Palace of Clouds: Not a fairytale

Palace of Clouds

Author: Rajshree Kumari, Bikaner

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Pages: 400

Book Type: A Memoir

Rating: 4.5/5

Rajshree Kumari’s book Palace of Clouds offers the reader an interesting and engaging narrative of her experiences in life. 

The common folk like us are often made to believe that the life of royal families often resemble fairytales. They are more or less the privileged souls who live high above the earth, in the clouds where no worries and problems that plague the common man can even touch them.

However when I read ‘Palace of Clouds’, a book authored by Rajashree Kumari, the erstwhile princess of Bikaner I realized that life had its own challenges even for the favourite child of Dr. Karni Singh, the erstwhile Maharaja of Bikaner.

The first few pages of the book feature in-depth reviews about the book. The writers include well-known authors like Amrita Gandhi, who is also a television anchor, Aman Nath who is also a hotelier and Dharmendra Kanwar, Dr. Amin Jaffer, who is also a senior curator of Fine art at the Al Thani Collection and Christie’s, London.

The author begins with an in-depth description about the history and origin of Bikaner. This is followed by chapters about her family lineage. Though these pages give interesting insights into the lives and times of the royal family of Bikaner and many a times, the author has been able to weave the historical events seamlessly into her narrative, to people who already know about the history of Bikaner, they feel like pages from a history book. Nevertheless, they should be an interesting read for the uninitiated and those who are unacquainted with the rich legacy of Rajasthan.

The chapters along with the photographs that detail the life of the author are full of anecdotes that give an insight into her growing up years, her fears and her personality. Whether it is about the origin of her childhood fear of abandonment by her parents or about losing her father, or her relationship with her husband, the author has been completely candid about her life experiences. I was taken aback by the innate honesty with which she talks about the strained relationship between her mother and her paternal grandmother or her efforts to learn cooking before her marriage or the breakdown of her marriage.

Though the narrative about her life style and travels to different countries did give me an impression of a life swathed in luxury without a dearth of money or the abundant resources that the common people find hard to fathom, her accounts of her travels to various countries are interesting. Many mothers would identify with her story about how she struggled to find Bournvita in Saudi Arabia for her son who refused to drink milk otherwise.

The book is punctuated with several interesting stories like how the Hinduja brothers clearly monopolized the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher or the unexpected proposal of marriage by an Egyptian policeman. The author also gives a detailed account about her passion and relationship with her pugs which partly inspired her foray into PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) along with her father’s efforts as a Lok Sabha member for creating awareness about the plight of bull frogs which were exported to countries like France for their legs which were considered a delicacy. The pictures are interesting

I discovered an interesting aspect about the author who has been a shooting champion and the youngest recipient of the Arjuna award. In her memoir she talked about how her father was immensely proud of her achievements in shooting . However, she also talks about how her father’s pressure of expectations put her off painting for the rest of her life.

When I finished reading this book in the wee hours of morning, I realized that life is the same for everyone whether a princess or a common man. The privileges or the luxury that comes with being born in a certain segment of the society does not protect us from the inevitable pain and trials that arise from the life events and experiences that become an integral part of our lives.

To the casual reader, the title ‘Palace of Clouds’ may give an impression of a fairy tale life but it is anything but that. By author’s own admission, as a teenager and most Indian girls, she expected to have a life where her father would always be there for her and she would marry a Rajput man and live happily ever after. However, things turned out very different from not only what the author had expected but also from the point of view of a reader who was expecting to read about a rich princess but learnt about a lady who not only took the various tribulations of her life with grace but also became richer and wiser with those experiences.

Shailaza Singh’s article was published in Rashtradoot Newspaper’s Arbit Section on 5 November 2019.


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