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‘The prince takes his bicycle to buy meat for his dogs’

Prince Ali Raza, one of the last descendants of the House of Oudh, lives the life of a recluse in Malcha Mahal, which lacks both electricity and water connections.

ABHIMANYU SINGH  New Delhi | 13th Dec 2014

Deep inside the heart of modern Delhi, which is all set to get a smart city on its outskirts if the government has its way, lies a medieval anachronism that continues to fascinate its historically inclined residents.

Five hundred metres down a little street that follows from Malcha Marg, after one passes scores of monkeys quietly going about the business and with the dargah of Khawaja Moluddin Chishti on the left a little before, where djinns are captured in earthen pots (matkas) by the residing peer for exorcism purposes, comes up the Malcha Mahal beyond which lie the forests known as the Ridge. Malcha Marg is close to the diplomatic enclave of Delhi, with a number of embassies in its vicinity.

Malcha Mahal is a 600 years old Tughlaq era hunting lodge. For the last 30 years, since they were awarded the house by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, this dilapidated structure, known to house bats, snakes and lizards, has been home to the possibly last surviving descendants of one of the most colourful kings India has produced, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. Regarded as a fine dancer, the Nawab was also a proficient musician, and a playwright, in the Hindustani tradition; thumris composed by him are sung till date and appreciated by connoisseurs. He was deposed from the throne of erstwhile Oudh or Awadh, present day Uttar Pradesh, by the British in 1854 over charges that included a "debauched" life-style, and exiled to Matiaburj near Kolkata where he spent his last days recreating the cultural splendours of his former court in Lucknow, the capital of Oudh. The Nawab was also a devotee of Krishna.

Right next to the gate to Matia Mahal, barred further by barbed wire and over-grown vegetation that hides the structure from the outsider's view almost completely, stands a red sandstone plaque. "Ruler of Oudh" it says on the top. Below, it mentions the name of the princess to whom the palace was awarded: Wilayat Mahal. Another plaque of a similar type over the gate "proclaims" rather menacingly that the entry to the structure is restricted and "Intruders shall be (g)undown" although some of the letters have fallen out.

Sometime in the '70s, Princess Wilayat Mahal landed up in Delhi. For the next decade or so, she set up a home at the New Delhi railway station, which consisted of her children, servants and reportedly ferocious dogs. A report in the Society magazine about Indira Gandhi's visit to her "home" in one of the waiting rooms inside the station mentions that one of the children died in the intervening period and the princess believed it was due to "sadness".

A pall of gloom still seems to hang over the wretched fate of her two surviving children, Princess Sakina and Prince Ali Raza, although some reports in the foreign press also identify him as Prince Cyrus. According to press reports, Sakina is around 55 years old, whereas the prince is a few years younger.

This newspaper contacted Prince Ali Raza, who is known to be extremely shy and reclusive and has pointed his gun in the past at correspondents who have dared to trespass his property. This was after a source in the Indian Space Research Organisation, whose earth station is right next to the palace, said that Princess Sakina had not been sighted at all in the last few months and rumours were afloat that she may have expired. The pir Ali Khan at the dargah also told this correspondent that he had heard the same rumour. Vikramjit Singh Rooprai, an amateur heritage photographer, who has interacted with the prince in the past, also said that he had heard something similar.

The prince picked up his phone himself. He identified himself as Prince Ali Raza and asked what the matter was about. Upon being informed that the caller was a press reporter seeking an audience, he proceeded to say that he did not wish to have his privacy disturbed and pleaded to be "left alone". When this correspondent called him the next day, seeking a phone interview instead, he declined again. "Many people, Indian and foreign, including journalists, wish to meet us, but we have nothing to do with anyone anymore. If you are a very decent person, you shall not press further," he intoned, in clear and precise English. However, when told that his sister had not been sighted by his neighbours for quite a while and that they were worried about her well-being, he asserted that she was "very much around" but gave no further details.

Their mother had committed suicide by swallowing a concoction of poisoned diamonds, according to reports. The children, after sleeping with the dead body lying next to them for a few days, according to reports, buried her with her jewels but after some robbers attempted to dig it up, they cremated her.

The ISRO source, who has been serving at the institute for well over a decade and interacted with the prince, said that the prince left the house every day in the morning to pick up meat for his dogs —although their number could not be verified — on his bicycle, which he keeps chained next to the gate when not in use. He added that he also bred dogs for foreign embassies and he had sighted their cars with diplomatic number plates in the past. "However, I have not seen the cars in a while," he said. Rooprai also added that he had seen the diplomatic cars come to the palace. The ISRO source mentioned that the prince was friends with a local forest officer whose lost dog he had searched for successfully, with the help of his own hounds.

The palace lacks an electricity connection but has a water connection, provided for by ISRO. "We had given them an electricity connection too and put up a street lamp outside the palace, but they damaged the street lamp as they feared disturbance from kids who used to gather around it at night. Since then, we cut off the electricity connection as punishment," said the ISROs source.

He added that the prince sometimes came up for water, when their connection did not work properly. "In general, he is quite ill-tempered but he acts polite when he needs water," said the ISRO source.

The pir, Ali Khan said that the prince visited the dargah earlier but had stopped doing lately. "He always came alone to pray here. But I have not seen him in one-and-a-half years. Around six months ago, I sent him a message through someone that he should not be so reclusive and mingle around a bit as he is now approaching old age and may need the help of others more than before but he never replied," said Khan.

A senior officer in the Forest Department, who has supervised the Ridge, said that the department had no contacts with the inhabitants of the palace.

"I served there for a year but I never saw them. We know that they stay there but we have no contact with them. We leave them to their own devices, which is how they prefer it," said the official. Perhaps, the sun will set on the royal House of Oudh without anyone to mourn its melancholy demise.

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