Tuesday, May 02, 2006

New Delhi Railway Station 1

This is a story Shuddha once told many of us, and we dismissed it as the most far fetched bull.
Then, three months later, I heard it again and started asking around. The facts, then, if you will -

A woman known to us as Begam Wilyat Mahal, who claims to belong to the Oudh Royal Family (this is disputed) appeared on the New Delhi Railway Station from about 1975 (from presumably before the Emergency, but it would be even more interesting if from during), and squatted there for ten years in the VIP Waiting Lounge with her two grown chidlren - a son and a daughter - and about a dozen large dogs. (No one is quite sure of the breed.) In 1984, Indira Gandhi visted her at the station, and in 1985, the family was moved to the Malcha Mahal on the Ridge, a derelict hunting lodge dating back to Tughlak times. The mother , Wilayat Begam, has since expired(committed suicide by swallowing crushed diamonds), but the son and daughter, 'prince' and 'princess', still live in the Mahal, which has been declared out of bounds. (Trespassers will be shot, a notice declares. Those of my frieds who have ventured towards the place have had the aforementioned large dogs set upon them.)Their few appreances in the Press since then have been largely through foreign journalists. They are, by all of these accounts, ravingly eccentric.

I want to investigate this story further, and write about it, because of the range of things it invokes. The railway station as an entry point into the city, the strange generosity of a draconian state to those who claim Royalty, the ruin lost in the forest next to Delhi's most elite residential colony (Malcha Marg, Chanakyapuri) and a military sattelite station, the strange reappropriations of Tughlak Monuments in Delhi by the ghosts of 1857.

From the material availible on the internet, it seems that this was among the first acts of geneoristy carried out by the Rajiv Gandhi Government, with letters passing back and forth in November and Decmeber 1984. Given the times (the Anti-Sikh riots) this seems particularly bizzare. The shift seems to have happened sometime in June-July 1985. There is a letter from the 'authorised' descendant of Wajid Ali Shah, from Calcutta (a pensioner of the government) claiming that the woman is a hoax. Am attaching links below.

I would be really grateful if all of you could come up with ideas, suggestions, leads on how to take this forward.

Links here -






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