The early decades of the twentieth century were a politically active period for the Indian Subcontinent. The Indian National Congress, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhiji), was gaining strength and public support. People were coming out against the British Government and the British people, especially the executive class in India. Bengal presidency was the most volatile region, being the first to be controlled by the British, it was simmering with great discontent and distrust. Gandhiji’s struggle against British suzerainty took a great momentum after his successful protest against the British planters engaged in Indigo farming and production in Champaran, Bihar.
However, soon after the first World War, the Indigo industry slipped into a crisis due to discovery and production of synthetic blue dyes in Germany which was a detrimental blow to the indigo planters in British India. This led to a shift from indigo to sugarcane and soon north Bihar had at least 25 huge sugar factories. These factories, in addition to a large number of crushing mills, were producing raw sugar and jaggery. These mills and sugar factories were generally owned by zamindars and to some extent old British indigo planters.
As an aftermath of the post-Champaran movement and post-World War, British Indigo planters began to sell off their properties and return to their native place or migrating off to African countries. Some of them stayed back to see if time would change for them.
In Hursinghpur, near Samastipur, there was an old “Danby” family  maintaining and running the sugar factory at Bowarrah . This factory previously produced indigo but now it was refitted with new machineries to produce sugar. It was supported by a huge farm and equally beautiful farm-house or ‘Kothi’ [i]. The Danby family had migrated to India as late as 1901, in search of green pasture. But alas! They arrived when India was taking a firm stand to get independent. The distrust between the “subject” and “masters” was absolute. For an Indian any man with white skin was an oppressor and for any British a native was not at par with them, racially.
Gerald along with his brother Edward and father settled down at Bowarrah. Being of very pleasant personality and a very good polo player , they soon developed good relationships with the Darbhanga Raj family [ii]. Maharajakumar Kameshwar Singh [iii] and his younger brother Viseshwar Singh, popularly known as ‘Babuji’ were very fond of Gerald, though they were quite younger than Gerald. Both the brothers began visiting Bowarrah to play polo with the Danbys and vice versa. Gerald being older and having come from England after completing his studies soon began to change the outlook of both the brothers. On one hand Kameshwar began to learn about modern industrialization, the share market and modern farming from the Danbys, on the other hand Viseshwar took up polo as a serious sport for himself.
By 1928, almost all the British planters had left Bihar. In July 1929 Maharaja Sir Rameshwar Singh left the world and Kameshwar Singh succeeded him as Maharaja at a young age of 22 years. Soon the Danbys too decided that the time in India was up for them. They sold off their factory and farm to Darbhanga Raj and came to Kolkata to board the ship to London. Both the brothers came to see them off. As the family took leave of the friends and was about to board the ship, the young Maharaja held the hands of Gerald and looked into his eyes, tears welled up, Kameshwar murmured “Gerald I need you, Darbhanga needs you”. The whole family had boarded the ship, Gerald took his bag and came back with his Maharaja to Darbhanga.
Till now Gerald had limited exposure to Raj Darbhanga. The young Maharaja took him as his personal assistant in the head office. Soon he found out that Darbhanga was the largest zamindari of Bihar and had a very bureaucratized setup of administration but still the revenue was not very good. The expense on charity was a bit too high and so little fund was available for other development work. Both the friends discussed the plan thoroughly and Gerald, now, as the Chief Manager of Raj Darbhanga set out to conquer the sky for his Maharaja.
Gerald took over the mantle to develop the zamindari and freed the Young Maharaja from the zamindari duties so that he could dedicate himself to other important works such as politics, industrialization and investments in the world market. Gerald had a very good eye for good workers and managers. He appointed a circle manager [iv] in each of the 12 circles inherited. He introduced new land reform measures such as the “land rent remission scheme” which was related to productivity of the land and the tenant’s ability to pay. As a result the tenantry began to look towards him as a fatherly figure. Productivity rose to make the peasants happy and the sugar industry began to thrive and brought in more and more spendable funds. He began acquiring more and more land and soon had 4 new circles added to the 12 inherited ones and all the circles had become bigger and bigger. The boundaries of Raj Darbhanga spread across 2400 square miles.
The Act of God
In 1934, North Bihar suffered its most destructive earthquake. Raj Darbhanga was badly shaken. All the buildings, palaces, offices, hospitals, schools were destroyed. Darbhanga town itself looked like it had been nuked. The Maharaja was at Calcutta. He rushed to Darbhanga and sat with his Chief Manager and other officers. He told them, “Look, one should take this as a challenge, a God Gifted challenge to make our Darbhanga more beautiful. Come on! Let’s start with a new zeal. Let us reconstruct our Darbhanga.”
The Raj had a tough time negotiating with the government, and a new Darbhanga Development Authority was appointed. More than two and a half crore rupees were spared for the people of Darbhanga as help from the Raj for reconstruction. Danby and his handpicked men started working and lo and behold!
Managing the Darbhanga Raj was not a joke. He had to look after the zamindari, its revenue, administration, the complaints of the tenants, taxation, and relationship with the colonial government as well as the political parties looking for more donations and personal benefits. In 1935-37 the peasants revolted at a few places in Bihar against the oppression by the zamindars. The local leaders of Congress tried to instigate the peasants under the Darbhanga Raj too. They almost succeeded but due to the personal handling of the situation by Danby the issue subsided. He not only saw to it that the issue was nipped in the bud, but also exposed the designs of local Congress leaders through his extensive interviews in the media and placement of facts with proofs. Darbhanga Raj saw no major revolt or violence. The Maharaja took up the issue with the Congress central leadership and after a hectic negotiation with the government, a new Bihar Tenancy Act 1936  was promulgated to bring relief to the tenants of other zamindars in Bihar.
In 1948 the state government brought in a legislation to take over the zamindaris. Darbhanga filed a writ and the government lost. The amendment to the new constitution was done and the Right to Property was removed from the Fundamental Rights in 1951. The Raj again moved the court and the government was about to lose the battle when a meeting was called at Darbhanga House Patna and Pt. Nehru  asked the Maharaja to give up for the sake of Democracy, and was obliged.
Now Danby pressed to be relieved. His entire family had shifted to England. The Maharaja would not let go of his friend. Danby was asked to look after the industries in Kolkata. So Danby was accorded a final farewell as Chief Manager and was sent to Kolkata. But Danby knew that he was not contributing his bit to the Raj but drawing much more.
He wrote, ‘I had to go as I was just a huge burden on your exchequer’, ‘Do you remember the effect of just one word of yours on me? I had disembarked from the ship taking my entire family to England. Do you think I could have ever been able to leave Darbhanga if I heard again that Darbhanga needs me.’ He went on to say, “K, my entire family was in England, if I stayed back now, I won’t be able to go back to them forever.” Danby writes, “My Maharaja, you and I, took Raj Darbhanga to a place as high as this, achieving more than 25% average annual growth. And all because I never heeded to the impact of the people’s attitude. The natives never trusted me as I was a British and my own countrymen did not trust me as I worked for a native King. I had only one thing to consider and that was our friendship, the love and affection of Babuji. It will remain the same. I did not reply to your sarcastic comments just because you are my Maharaja, my friend and my Kameshwar.”
The letter cleared the heart of the Maharaja. He met the family whenever he went to England and played host to them in India. But Danby never went back to Darbhanga. In 2010, his grandson Robert came to visit Darbhanga, he saw the Danbys bungalow, the statue of Lord Ganesh put up by his grandmother and the Danby Road and the whole of Darbhanga. He said, “Till his last days Gerald would say ‘My Darbhanga’ and ‘My Maharaja’”, and tears would start flowing as words would become silent.
i. Kothi is a term used for the houses of Planters initially in the 17th and 18th centuries in Bihar.
ii. The family has the zamindari of Sarkar Tirhut. Sarkar Tirhut was known as Darbhanga as it was its capital. Sarkar Tirhut consisted of the revenue zone as a unit extending north of river Ganges upto the Tarai of Nepal
iii. Maharajakumar was the term used for the person designated to succeed the Maharaja.
iv. The entire zamindari was divided into small areas for the ease of administration and this was known as a ‘Circle’