Graceful, soft-spoken and alert, 86-year-old Amrit Kaur, Rajkumari of Faridkot, is regal, as she ought to be. The eldest daughter of Raja Harinder Singh of Faridkot spent her childhood in her father’s palaces. Naturally, she was raised by governesses, who ensured that along with regular education, she would also learn singing, embroidery and playing the piano. The princess particularly remembers her governess, the Australian Miss Foley, who wanted porridge for breakfast every day. “Before the Partition, she went to Lahore and saw violence and killings there. She came back and packed her bags”.
Amrit Kaur’s brother, Harmohinder Singh, and her sisters Deepinder Kaur and Maheepinder Kaur, all lived their early lives in Faridkot palaces of their father. Amrit Kaur has fond memories of her father.
A princess remembers
“My father was a gentle person. If he wanted you to do something, he would sit you down and talk to you. On the other hand, my mother, Rani Narinder Kaur, was a strict disciplinarian. Clothes had to be folded and kept just so! She would check the cupboards to ensure that this was done!”
Her father ensured that she learnt how to ride a horse. Like so many other beginners, she fell down, and was promptly put back in the saddle! Soon she became a good rider.
Raja Harinder Singh also had a legendary collection of cars, and he taught her how to drive, in the Raj Mahal, naturally. “He sat next to me in a small car and said, ‘Drive.’ I saw that my grandmother and mother had just stepped out for a walk, and I started looking at them to see if they were looking at me. I nearly rammed into a wall! I got a reprimand, recovered, and finally, I learnt driving. I didn’t have a licence. Eventually, my husband got me one.”
The parents ensured that their children got conventional education after home schooling. She did her Matric, and then enrolled for FA and BA at St Bede’s, Shimla. The nuns were strict at this all-girls college. The boarders bonded, especially her group of friends. “There were five of us, and we sat on one table for all of our meals.” They kept in touch with each other. Two of them, Gursmat Sandhawalia and Ajit Sanghera, live in Chandigarh.
One time, they slipped out of the hostel, rented cycles and went to the Mashobra estate of her grandmother, where “the gardener was very kind. He gave us a bunch of roses.” Her massi (aunt), who was also in college at the time and had accompanied them, said she would keep the bunch on her cycle. Unfortunately, she fell from the bicycle, the handle hit her so badly that she almost stopped breathing. Her friends Ajit and Surjit, being doctors’ daughters, took charge and pumped her chest. It worked, and soon they were able to complete their trip, return the cycles, and make it back to college before breakfast. “It was Sunday, so it was half-an-hour later, at 8 am”, she recalls. She played the piano and engaged in extra-curricular activities. She graduated with a BA degree from the college at 18.
A new beginning
In 1952, she would marry Major Harpal Singh. We refer to the Faridkot Gazetteer of 1915 for his background: “The Sardars of Machaki are Sekhon Jats…. Colonel Sardar Harnam Singh, who is Commandant of the Faridkot IS Sappers, is now with the company at the Front….”
Col Harnam Singh had earned laurels in World War I. His son, Major Harpal Singh, served in World War II on the Burma Front. He joined the Faridkot Police in 1946, and at the time of their marriage, was Raja Harinder Singh’s aide-de-camp. Amrit Kaur’s family did not approve.
“That did not last long. My mother always had cordial relations with her brother and sisters, and we stayed at Kenilworth (in the Mashobra estate of Raja Harinder Singh) with our grandfather, in Faridkot and Delhi with the family and attended family weddings,” says Gurveen Kaur, Amrit’s daughter.
Harpal Singh was inducted into the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 1954. The couple spent the ensuing years in Jalandhar, Patiala, Kapurthala and Shimla, wherever he was posted. He served at various times as AIG Traffic, Deputy Director National Police Academy, Border Security Force (BSF), Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) Haryana Police, held a diplomatic assignment in the USA, and as Director-General of the Vigilance, Haryana State Electricity Board.
Starting with Faridkot as a state in the British-ruled India, he saw the Partition, creation of Pepsu, which merged into Punjab, and then the trifurcation of Punjab into Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. He was allotted the Haryana cadre. Prof Karuna Goswamy recollects how he was close to her uncle, Ashwani Kumar, the celebrated police officer. “He was a man full of energy, and my uncle relied on him,” she says.
As Amrit Kaur talks about him, her love and affection for her husband comes through with full force. She remembers the postings, and takes pride in recounting his professional achievements and accomplishments. We look at the picture of a UN General Assembly session on August 13, 1958, in which he stands out with his turban. The Indian delegation was led by Permanent Representative Arthur S Lall. “US President ‘Ike’ Eisenhower addressed the General Assembly. Later, it was remarked that ‘for a multinational gathering, the delegates (except for a bearded Sikh) all looked terribly alike in drab sack suits’,” she recounts fondly. The session was triggered by the US intervention in Beirut in July that year and the deteriorating security situation in Lebanon and Jordan. They lived in a tony address on 84 Street, off Central Park in Manhattan, New York.
A year later, they were in Rohtak! “We had three-four good friends there, and a year later, we took leave and went to Kashmir.” The Princess navigated many such vicissitudes in her life. From palaces to government accommodations, the family made the best of circumstances. “She is a person of great refinement and has the ability to manage situations with élan,” asserts Prof Karuna Goswamy.
Their children received the best education they could and did well. Their son, Jaskaran Singh was born in 1954 in Ambala. He enrolled in Mathematics Honours at St Stephen’s, Delhi. He was enrolled for the LLB course when he took an exam and joined the SBI with two of his college mates. Now retired and settled in Loughton, Essex, he has worked with Barclays and Lloyds banks.
Daughter Simar Negi, who retired as Principal Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, Delhi, too, was born in Ambala in 1955. The youngest Gurveen Kaur was born in 1962. A lawyer, she was Additional Advocate General, Punjab. She lives with her mother and recollects that her first camera was gifted to her by her grandfather.
“Amrit Kaur is known to be very well turned out. She is chic, not skin-deep, but extremely nice,” says Prof Karuna Goswamy. The recent lockdown provided the family with another opportunity to be together. The daughters were with their mother while Jaskaran, who had gone back to the UK from India just before the lockdown, is now with his family there. However, the estate of the Raja of Faridkot is still locked down. It is under litigation and Amrit Kaur politely declines to discuss the case since the matter is sub-judice.
Matter of honour
“I am not fighting for money, I am fighting for my honour, to show that my father could not disinherit me,” Senior Advocate Manjit Singh Khaira, recalls Amrit Kaur saying. “She fought for 28 years to prove her father’s love for her. The will was forged, and we proved it,” says Khaira, who led the case from the trial court to the high court.
Amrit Kaur is the only survivor of her generation. Her brother, the heir apparent, died in 1981. Her sister, Maheepinder Kaur, died in 2002. Both were not married. Deepinder Kaur, who lived in Kolkata and was the chairman of the Maharawal Khewaji Trust, died in 2018. She is survived by a daughter and son. The latter now heads the trust.
Amrit Kaur’s family has spent a long time in Chandigarh. They are very much a part of the social scene and maintain a discrete profile. In her college friend Ajit Sanghera’s words, “She is a humble, generous person who is ready to help anyone.”
A lifetime of experiences and decades of litigation sit lightly on the shoulders of the gentle lady who has carved a place for herself in a world that has dramatically changed since the time she was born as the eldest child of Colonel H.H. Farzand-i-Saadat-i-Nishan-i-Hazrat-i-Kaiser-i-Hind Raja Sir Harinder Singh, Brar Bans Sahib Bahadur, Raja of Faridkot, KCSI.
FIGHT FOR ROYAL INHERITANCE
1989: Raja of Faridkot, Harinder Singh Brar dies. His purported ‘will’ is made public, bequeathing his properties to the Maharawal Khewaji Trust which his younger daughter Deepinder Kaur heads.
1992: His elder daughter Amrit Kaur, who’s been kept out of the ‘will’, moves court against the ‘will’.
2013: Civil court holds the will as fraudulent. Maharawal Khewaji Trust and a nephew file appeals.
2020: The Punjab and Haryana High Court upholds the civil court judgment, awards 37.5% share in the estimated Rs20,000-crore property to Amrit Kaur and Deepinder Kaur; 25% of the share goes to the descendents of Manjit Inder Singh, brother of Raja Harinder Singh.