[This is an exclusive excerpt from award-winning journalist and author John Zubzycki’s House of Jaipur - The Inside Story of India’s Most Glamorous Royal Family (Juggernaut, 2020). He is the best-selling author of The Last Nizam: An Indian Prince in the Australian Outback and The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy.]
In 1919, Indira and Jit [Gayatri Devi’s parents, the maharaja and maharani of Cooch Behar] had attended a Masonic banquet at one of London’s most prestigious dining venues, the Princes’ Restaurant in Piccadilly, to honour the contribution of Indian soldiers in World War I.
The guest list included Khusru Jung, the dashing twenty-seven-year-old son of the commander-in-chief of the Hyderabad army, Afsar-ul-Mulk. Jung was a cavalry lieutenant, a brilliant polo player and married to the daughter of a Hyderabadi nobleman with whom he had a daughter.
Tall and dignified with a carefully manicured moustache, somewhere between a pencil and a toothbrush style, high cheekbones and a receding hairline, he was also the private secretary of the crown prince of Kashmir, Hari Singh.
TROUBLE IN COOCH BEHAR
Four years after meeting Indira in London and following the death of his wife and daughter from typhoid, he arrived in Cooch Behar and was appointed her private secretary and controller of the royal household. He went on to be Bhaiya’s [Gayatri Devi’s brother] guardian and would travel with the family whenever they went abroad.
As a Muslim in a position of considerable power in a Hindu state, Jung’s appointment was controversial. In June 1925, the leader of Cooch Behar’s indigenous Rajbanshi community, Panchanan Varma, submitted a petition to the governor of Bengal objecting to a Muslim being appointed the guardian of a Hindu minor or controlling the affairs of a Hindu royal family.
The petition also asked why five Hindus serving on the household staff had been forcibly retrenched to make way for his appointment. Varma alleged that Jung had no educational or other qualifications that would entitle him to ‘even half his emoluments’.
"‘Bad rumours pierce through the ears and tears the Cooch-Beharee’s hearts, and the poor Cooch-Beharees are in a very awkward position, as they can neither express nor suppress their feelings.’"
Varma was later found to have forged the signatures on the petition and was exiled from the state for five years. But its publication in the widely read journal Modern Review damaged Indira’s standing.
The ‘bad rumours’ and allegations of nepotism almost certainly related to the widowed maharani’s intimate relationship with Jung, something that crossed both moral and communal boundaries.
A NOT VERY WELL-KEPT SECRET
Jung’s reputation had already been tarnished over his involvement in attempting to cover up a blackmail attempt against the Kashmir crown prince Hari Singh when he was caught in bed in a Paris hotel room with an eighteen-year-old shapely blonde divorcee by an enraged Englishman who claimed to be her husband.
Though the sexual tryst happened in 1919, the identity of the unnamed and unwitting ‘Eastern potentate’ described in court proceedings as only ‘Mr A.’ was only leaked to the press in 1924. Hari Singh had paid out £150,000 to his blackmailers, prompting The Times to call it one of the boldest and most daring cases of its kind in history. Jung was referred to in the report as Hari Singh’s private secretary.
The relationship between Indira and Jung is still spoken of in whispered tones. In A Princess Remembers, Ayesha [Gayatri Devi] refers to him as a Hyderabadi noble who came to look after Cooch Behar’s financial affairs.
"‘He happened also to be a superb horseman and soon began to supervise the care and training of Ma’s [Indira’s] string of hunters as well as all our ponies. He gave us riding lessons and inspired the boys to try to reach his own mastery.’"
According to Ayesha, Jung’s second daughter, Kamala, who everyone called Baby, was ‘adopted’ by her mother and ‘became so much a part of our family that she lived and travelled with us almost as much as with her father’.
Omitted from official family histories was the fact that Baby was the biological daughter of Indira and Jung and therefore Ayesha’s unacknowledged half-sister.
‘My father never said much, but all I knew was, yes, that they were very fond of each other and they had a child. And I met her a lot,’ admits Ali Khusru Jung, Khusru Jung’s son by his third wife.
‘It’s only human, she being a beautiful woman and he being such a handsome man and being there the whole time looking after the family,’ he explains, while urging me to have another lukhmi samosa as we sit talking in his villa overlooking Hussein Sagar in Hyderabad.
In photographs taken in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Baby bears a striking resemblance to Ayesha, Ila and Menaka [Gayatri Devi’s sisters], while retaining some of her father’s distinctive features. In the book From Hyderabad to Hollywood, the film director Ahmed Lateef, Khusru Jung’s grand-nephew, refers to Kamal Apa, another of Baby’s nicknames, as Indira’s daughter and his grand-uncle as her father.
THE END OF THE AFFAIR?
Since it was never acknowledged officially or by the family, the nature of Indira and Khusru Jung’s relationship is difficult to ascertain, but it continued in one form or another until he married a Parsi, Lulu Talyarkhan, in 1941. Photographs and brief mentions of his official role in India Office files provide some clues.
An undated photograph taken in Kashmir in 1938, and published in Lateef’s book, shows Jung in a pinstriped suit with one hand on Ayesha’s shoulder and one on Baby’s, with Indira standing just behind him, suggesting a high level of intimacy among the four of them.
Another photograph in the possession of a relative shows Jung, Ayesha and Baby speaking to Vivien Leigh on the set of Gone With the Wind in 1938. Indira’s close and possibly intimate relationship with Douglas Fairbanks ensured that a steady stream of Hollywood actors and directors visited Cooch Behar.
The final separation between Indira and Khusru Jung probably occurred in the late 1930s. According to Indira Dhanrajgir, who was close to the Cooch Behars and knew Jung personally, the pair had parted ways when Indira refused to move to Hyderabad where he had renovated his family home in Somajiguda for her.
When he died in 1971, he left nothing for Baby, ‘who went back to live with her mother, the Maharani of Cooch Behar’, writes Lateef.
BABY AND THE ROYAL FAMILY
What is clear is that the sisterly bond between Ayesha and Baby was a lifelong one. Possibly the last photograph of them together was taken at Lily Pool on Ayesha’s seventy-fifth birthday in which Baby bears an uncanny resemblance to Indira in her later years.
‘They were friendly and very supportive of each other,’ says Prithviraj Singh, Man Singh’s son by his second wife, Kishore. Nicknamed Pat, he describes Baby’s relationship with the other members of the family as very close.
‘She used to call Gayatri, Menaka and Ila didi, or sister.’
Pat says that Baby and his deceased wife, Devika, who was Indira’s granddaughter, were particularly attached to each other. ‘Baby looked after [Devika and her two brothers] because my wife’s mother died at a young age.’
When pressed on parentage, members of the Jaipur family remain circumspect. ‘Baby didn’t face up to the reality of what was what . . . I mean it’s hardly a subject she would discuss,’ says a family member who asked to remain anonymous. Baby later married Bijai Singh, the son of the polo great Hanut Singh.
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