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A Princess All Her Own

Mar/07/2023 / by Abhijit Masih

Growing up ensconced and adorned by the history and luxury of the royal house of Udaipur in Rajasthan, India, Princess Padmaja Kumari Parmar is raising her family in America and working to inspire and empower women.

Despite battling jetlag, having flown in from India just the day prior, Princess Padmaja Kumari Parmar was not a minute late for her talk with SEEMA. This was just the first layer peeled off the multifaceted princess and set an informal tone in getting to know the royalty from the House of Mewar—the erstwhile kingdom of Udaipur. In the wide-ranging conversation from her home in Boston, where she now lives with her husband and two girls, the Princess unhurriedly revealed her life story which began in Udaipur. Whether she was sharing her experience growing up in Indian luxury or working at the front desk of a hotel in New York City, the Princess shattered many of the preconceived stereotypes that are often attached to royalty. 

Here’s what SEEMA quickly discovered about the Princess. She exudes warmth and humility and is the perfect ambassador for Udaipur and its centuries old culture. The only regal characteristic evident is the very measured tone in which she speaks, which is only broken into a childlike excitement on the topic of her father—the Maharana of Mewar. 

The greatest lesson that we can take from her life is that whether are professional or a princess, striving for independence is so important for women. The princess is a stellar example of a woman who is independent, self-sufficient, and hardworking, even when she has it all. She wholeheartedly asserts that one’s station in life matters much less than how one lives, prioritizing discipline, self-respect, and contribution to society.

On growing up as an Indian princess.

I was born and brought up in Udaipur and spent all my younger years there. I did come to the US for university and had the opportunity to work in New York—one of my favorite cities in the world. I did that and then I returned home, like a lot of other students who come and do part of their experience or education and then head home. I had no intentions of coming back to live. That wasn’t a part of my plan. Once I returned, I was involved with my father’s business in hospitality and loved that opportunity and the experience. Then all of a sudden, I found my husband. That’s what brought me back. I returned in 2011, once I got married, and I’ve been living here since, but I’ve had the good fortune of being able to still stay very connected to home, while building my life over here.

On working at the front desk of a hotel in New York City, far removed from the life of privilege of a palace.

I think Being a part of hospitality is truly a part of our DNA as a family. Given that the family’s businesses do revolve around hospitality, I was very keen that I got an independent opportunity to be able to get that experience outside of my own hometown. I strongly felt that I would be taken a lot more seriously if I work somewhere else before I came back to a family setup. Once I had that opportunity, I grabbed it. I was fortunate to be recruited at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York. The experience there did a lot for my confidence. As a young 20-something, having that opportunity prepared me for returning home with confidence and experience. I remember my first year in New York where I did not have a job opportunity, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it. So I had the chance to live that life of uncertainty. It helps you grow up. Then of course, from my parents, I learned the idea of having discipline and a sense of responsibility. All of that came to fruition when I was working and living by myself in New York.

On becoming an entrepreneur.

It had a lot to do with what I had seen and what I learned to admire and respect. That is, people who truly lead a life of discipline. Everything wasn’t quite a bed of roses, but I wanted to be able to respect myself before I could go out and be an entrepreneur. Not just for myself, but also for my family and for them to know that I had come back with this experience. I had seen my father and my parents work very hard, so I think that was encouraging and inspiring. I gravitate toward those who take chances and are ready to put their shoulder to the wheel. It’s important to work hard and stay aligned with what inspires you. 

On the splendor of Udaipur through art.

We, as a family, as a community, as a city have been very committed to the preservation of our cultural heritage. We are proud of our cultural heritage and the traveling exhibition [A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur] gave us the opportunity to be able to share that story with the world. The credit goes again to my father, where this conversation took place with the Smithsonian over a decade ago. The idea was really to be able to bring these intangible aspects of Udaipur in a tangible manner. It came around by means of paintings. These are about 300-year-old paintings that were preserved to the international protocol for them to be exhibited at the Smithsonian. Our goal was to share with an America audience many aspects of Udaipur they may not have known. It brings me a lot of joy to talk about this and about what else Udaipur has to offer. I’m personally very invested in promoting this given that I’m living in America.

On Udaipur’s famous hospitality.

I’m very fortunate to continue to stay connected to Udaipur. My foundation Friends of Mewar has projects that support grassroots work in and around Udaipur, which gave me the opportunity to stay connected in an impactful way. The reason for this is because of the beautiful memories of not just the city, the people and all the hustle and bustle of my small town. I love the history and the hospitality that have become very popular and famous. But like any other town, we have other aspects that excite us—family, friends few hidden restaurants and everything else that goes with it. For those who have visited before, a lot of this will resonate. For those who haven’t, I hope it’ll inspire you to add Udaipur to your to do list of travels. We get a lot of compliments for our hospitality, but it’s the people that come who truly encourage us to be so open hearted and so welcoming. 

On empowering women in India through Friends of Mewar.

When I moved to America, my heartstrings were always pulling towards Udaipur and India. It gave me an opportunity to consider how I could continue to stay connected without being there. I took about three years to decide and come up with a plan, which was the birth of this foundation, to be able to continue to do work to support the people and the community. It’s truly a passion project. I didn’t want this to be something that was whimsical and because I was homesick. None of that was true. I’m very happy here. So Friends of Mewar was established with three focus areas—women’s empowerment and education, preventive healthcare and the preservation of cultural heritage. 

On countering pushback in a patriarchal society 

I am a strong believer of the role women have played, and I can talk specifically in my family, it has been very impactful. I truly believe in women. I believe in what they produce, how they work, and their work ethic. So whatever we can do to support, encourage, and inspire each other, let’s continue to do that. There is no lack of belief in women. I’m sorry that there are places and situations where this is not being done to the potential, but whatever all of us are doing in our own capacity—big or small—is meaningful. So please don’t be discouraged.

On living with type 1 diabetes all her life.

I was diagnosed 37 years ago, when I was five years old. I had the good fortune of having a very strong mother who never made me for a second feel that I had a disease. I had a condition; I did not have a disease. That difference has empowered the way I feel and the way I act. The reason I chose to become an advocate for type 1 diabetes is because I realized that this is not the message everyone hears. There’s been a lot of noise around type 1 diabetes, which I had missed. I’m glad that I wasn’t exposed to photographs of people with type 1 diabetes being amputated or not having eyesight, for example. I’m happy to share that I live a full life. It’s a disciplined life, but being disciplined is not a negative. I’ve had the opportunity to play sports, travel, work, and be a mother of two very healthy children. There are some stigmas, but I’m here to counter those misconceptions. I have been on insulin for 38 years of my life. I’ve had the good fortune of not having any other underlying conditions. I want to encourage others with type 1 diabetes—especially children—don’t feel overwhelmed and bogged down by this condition. It’s not going to stop you from doing anything you wish to do. There are Olympians, actors, and mothers who are who have type 1. Know that the sky’s the limit for anyone who is type 1.

On the lessons her father taught her.

My father—the Maharana of Mewar—has been an iconic figure in my life. My father was a role model when it comes to discipline, and I think that’s something I’ve picked up from him. The other lesson has been about respect. He’s been very keen that one learns to respect everyone. Work ethic is probably the other biggest lesson I’ve learned from him. Those are characteristics that don’t leave me for a second. It’s a part of who I am. That’s what truly makes you authentic. 

On having self-respect, regardless of your chosen profession.

I’m a homemaker. I work. I resonate with every woman. Life is not a bed of roses, but it is what we wish to make it out to be. I have the same amount of respect for a homemaker that I would for an engineer, for example. It’s not what you do. It’s not the job title. It is who you are. I’ve been lost at times. I’ve been confused at times. But that is all of me, and I’m okay with that. I’m very fortunate to have a good support team around me, with my family and some very close friends. So I would encourage all women to see what inspires you from within, not externally. Let’s find that within ourselves. 

Interests that bring excitement to every role

I’ve come to the realization that whatever I am doing, professional or non professional, it needs to make me feel excited and have fun. Today, I can confidently say that whether it’s my projects or hanging out with my kids, or traveling, whatever it may be, I really ask myself – is it something I’m going to enjoy? This shift is quite recent. Of course, the fun might feel different in what I do with my children or what I do with a project. It can have a different dynamic. But if it doesn’t pull on my heartstrings, I’m not signing up for it. I’m not going to just do something because it feels dutiful. That would feel like a lie to me. There’s got to be magic and fun in what you do and I hope I can continue to do that.

SIDEBAR 1

The Best of Udaipur 

Favorite food 

Dal Baati, goes without saying with all the ghee in it.

Favorite place 

Anywhere with the people who mean the world to me. It doesn’t matter where we are in Udaipur, if with the people that I feel truly close to—I’m a happy person.

Favorite movie that features Udaipur

James Bond’s – Octopussy. I think shot in 1984. How can I say anything else? The whole town was really excited with Roger Moore being there. We still talk about it as if it’s being shot right now. 

Favorite attire 

Ghagra Odhna, which is our traditional attire and one of the most comfortable clothes to wear. I love it. 

Favorite handiwork 

The block print. I’m so proud of that skill and talent.

Favorite piece of jewelry that you cherish

This small little pendant I have that was given by my mother. It just makes me happy. I don’t think I’ve ever taken it out. The fact that it’s enveloped with love is what makes it really special.

SIDEBAR 2

A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur features some seventy works of art dating between 1700 and 1900, including paintings from The City Palace Museum in Udaipur and other collections. Many of the paintings have never been exhibited outside of Udaipur, and others have never been exhibited anywhere in the world.

Exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, Washington, DC till May, 2023. The paintings will be displayed from June 2023–September 2023 at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio

“So the paintings will be in America a little short of a year. I’m really hoping that people take the time to go and see this truly to expand their perspective on Udaipur and learn a little bit more about us and god willing be inspired.”

Seema

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