Until today, I didn’t know who Begum Hazrat Mahal was. My ignorance is unpardonable. Thanks to Delhi Karavan, now I know something substantial about the last queen of Awadh. She was only 36 when her husband, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, conceded defeat and was sent to exile by the British. She inherited a kingdom steeped in chronic corruption and on top of that she had the onerous task of defending her territory from the formidable forces of British East India Company.
Hers is a story of a royal concubine’s ascension to the throne and a gradual metamorphosis into a military leader, a war strategist and an astute administrator who not only resisted British attacks but also inspired people across all religions to unify for the cause of their country.
Mohi-ud-Din Mirza’s 26-minute documentary screened at today’s event in Indian Habitat Centre was a glimpse into the veracity and compassion of a queen whose commitment to her country and countrymen made her achieve unimaginable feats.
The pages of history might inform you about her 10-month rule, the Siege of Lucknow and her 20 years of exile in Nepal, but they might miss out on the larger contributions of the young queen. She stonewalled the British ploy to create a religious divide and heavily criticised them for desecrating temples and forcing people to eat pig fat.
Behind her beautiful appearance was a resolute soul that had the gumption to ignore Queen Victoria’s proclamations and lures of a luxurious life. She lived to challenge oppression, and in death she continues to inspire valour.
It was heartening to see Begum Manzilat Fatima, the great great granddaughter of Begum Hazrat Mahal, beaming with pride for the legacy that her family has been carrying forward for generations. She has taken it upon herself to spread the story of her great great grandmother across the world. She wants the deeds of Awadh’s last queen to inspire girls who are looked upon as vulnerable and gullible.