Maharanis, The Lives and Times of three Generations of Indian Princesses is a misleading title to a work of non-fiction by Lucy Moore. The princesses are focus points of a larger narrative about the lives of Indian royalty in the century preceding Independence and their lives in Independent India. Lucy Moore carries the narrative forward with excerpts from personal letters, first-person accounts, official documents, and numerous written material from that period.
The main themes are the role of Indian Royalty during British Rule, their ambiguity in their support for freedom movements and then their diminishing role in modern India. The narrative is kept alive by addressing these themes with respect to the royal families of Baroda, Cooch Behar and Jaipur.
Indian upbringing but western education, socialising with Europeans but no allowed to marry Europeans, possess titles but have no responsibilities, have a legacy but no official role in modern India…these are the paradoxes the royals had to deal with and many of them got addicted to alcohol because of their inability to reconcile the two worlds they always had to inhabit.
Indira Raje is the backbone of the narrative and it is her character that connects the first part of the book to the second. The last few chapters are mostly about Maharani Gayatri Devi and her foray into politics. Her famous rivalry with Indira Gandhi is interesting to read and shows the steely spirit of both the women who were once classmates.
Overall, Maharanis by Lucy Moore is a great read on one aspect of the transition of colonial India to the world’s largest democracy.