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A note on the issue: why we love and hate our royals

In our cover story this week, historian Manu S. Pillai speaks about his new book, which revisits the legacy of India's erstwhile rajahs and ranis

Manu S. Pillai's new book puts paid to the idea that India’s princes were merely overdressed, indulgent wastrels. (iStock)

As a teenager, long before she become famous for her novels, Jane Austen wrote The History Of England, a parody of schoolbooks of the time that tended to reduce complex history to anecdotes which were repeated often enough to make them seem true. Her sister, Cassandra, illustrated it with caricatures of solemn yet silly-looking kings and queens dressed in ridiculous clothes.

Historian and author Manu S. Pillai also relies on art for his new book, False Allies, to point out that the rulers of India’s princely states were often reduced to quirky dinner-table anecdotes—but his goal is somewhat different. He uses details from Raja Ravi Varma’s opulent portraits of royalty to dispel the commonly held belief that India’s princes were merely overdressed, indulgent wastrels.

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Lounge decided to explore the idea further because India is still fascinated by its royalty—designers, architects, artists, film-makers and others draw inspiration from their clothing, palaces, jewellery, romances, wars and art, and there’s nothing we enjoy more than a royal drama. Yet we are also apologetic about and repelled by their excesses, which we have been told over and over were unrestrained and venal.

Pillai tells Lounge that the princes weren’t all bad; some rebelled against imperialism in their own ways, attempted to modernise, tried to keep pace with the changes around them. There were the royal women who fought hard to keep the throne for male heirs. It’s a fascinating look at a big part of our history that has been ignored—after all, the 500-odd states held by the princes comprised 40% of pre-independence India and little has been written about them. Pillai isn’t rooting for them but he does make the point that we have succumbed to colonial stereotypes about rajahs and ranis.

While on the topic of stereotypes, there’s no one who fits a trope as neatly as James Bond every time he appears on screen. With the 25th 007 film, No Time To Die, set to release next week, we take a look at the copycat Bonds who have emerged worldwide, from Finland to Bangladesh. It’s a fun read and goes well with our other recommendations for ways to relax this weekend.

Write to the Lounge editor at or on Twitter @shalinimb

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