Destiny’s Child talks about the life and times of Cochin’s queen Parukutty Neithyaramma

 Destiny’s Child talks about the life and times of Cochin’s queen Parukutty Neithyaramma

The book, and its authors Raghu and Pushpa Palat

Rajkumari Sharma Tankha

Destiny’s Child: The Undefeatable Reign of Cochin’s Parukutty Neithyaramma is an intimate account of the extraordinary life of Parukutty Nethyaramma, one of the most powerful rulers of the Kingdom of Cochin. Married at 14 to a man 17 years her senior did not, in any way, limit her. In fact, she created an enviable bond with her husband Rama Varma. And. after Rama Varma was crowned the sovereign ruler of Cochin in 1914, Parukutty vowed to support and protect him, which she did throughout her life. Parukutty often travelled with her husband, participated in important discussions, and even went on to rule as his proxy, something that was unheard and unthinkable at that time. Fearlessly, she brought in radical reforms, much to the chagrin of the conservative and powerful elite, and successfully thwarted the British’ attempts to overthrow the Royal family.
The book, published by  Penguin Viking and written by Parukutty’s great-grandson Raghu Palat and his wife Pushpa, paints a vivid picture of the great lady. In conversation with Life & More, Palats throw more light on the making of the book:

What inspired you to bring out the story of your great grandmother? Is there a message you want to give through her story?
Raghu: Pushpa had always wanted to write about Parukutty Naithyaramma. She had heard of her even before we were married and was fascinated by her character – she was not one dimensional and everyone had a different take on her.
Pushpa: As she was Raghu’s great grandmother Raghu never really considered her as much else – she was the one who cared for him after his mother died. It was when our younger daughter Nikhila envisioned an interest in her ancestors that we decided to take her to Cochin, a city which had played an important part in her family’s past. At the Dutch Palace, Nikhila wanted to take a picture of her great grandfather in his ceremonial dress. As photography is not permitted within the palace we requested for permission to do so. The gentleman in charge of the palace came to meet us and on finding out about Raghu’s close connections with the Maharaja he not only allowed Nikhila to click all the pictures she wanted but also invited us to his office for a cup of tea. There he regaled us with stories of the Maharaja but mostly he spoke about Parukutty Neithyaramma and her contributions to Cochin. He seemed to have far more knowledge about her than Raghu had and Raghu for the first time began to look at her as more than just his great grandmother.
We then visited the Hill Palace and there too we received a similar reception. Rooms that were locked were now opened for us to explore. Raghu was truly moved when he recollected that both his parents had been born in one of these rooms. On all later visits too we have been received with great kindness and courtesy on account of the high esteem that was held for the Maharaja Rama Varma XVI and Parukutty Nethiyaramma.
Raghu: Once again Pushpa’s keenness to write about Parukutty was awakened. I too now believed that we could write about her. However at this point we could not gather sufficient information and instead wrote about my great grandfather Sir C Sankaran Nair who had, during his time, been the only Indian on the Viceroy’s Executive Council. It was our first venture into the historical genre. Up until then, I had focussed on finance and taxation books and Pushpa on self-help, text books and writing articles for online publications.
Our first historical novel on Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair was published in 2019, whose success prompted us to venture into history. We began writing about Parukutty during the lock down.
Pushpa: Raghu had already been collecting as much information as he could about her. But when we began the book we felt we did not have enough information. It was fortuitous that several people knowing about our writing, generously provided us with letters, documents and accounts about Parukutty. People were extraordinarily generous with their time and information. Several long phone conversations also gave us a wealth of important and often highly personal information. It was as if Parukutty’s story was telling itself!
The message that Parukutty’s story conveys is that obstacles will arise, problems will be encountered but with determination, courage and clever diplomacy most of these can be overcome. Success though sweet never comes easy.

How much research went into it, and what all it entailed.
Pushpa: We did a considerable amount of research. We had access to books written during the time Parukutty Neithyaramma ruled Cochin such as The days that Were and The progress of Cochin by TK Menon. We went through the Reports on the Administration of Cochin during the period she was in power. This is an annual report. We were fortunate to access letters written by the Diwans and the Residents from the British Library. We read the abdicated Raja’s biography and autobiography. We had access to the videos from the Cochin Royal Family Symposiums on the period we were writing on. We had an opportunity to speak with many members of the Cochin Royal family.
Raghu: Apart from all this I had grown up listening to stories of the Hill Palace and that period from my grandfather (her son), my father (her grandson) and many other members of our family who remembered those times and her very clearly. Besides I knew her very well.”

How much time did it take you to bring out the book, cover to cover?
Raghu: While the idea of writing about Parukutty has been with us for a long time, the lockdown following the pandemic left us with time on our hands and no distractions. It was during these months that we got down to completing the entire research and the writing of the book. Completing the book took approximately 18 months.

Raghu, how much time did you spend with your great grandma in real life?
My parents (being first cousins) were both Parukutty Neithyaramma’s grandchildren and they lived at her houses in Trichur and Coonoor. My mother died when I was just nine, after which Parukutty Neithiyaramma brought me up. I lived with Parukutty and had a close bond with her. I spent a lot of time with her usually in the mornings and afternoons. She told me several stories of an era long gone by. The account of my relationship with her is also recounted in the book.

How tough was writing a biography considering both of you have basically written on banking, commerce and allied sectors.
Pushpa: Yes, history was a new genre for both of us but we had already successfully completed one historical novel – The Case that Shook the Empire, which gave us the confidence to continue in this genre. In fact, now we both really enjoy this genre. Raghu is in his element writing about royal history. History is after all created by people and I love people.

Did you divide the book chapter-wise between the two of you or one wrote and another edited
Raghu: We wrote each chapter separately. Then we put them together and rewrote it separately. So each chapter has been written and re-written several times before it was finalised. However, as we both enjoy writing this not at all arduous.

Writing a book together, whose writ ruled…
Pushpa: That’s a very relevant question! We argue about whose writing is better, we fight over what should be included or excluded and we each sulk when we lose. We are in the process of learning to be open and accepting of criticism. However, there is a plus side to all this even after 40 plus years of marriage we still have animated conversations (smiles).
There is one thing we have been totally in agreement from the very start and that is our information must be based on facts and it must be written in a manner to interest not just the history buff but any reader who enjoys a good story.


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