Unravelling the royal mystery

Published Jan 4, 2016, 4:12 am IST
Updated Mar 26, 2019, 12:24 pm IST
Arvind Acharya curates an exhibition of rare photographs titled ‘No More Rafaths Will Die.’
Princess Niloufer Farhat Begum Saheba of Hyderabad
 Princess Niloufer Farhat Begum Saheba of Hyderabad

Memories fade away, but secrets cease to remain hidden for long. Unprepared for what he might find, noted historian Arvind Acharya slowly descended the steps to the basement of 76-year-old Evelyn Pope’s house. The year was 2003 and despite making an impromptu trip from his place of residence in New York City to Washington D.C., Acharya was well-aware that he was just a few steps away from a piece of history that many will never be in such close proximity to.

Five suitcases lay in one corner, and despite the test of time, the royal emblems made one gasp — A.S., Adile Sultan, M.J., Moazzam Jah, and finally the name that resulted in this whirlwind trip, H.H. Princess Niloufer.

“Evelyn Maddox Pope was married to Princess Niloufer’s second husband Edward J. Pope, an international business executive. They got married a year after Princess Niloufer passed away in 1989,” says Acharya, who is also a member of the Hyderabadi Cultural Association of Greater New York and even though he is from Hyderabad, he runs a management consulting firm in NYC. “Edward passed away in 1995 and since then Evelyn has been looking for people whom she could give away all the documents to,” he adds.

There are photographs, many taken by Edward, invitations that Princess Niloufer received from Duke of Windsor, Aga Khan and letters of correspondence between the Princess and Jawaharlal Nehru and her cousin Princess Durru Shehvar to name a few.

“When I met Evelyn, I felt she was gauging how much I knew about the history of Hyderabad,” says Acharya, “And then she finally asked, ‘Would you like to see the papers?’”

What then ensued was a three-year-long research to go through 15,000 documents that Evelyn readily parted with once she had confidence in Acharya, including the diamond brooch that the historian procured at the cost of Rs 13 lakh. The result of it is an exhibition of over 100 documents that will take place at ITC Kakatiya on Monday.

Life in poverty
Princess Niloufer Farhat Begum Saheba of Hyderabad was the ‘Kohinoor of Hyderabad’ and one of the most beautiful women in the world. “Princess Niloufer’s extraordinary beauty made her an object of admiration by the public. Several times, she was offered roles in films. Her exquisite sarees were designed for her by Bombay jeweller Madhavdas,” adds Acharya.

But behind that stunning face was a broken-hearted woman who had to leave her beloved home in Istanbul to never return.

“Princess Niloufer was born on January 4, 1916, when the Ottoman Empire was already fading. The Turkish royal family had to leave the country in the wake of new political changes. Princesses Durru Shehvar and Niloufer were distant cousins. So when they moved to Nice, France, Princess Niloufer noticed a drastic change in her lifestyle,” says Acharya. “Princess Durru Shehvar’s father was Abdülmecid II, the last Caliph of the Muslim world; a position held with respect and utmost dignity in the community. Princess Niloufer’s mother Adile Sultan was a widow and that lowered her social strata. In her letters, Princess Niloufer writes how she had to go to public schools while Princess Durru Shehvar had private tutors coming home,” he says.

But when she got married to Prince Moazzam Jah, the second son of the Nizam of Hyderabad, His Exalted Highness Nawab Mir Osman Ali Khan, things changed. “She was a poor daughter-in-law to the richest man in the world. And let’s not forget she was only a little over 15 years old when she got married,” quips Acharya.

Due to her turbulent childhood, the princess was often insecure about her upbringing. “When she had recently moved to Hyderabad, the Nizam was talking about the importance of having an ideal father figure to look up to. He asked Princess Durru Shehvar about her father and then he turned to Princess Niloufer who had nothing to say because she lost her father when she was just two. That’s when the Nizam kept his hand on her head and said he would be her father,” says Acharya, adding, “Over the years, while Princess Shehvar addressed her letters to the Nizam as His Exalted Highness, Princess Niloufer always addressed him as her father.”

No More Rafaths Will Die
“In course of time, Princess Durru Shehvar gave birth to two sons, Prince Mukarram Jah and Prince Muffakham Jah. Although Princess Niloufer had brought in a midwife from France, she never conceived and this caused tremendous stress in her marriage,” says Acharya, adding, “Her favourite maid Rafathunnisa Begum died in childbirth. Moved by this, Princess Niloufer is reputed to have said, ‘No more Rafaths will die’. This mission of hers brought her everlasting fame in the form of Niloufer Hospital.”

Dying wish
Years later, Princess Niloufer went to Paris. She and her husband Prince Moazzam Jah divorced. “Ten years later, Princess Niloufer married Edward Pope. She had preserved all of her papers, documents and photographs, and using these, Edward planned to make a film about her,” says Acharya, adding, “When Princess Niloufer died in 1989, Edward left Paris and returned to Washington. There, he married his childhood classmate Evelyn. Five years after this marriage, Edward passed away, and Evelyn, turned over all of Princess Niloufer’s documents to me, asking me to make a film about the Princess, as a fulfillment of Edward’s desire.”

While Evelyn passed away last year, Acharya has been busy working on the screenplay of the film. “That was the only condition Evelyn gave me the documents on. There’s a lot one doesn’t know about the princess, and many secrets that I am not yet ready to reveal,” he says.




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