It was a pleasure to read “Destiny’s Child” by Raghu and Pushpa Palat, published by Viking, a part of Penguin Random House, in 2022. I loved the book’s title : “Destiny’s Child” has an intriguing ring about it. You know from the book cover, of course, that it is about “the undefeatable reign of Cochin’s Parukutty Neithyaramma”.
During the British Raj, in the days gone by, many parts of India were ruled by Rajas, Maharajas, Nawabs and the like. What we know today as the State of Kerala had two major “princely states” as they were called: Travancore and Cochin. The Palats’ book is about the Cochin kingdom in the first part of the 20th century and about Parukutty Neithyaramma (1874- 1963) in particular. From the Glossary thoughtfully provided by the authors, I came to know that “Neithyaramma” is the title used for the Consort of the Rajas of Cochin. Parukutty was the Consort of Raja ( later Maharaja) Rama Varma XVI who ruled Cochin from 1914 to 1932.
Interestingly, the author Raghu Palat is the great grandson of Parukutty Neithyaramma and both his parents were her grandchildren! This gives the Palats access to many family documents, and sources of information of those times. They also had the advantages of hearing from relatives who lived in those years and passed on tales about the reign of Maharaja Rama Varma XVI. Being members of the family throws up a big challenge for the authors – the added pressure of having to be seen as being objective and unbiased. In this regard, the Palats have not shirked from writing about Parukutty Neithyaramma (and indeed of her husband and relatives) in an honest and forthright manner. They have described her strong points and her weaknesses. They have not written glowingly to elevate her to a rarified status but have shown her to be the human being that she was.
Parukutty was married to Kunji Kiddavu ( the pet name of the then Heir Apparent )when she was just 14 years old. He was 31 at that time. He was struck by her strong personality and character. Even at that young age she displayed a maturity far beyond her years, perhaps this came about because she lost her mother when she was only 10. Over the years, Parukutty demonstrated an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, an inquisitiveness to learn and understand the finer points of statecraft and she remained fiercely possessive.
Raja Rama Varma XI reigned for 18 years till his death in 1932. During these years, the British ruled most of India directly and had a strong influence on the courts of the princely states. How Parukutty countered the moves of the British and espoused the nationalist movement is covered in this book. She stepped down from the limelight with the demise of her husband, when she ceased to be the Ruler’s Consort. However, given her strong character it is surprising that not much is mentioned about her contributions to the nationalist/freedom movement after that – since India became independent 15 years after 1932.
Personal anecdotes, stories handed down over the years, and published literature have helped the authors to write in great detail about that period: covering people, places and palaces. Descriptions have always been one of their strengths. I give them credit for explaining the rather complex social relationships that existed in Cochin in those times quite succinctly.
The book makes for some interesting reading and I would highly recommend it.