The Maharaja’s Household: A Daughter’s Memories of her Father is a unique memoir told from a daughter’s perspective. This non fictional account is about Maharaja Churachand, the erstwhile ruler of the current Indian state of Manipur, told from the perspective of his youngest daughter, Princess Wangol or as she is more widely known, Binodini. It is an informal account, based on her own memories of how she saw her father and also based on stories she heard from people that surrounded the Maharaja.
Binodini is a humble narrator who admits that the book is not a historical account. The key word to remember is also memoir. She admits often that some stories might not even be accurate and that they are based on stories she has heard from other sources or from her own memories.
The Maharaja’s Household proffers a glimpse into the Manipuri royalty and the codes and conduct they followed. It may not be a historical account yet it does allow the reader to know more about the place and its history that is not often discussed or taught as part of the mainstream idea of India. (This was the first time I myself have read anything about Manipuri history as well!)
Further, as the title suggests, it is not just about the Maharaja himself but about his household. Binodini interweaves with her memories and anecdotes of her father, the accounts of other people in his large household – people who are often forgotten, not considered important but are the invisible beings who keep the place running. In essence, she also records or has tried to record the subaltern through this memoir; those people who were close to her father and those who helped in the smooth functioning of his life, duties and the palace itself. This also includes her own birth mother, Maharani Dhanamanjuri, also known as Ibemcha, Maid of Ngangbam and several other characters such as her wet nurse, or Parikhya, the Brahmin who often advised her father or Mukta who was her “father’s valet and was in charge of the large dressing chamber.”
Before being published as a book, the anecdotes were published as essays in the Manipuri newspaper, Poknapham, then later put together as a book and wonderfully translated from Manipuri by the author’s son, L. Somi Roy. Consequently, this non fictional account is disjointed and does not seamlessly follow a chronological flow like a history textbook would. It largely does follow a timeline and that is her father’s rule that extended from 1891 (when the British appointed him king) till his death in 1941. However, the story does not follow a traditionally linear narrative. Binodini weaves incidents as and when she recalls them such as juxtaposing her father’s rule with incidents from her life such as her schooling in Shillong or she talks about a historical account and her memories of her father such as his love for sports or hunting or animals and birds all in one breath.
Though it is a memoir, it is also part biography but could easily also be categorised as a personal essay. Thus, along with subverting the usual royal focus on the king and his activities, The Maharaja’s Household also defies any traditional categories and forms of writing as well by refusing to adhere to any one particular style or genre.
Despite its unique form, or perhaps because of it, one should definitely pick up The Maharaja’s Household since it gives a distinctive female insight into the goings on of the erstwhile Maharaja’s home and the people that surrounded him.