Part 5: Rajmata’s legacy ❤️
Rajmata started the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh Vidyalaya, a co-education school in English medium in Jaipur, in memory of her departed husband in 1984 and selected Mrs Kaboori as its first Principal. She later helped Mrs Kaboori establish Disha, a school for the children with severe learning difficulties and ensured it received funding from several of her own sources.
She was keenly interested in heritage and cultural preservation and actively patronised many such causes. Dharmendra Kanwar Jija, integral to INTACH’s (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) Jaipur Chapter, recounts how once she had taken Rajmata to show the restoration work at Maji-ki-Chatri – resting place for the Jaipur Queens – and Jija, excited that Rajmata was around forgot to take off her footwear. Rajmata not only admonished her, reminding her that this place was a shrine, but took off her own footwear in the dust and rubble of restoration work.
She then subtly smiled and told Jija that this would be her own resting place one day. Rajmata never took herself seriously but fought hard for all that she believed in and represented. Till the last years of her life, she fought for a clear skyline for Jaipur where only some parts of the city would have high rise buildings but by now no one listened to her. Her own Jaipur had forsaken her in her own lifetime but not her MGD or MGDians.
Rajmata was known for upholding tradition, she practiced the rituals essential to her role as the Queen Mother, Queen, mother, wife, sister, grandmother, aunt and all other capacities. She only protested about those traditions that she felt hampered human beings to breathe.
What MGD taught us
Our school had a Science, Interact and Literary Club, we participated in every inter school competition and mostly won everything from debates to drama to dance to music. We had also been taught gardening, fence painting, dance, music, Block Printing, Blue Pottery, Batik, Tie and Dye, making new products from waste, (now called upscaling and sustainable living), budgeting, apart from embroidery (including Chikankari), knitting, sauce, pickle and jam making. The objective was to turn young girls into women who would appreciate hard work and experience the background processes, basically be worldly wise and fiercely independent. Not all of us came from affluent families so these life skills and techniques have kept us afloat by forging our own identities., running small enterprises even out of our own houses
This is another of our prayers that motivated us:
|(1) There are loyal hearts, there are spirits brave,|
There are souls that are pure and true,
Then give to the world the best you have,
And the best will come back to you.
|(2) For life is the mirror of king and slave,|
This just what we are and do ………
Then give to the world the best you have,
And the best will come back to you.
|(3) Give love, and love to your life will flow,|
A strength in your utmost need,
Have faith and a score of hearts will show,
Their faith in your word and deed.
|(4) Give truth, and you gift will be paid in kind,|
And honor will honor meet,
And the smile which is sweet will surely find,
A smile that is just as sweet.
|by Medeline S. Bridges|
We also sang: ‘humko man ki shakti dena’ ‘itni shakti humein dena data’ and learnt Tagore’s ‘Where the Mind is Without Fear’ amongst other prayers.
There are many instances of Rajmata’s grit but the one from her last few days while she was suffering in a hospital at Jaipur will always remain – Dharmendra Jija says how she in considerable pain but did not even once flinch. Till her last breath, Rajmata’s MGDians did not leave her alone.
Rajmata’s lasting legacy and teachings
Life has not been a cakewalk for either Rajmata and her MGDians! We have been accused of being high handed, spoilt, conversing mainly in English, being snooty and other nasty stuff flung at women to malign them in a feudal, patriarchal society. MGD was labelled a finishing school and girls studying elsewhere were taught to mock us. People were scared to talk to us and did not want their sons to marry us, women were ridiculed for wanting to send their daughters to MGD. Basically, we were feared!
Our school uniform had ‘naughty boy’ shoes, usually reserved only for boys uniforms. We wore these with our blue tunics and even in our senior years when we had to wear salwar – kameez and dupattas – we knew from our first day at school that we would stand out, would be different! Believe it, however thrilling it may sound to read, to realise you are different and embrace it is not at all easy. Our teachers and other staff including our maids, even our school’s favourite dog ‘Panna’ tried to make our lives easy and happy ❤️
Rajasthan believed in an unwritten dictum – “ladki ko padao mat, padaoge to sochegi, aur sochegi to bolegi” meaning “don’t educate girls, once educated they will think, and if they think they will speak.” Women were to be seen, ogled at, molested, subjected to lewd comments, obscene gestures and so much more but not supposed to have any opinion, let alone voice it. Rajmata changed all this!!!
In a few decades, other schools started copying MGD, from the uniform to the style of teaching that included compulsory games and finer arts. Prior to MGD, not many girls’ school had sports and physical activities for students. In our school, Johnson & Johnson would visit us each year and educate us about menstruation through a short film, a lady spoke about it and then distributed free sanitary napkins. Most of us were around 10 years old and hadn’t even known of this occurrence in the female body that would stay with us for at least the next 30 years, our families never told us all this – but we were prepared and not shell shocked when the periods hit us. Very few girls’ schools even in 2022 prepare their girls like this, forget educating boys.
Connection between female education and empowerment
Reading about the news of how a small piece of cloth is being used as a weapon against education for young girls in some parts of India, I kept thinking of Rajmata. When she started MGD, the girls were brought to school in a small bus with curtains on the windows, accompanied by a female help, the driver was behind a screen and not allowed to see or talk to the girls. Gayatri Devi, as a young bride, the third wife of an immensely popular King with large fan following was not eagerly accepted, her unorthodox ways were frowned upon, she faced criticism for trying to eradicate the centuries old ‘purdah’ system but she persisted and did not give up. She never told anyone to remove ‘purdah’. She started using the Ladies Club, opposite MGD School, as a place where anxious mothers could relax while their daughters were at school – she ensured the whole family supported their daughter’s education. She did not force education or her beliefs on anyone but requested and patiently waited, through example and practice. A good educational institution is meant to enhance one’s quality of life, uplift their standards and make them responsible, empathetic human beings, concerned for all.
Rajmata’s victory was never her own alone, she always thanked Miss Lutter, the teachers and the MGDians. She taught us to be feminists by loving and caring for other women and not judging them, instead patiently and calmly understanding their painful situations and indulging them, to not feel privileged and entitled and brandish them as weapons, choosing our battles, and, not hating men but letting them come around to one’s own forward thinking.
Wonder what Rajmata would have done for these young girls – wrapped them in love, smiled her dazzling smile at them, patiently listened to their pain, letting them know she’s there at the forefront fighting their battle??? She would have never allowed any girl chased away from attending school!! Rajmata never even once let her MGDians down or leave us to fight alone, she ensured we were there for each other, and she was always leading.
A true warrior, lover of freedom, Rajmata Gayatri Devi has empowered generations of women, men, society, state and a country like India. Just as Mahatma Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in people.”
I would like to end with this:
The School Prayer
I would be true, for there are those who trust me,
I would be pure, for there are those who care,
I would be strong, for there is much of suffer,
I would be brave, for there is much to dare,
I would be friend of all the foe, the friendless,
I would be giving and forget the gift,
I would be humble, for I know my weakness,
I would look up, and laugh and love and live.
I wonder what Rajmata would have said after reading this series on her? She would have probably smiled, her eyes gleaming… She never gloated in her own glory and did not care much for what people thought of her, she took everything in her stride… if only words could express what our Rajmata truly was, is and will always be ❤️ ❤️ ❤️
End of the series.
This five post series is a tribute to the Rajmata, written to share with the world her immense grit, determination, strength of purpose and unconditional love for us ❤️ what she still represents for little girls from Rajasthan, a western desert of India, recognised for its valour, colour and cultural heritage.
This series is dedicated to our beloved MGD – all students, teachers and staff – especially the batch of 1992 and our departed friends Swati Pareek and Aparajita Chauhan 🙏🏾
Thank you Dharmendra Kanwar Jija for your help and Sadhna Bohra Jija for encouraging me ❤️
Forever in deep gratitude to the family of Aarti Gupta Jija for starting the scholarship in her memory of which I was one of the first recipients, I would not have been able to complete my education at MGD without it. RIP Jija 🙏🏾
This photograph is from the series of re-enactments by Kadambari Misra for the Iconic Women Project that she conceived in 2020 for “inspiring a fresh look into the rich legacies and contributions of remarkable women in history through the powerful art of re-enactment for celebrating and reviving our shared heritage through character exploration and re-creating a narrative through costume, accessories and powerful storytelling.” She thinks through re-enactment, “We wonder, we empathise, and in a quiet, subliminal way, we connect. We understand, and we see a bit of ourselves in the other, realising that we aren’t so different after all.”
When I saw this photograph where Kadambari is inspired by Rajmata, our Rajmata, I blurted out all I knew about her, also complaining that Rajmata was a force to reckon with and not just one of the world’s most beautiful women. Kadambari prompted me to write this post, I had been already planning it since two years but through this re-enactment, I felt that Rajmata is looking at me through that piercing glance, prompting for her MGD’s story to be narrated to the whole world.
Kadambari carefully selects each article for the enactment that brings out the true quality of the personality, based on quality research. For Rajmata, she decided this was the best tribute, in a chiffon sari, with the two strand pearl necklace and a tiny ‘bindi’ – it encapsulates our Rajmata best. A floodgate of memories have been opened 😍
Iconic Women Project and Museum Memories Project have started a collaboration to delve deep into Indian history to highlight her uncelebrated powerful women who have been forgotten in pages of dusty books, if they ever found mention. It is our personal tribute to these iconic women. Watch this space for more work on our collaboration as we attempt to make history more accessible and inclusive, immersive and a resource of knowledge.