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After Begum Wilayat Mahal’s death, the servants that accompanied the family began to leave. The family’s pack of dogs began to die one after another. Things quickly fell apart like a pack of dominoes.

(Photo: Shorbori Purkayastha/The Quint)

In Photos: The ‘Danse Macabre’ in Malcha Mahal

Malcha Mahal’s former occupants lived like ghosts, unable to come to terms with the present.

Updated25 Nov 2019, 12:33 PM IST
Photos
5 min read

Disclaimer: This story was first published on 9 November, 2017 and has been republished and updated with the New York Times new findings on Wilayat Mahal’s family.

The material things we collect over the course of our lives, often outlive us, perhaps to tell the world about the stories that we leave behind. After “Prince” Ali Raza – believed to be the last descendent of the royal family of Awadh (Oudh) – was found dead in the first week of November, the 14th century lodge he spent most of his life in, and the items stored within became the keepers of a sordid tale.

Consumed by the forest of the central ridge in Delhi, the reclusive Malcha Mahal bore a semblance to its erstwhile occupants — Begum Wilayat Mahal and her children, Sakina and Ali. The unkept “royal” setting echoed memories of the characters who lived like ghosts, unable to come to terms with the present.

As media houses ransacked the vestigial flicker of the family’s history in search of a dramatic story, their lives were laid out in the open for all to see. Through letters, books, and magazine subscriptions, in neatly stacked tea sets and dog vaccination cards — all of it reflected a danse macabre, that embodies the eerie setting of Malcha Mahal.

Begum Wilayat Mahal, the self-proclaimed grand daughter of the last Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, spent most of her life writing to the Government of India, asking that she be allotted a palace.

She never had a palatial residence, but settled for a hunting lodge built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq – who ruled over the Sultanate of Delhi. It was here that she committed suicide in 1993.

Journalists have for years been trying to crack the case of this secretive family, yet most of what was known about them were eccentric myths and half-truths. There were several unanswered questions. For instance, where did they come from? Why did the other descendants of the Royal family of Oudh call them frauds? Why would they refrain from settling all doubts for once and for all?

But the story finally got closure after New York Times journalist Ellen Barry tracked down the other half of the family — an estranged older brother by the name of Shahid who had been living in England — far away from this royal mess.

Shahid confessed to the journalist that their father Inayatullah Butt was the registrar of Lucknow University, his brother was Mickey Butt and not a prince, and Shahid’s English wife Camillia called Wilayat’s claims of a royal lineage “a bloody big act.”

Like a lot of stories in the Indian subcontinent, this too began at the moment of Partition when the family was torn between staying at their comfortable Lucknow home or making the move to Pakistan. In the end, they packed up and set off for Lahore.

Butt died soon after and Wilayat “now with all restraining influence on her gone, furious over the expropriation of her property, accosted Pakistan’s prime minister at a public appearance, Shahid said, and slapped him,” the report said.

She was confined to a mental hospital in Lahore for six months and when she got out, she decided to head back to India with her dwindling wealth.

Back in India, she announced that she was the Queen of Awadh (Oudh) and pressured the government to hand over the properties of this erstwhile kingdom.

They even changed their identities.

“They took on new identities: Farhad became Princess Sakina, occasionally Princess Alexandrina; Mickey became Prince Ali Raza, and later called himself Prince Cyrus. They no longer made any mention of their Pakistani relatives, or the spacious family house in Lahore that was waiting for them should they return. Maybe they forgot it existed. They seemed to shed their past entirely, to come from nowhere,” Ellen Barry wrote in The New York Times report.

With the bloodline coming to an abrupt halt, ideally the lodge belongs to the Archaelogical Survey of India who should take up the responsibility of preserving the items of historical interest and most importantly restoring the building.

The death of Ali Raza has attracted reporters and visitors from all over the city who have unchecked access, making the ancient monument a prey to possible vandalism.

Heritage buff Sohail Hashmi who is an expert on all things ancient in Delhi said, “I’m against the idea of the government giving a heritage building as compensation whatever the reason maybe. Ideally, the Archaeological Survey of India should restore it but the government will only do so if it is of national importance. If a highway has to be built around Humayun’s Tomb, it’ll rise to the level of national importance,” he pauses, “But as far as the Indian government is concerned, nothing has happened in the past few hundred years.”

360 View: What’s Inside Malcha Mahal?

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

(Photo: Prashant Sharma/The Quint)

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

(Photo: Prashant Sharma/The Quint)

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

(Photo: Prashant Sharma/The Quint)

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

(Photo: Prashant Sharma/The Quint)

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Published: 08 Nov 2017, 06:23 AM IST
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