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Updated: September 25, 2010 18:30 IST

A prince so unusual!

R.V. Smith
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Illustration: Tony Smith
The Hindu
Illustration: Tony Smith

The story of Mirza Surayyah Jah, the handsome Moghul prince with a feminine name

A mention in the “100 Years Ago” column of a Kolkata daily, that in September 1910, Mirza Surayyah Jah, a direct descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar, had met the Prince of Wales in Hyderabad, set one on a search for the antecedents of the Prince with a feminine name. The Moghul scion sought the help of the heir to the British throne in the repayment of his debt of Rs.50,000 (a very big amount in those days) and return of confiscated property. The visiting prince ordered the Punjab Government (under which Delhi came then) to provide immediate relief. Satisfied, the petitioner returned to Delhi.

Nawab Surayya Jah was the second son of Mirza Elahi Bux, “Samdhi” of Bahadur Shah as his daughter was married to one of the sons of the emperor. There is a ‘gali'in Churi Walan, Jama Masjid area, named after Surayya Jah, probably because he owned houses there. Both he and his elder brother served as members of the Delhi Municipality. Mirza Sulaiman Shah, from 1864 to 1869 and he from 1892 to 1912.

It was on Mirza Elahi Bux's counsel and that of Hakim Ahsanullah Khan (nicknamed Gangaram Yahudi by his detractors) that the emperor often relied. It was they who had advised him against heading the Moghul forces battling the British after Bakht Khan had relinquished the commandership.

In her masterpiece, “Delhi Between Two Empires”, historian Narayani Gupta mentions that Elahi Bux was among those who had been trying to buy back the land confiscated by the British after the Uprising. The Mirza was nominated to the Delhi Municipality and appointed co-president of the Delhi Society. She goes on to say, “The stamp of recognition given to the family (of Elahi Bux) suggests, that while the British officers were determined not to have anything like a repetition of the 1857 revolt, they wanted to retain one of the Moghuls as a puppet-figure so that the Delhi Muslims did not become totally alienated from their rule”.

She later records, “In 1867 when Mirza Elahi Bux presided over the Id celebrations at the Idgah, the Zia-ul-Akhbar, a mouthpiece of the (Nawab) Loharu family, was quick to make an issue of it. It insinuated that he had accepted nazars and morchuls and was obviously trying to reassert a sovereign position; another local newspaper, the Chiragh-Delhi was skeptical, doubting whether he (Bux) a government pensioner, would do anything so imprudent”.

However despite barbs from fellow noblemen, Mirza Elahi Bux and his sons continued to enjoy a prominent position in Delhi society. They were seen as the last remnants of the Moghul family even though Mirza Chinghezi, another descendant of Bahadur Shah, was begging for alms on the steps of Jama Masjid.

In 1877 we learn that instead of petitioning the government, the citizens of Delhi decided to revive the Delhi College by their own efforts. The meeting was presided over by Surayyah Jah, and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was among those present.

One may only add that Surayyah Jah as his name suggests, was among the handsomest men in Delhi in his time at whose sight even the purdah ladies swooned. It was only 30 years after his death that another heart-throb with the name Surayya was to make cinema-goers swoon!

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