Reclusive Awadh prince dies a pauper in decrepit 14-century Delhi lodge
The Malcha Mahal, hidden under thick foliage deep inside the central Ridge along the Sardar Patel Marg, has lost its last royal occupant — Prince Ali Raza (Cyrus).
On May 28, 1985, he had shifted there with his mother, Begum Wilayat Mahal, the descendant of the Nawab of Awadh or Oudh, his sibling princess Sakina, 11 labradors, and a few servants. After squatting at the waiting room of New Delhi Railway station for a decade, the Begum got what she demanded from the Indian government — a palace for her royal family.
Raza, 58, died on September 2 following a brief illness, said Vijay Yadav, a staff at Delhi Earth Station of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The Earth station is situated next to the Mahal — a hunting lodge constructed by Feroz Shah Tughlaq in the late 14th century. Yadav and his colleagues informed the police about Raza’s death.
He was found dead on the floor near his rickety wooden bed placed in the porch on September 2, when a group of ISRO staff entered the Mahal to check on him.
“We had not heard from him for two-three days. So, we went inside without his permission for the first time. He had died by then,” Yadav said.
The police said as no one had turned up to claim the body, he was buried on September 5 at Delhi Gate graveyard on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg.
“The family would mostly keep to themselves but welcomed few foreign guests who arrived in big cars. After the death of his sister and dogs a few years ago, the Prince was living a secluded life. We would see him going out riding his bicycle in the evening to fetch food and other essentials. No one dared to go near him without his permission,” said Yadav.
He always behaved like royalty, said Rajinder Kumar, a private security guard posted at the station. “But, the Prince was a changed man after he fell ill,” Kumar said.
“He used to ask us to get grocery as he could not move due to his deteriorating health. Earlier, he would not talk. A couple of days before his death, Raza asked us to buy ice-cream and mangoes,” Kumar said.
Relocation to Malcha Mahal
Though the 14th-century ‘palace’ had an imposing structure and a feel of royalty, it lacked basic amenities such as water and electricity, which the family enjoyed at the railway station’s waiting room.
The medieval monument had four to five arched chambers that had no doors and windows and could hardly be called rooms. The family somehow, managed to get a telephone connection after they moved in.
Raza would use firewood from the ridge to boil water and heat food. He also had an ice box to keep his drinks cool, an alternate for refrigerator. He owned a Philips radio-cum-tape recorder. Yadav said Raza had subscribed to an English newspaper and some magazines.
A handwritten undated note by the Begum suggests that rainwater would often seep into the palace. “What is falling in Malcha Mahal Palace. Built by Emperor Feroz Shah. 13th century. Whose every inch of roof is ruptured flooding. All the rooms with rain water. Stones from the ceiling. Having no electricity and water. The vague assurance — declaration of the government of India,” the note read.
The three-page note with several handwritten accounts now lies scattered on the premises with other belongings of the family, including several pairs of old shoes, a broken typewriter, porcelain crockery, cups, copper vessels, soiled carpets, English magazines, a corroded sword, a collection of family photographs, wads of visiting cards of foreign journalists and diplomats, copies of biography written by Princess Sakina Mahal and a collection of elegies and sonnets in Urdu penned by 19th century Awadhi poet Mir Baber Ali Anees.
“These articles and documents may be of historical importance. The government must take over these things and also the structure. We put iron bars on the entrance to keep off anti-social elements but we can’t say how long we would be able to protect it,” said Yadav.
Dr DN Dimri, the spokesperson of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), said at present, they do not have any plan to take over or restore Malcha Mahal. “As it is not an ASI-protected monument, we have no plans as of now,” he said.
However, a senior police official said given the possible historic value of belongings of the deceased, police has decided to guard the area round the clock until the matter is resolved.
Stay at New Delhi Railway Station
Before shifting to the Mahal, the begum was camping at the New Delhi Railway Station’s platform number one hoping to get a ‘suitable’ accommodation befitting her ‘royal stature’ in place of her ancestral properties, which had been seized by the British after the annexation of Oudh in 1856.
Her unauthorised occupation also caused an uproar in Parliament and after the intervention of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, Tughlaq’s lodge was allotted to the family.
“The Mahal was out of bounds to visitors, which was protected with barbed wires all around and 12 big dogs. After years, servants left and dogs died,” said RV Smith, renowned chronicler of Delhi.
According to a The New York Times report of 1981, the Begum was provided with a small palace in Srinagar after Independence, which was arranged by then prime minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru following her plea for ‘restitution of the Lucknow properties under advisement’. She came to Delhi after the palace was gutted in a fire in 1971.
“The Kashmir palace burned to the ground and the Begum says that arsonists were responsible. She hints that they were government agents and that religious and communal motives lay behind the attack. It was just after the fire that the begum brought her family and retinue to the train station to be able to better advance her cause by calling on ministers,” the report says.
In July, 1977, Wilayat Mahal was offered an accommodation in Aliganj of Lucknow but she refused to take possession and preferred Malcha Mahal.
The Begum committed suicide in December 1993 at the age of 62 by allegedly drinking a concoction laced with crushed diamond.
“Raza’s sister also died a few year ago. No one knows the exact date,” said Kumar.