The Maharani of Baroda, Radhikaraje Gaekwad, has broken ‘traditional stereotypes’ all her life, after being the first woman in her family to earn a living and live a reality that is far from ‘sparkling’. In an interview with Humans of Bombay, Radhikaraje, who was born into the Wankaner royal family and married the Maharaja of Baroda, has opened up about her life since and how it unfolded since she was six years old. “Although I was born into the Wankaner royal family, my life was anything but extraordinary,” Radhika said.
Radhika’s father, Maharajkumar Dr Ranjitsinhji of Wankaner, was the first one to give up his title and become an IAS officer. “In 1984, when the Bhopal gas tragedy struck, he was posted as a commissioner there. We could have left Bhopal that night, but Baba did his duty fearlessly; I was 6,” she recounts.
Talking about the incident, Radhika says that was the first time she learnt a vital lesson in her life, “‘You can’t expect things to fall into place without lifting a finger’– a lesson that Baba stressed upon throughout my growing up years”.
Further, she narrated how when the family moved to Delhi, she led quite an ordinary life away from the Royal expectations. She often travelled in DTC buses, because her mother wanted the children in the family to become independent. “We led a very ordinary life, so when I visited Wankaner during summer holidays, I’d be amused by the attention people gave me. But I always wanted to stand on my own feet and make a mark,” she said.
After graduating in history, Radhika landed herself a job in Indian Express. Simultaneously she also pursued a master’s degree and this feeling gave her quite ‘a big deal’, as she was the first woman in her family to do a job, while other women were getting married by the age of 21. “Working as a journalist, my timings were erratic. But my parents were so supportive–Papa would wait outside my office and pick me up whenever I was late,” she told Humans of Bombay.
After working as a journalist for three years, when her parents started looking for a groom, it was then she met Samarjit, the Prince of Baroda, who “was different from the rest”. “When we went out for the first time, he was pretty cool about me offering to pay. And when I told him that I wanted to study further, he encouraged me,” she said.
Eventually, after her marriage, Radhika recounts her journey of empowering local weavers after chancing upon Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings on the Baroda palace walls. This is where Radhika found her “true calling”.
Radhika further added, “During the lockdown, I started getting cry for help calls from local artisans; they had lost their source of livelihood. So, my sister and I travelled across villages and started posting about their plight on social media–people offered to help out in large numbers. In a few months, we were able to support over 700 families.”
The Queen, who refuses to accept to “accept things on a platter and set boundaries” says, “I’ve done only what was not expected of me. And that’s the heirloom I’m passing down to my daughters–to choose the life that they want to live and have no regrets at all.”