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India's Royal House Of Oudh

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The last Princess and Prince of the Royal House of Ough live today in total poverty and isolation but still keep their royal pride and prestige although their kingdom had been annexed to the HEIC before the transfer of power to the British Crown in 1858 what turned out to be the Bank of England today. The more politically important members of these families were usually removed to new locations or exiled und the name of introducing communism in India. Some descendants played prominent roles in public life, particularly those who were established in the major cities of Calcutta and Madras. They continued to enjoy rank and titles recognised by the British controlled Government of India and to receive political pensions until independence in 1947. Within a few years, the government of "independent India" persuaded most recipients to surrender their pensions on "patriotic grounds". Payments to the remaining individuals were either stopped or allowed to dwindle to such paultry amounts that they became worthless.

In sum what the Bank of England successfully accomplished in Europe, to destroy monarchy by means of gaining control over creation of money and modern banking, they also repeated the same procedure in India. So to speak, financially, India is the private property of the Bank of England. What role of this secret take-over Mahatma Gandhi had will forever remain unknown.



Alex Ninian: 'SEND me a loaded revolver' wrote Princess Sakina of Oudh to the BBC producer who wanted to televise the history of the Royal House of Oudh. 'I will allow your cameras here but on one condition -- that you send the revolver 24 hours in advance'.




I met the Princess and her brother Prince Cyrus Riza at Malcha Mahal, or Malcha Palace, the 700-year-old mined fort which is their abode. I left the main thoroughfare outside Delhi and followed a narrow single track through an eerie forest of thin spindly trees, close enough together to blot out the sun. In the gloom I came to two metal posts holding a bronze plaque which said 'Rulers of Oudh' just visible over a tangle of tall wild grass and cactus. It bore the family emblem of two fishes and their staring dead eyes added to the macabre feel of the place.

A sinister looking retainer, dressed in a dark uniform with a blue sash and blue and white turban opened the rusty gate. In the dim light I stumbled up a steep rocky path in an uncanny silence until the cracking of dry twigs under my feet triggered off the unearthly din of dogs, unseen but growling, barking and baying, the sound booming and echoing through the trees. I could see nothing but the dense wood until I was suddenly face to face with the building, Malcha Mahal, itself.

Built around 1300. it had been a Muslim outpost and was now a ghostly ruin in the forest. It had one very high single storey of some 30 feet. The red brown stone walls were three feet thick and they were punctuated by huge gothic arches for entrances and smaller ones for windows, but the place had neither doors nor windows. The roof was broken and the building, partly overgrown by vegetation, was open to the elements. In the wet season the rain pours in, ruining the last of the royal carpets and furnishings. In the dry season, snakes invade and have to be killed by the dogs, and in all seasons the place is inhabited by bats, birds and lizards. It had the feel of Blairwitch or Gormenghast.

Unfortunately the BBC never filmed it. It may have been that the request for the gun discouraged them, or it may have been for other reasons, but in their wisdom they never appeared. I learned later that the Princess planned to take her own life in front of the TV cameras as her final historic gesture in a generations-long fight for the family's rights.

With barely a word of introduction the Princess launched into a twenty minute monologue of the saga of the Royal House of Oudh.

The Prince and Princess are the son and daughter of the famous Begum of Oudh, whom Princess Sakina describes in her strong resounding voice as 'Her Highness' and 'The Regnant, The Supreme Being of States, The Strong Head of Wills'. They are approaching their forties, are unmarried and are, tragically, the latest and, perhaps, the last of a tormented line that stretches back hundreds of years.




'We now consider ourselves the Dynasty of the Living Dead', says Sakina, and 'all I desire is to be interred beneath the feet of Her Highness, the Immortal Princess. For us two, everything is bleak and desolate; the Her Highness's dogs are our closest ones, they do not have the deceit of humans'.

The story begins from a mix of history, myth and legend, with claims that they are descended from the Kings of Persia, the Compound of Macedonia and even the Pharaohs of Egypt. They came by horse to India in the Moghul invasions of the Middle Ages and set up the kingdom of Oudh in and around what is now known as Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, just a hundred miles south of Nepal. The Princess had a distinguished face, thin and drawn, set off by long black uncombed hair and she wore a long dark gown down to her feet. She explained that when the British took over, the old rulers lived uncomfortably under them, but accepted the system which allowed them to keep their lands, their wealth and their palaces. Some of the greatest speeches ever made in the British Parliament were those of Burke and Sheridan defending the rights of a Begum of Oudh in the 1780s. In 1857, however, the British deposed the Ruler of Oudh.

'The perfidious British sucked the blood of the Princes of Hindustan like a snake' she continued. 'Then they seized our kingdom. It broke all assurances and agreements. It was the violation of treaties'. She stared and directed her resonant voice into the distance as if to an unseen audience, and modulated her tones like an orator. Whenever she referred to 'Her Highness' she raised her eyes to heaven and her voice to a high register. When she talked of 'the perfidy and treachery of the British and the evil demotic democracies of India and the world' she lowered it to a growl and her voice echoed through the great vaulted chamber. The building has no water, or light or power, and the rooms were almost dark. But where the roof was broken, thin rays of sunlight stabbed through the dark like spotlights and gave a spectral light.

There are many accounts of the reasons for the deposing of the last Ruler in 1857, some of which may be exaggerated. He was depraved, dissolute and drunken and he was emptying the treasury and ruining the kingdom. His 'minder' the British Resident warned him to mend his ways, malting special reference to his 365 concubines, one for every day of the year. On receiving the letter, as an act of defiance, the Ruler ordered his servants that very day to go out and bring in 90 more. It was more than the Resident could stand and he put an end to his rule.

The present Prince, Cyrus Riza, brother of the Princess, had been like me sitting quietly on a stone slab covered with the droppings of I know not what. He was thin, lithe and athletic and was dressed in dark blue trousers and tunic with embroidered trim, and a gold coloured lanyard hung from one shoulder. He spoke up to acknowledge this point of history. 'He indulged in extreme prodigalities, lavish, some lascivious; wanton fountains of intoxication and wines. To keep up their ways, every ounce of precious metal was melted, every precious stone sold. Theirs was a way of lavishness and wanton lusts'.

As he spoke, I looked around the bare stone of the floor, the walls and the roof of the chamber and I saw the bats hanging in the high vault and the nests on the ledges and I felt the spookiness of the place. He spoke in a quieter voice which was almost drowned out by the uncanny barking of the dogs and the screeching of the birds which swooped about our heads.

While the men of the Royal House were weak, the Princesses and Begums were more than strong enough to make up. Immediately after the dethronement the Begum Hazrat Mahal had organised an army against the British and, mounted on an elephant, fought until she withdrew to Nepal. 'She had more nerve than all the men. It is in their blood', said the Prince. 'She was Highness's great-great-grandmother'. This coincided with, and was part of, the uprising in northern India which we know as the Indian Mutiny, and others know as the Indian War of Independence involving the famous siege of Lucknow.

Needless to say this did not help later appeals for restoration of their rights and a family delegation with 140 servants which sailed to England to petition Queen Victoria was predictably unsuccessful. Nonetheless many British figures have supported their cause, not the least being Sir Concord Corfield, the Political Secretary to the last Viceroy, Earl Mountbatten. And Sir Alfred Lyall wrote from India to Whitehall about 'the scandalous cant with which we tried to whitewash this transaction'. Even today there are British lawyers and constitutionalists who say that the dethronement was illegal and unconstitutional. The position of the Ruler, and all the Rulers, was enshrined in the constitution of the British Empire, confirmed by Parliament and the great Empress of India, Queen Victoria, herself. The man who did it was only an official of the East India Company and did not have the authority to do what he did.

The Princess Sakina's soliloquy jumps forward to 1975. For more than a century a succession of strong women descendants dedicated their whole lives to the struggle for their rights. The strongest-willed of them all, Her Highness Begum Wilayat, moved to Delhi, to take the fight directly to the top. As a protest, to shame the government, she occupied, in a blaze of publicity, the VIP reception lounge in the Delhi railway station, taking with her her young family. The government did not wish to be heavy handed, since the Begum commanded some support and an embarrassing stand-off developed. In an unbelievable display of determination, the Begum remained in the station for ten long years, bringing up her family in the waiting room. They never called her 'Mother' only 'Highness', and she never used their names, only 'Prince' and 'Princess'. She refused all marriage proposals for the daughter and encouraged the son never to 'mix with the common run of the earth'. In the station they were visited and given support b y the descendants of the Russian Tsar Nicholas, and the deposed Imperial house of Austria--Hungary.

For ten years negotiations were tried and the Begum was visited by a series of officials and Ministers from a succession of governments. But she remained tenaciously intransigent and continued to bring up her family in the station. The Prince and Princess grew up to the smell of smoke and the sounds of the platform tannoy. Finally in 1984 Mrs Ghandi visited her in the railway station and offered her a home at Malcha Mahal, just outside Delhi, if she would leave the station. The 700-year-old Muslim fort was in ruins, but the promise was made that it would be repaired and restored. Mrs Ghandi summoned the Cabinet Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Rao, and issued the appropriate orders.

I was given a copy of a letter from the Private Secretary of the Home Minister to the Divisional Manager of the Northern Railway, which I reprint in full:




New Delhi-11001

December 6, 1984

Dear Shri Raina,

The Home Minister has seen your note of 10th November, 1984, regarding Begum Wilayat Mahal. Home Minister feels that we may agree to the building known as 'Malcha Mahal' being given to her after repairs. The Home Minister is away from Delhi and the appointment for Begum 'Wilayat Mahal can be arranged when he is in town. In the meantime, he has suggested that the repair work may be started.

I am enclosing a copy of this letter to Shri H. V. Goswami, Joint Secretary (UT) in this Ministry.

With regards,

Yours sincerely,



Shri R. M. Raina,

Divisional Railway Manager,

Northern Railway

New Delhi

But it was a trick. After Mrs Ghandi's death, the powers that be went back on their word and nothing was done.

No repairs have ever been made to this day.

When I had approached the Oudhs by mail from England to ask for a meeting, the response was that I was commanded to attend Malcha Mahal for an audience at precisely mid-day, which I did -- precisely. The need for precision is because the guard dogs are tied up a few minutes before the appointment and released a few minutes after and anyone who mistirnes their arrival will take away a permanent reminder of the visit.

I had written to the Begum in the expectation of meeting her. I was not surprised when the reply came signed by the Prince and Princess because I had known of Her Highness's disdain for dealing directly with the common run of the earth. For the same reason I was not surprised by their reference to the reticence of the Begum. I did not understand, however, references to 'the internal embellishment of the diamonds' or the 'drink of silence'.

During the oration, all was explained. The old Begum had decided upon the final extreme step to defend her honour against the continuing denial of her rights and privileges, so she made up her mind to leave this world in as regal, gracious and dramatic a way as possible. She smashed her royal diamonds and swallowed them, washing them down with a draught of poison from a china bowl. The internal embellishment of the gems, the reticence, the drink of silence. 'Her determination, the strong head of wills was unaltered, unfaltered, unwavering', spoke her daughter. 'History is complete and victorious for Her Highness. Her withdrawal was justified, regnant, stoical, reticent and, above all, stately'. As if in sympathy, and on cue, a wind sprang up blowing in one side of the room and out of the other, and ruffling my shirt as I sat. The Princess continued 'On the marble slab where Highness rested her strong head of wills in regal silence, she left her comb. That comb will remain there for ever and, in remembrance, I will never ever comb my hair again'. Her soliloquy was coloured by word pictures. 'The fish is the emblem of the royal, the eternal, the regnant, House of Oudh, and the eye of the fish never, never, never closes in life or in death'. As she spoke, enormous Great Danes roamed around her stone seat and licked her face.

Now, for the survivors, suffering is the only meaning, the endurance of hardship is the purpose of life.

I was invited to come back two days later at 10 a.m., which I did, again taking care to arrive exactly to the minute. This time the Prince was at the gate and, since the Princess was not up, he invited me to accompany him for a walk in the forest. He told me of the dreaded tribe of bandits -- the Bawarias -- who are renowned and feared throughout India. Through the dappled light and shade of the wood he showed me where they had lurked, disguised as forest workers before entering Malcha Mahal and stealing their gold and silver. He kept a wary eye all around and a retainer followed a few paces behind as a rearguard. He told me to watch my step for snakes, and he showed me the vault which the Prince and Princess had dug out for the body of the Begum with her jewels. He described how the two of them had personally embalmed the body. It was hardly a pleasant stroll in the morning sun.

The Prince explained that he had read that several of their ancestors had been laid to rest, with their finery and jewellery, in tombs, only to have them robbed, vandalised and defiled by raiders. So obsessed did he become by this, that without consulting his sister he had removed the body and consigned it to the flames of a scented wood pyre. He had summoned the Princess only just in time for her to see the last flicker of the flames.

I asked him how they managed to maintain themselves financially. 'It is a little like the treasure well, but not exactly', he replied. 'The treasure well?' 'Yes, it is said that in olden times a royal widow had her inherited gems and jewels kept in a hole in the ground. Every once in a while she was blindfolded and thrust an arm in to take a handful, which would be sold for money to sustain the household. One purpose of the blindfold was so that she could not pick and choose. Another was that she never knew how much was left, and the fear of reaching the bottom discouraged her from being greedy. It's something like that with us, but not exactly'.

Finally I asked about the future. 'If I die, all is clear. Princess will take her own life within hours. She has the strength of the ancient princesses; it is in her blood. But if she dies, I do not have the strength. I do not know what will happen'.

We walked back to the house where the Princess was now standing on the broken steps. I thanked them, wished them well, and bade them goodbye. 'Let us stay in contact', they said rather touchingly. As I stumbled back over the rocks and pebbles down the steep path through the trees, the house disappeared from view as suddenly as it had appeared. I thought that this true history was a thousand times stranger than fiction. It was a harrowing story of adversity, tragedy and torment. It was a portrayal of behaviour so out of the ordinary as to be called manic. But it is also a story of indomitable willpower, and the courage and dignity of the human spirit. The Bengali retainer opened the rusty gate and I took my leave of the Dynasty of the Living Dead.



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