In the dense forests near Delhi, India, lies an old kingdom. Of that kingdom, only ruins still exist, but until 2017, some of the old kingdom still lived in these ruins. Some claimed they were jinns, ancient spirits of mischief. Others are sure that they are the rightful heirs of the kingdom, returned after centuries of exile to reclaim their birthright and restore pre-colonization order to the region. However, their story comes with a big but -- capital 'B,' two 't's, and Sir Mix-A-Lot in the background admiring it.
In the early seventies, a regal looking woman arrived at the train station of Lucknow, India, demanding to be addressed as the begum, or queen, of Oudh. This created some confusion, as the Kingdom of Oudh hadn't existed since 1856 when the British annexed the region under the charter of: "We're British, this is ours now." But the woman, Begum Wilayat Mahal, and her children Cyrus Raza and Sakina Mahal had all the trappings of Indian royalty. Particularly, the rudeness. The moment they arrived with their servants, silver tea sets, and Great Danes in tow, Begum Wilayat Mahal did a little annexing of her own, squatting in the railway station for 10 years while she wrote letters to officials impatiently demanding restitution.
This eventually caused none other than Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to order the local government to find them a suitable abode. What they found was the hunting lodge of Malcha Mahal, a stately ruin in the middle of the wilderness. The family gladly took it. There, the trio lived for many years, still accosting the Indian government for all the slights that had made her blue blood run cold. But their story remained a tragedy. In 1993, Begum Wilayat Mahal was reported to have killed herself quaffing the "drink of silence," a suicide cocktail containing crushed family pearls and diamonds -- as befitting a queen of her stature. In the end, only Prince Cyrus remained on the lavish but overgrown estate, holding the fort in the vain hopes that their bloodline would achieve greatness once again.
But no one ever came for Prince Cyrus Razza, probably because that wasn't his name. His real name was Mickey Butts, and he was the son not of a dead king but an admin of the University of Lucknow, Inayatullah Butt. The story exposed in a Pulitzer-nominated New York Times piece by Ellen Barry, and when it hit, another unfolded. In another part of the subcontinent, Kashmir, people remembered this royal family quite differently. There, Begum Wilayat, real name Wilayat Butt, was a Pakistani woman who had been threatened with deportation after the messy Partition of India and Pakistan. While no queen, Mrs. Butt was very politically savvy, managing to remain with her family in the region of Kashmir "subject to good behavior," a clause that apparently didn't list going mad, posing as Indian royalty, and scamming the government into giving them a disused ruin free of charge.
Prince Cyrus eventually died in 2017, the last in a non-existing royal line (some claim there was another child of the begum, left to die of starvation in their old Kashmir home).
Now, the old hunting lodge lies empty once again, still awaiting the return of the true heirs of Oudh. Or other fake ones. It doesn't care. It's a ruin.
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