ByAnshu Khanna

Rani Reena Kumari

I have known Rani Reena Kumari and her lovely husband Yuvraj Pratap Singh Jhala of Thikana Labhowa for a long time. Besides being successful entrepreneurs, they are also behind the restoration of the Sahaspur Belari House in the heart of Nainital. Beautifully converted into what is now known as Welcomheritage Ashdale hotel, it is a hospitality offering that celebrates all thing Princely India.
A fountain welcomes you as you step out of your car. A reception designed like the Maharaja’s living room, it is filled with vintage art, art objects and furniture. A spacious garden flanks a heritage home that personifies regal history. From polo memorabilia, to an old grand master piano; from chintz prints on walls and upholstery to a museum quality gallery of royal portraits, it is a visual treat for design addicts like me.
Reena, married in Gujarat, is the princess Sahaspur Belari, a Zamindari state off Moradabad. Sahaspur was the largest Zamindari in Moradabad and Badaun districts of Uttar Pradesh. Prithvi Singh, an ancestor fought along with the army of the Lodi kings when they were at Sambhal, Moradabad district, and after their defeat in 1526 at Panipat, by the Moghul Emperor, Babur, they settled peacefully in Punjab. They however kept in touch with Badaun and Katehr (old name of Moradabad) came back at the end of Aurangzeb’s reign to receive the title of ‘Rai’ and were made ‘Chakladars’ of Bijnor District in 1713.

Post partition the family has actively been part of politics, the present Raja Chandra Vijay Singh and his sister Rani Reena Kumari both having held positions in the UP and Central government. Their gorgeous mother, Rajkumari Indra Mohini was a vital member of the Congress government in Uttar Pradesh whilst both of then were Member of the Legislative Assembly of Uttar Pradesh and Member of Parliament.
Nainital as we know is home to many blue-blooded families including Balrampur, Tehri, Awagarh, Baria and Amitabh Baghel (A Baghel Rajput from Lucknow who is now settled in Nainital). Hence, when I asked her to create a platform for talks on books, starting with the first in a series with actor and author Vani Tripathi Tikoo, she instantly suggested we bring Amitabh Baghel who is the brain behind Koshala Literature Festival to host the talks.
A lover of the art and an avid reader, Reena has stacked up her library at the hotel and was thrilled to be part of an anecdotal session around the book ‘Why Can’t Elephants be Red’ penned by Vani that questions the world of creativity as seen from the eyes of a 4-year-old protagonist Aku. Focused on the need for not just meaningful content for children, the afternoon session also threw light on the need for Indian literature enthusiasts to encourage reading and free thinking amongst kids. “Why can’t children of the hills be regaled with local stories of Gods, demons and witcheslike my generation of children growing up in Almora and Nainital were? Why can’t we cherish the innocence of indigenous fairy tales of the Panchatantra, the Jataka tales or even the endearing story of the Golu Dev.”A part of the panel, I thoroughly enjoyed the talk that spoke of the need for conserving our literary history in a place that is living history by itself. Historic and stunningly beautiful.