After the abolition of the ‘privy purses,’ and stripping away of land, power and prized possessions post-Independence, many royal families in India are known to have turned hauntingly reclusive.
Cut off from the outside world in their yawning palaces, refusing to take up work like ‘commoners’ and living off a fast depleting stock of family heirloom, such royalties have formed an arch stereotype often depicted in our grand ‘period Hindi films.’
Of course, there is the antithesis to this image too, that of the foreign-educated and suave young royalty who have turned their palaces into hotels and translated their reverence among ordinary folks into flourishing political careers.
But in the heart of Delhi -- perhaps the busiest, hip and most forward-looking city in the country -- you will find one such royal family that has stopped time in its tracks, only to be able to continue to live, and die, in its legacy of unbounded power, riches and historic rulership.
In the impenetrable ridge forest area behind Buddha Jayanti Park, populated by extremely inhospitable keekar and babul trees, reside the purported descendents
of the rulers of Oudh (Awadh) who once governed a large part of central India.
Princess Sakina and prince Riaz – both suspected to be in their middle-ages now – call Malcha Mahal their home – a structure that was once a Tughlaq-era hunting lodge, now a dilapidated edifice cohabited by bats, lizards and snakes.
The lodge has no electricity connection or water supply, but the royal siblings have not abandoned it ever since they were allotted this place in the 1980s.
The story of princess Sakina and prince Riaz, and their stay in Malcha Mahal, is one of sheer horror and pain.
History enthusiast Vikramjit Singh Rooprai informs us, “Their mother, princess Wilayat Mahal was a self-proclaimed great granddaughter of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Oudh (Satyajit Ray portrayed him in the famous Shatranj ke Khiladi). After the nawab’s palace in Lucknow was occupied by the Government, princess Wilayat led a long struggle for reclamation. She lodged herself, her two kids and a dozen royal hounds in the New Delhi Railway Station. She hoped to shame the powers-that-be into giving her back her property.”
After nine long years of dharna, the Government finally gave in and allotted her the Malcha Mahal in the wilderness of the Delhi Ridge, besides a paltry sum of Rs 500 at the end of every month.
However, sunk in the sadness of having lost her royal property and lifestyle she drank crushed diamonds and died on 10 December 1993.
“Her body is said to have lain on her study desk for 10 days while her kids mourned. They slept besides the body the last night before prince Riaz buried her in the mahal premises,” informs Vikramjit Rooprai.
A few years later, members of a forest tribe, attacked the lodge in search of ‘hidden royal treasure.’
The siblings, frightened out of their wits, dug up their mother’s grave and consigned the mortal remains to fire. They have, to date, carefully preserved the ashes in a crystal vial, kept exactly where the body lay before her burial.
It is said that they initially owned a pack of 27 regal dogs - Dobermans and German Shepherds, the number is now reduced to nine.
These dogs, high grills, barbed wires and the jungle now protect them from the outside world.
Almost next door, in the forest, is located an office of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
When this reporter enquired about the siblings from the guards here, they informed that they frequently come down for water and supplies.
Prince Riaz is seen often, always clad in black, but extremely shy and unwilling to show his face.
A guard even commented, ‘with this reclusive lifestyle, they may die a death as lonely as their mother and not a soul would come to know.’
The royal siblings, however, seem to have made peace with their destiny.