What if one day you realise that the fables you had heard of ‘humble royals’ living in downtrodden ‘hunting lodge’ doubled up as palace in middle of Delhi were imposters? Well, if this New York Times article is to be believed, Indira Gandhi got played by a mentally ill woman because she didn’t want to upset the Shia Muslims in Lucknow.
As it so happened, in 1970s, one woman gets off at the New Delhi Railway Station with her two children and lodged herself in the VIP waiting room there. The woman, Wilayat, announced she is the Begum of Oundh and as royalty. She had arrived in Delhi with her two children ‘Princess Sakina’ and ‘Prince Raza Mahal’. She claimed to be related to the Nawab of Oundh, Wajid Ali Shah, who had a ‘colourful life’. Wilayat demanded a share in property of the Nawab of Oundh.
The then Uttar Pradesh government also intervened as Shia Muslims may take an offence to the ‘Begum’ being lodged at a railway station VIP guestroom instead of a ‘palace’.
To up her bargain, Wilayat would reach out to foreign correspondents who would lap up her story about being a royalty now living at railway station. In late 70s, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suggested Wilayat chooses one of the ‘lesser known’ monuments of Delhi as her new home. Negotiations ensued between Wilayat and the government of India. In 1984, ‘Begum’ and her children ‘picked’ Malcha Mahal as their new home. It was the hunting lodge of Firozshah Tughlak. Stories were floated that in 1993, the ‘Begum’ committed suicide by swallowing a crushed diamond.
Malcha Mahal in New Delhi’s Chanakyapuri area is a Tughlak era hunting lodge which was given away by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to a woman who landed in Delhi out of nowhere in the 1970s and announced that she is the ‘Begum of Oundh’. It has been widely reported as the ‘humble abode’ of the royal family Oudh and now stands abandoned after ‘Prince Cyrus’ aka ‘Prince Ali Raza’ died in 2016.
Till now it was widely believed that Wilayat’s deceased husband was a direct descendant of Wajid Ali Shah, Nawab of Oundh. That is, till New York Times’ Ellen Barry decided to out the ‘Begum’ and her children as imposters.
Turns out, Wilayat was married in Lucknow and after partition, in the violence that ensued, her husband decided to move the family to Pakistan. When Wilayat’s husband died, still not having recovered from moving out of Lucknow, Wilayat started becoming more and more volatile. At one point, she accosted Pakistani Prime Minister and even slapped him (Ellen does not name which one).
To save Wilayat from a long jail term, she was put up in mental hospital in London for six months where she was given electroshock therapy. She was labelled ‘mental’ and given injections. Once she was out of mental hospital, she gathered her things, two out of four children and hopped on to a train to New Delhi where she announced herself as ‘Begum of Oundh’.
Wilayat lands in New Delhi in the 1970s, no documents are verified by the Indian administration. There are no visa checks for herself and her two of the four children who came back. Was there no record of visas and passports of the Pakistanis coming in? She just waltzed into India and announced she’s royalty, and Indira Gandhi government took her word for it. She stayed at the railway platform for years before she moved to Malcha Mahal. No questions asked.
And the entire Indian administration did not see any reason to verify her claims. Perhaps offending the Begum of Oundh, who never was one, and in turn the Shias was sacrilege for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.