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Bubbles, the ‘king’ who tasted life in the trenches

- Book on the life of bhawani singh, the only rajasthan royal to join the army

Jaipur, Jan. 22: An elephant used at Rashtrapati Bhavan ceremonies had turned wild, crashing walls and stomping around untamed.

Then, a “king’s” valour and skills were put to test. “Maharaja” Bhawani Singh of Jaipur came out with flying colours, shooting the jumbo dead. That was in the mid-fifties, soon after he joined the army and was drafted into the President’s elite security team.

That nugget and more will be part of the first-ever book on Bhawani Singh, the only Rajasthan royal to have joined the Indian Army and won the Mahavir Chakra, the nation’s second-highest gallantry award, before bowing out of service as a brigadier.

Being authored by Sajjan Singh Rathore, a noted guide at Jaipur’s City Palace and a writer, the book in Hindi is possibly the only one on a member of the Jaipur royal family other than Gayatri Devi, Bhawani Singh’s stepmother who has been widely chronicled.

The book on Bhawani Singh is called, Kachchawa Vansh ka Sirmour (The Kachchawa Dynasty Helmsman). Kachchawa refers to his dynasty. It is expected to be released on October 22, his birth anniversary. He passed away in April 2011.

Rathore says there was no need for Bhawani Singh to join defence services but he did so to serve his nation and get a taste of life without the comforts royals were used to. He led his battalion into the 1971 war and helped train the Mukti Bahini, Bangladesh’s liberation army.

Born to Sawai Man Singh and his first wife Marudhar Kunwar after generations — all others including his father were adopted — in 1931, Bhawani Singh was nicknamed “Bubbles” because of the torrent of champagne that flowed to celebrate the newborn’s arrival.

Educated at Doon School and London’s Harrow, Bhawani Singh was commissioned into the army’s 3rd Cavalry Regiment as a Second Lieutenant in 1954. He served in the President’s team of bodyguards where he served for eight years till 1963.

After this, he was assigned to the Para Brigade, a stint that saw him carry out high-altitude parachute jumping in Leh without the help of oxygen. Later, he was posted as an adjutant at the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun where he stayed till 1967.

In May 1972, he took voluntary retirement to look after his family’s huge ancestral properties. Rathore recounts an incident that showed how Gayatri Devi was stunned by Bhawani Singh’s rigour. “Once Gayatri Devi, to whom he was very close, was surprised to see him sweat it out in a hot tent in Jaisalmer. He was posted there then,” Rathore says.

Bhawani Singh was a stickler for discipline and punctuality, a personal trait reinforced in the army. A former aide, Narayan Singh, said: “He often reached a venue before the organisers did.”

Juggling so many roles, the royal still found time for hobbies like tennis, squash, music and reading. He was often seen in a bookshop on Jaipur’s Mirza Ismail Road, scouring the shelves for titles.

Cars and horses were a passion, too. An excellent equestrian and a polo player, Bhawani Singh could be seen riding a two-seater convertible Buick with Gayatri Devi.

However, in the 1960s when Gayatri Devi floated the Swatantra Party and contested elections, Bhawani Singh distanced himself from her politics.

Over two decades later, in 1989, he himself fought the elections on Rajiv Gandhi’s insistence but lost. However, the “Maharaja” was magnanimous in defeat, driving to the home of Girdhari Lal Bhargava, the BJP victor, to congratulate him.

Despite his aristocratic roots, Bhawani Singh had a way with commoners. According to one of the family’s drivers, the royal’s car once hit a bullock cart. Bhawani Singh, the driver recalls, got off, patted the bullock and the cart owner, and gave him money.

At one of his parties after he was awarded the Mahavir Chakra, he ordered sweets to be sent to the families of the officers. Asked how much, he said: “Send a mon.” A mon is 40kg.