The death of prince Raza ends an unfortunate chapter in the story of Begum Wilayat Mahal, a descendant of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh. The Begum, after the death of her husband, a government officer in Lucknow, had approached Jawaharlal Nehru for a share in the inheritance of the deposed Nawab. Nehru had given her a palace of sorts in Kashmir, which was later destroyed in a fire. The Begum (a veritable copy of Leonardo DaVinci’s Madonna, hair open and always wearing a black sari), then came to Delhi and stayed put on Platform No 1 of New Delhi railway station for eight years till May 1985, along with her two children, Prince Raza and Princess Sakina, demanding a historical inheritance in the Capital.
The family had 12 dogs and a whole lot of servants, who became quite a sight for train passengers. Eventually, to end a “public nuisance”, the Central government allotted them Malcha Mahal in Chankyapuri, a 14th century hunting lodge of Firoz Shah Tughlak. The family stayed in the ramshackle mahal, jealously guarding it against curious visitors and letting the dogs (Labradors) loose on intruders.
In 1993, the Begum committed suicide by swallowing a diamond from her prized ring, out of her depression. Princess Sakina, who couldn’t get over her mother’s loss, also died of depression some 20 years later. Left alone to sulk, Prince Raza began to lead the life of a pauper, with servants gone and all but one of the dogs dead. Hungry and unkempt, he died on 2 September and his body was found by some of his acquaintances the next day.
The body of the prince was buried after a post-mortem in the Muslim cemetery near ITO while the Mahal, containing his few possessions, now lies deserted. A sad end to a family with the Napoleonic complex.