Pradyot Debbarman: The everyman's Maharaja
Pradyot Debbarman, the current title holder of the Royal House of Tripura, India, is more of a commoner who says he is a tribal and sees himself in the role of protecting his people.
He may not have contested the elections in Tripura this year, but he definitely has been at the helm of affairs. Pradyot Bikram Kishore Manikya Debbarman, the modern day maharaja of Tripura, a north eastern state in India, was the star campaigner pitching for the Congress with Rahul Gandhi during elections early this year. But such things do not really strike him. Pradyot, 34, the youngest of the five children of the erstwhile Maharaja of Tripura gives a new definition to his role in post-democratic times. He likes to call himself a 'protector of the land' or 'Bubaghra' as referred to by the locals. "I am a tribal and I am proud of it", he says with much conviction, "My people are tribals. I have studied in the North-east (NE). I eat the food they eat. I am a man of the mountains. I am one of them". He joined the Youth Congress when he was 23 but, "I am into politics neither for power nor for money", he says, "Politics runs in my blood. My parents had been into it. I am here to prove myself. There are things that bother me. There are a lot of things that need to be done. I am not here to play the quota card", he says as he sits in a spotless white kurta-pyjama, gelling in with the modern brigade of young netas that dress alike and carry with them the strapping baggage of legacy and heavy-weight second names.
Full of angst for the neglected state of the NE and filled with enormous knowledge (complete with statistics) of the policies, projects, plans and strategies of the government, he cites Marx and Chomsky, and speaks of his land and his people with a passion that borders on stoicism. "My father taught me humility, and taught me never to humiliate", he says.
What about the legacy that you has inherited?
"What is legacy?" he counter questions, "Is it what you inherit from your ancestors or is it what you leave behind for your children?" This, from a man, who with a child like innocence and countenance can voice the most difficult and complex matters and even make efforts to find solutions. "I am the Manoj Kumar (a veteren Indian cine star who acted in many films based on a patriotic theme) of NE", he says in a lighter vein.
And what about being a tribal?
"Well, we were a civilization much before the word tribal was thrust on us. I'd rather call myself an indigenous person who likes to preserve his social and linguistic identity while at the same time being fiercely nationalistic because India is about diversity".
From the land where he comes, nature is at its pristine beauty. "The North-East is where I grew up. I never left my land to study abroad", says the boy who studied at St Edmund's School in Shillong. And it is here during the formative years that Pradyot began to see himself in the larger picture of life rather than confining himself within the framework of royal trappings. The soft-spoken gentleman, who belies your image of a royal, suddenly turns into a crusader of sorts. But Pradyot is not just another politician in the making - he surprises you by breaking off the mould and sharing the charisma of his personality that lies in variety. He is a musician-cum-sports enthusiast-cum-editor-dog-lover-magician-humorist, all rolled into one! In fact, more a commoner, than the king of the state of Tripura, that he is regarded as. The royal legacy very much part of his lineage and persona is not something he carries with him most of the time. Instead, he is armed with a discerning smile and quick-witted humour and high energy levels that help him juggle his many tasks - almost each of which is his passion.
There are two magazines he looks after - The Northeast Today and The Northeast Today Youth. "We are top of the league magazines in the Northeast", says this young editor whose first passion is sports. "I used to play cricket and football in school. When my friend invited me to promote football in the northeast, I jumped at the offer. Sports, I strongly believe, is one avenue through which we can project NE in a positive way. To build up a community, we need to go about it through various other activities like sports and music". He is currently a shareholder in the Shillong Lajong football team owned by his friend and schoolmate, Ming.
And what about promoting rock and roll in a big way in the NE?
To this, the self-taught guitarist and singer, says, "Music is inherent. Everybody knows how to sing in the NE". While some of his relatives, he says, have done very well in the field of music - SD Burman and RD Burman - he is into rock and brought Firehouse to Shillong followed by the Scorpions, and Mr Big. And Axl Rose of Guns N Roses and Sebastian Bach from Skid Row, who he counts among his friends, are soon to visit Shillong to interact with the musicians there.
Despite such diverse interests, his most coveted project remains the English medium primary school that he set up in Dhalai, one of the poorest and most rural areas of Tripura, about a year back. "It is through education that we can also take care of health", he says speaking about his work on meningitis that plagues several regions in the NE.
Invited by the Harvard University where he lectures off and on, Pradyot presented his views on the AFSPA, the arms act, "which I am completely against", and the second time on the 'Look East Policy of India'. "In Harvard, I noticed that people knew more about the world than their own land", he says with a touch of cynicism.
Even as the bachelor boy, who has a hotel in Shillong (started with a bank loan 10 years back), lives with his breed of 107 dogs, all of whose names he remembers, he quips, "When you sleep with 8-9 dogs, which woman will want to come near you". Of the three tattoos on his arms, one is dedicated to his favourite pet he lost - Mixsu. And even as he plays pranks, bowls you completely with his magic tricks, and suddenly speaks to you in the tone of cine star Dharmendra, the seriousness of purpose is never lost to him. As also when he talks about the kind of girl he would like to settle with. "She should be independent, accommodating, should love traveling and must have a sense of humour", he says.