By Ullekh NP in Open The Magazine:
Kumud Singh has had an unusual childhood. Born into the royal family of Darbhanga, also known as the Khandavala dynasty, in the early 1980s, her early childhood memories are of growing up on an estate of 51 bighas in Bargoria, now in West Bengal, along with three elephants and some 100 people, including members of the family, extended family, numerous house helps, hangers-on and bodyguards. Over the next decade or so, she saw her home shrink rapidly and all the elephants and most dependants disappear. “Many of the orderlies and bodyguards got richer than us,” she recalls. A descendant of a family that once commanded the destinies of people spread across more than 6,000 sq km, including parts of Bihar and West Bengal, a family which owned the Rambagh Palace, the Lakshmeshwar Vilas Palace, the Nargona Palace, the Bela Palace, as well as properties in almost every prominent city in British India, by the time Kumud was a young adult, there was no television, refrigerator or computer at home. “I learnt the uses of all these only after I got married in 2002. I had never watched television programmes before,” says the bespectacled lady, seated attentively in the verandah of her husband’s modest home in the quiet Sri Krishna Puri locality of Patna.
Her father Nandeshwar Singh, now 59, lives with her mother and a few relatives on what now remains of the estate in Bargoria. “There are not more than five people who live in that home where I grew up and the family doesn’t even own a bicycle now,” Kumud Singh says ruefully, with a tinge of wounded pride. Singh never went to school because even in the 80s the family had a sheltered existence and it wasn’t considered wise for girls of the dynasty to sit alongside other children, that too in a school founded by her ancestors. Instead, she was given private tuition at home and was educated to the level of the 10th standard exams. “I am currently pursuing my 11th through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) programme,” she says, as her two children, Tesu Trishna (like her, Kumud’s daughter is also named after a flower) and Bhusit, run past playfully.
Kumud Singh is not exactly a good conversationalist, but is aggressive and direct in her interactions on Facebook where she has begun to play a pivotal role in a discourse meant to resurrect what she terms as “the good deeds” of her family that many, including local historians, claim are not acknowledged and recorded. In the process, she has also reinvented herself from a homemaker to the editor of what is arguably the first weekly news portal in the Maithili language, Esamaad.com.
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