By C.P. Belliappa
My book ‘Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg’, first published in December 2009, has in the past 10 plus years, generated great deal of interest in the creative and academic circles.
It is quite natural that the story of Victoria Gowramma attracted considerable attention in the United Kingdom since she came under the patronage of Queen Victoria and spent the rest of her life in England. The story has inspired lectures, discussions, dance sequences, musical renderings and paintings by notable historians and artists.
The main catalyst who enabled the creative and academic happenings in the UK is Dr Nima Poovaya-Smith, OBE, DL. Dr Nima Poovaya-Smith, having studied the life of Maharaja Duleep (aka Dalip) in great detail, and having delivered several lectures on the history of the Punjab, was fascinated with the intricacies of Victoria Gowramma in Duleep Singh’s life.
The saga of the two Christian Indian royals and the fact that Queen Victoria had taken them under her wing, with Gowramma as her goddaughter, was relatively unknown in the UK. The staid Queen Victoria surprised her court by prefixing ‘Victoria’ to Gowramma’s name – a rare honour at the time to a dethroned royalty from India. Thanks to Dr Nima Poovaya-Smith, I was able to take part in the Ilkley Literature Festival in 2011, and again in an event in 2014 to celebrate 10 years of her cultural organization – Alchemy Anew, where I had an opportunity to talk about my book.
Nima’s husband Paul Smith, a sociologist, has summarized below some of the observations and spinoffs from my book Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg.
‘Victoria Gowramma is a story that captures the imagination. A princess whose life was unusual by any reckoning, befriended by the most powerful Empress in the world – Queen Victoria – and then there is the pathos of her early death. The missing jewels and absconding husband further add to the drama.
It has resulted in a mini dance drama, for instance, choreographed and performed by Rashmi Sudhir with fusion music compositions by David Wilson and Inder ‘Goldfinger’ Matharu. It was first performed in Harewood House in 2012 (fittingly the Earl of Harewood is a great, great, great grandson of Queen Victoria). Seated in the audience were the distinguished historian and writer Charles Allen and the internationally acclaimed artist Sutapa Biswas. The latter in particular was extremely moved by Victoria Gowramma’s story. It was also performed in 2014 in the iconic Leeds Library – one of the oldest subscription libraries in the country.
In 2014, the late Jayashree Pathak produced two paintings of Victoria Gowramma – again as a direct result of the book.
Christella Litras and Rob Green have set two poems inspired by the book into evocative songs – ‘My name is Victoria Gowramma’ and ‘I’m the Son of the Lion of the Punjab’. They performed it at Nima’s mother Ammanichanda Muthie Poovaya’s memorial service on 25 January 2020 on the anniversary of her being gathered. The reason these two songs were selected were because my mother-in-law Mrs. Muthie Poovaya was extremely proud of the fact that her nephew had authored this book and had read it over two days when it was first published. Even more recently, a detailed analysis of the Winterhalter’s paintings of Victoria Gowramma and Dalip Singh, commissioned by Queen Victoria herself, was the subject of a talk to the distinguished luncheon club at Devonshire Hall, Leeds. Without Belliappa’s book the interest in the two paintings would not have been triggered. And so it goes on…’
Christella Litras and Rob Green are internationally acclaimed musicians. Christella is a songwriter/composer. She has mentored Rob Green who has worked with several high-profile artists such as Michael Buble, James Morrison, Earth Wind & Fire and Whitney Houston Hologram Tour (2019-20). He is supporting Macy Gray and Lionel Richie on the summer of 2020.
I am pleased to give the link to the website of equally well-known and acclaimed musician David Wilson where musical rendering by David Wilson & Inder ‘Goldfinger’ Matharu and Christella Litras & Rob Green can be accessed as well as the dance sequence by Rashmi Sudhir performed at the Leeds Library.
David Wilson’s website: http://davidwilsonmusic.co.uk/victoria-gowrama-the-lost-princess/