When most of the world lay in deep slumber to wake up grudgingly to the next day, he had already returned from his morning walk, beaming due to the birds that he saw in the park. Amidst passer-bys who were hurriedly pacing through their health march, the ardent bird-watcher would leisurely sense the distinct call of the Coppersmith. He spent an entire centenary living an independent and healthy life, divorcing anger for its hazardous mental constraints. A man of fine dressing style and an unparalleled love for literary interests, his supreme intelligence and simplicity led him to the vanguard of native administrators during times of a dynamically changing India.
From being the first collector of Indore and the last collector of Madhya Bharat, a retired commissioner and pioneer of gender-equality, he was a legend in himself. Arguably one of the few Indians to have witnessed King George V’s silver jubilee, Adolph Hitler’s rally and to have had a narrow escape back home in an Italian vessel, late Thakur Narayan Singhji Parmar of Kila Amargarh lived an extraordinary life. Insightful, adventurous and thoroughly inspiring, Rajputana Collective catches a few glimpses of his life that must have been and the person behind supreme narrative as shared in his prized journals; and told by his beloved granddaughters- Radhika & Ambika Singh Parmar.
“They say a short and eventful life is better than a long and boring one. But what if someone’s life is long yet interesting? What if the life is an entire century-old and has adhered perfectly to changing times? Such was the life of our grandfather, Data as he was fondly called”, reminisces Radhika Singh Parmar, the older granddaughter of late Thakur Narayan Singhji.
Born to the younger brother of Rajgarh’s first ruler, late Thakur Narayan Singhji was amongst the eldest of all his siblings. His father, late Thakur Ram Singhji was a great visionary of his times and emphasised on education at the time when most Rajput families focused on inheritance. He wished for his eldest son to be educated in London and as it was fated, late Thakur Narayan Singhji was sent there to study law and statecraft. Sending his offspring to pursue his degrees overseas notwithstanding, what made late Thakur Ram Singhji ever so progressive is the fact that he imparted equal importance to the education of his sons and daughters. While his younger son too was educated to become an officer at the Indian Foreign Services, his daughters received fine education by Ms. Maria Montessori herself. In fact, late Thakur Narayan Singhji’s elder sister was the first lady teacher at Indore’s prestigious Daly College. “I was taught to treat women as equals and have passed that to my children and grandchildren”, testifies late Thakur Narayan Singhji in his journals, with regard to his father’s liberal outlook.
London & Its Spectacles
Late Thakur Narayan Singhji set forth upon his academic journey to London at a tender age of 17, after which he completed his matriculation in Latin before pursuing an L.L.B. in law from London’s University College. Thereafter, he became a barrister in Middle Temple, London. He gives a vivid description of his departure to London, which is possibly the first time that late Thakur Narayan Singhji travelled outside his familiar confines and away from his family. He writes, “I remember when my father came to see me off from the Bombay port. When I was about to leave, we stood there looking at each other but didn’t speak a word. I turned to go in the ship and he turned to go back. And that was it, we didn’t hug, we didn’t talk.”
During his days in London, late Thakur Narayan Singhji was fortunate enough to witness the silver jubilee celebrations of King George the V. He writes, “i have seen the present Queen Elizabeth as a young girl being lifted by Kind George V while the royal members stood in the balcony of Buckingam Palace acknowledging the multitude of cheers that came from the Victoria Memorial. The spectators relished this spontaneous act of the King. I am sure the Queen would be highly amused to know that I. an Indian was also standing amongst the crowd to witness this unique scene.” This landmark event only marked the glorious beginning of a range of exciting spectacles and adventures that he would witness.
During the year of 1936, when Adolph Hitler arrived in England to inaugurate the Olympics, our dear Thakur sahib happened to be witnessing his rally amongst the crowd. His wry account of this occasion states, “Hitler was a cruel man so I maintained my calm and wasn’t over enthusiastic because if I was over enthusiastic he might have killed me. He was moody and above all he was Adolph Hitler, he could do anything to anybody.”
After having successfully pursued his scholarly venture in Great Britain, it was time for Thakur sahib’s home-coming. The waters were calm and the weather clear when he boarded an Italian ship with a passenger ticket to India. Only, it was 1939. The second World War had begun and since Italy was an Axis member, the ship could not risk stopping in India, which happened to be an Allied Colony. Instead, the ship’s crew was forced to divert its route towards Singapore via Ceylon. Thakur sahib has made a daring escape by shifting into a small vessel that carried him to the Indian shores in Madras. After taking a brief shelter in the port-city, he telegrammed his about his arrival, which had been highly contrasting to his departure, as one would trust him to admit.
Soon after his return, Thakur sahib sought administrative training from the then AGG Sir Kenneth Fitze, before formally serving the princely state of Rajgarh. A year’s training as in the district administration of Hoshangabad (erstwhile British Central Provinces) hence, he entered Rajgarh state’s council of administration as a member. For the next thirty odd years, late Thakur Narayan Singhji would impart his brilliance to the Indian administrative services and would retire from Jabalpur as its commissioner. Raised in the first bath of Indian Administrative System officers, Thakur sahib bore the fortune of serving as Indore’s first collector in 1955 when it was still a part of Madhya Bharat before becoming Madhya Pradesh in 1956.
Knowledge & The Art of Simplicity
Initialising her views vis-a-vis her grand father, Thakur sahib’s younger grand daughter, Ambika Parmar says, “My grandfather lived an ordinary life. He lived in his old British architectural house, in a room with rickety distemper and his old furniture that never moved a single inch. Even though he had all the resources and affordability, my grandfather didn’t have anything luxurious in his house- no air conditioner, no cooler, no heater until he was a hundred years old.Everyday, he would sit on his chair looking outside the window, writing his daily concurrence. I always thought to myself, for a man who achieved so much in life, he lived such an ordinary life. This is a sign of a great man. I learnt that the deliberate sacrifice of these luxuries might be the secret to living through an entire century with ease.”
A highly-independent man, late Thakur Narayan Singhji lived a life wherein he had long freed himself from the shambles of luxury in order to strengthen his passionate pursuit of knowledge. “The saddest thing that you could get used to is luxury”, he once wrote. Brushing aside luxurious facilities as mer frivolities, the legend dedicated considerable amounts of time reading and writing. A proud collector of books and writer of journals, he attributed his sharp memory despite his old age to these literary habits that he had instilled in himself. And yet, Thakur sahib bore the rare virtue of academic humility, which is reflected in an insightful quote penned down by him, “never seem more learned than the people you are with. Wear your learning like a pocket watch and keep it hidden. Do not out it to count the hours, but give the time when you are asked.” Radhika and Ambika mention receiving books as gifts from their grandfather on most occasions that summoned the exchange of presents.
Hobbies & Fine Tastes
Late Thakur Narayan Singhji lived by a simple set of theories. One of them was: “The secret of a happy life is to have a hobby. An existential crisis of boredom can always be avoided if you’re really passionate about something. Take up a hobby and give it all you have. And see you life beautifully unfolds before you. It’ll alleviate all your woes, all those times when you’re down and out, and it’ll give you newer strength and vigour to face all the tough times you’re experiencing.” As children, Radhika and Ambika admit to have skeptically wondered the extent to which a hobby could impact one’s life. But as they’ve grown older and more responsible, they were able to interact with the wise dispositions of their grandfather more meaningfully.
While he maintained the hobby of bird watching and several interests such as wildlife conservation, travel, cricket and yoga, Thakur sahib closeted a magnificent wardrobe. From an extensive hat collection to exotic crocodile shoes, he had them all. “He rooted a fashion seed in me. As a child when you see a man leaning towards his last days but still making so much effort to ensemble his attire, it is very inspiring”, comments Ambika, who later made her career decision in fashion.
Longevity as a State of Mind
Apart from maintaining an active lifestyle, Late Thakur Narayan Singhji was also known to be a watchful eater. His healthy habits resulted in his agile body and sharp mind at an age when his contemporaries complain of a deteriorating body and failing memory. An important determining factor in Thakur sahib’s longevity could evidently be identified in his blatant dismissal of anger. In his words, “anger may be cathartic, but in the long run, it does great harm to your mental health. Your physical health and your mental health co-exist; if you’re fit physically but tormented mentally, it can have an adverse impact on your health. So always be happy. Forgive and forget.” His keen eyes and soft-spoken demeanour had actively sailed him through an honourable and content life. Instead of being a passive recipient of turbulent and changing times, Thakur sahib decided to be an active and open-minded participant in the transitions between the British Raj, Independent India and present times.
Simplicity as a lifestyle, a thirst for knowledge and a zen state of mind are the ideals that Thakur sahib chose to live by through the glorious century that he was a part of. Till his last day, he slept with a photo of his beloved father hanging on the wall above his bed. Glancing upon it, he said to his grand daughters, “my parents were everything to me especially my father, because of whom I achieved so much in life. So his portrait will always hang above my head so that everyday when I wake up I see him, that’s the kind of place my father holds in my life till now.”
And just like that, to a liberal and aspirational father, a legend was born; and in challenging times, through careful habituation of optimal virtues, he was made.