As Delhi kicks off its first &ldquoHaunted Heritage Walk&rdquo from Malcha Mahal, Ellen Barry&rsquos words, &ldquoSome said they were a family of jinns, the supernatural beings of Arabian folklore,&rdquo come to mind. In 2019, Barry, a New York Times journalist, did an extensive report on the alleged last family of the Shiite Muslim royal line, also known as the last royal family of Oudh (Awadh). The report helped clear otherwise cloudy boundaries between intrigue and fact.
Between Truth and Fiction
The so-called royal family of Oudh has always manoeuvred between the thin boundaries of fact and fiction. They walked with rumours and eventually became one.
At the front of this homestead was the matriarch, Wilayat Mahal, Begum of Oudh. The title of Begum was self-bestowed, and so was the story that came along with it. After independence, she claimed to be the wife of the late king of Oudh and demanded reparation from the Indian government. Unwilling at first, Delhi submitted to her demands and offered her an old 14th-century hunting lodge in the capital.
The lodge, what is now known as Malcha Mahal, was in ruins before the rumours and ghost stories around the family were even born. As a self-proclaimed queen, this hurt her pride. Despite this, fine furnishing and porcelain were brought into the house. Big hounds were also moved into the property. The hostility of the dogs became a metaphor for the injustice and anger that the family felt towards the outer world.
The Never-ending Scar
As per Barry&rsquos report, Wilayat was an ordinary woman who lived a happy life in pre-partition India. Come one day, and her husband was attacked with hockey sticks by an angry mob, which led her to abandon her home and move to Pakistan. Just as a scar spread across the subcontinent and divided a nation, another invisible scar made a home in the minds of millions, if not more. Among several grieving and traumatized, Wilayat too was grieving the loss of her home.
A loss of home and the grief for the past, forever left behind, transformed into a grotesque shape that still roams between the mesquite-laden halls of the Malcha Mahal. So as you walk around the ruins of Malcha under the moonlight, perhaps along a guide with a penchant for ghost stories, make sure to pay your respect to a family that longed for a past and eventually became it.