Lucknow is proudly called a CITY OF NAWABS, and rightly so. The last Nawab of Lucknow, Wajid Ali Shah, reportedly had over three hundred wives. Imagine the endless number of nawabs and princesses dwelling in every nook and corner of the city presently.
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah ruled Awadh from 1847 to 1856. A great patron of arts, he was a poet, playwright and a dancer. He revived Kathak as a major form of classical dance.
Dr. G.D. Bhatnagar, Writer of “Awadh under Wajid Ali Shah” wrote, “He (Wajid Ali Shah) was a Voluptuary, still he never touched wine, and though sunk in pleasure, he never missed his five daily prayers.”
Being a gifted composer, the Nawab enriched the light classical form of THUMRI. He WROTE OVER 40 WORKS comprising poetry, prose, thumris, and ghazals. He composed new ragas like JOGI, JUHI, SHAH PASAND etc.
Before succeeding to the throne, he had already penned down, “Darya-yi-Ta’shshuq ( THE RIVER OF LOVE) and Bahr-e- Ishq. His plays took intense and long preparation and were celebrated with lavish parties. He directed a play on LORD KRISHNA in 1843 and organized the YOGI MELA in 1853. He opened his gardens to the Members of Public who were instructed to wear saffron attire.
In 1856 the British duped him by annexing his territory though the East India Company owed him a large amount of debt. Hence, they cunningly liquidated their MONEY LENDER.
He was allotted a building called BNR House in Garden Reach near the Headquarter of South Eastern Railways, Calcutta. It was better known as PARIKHANA. Begum Hazrat Mahal, one of his divorced wives, stayed on in Lucknow to participate in 1857 MUTINY AGAINST THE BRITISH. Her son, Birijis Qudr was placed on the throne. Hazrat Mahal finally shifted to Nepal, and died in April 1879. A decade later, after the annexation of Nawab’s kingdom, it was confirmed that the British owed him 2 million pounds. To add to Nawab’s sorrows, the British destroyed his legacy too. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was neither violent nor revengeful against his enemies. A lover of literature and fine arts, he probably didn’t like bloodshed. Even after being ousted from Lucknow, he tried to create a mini Lucknow and its ambiance in the 19th century Calcutta. He reportedly died of anal fistula infection on 21st September 1887. It is also rumored that he was poisoned by one of his officers.
LOSS OF INHERITANCE
In early Ninety Seventies, Begum Wilayat Mahal, accompanied with her two children, a retinue of servants, pack of hounds, arrived in Lucknow, the capital of Awadh State, and demanded to be compensated with the estate of his great grandfather, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. She narrated how the ancestral palace where she was allowed to stay in Kashmir by the first P.M. of Independent India, Jawahar Lal Nehru, was gutted by fire. The Begum turned down the offer of a decent house saying that it was below her royal status. She claimed that Begum Zamrud Mahal was her grand mother and the direct descendant of Wajid Ali Shah. Zamrud reportedly appeared before Edward VIII when he visited Delhi in 1911, and informed him that she refused to accept a stipend from the British, which had been offered in lieu of their inheritance.
Post her rejection of a decent accommodation offered by Lucknow Govt., Begum Wilayat Mahal arrived in Delhi with all her paraphernalia and family, and stayed in VIP Guest House at the railway station. She protested for nine years demanding her royal inheritance. The family, reportedly, addressed letters to Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, and Queen Elizabeth. Wilayat Mahal’s son, Prince Raza, traveled to London to personally deliver the letter to the Queen in 1980.
Begum Wilayat Mahal’s story attracted international media attention. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, met the Begum in 1984. THE FAMILY HAD ALREADY TURNED DOWN THE OFFER OF a modern premises in 1976. Following the intervention of Indira Gandhi, Wilayat Mahal was handed over the possession of MALACHA MAHAL in 1985.
This is a 14th century monument, a shikargah (hunting lodge), built by Firoz Shah Tuglaq, who reigned over the Sultanate of Delhi, in 1325. The old ruined, door less, window less building in the wilderness of a dense jungle, was not at all inhabitable. The place was without electricity and water connection. Going by the sources, the promise to renovate the building never materialized till the death of the last member of the family.
The family, however, tried to create a palace like ambiance in a place threatened by wild animals, deadly snakes, lizards and thieves. The persian carpets, antique furniture, a retinue of uniformed servants, a pack of hounds, china pottery etc. failed to make her feel like a royal. Her collection of gold, diamonds, expensive stones, silver were dwindling day after day. The family had to go through the rigors of extreme hot summer and winter. The servants began to desert them, a few of them ran away with their treasure.. Begum sunk into depression. It is believed the Begum drank a poisonous concoction of crushed diamonds and pearls to kill herself.
After her death in 1993, her daughter Sakina and Prince Raza were shocked. They kept her body for days and slept close by. The body was buried 10 days after the death. Sakina was totally devastated by her mother’s tragic demise.
Sakina, reportedly said,” Perhaps, the Sun will set on the royal house of Awadh without anyone to mourn its melancholy demise. I have divined that this world is nothing. Cruel nature takes malicious delight in our ruin, so I desire nothing. We are now the dynasty of the living dead.”
“We are people of Nature- no plastic, no politics, no business. There are those who would like to befriend us, and we would accept this, but they would have to be people of status ad character. We do not just open our hearts to just anyone. We have accepted ruination, but we will not accept the demonic democracy of any country that has deprived royalty of their proper position,” Prince Raza, reportedly, spoke these melancholic words.
No one knows about the death of Sakina.
LAST DAYS OF PRINCE RAZA
It was reported that the Prince Raza didn’t allow Indians to meet him. He possessed a licensed revolver to protect himself from looters. Thieves robbed him of his valuables. He reportedly allowed foreign diplomats and journalists to interview him. It might be true he received financial help from his visitors in his last days. It’s also rumored that he bred dogs for foreign dignitaries.
He had a ramshackle rusted cycle which was used by him to get ration, and dog food from the market. It is also reported he didn’t have sufficient means to survive.
He was not comfortable making friends with ‘ordinary people.’ He was little friendly with the local Forest Officer. It was only much later that he began conversing with a few staff members of a close by office where he went to fetch water. When he didn’t turn up to collect water for a couple of days, his death was confirmed.
Though the Begum Wilayat Mahal and her family members are branded, “IMPOSTORS” by few and “TRICKSTERS” by others, I personally feel otherwise. Had they been shrewd and clever people, they would have lived in the accommodation offered to them by the Govt. and by hook or crook would have become wealthy. The entire family ended tragically, after a great physical and mental suffering. For them “to be ordinary was a sin.”
This was the story of one family. How many descendants of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah might be living in anonymity!