The ancient skyline of Lahore has many stories to tell. The majestic marble domes of the Royal Mosque speak of the Moguls,the great connoisseurs of art;the imposing structure of Haveli Nau Nihal Singh, where young girls chant times tables these days, speaks of the the ruthless Sikh rulers,their colourful ways and extravagant festivities;the Towering S.Nabi Bux and Sons at the Mall tells the tales of the English that once ruled over this wonderful city,altering it as they willed and pitching crosses where and when they willed. The Lahore skies recall ,wistfully,the colours of the kites that used to bedeck its entire expanse and the thrill and excitement that accompanied every “Boooo-Kataaaa!” cry!
really glorified Lahore and gave it all of its religious reverence and sanctity. Ranjit Singh,the iron-willed and brave Sikh ruler brought Lahore such splendour that soon Lahore was the greatest metropolis and the cultural hub of India.Latest fashion trends would spring in Lahore and would be followed in Delhi and Lucknow.
It all started with a picture of Princess Bamba Sutherland that I saw on facebook. The name Sutherland rang a bell in my head and a trip to KEMC’s historical Library Hall (and some google surfing) confirmed my suspicions—Princess Bamba Jindan Sutherland Duleep,the granddaughter of Ranjit Singh and the last princess of Punjab was married to Dr David Waters Sutherland,Professor and Principal King Edward Medical College (1909-1921)! And thus began my passionate quest to find out every thing about this ethereal princess!
Singh was brought up in England under the care of a certain Mr Logins and much to the consternation of his mother,he was baptized as a Christian. It is said that he would wake up reciting,”O father who art in heavens!” which would box his mother’s heart.
maharaja could not even recognize her. It was then that he insisted upon taking his mother to England with him and his wishes was granted. Subsequently the dowager died in Kensington and was cremated and buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in England. Duleep Singh was allowed to bring her ashes to India but he could not gain entrance into the Punjab. It was on his way back from India that while passing through Cairo,the maharaja met his future wife, Bamba Mullër the illegitimate child of a German merchant ,and working in a Cairo Missionary School and,following a brief period of courtship,married her.The couple later moved to England and had six children,Princess Bamba being one of them.
Bamba means ‘pink’ in Arabic and this particular daughter of Duleep had inherited from him the one feature that Queen Victoria had herself admired in him….his dazzling eyes. Queen Victoria was Princess Bamba’s godmother and the Queen gifted her the grand three-storey Faraday House in London.
On May 21, 1889, Maharaja Duleep Singh married Ada Wetherill whom he had met a few years back.They were wedded in Paris. Some years later,in 1883 Duleep, too died. He was 55 at the time of his death.
Bamba now lived in Old Manor House in Buckinham,Old Suffolk,to be near her brother Fredrick who was a fellow of Antiquaries of London and owned a huge collection of rare paintings.It is said that the Prince rented the famous Blo Norton Hall in South Suffolk for his sisters and later bought the famous
‘thatched cottage’ ,too. It was around this time that Bamba became increasingly involved in politics and became a member of Women’s Social and Political Union. She also attended the farewell dinner hosted in the honor of Mahatma Gandhi at the Westminster Palace Hall.She was also among the group of activists
who went to the House of Commons on November 18,1910 and demanded to see the PM. The delegations was treated very roughly and their demand turned down ignobly.
Bamba was a strong supporter of the Suffragettes,fighting for women’s right to vote.It is said that once she with her sister Sophia Daleep Singh was summoned to the Spelthorne Petty Session for keeping a man- servant,a carriage and five dogs without license and for keeping ‘armorial bearings’.Sophia was livid and protested that she should not have to pay for these things when she didn’t have right to vote.
Later, the Court of Middlesex sent bailiffs to the Faraday House to collect rents from them which they refused outrightly. The bailiffs forcibly took away Sophia diamond ring in payment which was bought by Mrs Jopling Rowe in an auction and immediately returned to the Princess.
In 1910,Bamba visited India with her sister Sophia and went to see old relatives in Lahore and Amritsar. She was accompanied by Marie Antoinette,a Hungarian lady’s companion who met the renowned Indian painter,Umrao Sher-Gil in India and married him. Their daughter Amrita Sher-Gil was also a notable painter. Eventually Bamba decided to settle in Lahore and is said to have “lived like an alien in her father’s kingdom”.
It was during her time in India that Bamba first met Lt. Col Daid Waters Sutherland. Sutherland,who was a British Indian Army officer serving as the Principal of King Edward Medical College(presently a university),married the princess after a brief period of courtship. She was 46 at that time.They lived many years at No.16 Jail Road,Lahore. Princess Bamba christened the house “Gulzar”.The couple had no children.
Now widowed and lonely,Bamba would divide her time between Blo Norton England and Gulzar in Lahore. In 1948 her rapidly failing health was struck a deathblow by the sudden death of her darling sister,Catherine,in England. Unfortunately,Bamba was in India at the time and could not get permission to travel to England and so missed the funeral. When she did go to England,she brought back
Catherine’s ashes to bury them in India,as Catherine had desired. She is reported to have travelled by land on that trip saying,”A flight is easy to obtain,but I came by land this time around as I brought my darling sister’s ashes with me. She did not like flights.”
It was in this phase of life that Princess Bamba grew increasingly regal and imperial in her manners. She gave up Faraday House and made Blo Norton her permanent residence in England. She would now style herself as the “Queen Of Punjab”. She seemed to have inherited her father’s rebellious nature but was far more aggrieved than he ever was. This only added to her hauteur.
On visiting a high street bookstore in Norwich,she ordered her driver to park right outside the bookstore,which unsurprisingly caused traffic havoc. A policeman asked her to remove her car at which she shot back at him,displaying all the aristocratic hubris in her saying in the most Ranjit-ish way,”Do you have any idea who you are talking to? I am the Queen of the Punjab!”
The grumpy Princess would dress in all of her finery and silk and host Sikh migrants in Blo Norton. Karl Wilhelm,her cousin visited her then and he described her in his memoirs as the “true heiress of Ranjit Singh” in that she was sorely conscious of her lost power and glory.She considered Punjab and Kashmir,the lost possessions of her family and was livid when the border of Pakistan was drawn right through Punjab.
After partition she spent most of her time in England as the Lady of Blo Norton . She would also visit municipal offices in Guildhall Thetford to see her brother Fredrick’s painting collections. She would throw a fit every time she saw a painting damaged and was known to give a piece of her mind to the caretakers of Guildhall.
On 10th March 1957,Princess Bamba Sutherland Duleep Singh passed away quietly in London. The doctors stated heart failure as the cause of death. A Christian funeral ceremony was arranged by the British Deputy High Commission in Lahore. There were a few Pakistani dignitaries at the funeral, but unfortunately no Sikh was present. She was buried in Gora Kabristan (White Graveyard) near Taxali Gate of Lahore,alongside such figures as A R Cornelius and A C Woolner.
Bamba was the last living member of the once mighty Sikh dynasty of Punjab. As the last of Singhs,she was in possession of many valuable historical items.She left them with her loyal secretary Pir Karim Baksh Supra. Bamba’s legacy included priceless masterpieces of art and were later acquired by the Pakistani Government and are now displayed for the general public in the Royal Fort of Lahore as “Princess Bamba Collection”.
Bamba’s death marked the end of a glorious era in Punjab’s history. The fact that she died childless and lonely only lends more credence to the fact that she was sad and evocative of the days gone by. To many she was prissy and a ‘self-styled’ princess but for many others she was the one true heir to the throne that had once belonged to Ranjit Singh.
The epitaph on her grave reads (English translation of Persian distich):
The Difference Between Royalty and Servility Vanishes
The Moment the Writing of Destiny is Encountered
If One Opens the Grave of a Dead
None Would be Able to Discern Rich from Poor!
The author holds a degree in psychology from the University of Cambridge,UK,and is presently a sophomore at King Edward Medical University,Lahore,Pakistan. He tweets @Usama_Irshad