified that in bailing out her friends, she was not taking a position on the controversial subject.

“For me, this isn’t meant to be a contribution to the debate,” she wrote on the royal palace website. “For me, the core of the matter was that there were two newborn babies who lay alone in a hospital in Delhi.”

At least 30 Norwegian couples, either gay or unable to have children, have used surrogate mothers from India, sources here said. However, Oslo routinely advises its citizens against entering into agreements with surrogate mothers in foreign countries.

Sources said the Norwegian embassy in New Delhi had been kept in the dark about the princess’s trip till the last moment, while Indian officials were not informed at all.

The palace website has cleared the air, saying the October 23-28 trip was a “private one”, which means the expenses were paid out of the princess’s private funds.

A look at the programme archive on the royal website indicated Mette-Marit had missed the annual MPs’ banquet at the palace on October 25, and also a board meeting of The Crown Prince and Crown Princess’ Foundation the same day, to play nanny in India.

“I was the one who could travel,” the princess wrote on the website. “For me, it was important to help in any way I could.”

She wrote she made up her mind after “discussing the question with my husband. He agreed that I should go.”

Mette-Marit had been a single mother when she met Prince Haakon Magnus at a garden party. After their marriage in 2001, the royal couple had two children.

At Manav, none was ready to speak about the royal visitor. “I will speak to you only if I get a written request from her giving me permission to do so. There is something called patient-doctor confidentiality and I can’t break that,” Dr Aggarwal said.