The Living Moghuls

A documentary film depicting the lives of the descendants of India’s last Moghul emperor has been released in India.

This is the first time that the emperor’s descendants, who had been living in complete anonymity, decided to disclose their identity. The film-maker, Arijit Gupta, says his film is an attempt to make the people aware of the struggles of this surviving Moghul family. The Moghuls ruled India for more than 300 years starting from 1526.

The film entitled, “The Living Moghuls”, is based on the family history of 80-year-old Begum Laila Umahani, the fourth generation direct descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar and his first wife, Ashraf Mahal.

Forgotten past

The palaces have receded into a forgotten past and the Moghuls of today live in a rented house in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, far away from their ancestral home of Delhi.

The half-an-hour documentary film traces the family history of the Moghuls after the exile of Bahadur Shah Zafar to Burma in 1857 by the British.

Arijit Gupta told the BBC that he met Begum Laila Umahani five years ago and after detailed research shot the film early this year.

“My film is a story of the three missing generations after Bahadur Shah Zafar,- the period which saw the disappearance of the Moghuls from the historical centre stage to complete anonymity.”

The film has one English narrative and several interviews of the descendants of Bahadur Shah Zafar in Urdu, which are sub-titled.

The film has been shot in Delhi, Hyderabad and Agra.

Being ‘mocked’

The film narrates how after Bahadur Shah Zafar’s exile to Burma in 1857, Mirza Quaiush, who was his only son, managed to escape from the British army and fled to Kathmandu in Nepal. However, Quaiush secretly came back to India and was given shelter in Rajasthan by its ruler.

Quaiush’s son – Mirza Abdullah – also migrated from one place to another and finally went to Hyderabad, where his son Mirza Pyare was born.

Begum Laila Umhani, the daughter of Mirza Pyare was also born in Hyderabad.

Speaking to the BBC, Begum Laila Umahani – said she had not disclosed her identity because some people made a mockery out of it.

“In the film, I narrate how our lives changed, my childhood memories and how we lost everything we owned,” she said. Her two sons – Ziauddin Tucy is a retired government employee and Masiuddin Tucy is a food consultant.

One of the shots in the film show how this family now has to stand in queue to get a ticket and enter Red Fort – built by one of their predecessors.

Of the many descendants of the Moghuls living in Hyderabad are Begum Laila Umhani and her sister Husn Jahanara Begum and their families. Shorn of any royal or political patronage, the sons of Laila Umhani have adapted themselves to survive in today’s world. Their life is now the subject of a documentary titled `The Living Moghuls’

LIVING TESTIMONY: The reclusive Begum Laila Umhani..

THE KUTCHA road in the suburb of Asman gadh of Hyderabad goes up like a memory lane to the house of the descendants of the Moghuls. These surroundings are hardly the kind their ancestors would have dreamt of for their scions. The fourth and fifth generation of the dynasty, which spanned more than 300 years of Indian history, lives today in conditions hardly befitting their grand lineage. Bereft of her royal legacy, Begum Laila Umhani, the great, great granddaughter of the last Moghul emperor of the country, Bahadur Shah Zafar and his wife Begum Ashraf Mahal, leads a quiet unpretentious life with her two sons and their families.

The unobtrusive, cloistered world of Begum Laila, an octogenarian, was thrown open with the making of a documentary The Living Moghulsproduced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust and financed by Prasar Bharti and directed by Arijeet Gupta. Screened on the national network on television and at special screenings in New Delhi, this documentary unravels the story of their survival down the decades.

As one enters the home of Ziauddin Tucy, the eldest son of the Begum (his brother Masihuddin Tucy is also present) one is struck by the stark middle-class ambience. Except for a few photographic portraits of some of the erstwhile Moghul emperors, the house looks like any ordinary home shorn of any grandeur or ostentation that their forefathers lived in. The documentary traces the history of this family of Bahadur Shah Zafar after his arrest and exile to Rangoon during the Revolt of 1857 till 2002. It records the statement of Ziauddin on how one of the sons of Bahadur Shah Mirza Quwaish fled from India to Kathmandu, Udaipur before landing in Aurangabad. His son Mirza Abdullah came to Hyderabad around 1895 in search of shelter. Abdullah’s son Mirza Pyare (the father of Begum Laila Umhani and her sister, another octogenarian) married one of the close granddaughters of Khan Bahadur Tipu Khan, a close associate of the Nizam.

History is rather silent on the period after the Revolt. But memory is a gift mankind possesses by which many things are passed on to posterity.

MEMORY LANE: The Begum leads a quiet, unpretentious life with her two sons and their families. – Photos: K. Ramesh Babu

Begum Laila Umhani recounts her younger days when her father spoke glowingly about the magnificent royal court and the times of crisis – tales that he had heard from his father and grandfather to his friends. “I have very faint memories of my grandmother but I used to find my father’s descriptions interesting,” she says with a smiling face. And through this she imbibed details of her royal genealogy.

Even now when she does remember snatches of incidents, she acquaints the grandchildren of their family tree.

What is surprising is the family’s anonymity. The nonchalant approach of other people is intriguing. Very few know of their presence and their ancestry. “While some who know respect us, there are others who even doubt our lineage. Who are we today? What is left of the past? There is nobody to listen to our fariyad. So it is better to remain anonymous. This is life – full of ups and downs,” says a stoic Begum. “We are leading this life as we have unfortunately, not reaped any benefits of any sort. With great persuasion, my mother consented to speak to Arijeet Gupta who made many trips to Hyderabad. The documentary was made and we are still what we are. Nobody from the government (Central or State) has come forward to take notice of us or help us,” rules Ziauddin Tucy.

The family has seen rough times indeed – during the Nizam’s rule, police action and post-independence.

Their late father’s property (quite a few hundred acres) was confiscated under the Jagirdari Act and Inam Abolition Act. “The cases are pending in the Revenue courts,” inform the brothers. Their father “hailed from the family of Nizam-ul-Mulk Tucy who was prime minister to the kingdom of Baghdad,” they add.

Such circumstances forced the sons (the Begum has four sons, one died some years ago and three daughters) to look for avenues for employment.

After all one cannot live merely under a lost glory. Ziauddin joined government service, but retains the interest in poetry like Bahadur Shah Zafar himself. Masihuddin, on his return from the Middle East, took up a job as a food consultant with the ITC Welcome Group of Hotels. Masihuddin is trying to revive and popularise the lashkari cuisine of the Moghuls. The third brother is in the Middle East. The brothers have brought up their cause for upliftment but so far their pleas have gone unheard. “For the last forty years we have made representations for jobs and shelter but nothing has happened,” says a bitter Ziauddin. It is surprising to know that both live in rented houses quite close to each other and are yet to possess a house of their own. “We want justice to be done so that our children’s welfare would be ensured,” chips in Masihuddin.

What about the other members of the family? The family has established the Moghul Family Society (a Trust) for the welfare of its members and has publicised it in the media. When asked about the presence of another contender, Pakeeza Begum, who also belongs to the fourth generation of Bahadur Shah, the brothers reply “despite the media coverage, nobody has come forward so far. When we were in Delhi for the screening of the documentary (a special screening was arranged at the Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi on August 10 which was attended by diplomats, historians and many cultural personalities) we heard about this. We will welcome any such member to the Trust. Since the family of Bahadur Shah (after his exile to Rangoon) got scattered (as some of the sons fled) it is difficult to keep track of the family. We know one line is in Burma (now Myanmar) as one of Bahadur Shah’s sons married a Burmese and settled down there and another one at Kolkata. Our aunt (mother’s sister Husn Jahanara Begum – named after emperor Jahangir’s daughter) is feeble and bedridden while our maternal uncle is no more.

While the governments in the country have not helped the family, the brothers were invited to Uzbekistan to attend the 510th birth anniversary of Babur.

Begum Laila reminds everyone in the family about the heritage and keeps the genealogical tree alive besides the cuisine of the emperors. “She is my professor in cuisine matters,” says Masihuddin, who is engaged in research on lashkari cuisine.

She has numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren who still do not know of their glorious past. Perhaps even if they know, their footprints will be lost in the sands of time like those of the rest if nothing is done. They will go into the annals of history as unsung members of a great dynasty.

But for the time being, every minute of life is being lived against historical and biological clocks which tick away.

The last lines of the documentary end aptly with the lines from theBaburnama which concludes “Like us many have spoken over `history’ but they were gone in the twinkling of an eye. We conquered the world with bravery and might, but we did not take it with us to the grave.”

Prince Tucy

Decree issued by in the Court of the X1Xth Junior Civil Judge of City Civil Court, Hyderabad Government of India declaring Prince Tucy and other family members as the legal heir of Emperor BAHADUR SHAH ZAFER.