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How Gayatri Devi reacted to Obama

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 29.07.10
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Devraj Singh of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi’s only grandson from her son, the late Jagat Singh, reminisces about his grandmother on her first death anniversary today.

It is more than a year and a half ago now, but I remember the day well. We were watching TV here in the Lilypool (Gayatri Devi’s estate) the day US President Barack Obama assumed office.

As my grandmother had recently recovered from an illness, and was absent from our informal dinner in the library for a while, she seemed surprised with all the hustle and bustle of the presidential inauguration ceremony and asked me: “Who’s that man?” I replied: “It’s the new American president dadisa, after Bush.” “Really?” was her meek reply, in the fascinating voice that always characterised her.

It seemed to me that she took it quite well. After all, much has happened since the early 1960s when John F. Kennedy began advocating civil rights for African-Americans, after which Kennedy unsurprisingly gained 70 per cent of the African-American votes.

As for my late grandmother, the 1960s were the peak of her political career, of which the story of her opposition to the “permit licence Raj” and her winning with a world record majority (at the time) is well known.

Like the Kennedys who were known to her, she dedicated her life to creating a subtle, but implicative, change in society, particularly with her continuous efforts for the empowerment of Indian women from the confines of the veil.

The task facing her was arduous, considering life for women in Rajasthan 67 years ago. Today’s generation may be taking their liberties for granted, but things were very different back then when segregation between men and women was strict and the opportunity for women much more limited.

If you asked Rajmata sahib how it all started, she would never tire of telling how the late His Highnesses (my grandfather) desired to get the women of Jaipur out of purdah. She told him “if you give me a school, I think I can do it”. To that, he replied he would name the school after her. The rest is history. This is one of the favourite stories she would fondly recall.

She took me along to visit her friends in England, Scotland, France (the day I consumed the most champagne in my life was at her birthday party in Paris), Spain, Nepal or other parts of India. However, spending time with her here at the Lilypool was equally fun and interesting.

Remembering the fascination she had, when she spoke to (and saw) my sister on Skype, or how she laughed at the silly YouTube clips I showed her. I am proud and will always be happy that I was able to look after my grandmother in her final year.

Before she left for England for the last time, she was bent on resolving the legal conflicts between me and an uncle of mine. On the way to the airport — both I and my uncle were in the car with her — she even asked him to end the dispute amicably and hand over my father’s due shares to me and my sister.

Unsurprisingly to me, after my grandmother’s demise my uncle did not keep to his word and now I continue the struggle for my rights alone, without her physical presence. Although my sister and I both feel that in another way, she is here to support us still.

She has been an inspiration for generations in India and abroad, and I feel that she will continue to be so. As for my sister and I, it gives us great strength and courage seeing how our late grandmother braved the storm of changes and uncertainties of her time, and I truly hope that when the time is right, we would be able to contribute to society in a manner similar to her, and that my late dadusa (grandfather), father and my beloved dadisa would one day be proud of us.