Bhopal Connections – Vignettes of Royal Rule
Bhopal Connections: Vignettes of Royal Rule takes us on a journey of dramatic events, the larger-than-life characters, scandals and social norms that are part of this princely state’s history and culture, fashioned particularly by the reign of these four successive women rulers. Some of these events were game changers, while others saw social change through family alliances.
The Bhopal begums in Marathi dress. (Right to Left) , Sikandar Begum, Shahjehan Begum and Sarkar Dulhan, widow of Balthazar Bourbon
An excerpt from the book –
A delicious story related by my mother recalls the occasion when, as a sixteen-year-old girl, she was driving her seventy-year-old grandmother to attend her son’s birthday party at Chicklode, his country retreat. The soft venerable Sarkar Amma had by then abdicated in favour of her son and was in virtual retirement. She sat in the front seat of the open-air Austin driven by her granddaughter. Squeezed in the back-seats were two maids and Dr. Johri, Sarkar Amma’s long-standing Christian doctor. On the way, at the brow of a small dip in the road, a tiger regally stood across their path. Abida stopped the car and with the engine running, reached for her 240 rifle that was always kept behind the driving seat. The wise old Dr Johri then whispered in Abida’s ear, ‘Don’t shoot. Sarkar Amma…’, meaning that it was too risky to take a shot at the tiger with the old Begum on board. Abida desisted and allowed the tiger to slowly walk away from sight while Sarkar Amma sat silently in the front seat.
Princess Abida Sultan (second from left), having shot a tiger from an open car when out on a picnic with her girl friends
Once the tiger was gone, Abida resumed her journey towards Chicklode. Sarkar Amma sat silently, almost sullenly, for the rest of the journey. On arrival at Chicklode, her son greeted Sarkar Amma warmly but as she got out of the car she announced:
‘Mian, ek bakre ki qurbani do. Tumhari beti aaj sher marney say chook gai. Hum Pathanon mein is qism ki buzdili nahin mani jati (Dear son, you will have to sacrifice a goat. Today, your daughter ducked out of shooting a tiger. We Pathans are not used to this kind of cowardice).’ Sarkar Amma, the seventy-year-old matriarch, was shaming her teenaged granddaughter for not daring to take a shot at the tiger, unaware that the faithful Dr Johri had prevented her from risking an attack on an open car with the old Begum seated by her side.
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Author – Shaharyar Muhammed Khan