Tales of Lost Pride

Article taken in toto from Internet

Living a `lost’ legacy

Of the many descendants of the Moghuls living in Hyderabad are Begum Laila Umhani and her sister Husn Jahanara Begum and their families. Shorn of any royal or political patronage, the sons of Laila Umhani have adapted themselves to survive in today’s world.

The reclusive Begum Laila Umhani

THE KUTCHA road in the suburb of Asman gadh of Hyderabad goes up like a memory lane to the house of the descendants of the Moghuls. These surroundings are hardly the kind their ancestors would have dreamt of for their scions. The fourth and fifth generation of the dynasty, which spanned more than 300 years of Indian history, lives today in conditions hardly befitting their grand lineage. Bereft of her royal legacy, Begum Laila Umhani, the great, great granddaughter of the last Moghul emperor of the country, Bahadur Shah Zafar and his wife Begum Ashraf Mahal, leads a quiet unpretentious life with her two sons and their families.

The unobtrusive, cloistered world of Begum Laila, an octogenarian, was thrown open with the making of a documentary The Living Moghuls produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust and financed by Prasar Bharti and directed by Arijeet Gupta. Screened on the national network on television and at special screenings in New Delhi, this documentary unravels the story of their survival down the decades.

As one enters the home of Ziauddin Tucy, the eldest son of the Begum (his brother Masihuddin Tucy is also present) one is struck by the stark middle-class ambience. Except for a few photographic portraits of some of the erstwhile Moghul emperors, the house looks like any ordinary home shorn of any grandeur or ostentation that their forefathers lived in. The documentary traces the history of this family of Bahadur Shah Zafar after his arrest and exile to Rangoon during the Revolt of 1857 till 2002. It records the statement of Ziauddin on how one of the sons of Bahadur Shah Mirza Quwaish fled from India to Kathmandu, Udaipur before landing in Aurangabad. His son Mirza Abdullah came to Hyderabad around 1895 in search of shelter. Abdullah’s son Mirza Pyare (the father of Begum Laila Umhani and her sister, another octogenarian) married one of the close granddaughters of Khan Bahadur Tipu Khan, a close associate of the Nizam.
History is rather silent on the period after the Revolt. But memory is a gift mankind possesses by which many things are passed on to posterity.

Memory Lane:

The Begum leads a quiet, unpretentious life with her two sons and their families.
Begum Laila Umhani recounts her younger days when her father spoke glowingly about the magnificent royal court and the times of crisis – tales that he had heard from his father and grandfather to his friends. “I have very faint memories of my grandmother but I used to find my father’s descriptions interesting,” she says with a smiling face. And through this she imbibed details of her royal genealogy.

Even now when she does remember snatches of incidents, she acquaints the grandchildren of their family tree.

What is surprising is the family’s anonymity. The nonchalant approach of other people is intriguing. Very few know of their presence and their ancestry. “While some who know respect us, there are others who even doubt our lineage. Who are we today? What is left of the past? There is nobody to listen to our fariyad. So it is better to remain anonymous. This is life – full of ups and downs,” says a stoic Begum. “We are leading this life as we have unfortunately, not reaped any benefits of any sort. With great persuasion, my mother consented to speak to Arijeet Gupta who made many trips to Hyderabad. The documentary was made and we are still what we are. Nobody from the government (Central or State) has come forward to take notice of us or help us,” rules Ziauddin Tucy.
The family has seen rough times indeed – during the Nizam’s rule, police action and post-independence.

Their late father’s property (quite a few hundred acres) was confiscated under the Jagirdari Act and Inam Abolition Act. “The cases are pending in the Revenue courts,” inform the brothers. Their father “hailed from the family of Nizam-ul-Mulk Tucy who was prime minister to the kingdom of Baghdad,” they add.

Such circumstances forced the sons (the Begum has four sons, one died some years ago and three daughters) to look for avenues for employment.

After all one cannot live merely under a lost glory. Ziauddin joined government service, but retains the interest in poetry like Bahadur Shah Zafar himself. Masihuddin, on his return from the Middle East, took up a job as a food consultant with the ITC Welcome Group of Hotels. Masihuddin is trying to revive and popularise the lashkari cuisine of the Moghuls. The third brother is in the Middle East. The brothers have brought up their cause for upliftment but so far their pleas have gone unheard. “For the last forty years we have made representations for jobs and shelter but nothing has happened,” says a bitter Ziauddin. It is surprising to know that both live in rented houses quite close to each other and are yet to possess a house of their own. “We want justice to be done so that our children’s welfare would be ensured,” chips in Masihuddin.

What about the other members of the family? The family has established the Moghul Family Society (a Trust) for the welfare of its members and has publicised it in the media. When asked about the presence of another contender, Pakeeza Begum, who also belongs to the fourth generation of Bahadur Shah, the brothers reply “despite the media coverage, nobody has come forward so far. When we were in Delhi for the screening of the documentary (a special screening was arranged at the Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi on August 10 which was attended by diplomats, historians and many cultural personalities) we heard about this. We will welcome any such member to the Trust. Since the family of Bahadur Shah (after his exile to Rangoon) got scattered (as some of the sons fled) it is difficult to keep track of the family. We know one line is in Burma (now Myanmar) as one of Bahadur Shah’s sons married a Burmese and settled down there and another one at Kolkata. Our aunt (mother’s sister Husn Jahanara Begum – named after emperor Jahangir’s daughter) is feeble and bedridden while our maternal uncle is no more.

While the governments in the country have not helped the family, the brothers were invited to Uzbekistan to attend the 510th birth anniversary of Babur.
Begum Laila reminds everyone in the family about the heritage and keeps the genealogical tree alive besides the cuisine of the emperors. “She is my professor in cuisine matters,” says Masihuddin, who is engaged in research on lashkari cuisine.

She has numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren who still do not know of their glorious past. Perhaps even if they know, their footprints will be lost in the sands of time like those of the rest if nothing is done. They will go into the annals of history as unsung members of a great dynasty.

But for the time being, every minute of life is being lived against historical and biological clocks which tick away.

The last lines of the documentary end aptly with the lines from the Baburnama which concludes “Like us many have spoken over `history’ but they were gone in the twinkling of an eye. We conquered the world with bravery and might, but we did not take it with us to the grave.”

The last Mughal

Pakeezah Begum is the last direct descendant of the Mughal emperors, the great-great granddaughter of Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Pakeezah Begum‘s great grandfather was Mirza Fakhru,
the last official claimant to the Mughal throne.

Lagta nahin hai dil meraa ujde dayaar mein
(My heart has no repose in this despoiled land)
Kis ki bani hai a’alam-e-napaayedaar mein
(Who has ever felt fulfilled in this futile world)

When Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor to have ruled India, wrote these lines, he would have scarce believed that one day, they would best describe the situation his last surviving relative would face. Zafar died in exile in Burma’s Rangoon, present day Yangon, sent there by the British to spend his last days in solitude. It was a punishment inflicted on the ageing king for having challenged the authority of the colonial masters during the 1857 war of independence, also termed as the sepoy mutiny. Pakeezah Begum, who describes herself as the last surviving direct descendant of the great Mughals, who once ruled this subcontinent for centuries, is also in exile, in a sense.

A few years ago, Pakeezah Begum told William Dalrymple, India based British author that Delhi was built by her ancestors, a claim with certain historical merit. Dalrymple put that in his book, City of Djinns. When reminded of her pronouncement, she chuckles. “Well, of course, not just Delhi but all of India belongs to the Mughals,” she says, sitting in her Noida home. It has been three to four years since she has shifted here, to live with the family of one of her relatives. “I came here after my husband expired. My in-laws wanted a division of the house we shared in Neeti Bagh. I sold off my share and shifted here,” she says. Her husband, Danial Latifi, was a famous jurist who represented Shah Bano in the case regarding alimony post-divorce for Muslim women in the late 1980s. They married late. “My mother was paralysed and I had to tend to her. That is why my marriage was delayed and I could not have any children,” she adds.  

One of the very first things she says is that she does not like living in Noida, which is in Uttar Pradesh, just across the Delhi-UP border. “I feel unhappy that I left Delhi. I don’t like the aab-o-hawa (environment) here. My friends are there. So are the clubs I am a member of, like the Gymkhana club, and the India International Centre. I miss the company I kept. It is disgusting.”

While there are several claimants to the Mughal ancestry, Pakeezah Begum asserts that she is the last surviving direct descendant of the last emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. “I am the great-great granddaughter of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the great granddaughter of the last Wali Ahd (successor) to the throne and the granddaughter of his only surviving son,” she explains, insisting that this complicated bit of lineage is grasped properly by this correspondent.

Pakeezah Begum told William Dalrymple that Delhi was built by her ancestors. Dalrymple put this in his book, City of Djinns.

According to historical records, Mirza Fakhru, alias Mirza Fateh-ul-Mulk Wali Ahd Bahadur, was the last official claimant to the Mughal throne. However, he was killed along with almost everyone of the royal family by the British, post the 1857 war. His son, Mirza Farkhunda Jamal, was saved by his wet nurse, who stealthily smuggled him out of the capital and kept him away for five years before returning after general amnesty was assured by the British, narrates Pakeezah Begum. “She kept his identity concealed during those years to protect him,” she says.

Bahadur Shah Zafar

Mirza Fakhru was married to the niece of Mirza Ilahi Bux. At the latter’s name, the Begum’s eyes shine with unconcealed contempt. “He was a traitor. He was in cahoots with the British and got everyone from the royal family killed,” she says. However, Ilahi Bux saved his niece from being killed and kept her with him following the mutiny. It was to this house that Mirza Jamal was brought back to and where he grew up. Later on, he married one of Bux’s daughters. 

Pakeezah Begum spent her childhood in Old Delhi, like everyone else in her family. Her father, Mirza Jamal’s son, died when she was still a child. “I can recognise him only through his remaining photographs,” she says.

Her father was appointed as the panch of the area near Jama Masjid, Daryagunj and Kucha Chelan by the British. “He considered the populace of Delhi as his subjects in his mind,” says the Begum. “People would come to him and tell him that they had a marriage at their home and needed to feed a few hundred people. He was a very good hunter, like the others men in the house. He would go hunting and shoot down deer which he would later give away to the needy,” she says. During monsoons, the family would go to Qutub Sahib, near Qutb Minar, rent a house and have night-long revelries. “They really used to live it up,” adds the Begum.

The British granted her father a pension, which was inherited by her mother after the former passed away. However, the pension stopped with her demise.

Pakeezah Begum was sent to the Aligarh Muslim University for her studies as the situation after Independence was still not considered safe in Delhi. After completing her studies, she came back, at the insistence of her mother. She got a job at the Lady Shri Ram College, but since she was not fond of teaching, she quit and took up a librarian’s job at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, under the Ministry of External Affairs. Later, she served on the Africa desk at the ministry and became the director of Foreign Cultural Centres in the capital.

She is not the only living descendant of the Mughals. There are others, in Hyderabad and Kolkata, who claim the legacy. However, the Begum reiterates that unlike them, she is descended directly from the emperor and this gives her the “superiority” over their claims.
The claim of her family was recognised by the Indian government when her mother was invited to a function to commemorate the failed mutiny or the war for independence, after India won its freedom. “They carried my mother on a takht (throne) to the venue. Panditji (Nehru) asked her if she had any problems. But we never asked the government for anything,” she says.

Pakeezah Begum is now in her 70s. She is a heart patient and finds it difficult to move around without aid. Her trips to Old Delhi have completely stopped. “No one lives in our old house now,” she laments. She visits Delhi sometimes for her health check-ups, a city she now finds hard to identify with. “It is completely changed from our times. It is so congested, with flats coming on top of each-other,” she rues. All one hopes is that at the end of her days, she would not be reminded of another couplet written by her ancestor, Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Kitnaa hai badnaseeb zafar dafan ke liye
(How unfortunate is Zafar, that for his burial)
Do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku’h-e-yaar mein
(Not even two yards of land were to be had, in the land of his beloved.)

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Article taken in toto from Internet

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