The Madras racing season of 1943 had just begun.
In Madras, bets were being made on the horse’s haste even when the Mughals were ruling in Delhi. But the Madras race club was not just a sporting space. The rich and famous did not come from afar to devote their hours to watch equine sprints alone.
It was a place of social intercourse. Where people met when there weren’t weddings or funerals to attend. Unknown to many, that year Cupid too was there – a sniper looking for suitable quarry.
The Zamindars of Madras Presidency came in regularity with their families in tow. And with them came Sita. She was born a princess to the Raja of Pithapuram and her family lived in Alwarpet where even today two roads are named after their family members. Married to the Raja of Vuyyuru, Sita was now a Zamindarini of small fiefdom in the Telugu speaking area which masqueraded as a kingdom.
Nature had bestowed on Sita that any other girl would have bitterly envied and she was careful about retaining it for herself. Though a mother of three by the time she was 25, maternity had left very little vestiges on Sita’s comeliness.
Pratapsinh Gaekwad of Baroda had also come over. One of the richest men in India who even owned country’s only Picasso – “the scene of the bullfight” termed the Baroda Picasso. He also possessed a highly respected Maharani, with four of his children, waiting for him back home.
But when the couple met on the sidelines of the race course, Gaekwad’s manner changed in a flash. He must have been shocked that this wisp of a girl was already a mother. Royalty was always sensitive to elegance and it being already encumbered mattered little and he was tempted to link his lot with hers. Sita on her part had not anticipated this geniality from somebody so higher than her on the social ladder. He was a Maharaja with a 21 gun salute and she just a Zamindarini.
In a few days he was by her side, his great arm round her shoulder, comforting her if the horse she wageredon was running rather unhurriedly. But then Sita was winning the greatest bet she had made in her life.
The Gaekwad bearing his spoil returned home but not before the best legal brains in the country huddled to beat the bigamy laws of the Presidency and Baroda state.
First Sita converted herself to a Muslim. That made divorce easy with her husband. And once unfettered, using an Arya Samaj method she became a Hindu again and married the Gaekwad.
The Prime minister of Baroda quit in protest and even the British were not amused. When they pointed out the stringent bigamy laws of Baroda, the love-struck Gaekwad replied that edicts were only for the subjects and not for the sovereigns who made them. The sulking British retaliated and would not allow Sita to be called as a Maharani. British officials attending functions in Baroda were asked to leave the assemblage if Sita Devi came into the hall.
Tired of all this snubbing, the couple chose Monaco (untouched by world war) bought a mansion and settled there.
Freedom for India and subsequent annexation of princely states with the Indian union were fast approaching. Baroda had some of the best jewels in India but by the time the Tricolour rose, even Sardar Patel was shocked to see there were no jewels left to nationalise in Baroda. Sita shrewdly had all the stones reset in Europe and nothing matched the inventory in the palace.
The famous Star of the South diamond (128.80 carats) and the English Dresden (78.53) carat were just two of the hundreds she took away. And wearing them all, Sita attended the social blitz in post war Europe. The western media was already calling her India’s Wallis Simpson but all too frequently Sita’s jewels surfaced in the auction market to sustain her high life.
But life turns uneven, even for the rich and famous. The couple divorced and their only son committed suicide in a macabre fashion. The police found him spread eagled on bed with candles lit all around him.