Tag Archives: Sajida Sultan

Pataudi: The Afghan connection

The Pataudis.... Photo: R.V. Moorthy
The Pataudis…. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

They embody the dream of gracious living and togetherness. And you realise why when you meet them, says Kausalya Santhanam, about her tete-a-tete with Sharmila Tagore and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.

Cricket, cinema and royalty — can there be a more potent mixture? Three decades after he headed the Indian cricket team with such distinction and his begum won the hearts of cinegoers, the spell cast by the couple continues. The Pataudis — Mansur Ali Khan and Sharmila Tagore — embody the Indian dream of gracious living and togetherness. You realise why when you meet them at their spacious bungalow in Delhi.

Though his clipped replies on the telephone make you apprehensive about the interview, he is quite forthcoming when you begin to talk to him. “I know what it is like to be at the other side for I was a reporter for the Ananda Bazaar Patrika many years ago,” he says. He listens to the questions with patience and courtesy. To be a Nawab is to be heir to a lifestyle marked by refinement in speech and behaviour.

How does it feel to be so respected three decades after leaving the game and how much has the royal aura contributed to this, you ask.

“If there is respect, it is because of a mixture of many things,” he replies. “It is also because I married into a recognised family (Sharmila is a grand niece of Rabindranath Tagore) with cultural interests and a literary background. There is a lot of curiosity (about us).

“I was not the only one in cricket from a similar background,” he says. “There were others like me — Hanumant Singh, Inderjit Singh, Fatesingh Gaekwad (who was President of the Board of Cricket Control), the Maharaja of Udaipur, the Patiala family… there were a lot of us around. The disadvantage was not because of the background but because I did not understand the undercurrents; I had not studied in India but abroad. It helped too for I did not get involved in the local politics. Regarding the royal aura, you are right in the sense we didn’t indulge in nepotism or favouritism. We played it pretty straight — not promoting someone because he was from a particular background. I played most of my cricket from the South. I still meet Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Ramnarayan.”

What are his links now with Pataudi, the princely State in Haryana?

“Links are with the people,  not with the soil, After Independence, there was a large transfer of property. Quite a few people from Pataudi migrated to Pakistan. Many of my family members too went away, like my uncle, a former army general in Pakistan, who has written a book about the family and its history.”

Does he visit often and how much regard is there now in Pataudi for the former royal family?

“I’m a fairly private person. I don’t make an issue of going there. But for certain occasions, I do go. A large number of people came to my mother’s funeral to pay their respects. So the connection is still there, the bond is strong. I’m not into politics in Pataudi. I do some social work and am involved in running an eye hospital.”

What are his earliest memories?

“The background for me is cricket or sport. The earliest memories are of playing cricket on the lawns of our home and at the Roshanara Club at the age of nine.”

As for the story that he was upset when his father, the renowned cricketer, Ifthikar Ali Khan, stepped in and took a catch, he says, “Oh, that! I was young and father thought I would drop it.” He adds with feeling, “His was a very good presence.”

“My first coach was Sir Frank Worrell,” says the Nawab who became the youngest captain in the world at the age of 21 and acquired the appellation “Tiger” for his superb fielding skills. “My Master at Winchester College (in England where I did my school) also coached me. Winchester was an important turning point. My son Saif also went there, but perhaps,” he adds reflectively, “it is better to go abroad to study when you are a little older.”

Does he regret not playing one-day cricket as he would have been eminently suited for it?

“Yes. But I’m happy I played for my country. Nobody thought that one-day cricket would become so popular. When we played, there was not much money in the game but we enjoyed our game very much. And no, I don’t watch all the matches whether the World Cup or others. I was a commentator for AIR and Doordarshan. The main activity however had to be cricket or commentary — we had to be totally committed to the game.”

Is he disappointed his son Saif did not become a cricketer but an actor?

“Not at all, there was no compulsion for him to be one. I’m very happy that he is happy.”

Did not the commercials on television and the advertisements in print contribute to keeping the Pataudis in the public eye, projecting them in a regal way?

“If I came across well, it was because of the directors of the commercials,” he states simply.

Having been educated in England, did he not want to settle there?

“I feel very comfortable living here. My forefathers came here from Afghanistan during the time of the Lodis and established themselves after Aurangazeb died. Pataudi was set up as a principality by the English.

How difficult is to maintain the property?

“I have no palace. Palaces are like elephants around your neck. They are very difficult to maintain. Part of the Bhopal Palace has been given to a University. My cousins live in the other portions. My father sold the house in Delhi and built the palace at Pataudi for my mother when they got married in 1938. My mother was recognised as the Begum in 1968. Her elder sister migrated to Pakistan and her son, my cousin, was the manager of the Pakistan cricket team in this World Cup.”

With paternal ancestors at Pataudi and the maternal inheritance of Bhopal, life must have been interesting for him as a child…

“It was. Bhopal was a State with a great deal of protocol. There were bodyguards. When we had to meet our grandfather, we had to wear our best clothes and we were then lined up before him. He would ask: `How’s school? Which class are you in?’ We would answer, bow and come away. Pataudi was different — there were no bodyguards and life was more informal.”

Is not the present trend in the country — of religious fanaticism — disturbing?

“Extremely. But it is inevitable, a post-colonial syndrome which the country has to go through. Moderate voices won’t be heard for a lot of propaganda has been unleashed. It reflects poor thinking and vision, as there are more important things to think of — building houses and providing drinking water. There is so much of unemployment and frustration.”

What does he have to say about his foray into politics?

“I was in politics in 1992, when Rajiv (Gandhi) said `we would like you to come into it’. If he was alive, I might have still been in politics though I find it claustrophobic as it robs you of privacy.”

And how does he spend time now?

“Talking to reporters,” he deadpans.

* * *

“WHAT’S in a name?” asks Sharmila Tagore, acclaimed actress and the Begum of Pataudi, when you talk to her. “To elderly family members and friends, I am the Begum. I’m Rinku to my friends and Mrs. Khan to others. I’m better known as Sharmila Tagore. That’s what I am, what I have made of myself. I come from a middle-class literary background and I don’t have an identity crisis.”

“Belonging to a royal family is not an advantage any more in India,” adds the Begum.

“Titles are no longer respected. The tendency is to minimise their worth whereas titled people are respected in England.

“The reaction here comes from a very uninformed source and is a response to the reading of novels, which depict the royals as debauched and autocratic. The books do not highlight how the former rulers maintained law and order. Bhopal did not lose a single life in riots during Partition. The rulers provided good administration. They still have a place in the hearts of the people and are invited to grace marriages and other functions. Jealousy prompts some people to look down on them. But they can’t help but be impressed by royalty.”

Has she had to give up anything — freedom for instance — by marrying the Nawab?

“I haven’t given up anything. He is very liberal in his views. I’ve gained a lot of experience and gained another culture, cuisine, and way of dressing. I’ve benefited a lot.”

As an outstanding example of a successful Hindu-Muslim marriage, would it not be a good idea for them to make efforts to promote communal harmony?

“Pluralism is the strength of our country. History has shown us that we can co-exist peacefully. India absorbed other cultures but now we are becoming xenophobic. We are reacting 500 years after the Moghuls came. But if Tiger and I make attempts to promote harmony, I do not know how far we will succeed. People will say that I am not a Muslim and that Tiger is a Hindu fanatic.”

How do her two daughters, Saba and Soha, and son regard their lineage?

“Saif is very much into family history and all three children are conscious of their ancestry but in a nice way.”

Cricket lofted it

FIVE HUNDRED years ago, Mansur Ali Khan’s ancestors came from Afghanistan, equipped with superb skills in horsemanship, and looking for greener pastures. Salamat Khan, his forefather arrived in India in 1480 A.D. with his clan during the time of Bahlul, an Afghan of the Lodi tribe, says Tiger’s uncle in his book on the history of the family. Bahlul was governor of the Punjab and later ruled Delhi. A mass migration of Afghans to India took place during his time. Salamat Khan’s family was chosen to quell the Mevati tribe.

Bahlul’s grandson, Ibrahim Lodi, did not trust the Afghan nobles. This led to their rebellion and Babur of Kabul was invited to India resulting in the Battle of Panipat. Ibrahim Lodhi was killed and Mughal rule was established.

Salamat Khan did not actively participate in the Battle of Panipat. His great-grandson, Muhammed Pir, rose to power in Akbar’s court.

In the 18th Century, Alaf Khan of the family assisted the Mughal ruler in his battle against the Maharaja of Jaipur. He was rewarded with Kalam Mahal (which later came to be known as Pataudi House near Delhi Gate) to serve as the family residence.

The princely State of Pataudi was established in 1804 by the British when Faiz Talab Khan (who was made the first Nawab) aided them in their battle against the Marathas. In 1857, the Nawab of Jhajjhar, the Nawab of Pataudi’s cousin, joined anti-British forces and was hanged by the British. The territory was cut in half and Pataudi became a minor State. Cricket placed it on the international map with two generations of players excelling in the game.

Tiger’s mother Sajida Sultan belonged to the well-known House of Bhopal. She became the Nawab Begum of Bhopal after the death of her father, Nawab Hamidullah Khan. Flag Staff House, the residential building of the Bhopal rulers is located within the Ahmedabad palace complex which Hamidullah Khan built in the old Bhopal area. Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Rajendra Prasad were State guests here.

This article was published in ‘The Hindu Sunday Magazine’ on August 3, 2003

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Sport> Cricket / by Kausalya Santhanam / September 26th, 2011

How a short film on Bhopal pays a poignant tribute to an age when women ruled the state


Begamon ka Bhopal is a lyrical ode to a forgotten time.

An 18-year-old widow who declared her infant daughter queen; a wife who survived an assassination attempt and held her husband captive; a princess who abdicated the throne in favour of her mother; a ruler who served as the only woman chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University.

The erstwhile royalty of Bhopal has borne some of the bravest, most dynamic rulers in the 19th and 20th century India. These nawabs were popular, fair, reformist, and fierce; they were also women.

While several women have enjoyed power as regent mothers and influential wives throughout history, Bhopal and its royalty are unique. Between 1819 and 1926, the kingdom saw four women rule it – women who were Nawab Begums, not just Begums, who ruled through inheritance, not proxy.

A still from Begamon ka Bhopal.
A still from Begamon ka Bhopal.

The movie

Much has been written about these women and their reign, including by the Nawab Begums themselves, documenting both the personal and the political events of their times.

The footprints they left behind have become part of Bhopal’s everyday life, informing and forming its consciousness and character. It is the exploration of this connect that has resulted in Begamon ka Bhopal, a short film, which is both an ode to the universal feeling of nostalgia, and a document of how an interaction with history can turn deeply existential and personal.

The movie has been directed by Rachita Gorowala, a 30-year-old alumna of Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai, and FTII, Pune, and will be available to viewers in January on filmsdivision.org.

Gorowala says she made the movie as her own experiment with truth: “A fascination with Pathan woman rulers who ruled Bhopal for over 100 years started me on Begamon ka Bhopal. A journey that may have begun on the lines of fascination with history became existential, introspective and deeper as an experiment with cinema.”

The movie speaks of a Bhopal long past, and seeks to conjure it up through a writer rooted in the city, a grandson who has preserved reels of films shot by his grandfather between 1929 and 1975, two royal descendants, a royal attendant.

The overarching emotion running through the movie is huzoona Persian word for powerful nostalgia, a longing for something lost but not gone. The characters speak of their own past lives, or their engagements and attempts to understand the past life of their city.

The emotion and the sense of old Bhopal is created through both audio and visual evocations – the magnificence and now the absence that marks palaces (Moti Mahal, Shaukat Mahal), the Taj-ul Masjid that is a solid link to the past and the present of the city. Music has been used powerfully – songs written and sung by Firoza Khan, one of the former royals who features in the movie – play like both a dirge and an ode.

“As a student of cinema, I learnt that a film is a medium of time and not of telling stories. Stories are meant to be heard and read. It is through juxtaposition of images and sounds that one creates an emotional journey,” says Gorowala.

Begamon Ka Bhopal is her first short film in the genre of poetic-realism, “a lyrical, musical, introspective journey”. “The movie is an ode to the times that once existed in Bhopal, through an everyday nostalgia that is lived by a writer, a film keeper and royal descendants. Each in their own way hold onto time and thus become it,” she says.

The movie has a lot of frames that show only parts, fragments – walking feet, hands busy with embroidery, dry rustling leaves – which seem to reflect the fragments in which we understand and engage with the past, the parts we hold on to, some passages, some stories that call out to us especially, and through which we try to understand the whole, through which we seek to anchor ourselves in the ocean of time.

The character Salahuddin, writer Manzoor Etheshaam, Nawabiyat descendants Firoza Khan and Meeno Ali, the royal attendant Zohra Phupo, all have important roles, the three women are symbols of the past and have survived into the present, the two men belong to the present and are trying to hold onto their connect with the past.

There is a powerful scene of Firoza fingering dolls as she talks of her own moulding into a member of a royal family post her marriage in 1961; she talks as she dresses up, her begum-ness coming alive with each addition of earrings, kangan, kaajal.

The Begums

For her movie, Gorowala had rich material to draw on. Bhopal’s famous Begums had a lot of variety among them in terms of personality and traits – the first, Qudsia, defied her court’s nobles and conventions to declare her infant daughter King in 1819.

Saif Ali Khan Pataudi has the blood of these begums in his veins. Photo: India Today
Saif Ali Khan Pataudi has the blood of these begums in his veins. Photo: India Today

Qudsia ruled as proxy for her daughter for 18 years, defending her kingdom against the battering armies of the mighty Marathas – Scindias, Holkars, Gaekwads – and her daughter’s inheritance against internal opposition.

However, some nobles managed to convince the British that a woman ruler was un-Islamic. Thus began a period of daughters inheriting the kingdom and their husbands ruling it. Qudsia’s daughter, Sikander, was married to her cousin Jahangeer. Jahangeer proved unpopular. He even tried to kill his pregnant wife, but she escaped, took refuge in another fort, and subsequently managed to imprison him inside the fort.

Jahangeer died at 26, and once again, his six-year-old daughter Shahjahan was declared king, with power to pass on to her husband when she would get married.

However, Qudsia argued and harangued the British till this clause was removed. Thus, Sikander, and then Shahjahan, both ruled Bhopal as kings who inherited the kingdom. After Shahjahan’s death in 1901, her daughter Sultan Jahan ascended the throne.

While Qudsia was brought up illiterate and in purdah, she rose to the occasion when the need befell her. Sikander was raised to be king. Shahjahan was the most feminine and the least austere of the four, and wrote several books. Sultan Jahan went back to observing purdah, and was the first chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University.

After Sultan Jahan, the throne went to a man, her son Mohammad Hamidullah Khan. However, after Hamidullah died in1960 and his eldest daughter Abida Sultan migrated to Pakistan, his younger daughter, Sajida Sultan, came to power. Sajida’s husband was Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, the grandfather of Saif Ali Khan.

Incidentally, Abida Sultan’s son Shaharyar M Khan, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary, authored the book, The Begums of Bhopal, on his path-breaking ancestors.

source: http://www.dailyo.com / Daily O  / Home> Art & Culture / by Yashee   @ yasheesingh / December 24th, 2017

Bhopal: Royal family scion Nasir Mirza passes away


Nasir Mirza, who was the scion of the royal family of Bhopal, and the grandson of last Nawab Hamidullah Khan, passed away on Wednesday. He was the son of Hamidullah Khan’s youngest daughter, Rabia Sultan.


Nasir Mirza, who was the scion of the royal family of Bhopal, and the grandson of last Nawab Hamidullah Khan, passed away on Wednesday. Mirza was 64. He was the son of Hamidullah Khan’s youngest daughter, Rabia Sultan.

The last rites took place on Wednesday afternoon. Fondly called Prince Nasir Mirza, he was a private person who stayed away from public glare. Mirza ran a school, Falcon Crest. “He was the aakhri chashm-o-chiragh (last descendant) of the Nawabi family in Bhopal and the only among scions of the royal family who stayed in Bhopal,” said Syed Akhtar Husain, author of the book, Royal Journey of Bhopal.

Nawab of Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan’s eldest daughter Abida Sultan had migrated to Pakistan while the second daughter, Sajida Sultan, was married to Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi (Nawab of Pataudi Senior). The third daughter, Rabia Sultan, had stayed in Bhopal, and married Agha Nadir Mirza. Nasir Mirza was Rabia Sultan’s son.

His relatives in Pakistan have been informed and they will arrive in Bhopal on Thursday, said family sources.

source: http://www.hindustantimes.com / Hindustan Times / Home> Cities> Bhopal / HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times / December 03rd, 2014