Interview with Elisa Vázquez de Gey

The Princess of Kapurthala
Elisa Vázquez de Gey

The author once again traps us with a book about the character of Ana Delgado Briones, the young woman who in the Madrid of 1906 captivated the heart of a Sikh Prince.

Contributing a very interesting and up to date graphic documentation, “The princess of Kapurthala” ( Planeta 2008 ), offers the surprising narration of the life of a woman from Málaga in the India of the Maharajahs and again, re-opens the Pandora’s box of fascinating anecdotes about the ups and downs of the only Spanish Maharani.

It’s your third instalment about Anita Delgado, the woman from Málaga who, in early 20th century, becomes the fifth wife of the Maharajah of Kapurthala…What is the reason for this?…Was there something left to tell?

The truth is that Anita Delgado’s life facilitates more than enough material. My first book Anita Delgado, Maharani of Kapurthalawas a biography published in1998, that was both consulted and authorized by the niece of the Princess. Seven years later, in my second piece The Maharani’s Dreama historic novel which uses the first person perspective, I retook the character covering some gaps that were left behind in the biography and giving response to the requirements made by many readers. I was curios to find out things like what happened with Anita after the divorce, what was of her son, how, with who and where she lived the rest of her life…

Finally, in the third instalment The Princess of Kapurthala aims to be the final stoke which compiles all the information that has passed my hands over the years related to the character. It includes numerous anecdotes and stories transmitted by people who knew and remember the Maharani. In this manner the book presents an important photographic summary about Ana Delgado’s husband, the Maharajah of Kapurthala, said documentation contributes in bringing to light the aspects of life of the two in India and in Europe which, until now had remained in the shadows.

What do you make of this rather interesting woman?

Anita become a leading character of early 20th century history. The fact that a young Spanish woman that was sixteen years old had a Maharajah fall madly in love with her, and winds up living in - front row and in first person such an adventure awakens enormous curiosity.

I feel that another aspect of the charm in the Princess’s life is rooted in the different scenarios: the Spain of light lyrics and satires, the splendour of the India of the Maharajahs, Paris in the 1920’s, two world wars, Indian independence…

A book of such characteristics involves a great quantity of work. What have been the keys in the investigation which you have undertaken?

Keys? Well in part Málaga and in particular the thorough documentaries of Narciso Díaz Escovar, who was both teacher and friend of Anita Delgado; on the other hand India, and The Royal House of Kapurthala; but we can’t forget that the Princess wrote all the time and the meticulous consultation of her diaries, her travel diary which she published and the collected literature which she interchanged with friends and relatives were fundamental.

I also had the great fortune of being able to count on the living memory of Lady Victoria Winans, blood niece of Ana Delgado and to have access to her object archives, photographs and documents, because of this in this edition, I wanted to give focus to the personal memories of her niece and the anecdotes which people close to her wanted to share with me.

How do you believe such a young woman experienced the matter of becoming Maharani?

Think of a young Andalusian woman with not much refinement, who in few months goes from being part of the support act of a variety show in a theatre to act as Princess of a foreign country…I can imagine that for her it must have come at a huge personal cost. Of course, she became a grand lady who spoke several languages but in exchange she had to renounce her life and could not enjoy her adolescence.

I will tell you an anecdote which sums up what I have just said: Anita took with her to Kapurthala some small crystal balls, like marbles, which back then came in bottles of sparkling water ( known as “boliches” in Spain ) and the young woman loved to play with them

One day, the Maharajah finds her entertained with the little balls of glass, and he asks her what it is she is doing with those coarse glasses, “I am playing” she explains; “I did not have the time to play like all the other girls, because I married soon and it was all formalities from then on”. Her husband takes the glass balls away and in return he gives to her a few huge pearls, of great value. But she liked her crystal balls from glass bottles better and in an attempt to play marbles with the pearls, one escapes and is lost, this deeply upset the husband as he sees the little esteem that Ana gave his gift. The Maharajah, trying not to lose more presents due to infantile games, has the pearls mounted onto diamond earrings. Anita, very disappointed, a few days later confides in her diary “with that came the earrings and never again did I play”.

How was Anita Delgado seen by the society of her time?

Anita and the Maharajah had to fight against the perception that was had of them in Spain, and the one from Kapurthala, when realizing the bad faith shown by the media, prohibited his wife from conceding any interviews.

But, the wedding “of the Maharajah who met a dancer in Alfonso XIII ’s wedding”attracted avalanches of gossip and malevolent comments. The press of the time did not know how to give them the importance they deserved, and catalogued them as picturesque characters from the theatrical world. Some composers put their story to song, journalists who invented disproportioned anecdotes about the daily life of the couple in Kapurthala, there was also satires, distributed around the streets ridiculing their love story…because of ignorance articles can be read from the time, in newspapers and magazines which clearly mixed up India with Arabia or Turkey.

However; reality was quite different: The Maharajah Jagatjit Singh had a great personality, huge refinement and was a respected monarch who ended up being the representative of all Indian sovereigns in the Chamber of the Prince.

Not long ago we read in the press that a book about Anita Delgado deeply offended the royal family of Kapurthala - relatives of Anita’s husband…

Yes, you are referring to “Pasión India” - (Indian Passion) a novel written in Spain. It is not a historic piece, but a fiction based on the character of Anita Delgado. What irritated her relatives was when said novel was published in India the characters of the Royal family of Kapurthala appeared with fictitious names but backed up with historic evidence, thus easily recognizable….But I am not the author of that group! In effect they were indignant…also the Spanish descendants of Ana Delgado who manifested in writing - their annoyance through numerous mediums.

Will the Royal House of Kapurthala protest this time?

I would be very surprised. I have been in direct contact with the off of the inheritor of Kapurthala, the son of Sukhjit Singh, current Maharajah, who has given me permission and every facility to be able to reproduce photographs of his dear great-grandfather.