Best-selling, even after 70

A familiar figure at New Delhi's India International Centre, Narendra Singh Sarila (born 1927), who died in Switzerland on Friday morning after prolonged illness, straddled many worlds with considerable charm and quiet competence. Diplomat, author, industrialist, part of India's erstwhile royalty and a Ranji cricketer to boot, Raja Sahib was the veritable Renaissance man who also adapted to social media. Till illness took its toll, he retained a keen interest in India's strategic and foreign policy challenges, and my personal interface with him was due to the high esteem that the late K. Subrahmanyam and he had for each other.

Born in what was then the princely state of Sarila in central India when the British Raj was, like a dying candle, at its brightest flicker, the young Narendra Singh or NS grew up in a world that is now part of Indian history and legend. In his wry and self-effacing autobiography, Once a Prince of Sarila: Of Palaces and Elephant Rides, Of Nehrus and Mountbattens, NS reveals his natural talent for insightful personal recollection, and an empathetic connection to the larger historical context leavened with a sense of the turbulence of the moment.

Thus NS is able to give us the story of India's freedom struggle from the vantage point of a curious young prince, recounting the London Conferences through to the last Delhi Durbar the meeting of the Chamber of Princes on July 25, 1947 addressed by the viceroy, Lord Mountbatten where he was deputed to represent his father. The autobiography is rich in detail about NS's own trajectory from the princely India of the Raj to the newly independent, democratic nation led by Pandit Nehru who in turn, as NS often reiterated, was imperceptibly guided by the governor-general and his wife, Lady Mountbatten.

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