The ‘People’s Captain'
Amarinder Singh Chief Minister, Punjab, India
Though Amarinder’s birth, on 11 March 1942 at 3.20am coincided with the Second World War, it was marked with pomp and pageantry, prayers and regal parties that were kicked off with a 101-cannon salute. The roznamcha or the daily diary of the palace, which was diligently maintained by an institution, Sardar Sahib Deodhi Mohallaoffer a first-hand account of the trailblazing activities that followed Amarinder’s birth. It also poignantly records the event when Maharaja Yadvindra Singh paid his obeisance, at exactly 10.30am, to the Guru Granth Sahib, for bestowing him with a son.The palace treasury promptly sanctioned the princely sum of Rs.99,000for the celebrations of the prince’s birth. Apart from this, 5,000 maunds (1 maund is equivalent to 37.3243 kg) of grain were also arranged for distribution amongst the poorest of the poor. While there are scores of other activities that took place including freeing prisoners, the one taking place in the main hall of the Moti Bagh Palace was associated only with monarchs. A cocktail party for all top-level gazette officers was held in the living room. The Maharaja is said to have entered the main hall at 6.30pm after which a bevy of courtesans performed various dances to regale the royal audience. The cooling off came twenty-one days later when Amarinder was officially coronated as Yuvraj. According to the roznamcha, Amarinder’s maternal grandfather, Harchand Singh Jaijee, carrying the infant in his arms bowed before the Guru Granth Sahib while his mother Maharani Mohinder Kaur blessed her son with rupees five hundred.
Amarinder, meaning ‘immortal king’, was addressed as Yuvraj in the palace. He was shy but never dithered from playing the role of a maharaja whenever given the opportunity by the staff. He wasn’t exactly fond of studies, was naughty like any other child and loved the outdoors. He picked up shooting and horse riding early in his life and loved gardening, a passion that has stayed with him, as did his love for the military. He loved French fries and the old staff recalls him with an air gun in one hand and fries beside him on a plate.
Late Mrs. Hede Dyal, a governess hired by the Maharani to oversee the affairs of the children, especially their education, documents a marvelous account of Amarinder’s growing up years. It is captured rather vividly in his authorized biography,The People’s Maharaja.
Amarinder was the slowest learner among the siblings as far as academics were concerned. He found it hard to concentrate as he was perpetually distracted by what was going on outside the classroom set by Hede Dyal in the palace, judging from different sounds that reached his ears. ‘There, that was papa’s Dakota taking off. Now the soldiers are doing the drill; now two gunshots. Who could have fired them?’Incidentally, his earliest childhood memories are those of the Patiala troops returning home after the Second World War. This was a very early indicator of his fascination with all things army and the outdoors. He vividly remembers standing on a dais in front of the Moti Bagh Palace as a four-year-old, getting ready to take the salute since his father was away, from the Patiala troops that had just returned from an operation in Java, Indonesia. Customarily, all state military parades were led by the Guru Granth Sahib, placed in a takht (literally meaning a throne) atop an elephant. The elephant would halt in front of the dais and kneel down to enable the ruler to bow to the holy book and garland it.
Amarinder was closest to his nanny, Sister Welsh. Hede Dyal observed in her account that the idea of the four children being differently privileged was underscored more by the staff members of the palace rather than by their parents. In fact, they were keen on as normal an upbringing for their children as possible. Sister Welsh, at times by drawing constant comparisons between Heminder and Rupinder and the British princesses, Elizabeth (crowned queen in 1952) and Margaret, affirmed the girls’ attitude of being different. As for the Yuvraj, the staff members were always out to please him and make him feel special since they wanted to curry favor with him in the long run. When the choicest of fruits were about to be served, the attendant would make it a point to hand over the first lot to the Yuvraj, Amarinder, who was otherwise the shyest.
Amarinder’s Early Schooling
The crown prince’s first school was Loreto Convent, Tara Hall in Shimla, at the age of five; his two elder sisters were already studying there. It was his first baby step towards a life far removed from the luxuries of the palace.
‘I felt it was important for the Yuvraj to go to a boarding school at the earliest. With his sisters away, he would have felt lonely at home. In fact, my younger son Malvinder went at a younger age than Amarinder. He couldn’t adjust at home once all the children had left,’ adds Mohinder Kaur, explaining the necessity for dispatching her children to boarding schools at such tender ages.