Maharanis by Lucy Moore
The Extraordinary Tale of Four Indian Queens and Their Journey from Purdah to Parliament

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Synopsis

Here is a rare glimpse behind purdah’s curtain into the lives of four brilliant maharanis-the wives of Maharajas-who helped shepherd princely India into the twentieth century. Tracing the lives of these influential women from the final days of the raj and the British Empire to the present, Lucy Moore vividly re-creates a splendid lost world as well as describes the growing pains of the emerging democratic society in India.

Educated, nationalist Chimnabai, born in 1871, in the wake of the "Indian Mutiny" of 1857, began her marriage in purdah but broke it in 1913, and spent the rest of her life campaigning tirelessly for women’s rights. The comparatively demure Sunity Devi was a favorite of the British aristocracy and made Queen Victoria the godmother of her son, Victor. Her prim demeanor belied a passionate social activism on behalf of the poor and uneducated. Chimnabai’s ravishing daughter, Indira, broke off an arranged marriage so she could marry Sunity Devi’s dashing son, Jit. But when her beloved husband died young, far from committing sati, she became the regent of his state, a job she took on with gusto though she maintained a sybaritic life abroad. In fact, among the jet set in which she traveled-including Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks, Jimmy Stewart, and the Prince of Wales-she was known as the Maharani of Couche Partout because of her penchant for scandalous love affairs. Ayesha, Indira’s equally fashionable daughter and friend to the Kennedys, was elected-with the greatest majority ever recorded-to the Parliament of an independent India in 1962. She remains a social activist and benefactress to this day. These women have lived in a lavish, if sometimes tragic, fairy tale-their palaces were modeled on Versailles; they wore sunglasses carved out of emeralds and saris made of chiffon. They kept jewel-encrusted turtles for luck, went on tiger hunts with the European royalty, and socialized with the chic and infamous. With exhausting frequency they lost husbands and children to alcoholism. But throughout their glamorous lives they fought tirelessly for civil rights and were able to turn a tradition of noblesse oblige into a progressive democracy.

It is through their struggles that we begin to understand the nuance implicit in any interaction between the rulers and the ruled, race and class, subservience and independence, Eastern and Western ideas, and ancient and modern ways of life. Maharanis is the unforgettable story of four magnificent queens who defied centuries of tradition to embrace lives of adventure, passion, and political engagement.

 

About Lucy Moore

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Lucy Moore is the author of The Thieves' Opera and Amphibious Thing and edited Con Men and Cutpurses. She writes often for the Observer, Telegraph, regularly appears on TV and is considered one of Britain most exciting historians.
 
Published December 29, 2004 by Viking Adult. 368 pages
Genres: History, Travel, Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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The British historian examines the remarkable transition of India's female royalty from fairy-tale queens to activist powerbrokers as colonial fiefdoms merged into Asia's largest democracy.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of Maharanis: The Extraordinary ...

Publishers Weekly

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Drawing on accounts from the waning days of the Raj and the British Empire to the present, Moore (The Thieves' Opera ) brings exhaustive research to bear on t

Jan 03 2005 | Read Full Review of Maharanis: The Extraordinary ...

Asian Review of Books

... Maharanis opens with a mind-blowing fact-a-thon that seems as if it might never
end. Historian Lucy Moore's detailed description of the ...

Jan 02 2005 | Read Full Review of Maharanis: The Extraordinary ...

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