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Sophia Duleep Singh (1876-1948), granddaughter of the erstwhile king of Punjab, Ranjit Singh, found herself on the fringes of history for most of her life—first as the daughter of a dethroned Indian maharaja in England, and then as a suffragette who aligned herself with the movement through its most militant phase.

Nearly 70 years after Sophia’s death, TV journalist Anita Anand has accessed government files, newspaper and magazine articles, books, diary entries, private papers, letters and interviews, to piece together an intelligent biographical homage, Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary.

As a keen supporter of the suffragette movement in the UK, Sophia raised funds, sold copies of The Suffragette newspaper and attended incendiary meetings. She refused to pay taxes till the right to vote was extended to women, and twice had her jewels confiscated and put under the anvil when courts imposed penalties. At the height of her rebelliousness, she threw herself at the prime minister’s car in protest.

This part of Sophia’s life has been recorded to some extent by historians of the suffragette movement. Anand digs deeper. She reports how Sophia never spent a day in jail because her status as a princess, albeit one without a kingdom, made arresting her difficult. Without exaggerating the extent of her struggles, then, Anand finds a way to ramp up the drama. All around Sophia, suffragettes were being subjected to beatings, force-feeding, and being treated roughly by the police.

For a while before World War I, the suffragettes turned militant. Their campaign ranged from smashing high-street store windows with toffee hammers, to arson. Anand gives this larger context in detail—there’s enough gunpowder here to make this section a page-turner.

Sophia was interesting as much for the things that happened to her, and around her, as the things she did herself. As a dispossessed Indian royal and goddaughter of Queen Victoria, she had a ringside view of society events, like the introduction of “high-born" girls coming of age to the queen. Photographs from 8 May 1895, when Sophia and her sisters Bamba and Catherine were introduced, show them dressed in white European formals.

Their faces give no hint of the confusion that had reigned on the morning of the function: Florists, dressers, hairstylists and staff eddied through their home. The girls had to think about the bouquets and fans they had to carry, the right way to curtsy in their heavily embroidered dresses. They had to wait at least 3 hours in their finery to gain admittance to the palace. These episodes, reminiscent of period novels, endear Sophia to readers.

Anand gives a glimpse of the world Sophia lived in with as much gusto as she recounts the princess’ affairs. She uses Sophia’s run-in with some greats of the Indian independence movement to talk about people like Lala Har Dayal and his Ghadar movement—it asked Indian soldiers in the imperial army to mutiny during World War I.

In the epilogue, Anand wonders why a detailed work on Sophia has never been taken up before. Perhaps because like sea foam, her rebellions frothed brilliantly for a while before being subsumed by oncoming waves on the shores of history. The writer hints as much in the book.

Calling a spade a spade, she acknowledges that the English kept a watch on Sophia’s every move till politicians like Mahatma Gandhi upstaged her family in the popular imagination. The moment they ceased to be a threat to the Raj, they stopped being important in the general scheme of things. At over 400 pages, the book never feels too long. There is extraneous detail, but it is beautifully packaged.

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