Remembering Ranbir Sinh: Our last conversation
When we last spoke, Ranbir Sinh was reminiscing about Independence and bemoaning the tragedy of Partition
Hailing from a well-to-do family of landlords, nobles under the Jaipur princely state, Ranbir Sinh could have opted to do anything he fancied. Having studied in the Eaton of the East, Mayo College Ajmer, and a fairly accomplished hockey player, he could have joined a British company, tea plantations or the armed forces. But he decided in favour of writing and the stage. He took up a job with Thomas Cook, a travel agent, and moved to Bombay to act. BR Chopra’s Chandni Chowk was a super hit but Ranbir decided to return to the stage, his first love.
His talent flowered in the theatre group Yantrik in Delhi, which drew people like Ebrahim Alkazi, Alyque Padamsee, Roshan Seth, Sushma Seth, Barry John, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Bhaskar Ghose. Yantrik was among the first theatre groups in North India to pay a monthly salary to full-time actors. It also pioneered the practice of paying royalty to the playwrights and selling tickets to people for stage productions. Yantrik grew from strength to strength under the able stewardship of Joy Michael, a founding member, scholar and educationist.
His play Hai Mera Dil was staged 1,500 times by late Dinesh Thakur, who regularly paid Ranbir Sinh his royalty. In a big break he was invited to Mauritius by Prime Minister Sir Sewoosagar Ram Goolam as a cultural advisor and help develop theatre there. With a flair for languages, he wrote in both English and Hindi. He studied folk literature of Rajasthan and translated into English works of the court poet of Jodhpur, Banki Das, which occupied 36 volumes. The translation was among the several pioneering works of Ranbir Sinh. A prolific writer, he wrote a book on his own Rajput Shekhawat clan and another on Wajid Ali Shah.
While in Delhi, he did the commentary on All India Radio for international tennis, cricket and hockey matches. He married the daughter of Nepal’s then army chief General Parakram Bahadur Rana. But he tragically lost both his wife and his young son Ranvijay early. He however overcame the shock and pursued his passion till his last breath.
When we last spoke barely weeks before he passed away, he once again recalled his experience of August 1947 when he found himself in Paris as a boy scout, there to attend the World Scout and Guides jamboree, one of the 164 Scouts and Guides from undivided India. The contingent had sailed from Bombay in an Italian warship. Drawn from undivided India the contingent was led by TJ Thadeus from Kerala. It was an experience as they all spoke different languages and had different food habits. But soon they bonded and began singing patriotic songs penned by Mohammed Iqbal, the favourite being ‘Saare Jahan Se Accha Hindostan Hamara’.
The sea was rough and the journey long. They finally got down at Southampton in London and it was during their 12-days-long stay in England that they learnt about the impending Partition of India. The Secretary General of the Indian Scouts and Guides Association confided that by the time the Jamboree would start at Missien near Paris, India and Pakistan would be two independent countries. Till then the contingent was flying the Union Jack but in Paris they were to hoist the flags of India and Pakistan. The contingent was one but there were now two flags.
VK Krishna Menon, who later became India’s High Commissioner in London, sent the contingent the Indian tricolour. But there was no Pakistani flag was available. Eventually a white shirt and someone’s green turban were cut to stitch the Pakistani flag.
The contingent came up with the innovative idea of a horizontal post with the Scouts and Guides flag in the middle flanked by flags of India and Pakistan. A teacher from Mayo College, Dan Mal Mathur, raised the Pakistani flag and the Indian flag was hoisted by Iqbal Kureshi from Karachi, recalled Ranbir Sinh. They all sang the Indian national anthem and ‘Saare Jahan Se Achha’ but the contingent was unaware of the Pakistani national anthem.
The 15 days long return journey was tense as the contingent was divided on communal lines. The situation was so grim that the boys took turns to guard the deck at night to avert untoward incidents like boys being pushed into the sea. At Mumbai the contingent learnt of the post-Partition riots and Muslim boys were advised to proceed to Karachi.
That experience possibly helped shaped the strong revulsion that Ranbir Sinh felt throughout his life about communalism. He lived, worked and wrote to uphold humanity and harmony.