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25.10.10


While his colleagues, and most other foreign visitors, were winding up their visit to India with sightseeing trips and shopping, Eric Ronald had more serious things in mind. The 27-year-old Australian television crew member, here to cover the Commonwealth Games, had his mind set on solving a century-old family mystery.

Eric had inherited a pair of juttis (slippers) handed down over many generations and believed to be that of an Indian ancestor. "My late mother, Flora Ronald, was born in Australia in 1911. The slippers were given to her by an elderly relative who had treasured them for many years. She instructed Flora to keep them safe and told her they belonged to an ancestor of her's who was 'an Indian princess, the daughter of a Maharaja'," Eric's father Peter Ronald told Newsline in an email exchange.
 
The Ronalds say that although her name has been lost in time, she was remembered as the daughter of an Indian ruler — "perhaps Saadat Ali Khan II, the Nawab of Oudh 1798-1814". "Much is known of the family history, the English Officer Samuel Need, and the birth of his children in India in the early 1800s. The second son, Johnston Need, ultimately settled in Australia and was buried at Tower Hill, Victoria. But Johnston's birth details (and those of his siblings) list his mother only as 'a native', a sad reminder of attitudes past," recounts Peter.

"Our family treasures these slippers, as our previous generations have done. Also, we treasure our Indian ancestry, which is so well documented and verified. Our quest at this time is to right a wrong of the past and restore to our Indian princess the dignity of her name and rightful place in history."

But despite his intentions, Eric had little time to search for his roots. "My assignment was far more time consuming than I had anticipated. I was busy with coverage for the Games and had little time to actually investigate my family history. I did, however, manage to spend a day in Varanasi and it was an experience I will treasure all my life," said Eric, a Vision Operator with SSG Live.

Eric was involved with the television coverage of the rifle shooting event at the Kadarpur range.
The Ronalds have been in touch with the Australian High Commission here to help with clues and spread the word. The family is also trying to contact historians and others to find clues about who the princess was, her name and lineage. "I have such fond memories of the experience and look forward to returning. Next time, I may even be able to meet some relatives," said Eric.

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