Thursday, 3 July 2014

Kim's Review : Victoria Gowramma - The Lost Princess of Coorg

Victoria Gowramma - The Lost Princess of Coorg is the tale of the favourite daughter of Chikka Veerarajendra, the last king of erstwhile Coorg.

I first heard of Victoria Gowramma, when reading Indu Sundaresan's "Mountain of Light - Tale of the Kohinoor Diamond" She was mentioned in passing as a minor character, who was considered as a "suitable" bride for Prince Duleep Singh. But her lineage interested me enough to look for more information on her.

When I found this book, I ordered it immediately, although I did take some time to get around to reading it.

The book is well researched, but I wish it was better written or rather, better edited.

The initial chapters regarding how the Raja was ousted from Coorg and banished to Benares made for interesting reading, but the later chapters got very repetitive in content. The statement "x & y were anxious to bring about an alliance between Maharaja Duleep Singh and Princess Gowramma as soon as possible" was repeated umpteen times in the book. X & Y ranging from Queen Victoria to Lord Dalhousie to the Logins.

In the middle of a description about Gowramma's exchange of letters with Princess Alice and her interest in social functions, suddenlt this paragraph crops up "While the revolt in India was spreading across the Northern parts of the Subcntinent, the royal Literary Fund invited Veerarajendra and the Prince of Oudh for the 68th anniversary festival of the fund, held on 19th May 1857, at the Free Masons Tavern. Amongst the prominent invitees were Dr David Livingstone and Thomas Babington Macaulay. There was an interesting discussion on 'Literature of the Colonies'"

While there could be some interest developed in this paragraph, the next paragraph goes on to talk about the uprising in India. And the information in this paragraph is irrelevant to anything before or after in the book. This is what I mean, by saying that there is a lot of research that has gone into the book, but it doesn't mean that everything should be included in the book.

The flow of the narrative meanders left and right before getting on track again and that is what made me keep losing interest. I kept dropping this book to read something else in between, something I very rarely do. It was just my personal interest in the subject matter that made me finish the book.

The historical basis of this book is extremely interesting. Raja Chikka Veerarajendra of Coorg, under the advise from some British friends, traveled to London with Gowramma under the pretext of her wanting to convert to Christianity and wanting a British education, while what he actually intended to do was fight the East India Company in the Courts of Britain, since deposed Indian Rulers had no recourse to the Law in India. He was the first Indian ruler to reach British shores and Maharaja Duleep Singh followed a few years later and they were then followed by the Nawab of Oudh.

Maharaja Duleep Singh was deposed at an extremely young age, when Dalhousie took everything away from him, including his mother and left him in the care of British Guardians in Fategarh. Dalhousie had a vested interest in converting Maharaja Duleep Singh to Christianity as the Maharaj, by virtue of his birth and the deaths of his brothers, was also the head of the Sikh Community. Control of the Punjab of those days was the only defense against raids from Afghanisthan.

While Dalhousie, did not want any Indian rulers visiting Britain, as he felt that they were no better than tribal Lords and completely undeserving of the press coverage and attention they received in London (Jung Bahadur of Nepal was the first to travel abroad and Dalhousie had no say in that matter), Queen Victoria herself, felt guilty about the way the Indian rulers were being treated and there was a lot of Debate in the British Parliament about how badly the Company was treating the Indian rulers and its people.

Unfortunately, the financial benefits to Britain through the company, outweighed the moral qualms of a few and not much came of it in those days. The Nawab of Oudh, Raja Chikka Veerarajendra and Maharaja Duleep Singh lost all their Court Cases and their petitions were mostly in vain. All 3 died, far away from the territories that they initially ruled and their pensions were constantly decreased, with their families getting practically nothing after their deaths. Given their massive wealth of land, jewelry, armaments while in power, they died practically destitute in comparison, while the company usurped all their property in the name of the Crown.

The Queen and a lot of British Nobility were hugely in favour of the Indian Rulers converting to Christianity, as they felt that it would spearhead a religious "awakening" in India and would earn their foreign rulers - "Religious Merit" in the afterlife.

While the Company used this as an excuse for their atrocities, the Queen seemed genuinely interested in the spiritual well-being and welfare of Duleep and Gowramma. She took a special interest in them, invited them over often, to socialise with her own children and had their guardians write to her frequently to keep her informed of their progress. In fact, the inscription on Gowramma's tombstone in Brompton Oratory was written by the Queen herself.

Victoria Gowramma - The Lost Princess of Coorg is at least 90% historical and barely 2-5% of fiction. Even that is not really fiction, its more about the gossip of those days, that can't be corroborated as facts.

Read only if you are truly interested in this subject.

Rating : 2.5 / 5

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