Sometime in the summer of 2003, Arvind Acharya, a management consultant from Scarsdale in New York was called for an interview by Evelyn Pope. It wasn’t for a job, but for something more precious. Evelyn Pope was the second wife of Edward Pope, the second husband of Hyderabad’s Princess Niloufer. Evelyn wanted to place the private papers of Princess Niloufer in safe hands and Arvind’s name was suggested by Omar Khalidi, then a librarian in MIT. Arvind passed the interview and the result can be seen on Monday, January 4, 2016, exactly 100 years after the birth of Niloufer in the family of Ottoman Caliphs.
In a bylane near Lakdi-ka-Pul in Hyderabad, harried mothers and mothers-to-be enter the Niloufer Hospital without a second glance at the huge portrait of the pretty lady, or a thought about why it is there. The exhibition mounted by Arvind Acharya and Birad Yagnik is expected to do just that.
“After her marriage to Prince Moazzam Jah, the younger son of the Nizam, at the age of 15 in December 1931, Princess Niloufer came to Hyderabad and lived at what was then called Hill Fort Palace. She even got a midwife with her, a French lady, just in case she does her royal duty of delivering a baby. But, unfortunately, she didn’t have any children, while her cousin Princess Durrushevar had two sons. As time passed, Niloufer evolved into a beautiful princess, elegant and tall at 5’8” with an alabaster complexion. She was the toast of the party circuit in Hyderabad and in Europe wherever she went. But she was unhappy,” says Arvind, riffling through a bunch of papers which show letters written by the British Resident, Churchill’s son-in-law, and a host of others to her.
In 1946, she had a servant called Rafatunnissa Begum, who was pregnant, and later died during childbirth. “Niloufer is supposed to have said ‘no more Rafats will die’. That is the name of this exhibition and it is through her effort that the Niloufer Hospital was inaugurated in1953,” informs Arvind.
The suitcases that Evelyn handed over to Arvind in New York included the first shaved lock of Niloufer, the string of pearls used to tie her hair and her class VII progress report from a school in Nice, France. “Evelyn did it systematically. Niloufer’s fascinating collection of saris designed by a jeweller from Bombay, Madhavdas, went to New York Fashion Institute and Technology, the Turkish firmans went to the University of Washington and I got the private papers,” says Arvind Acharya, as he narrates the incredible tale of the Turkish Princess, who lived in Paris, married a Hyderabadi prince and died as a wife to an American Edward Pope.
“Last year, Papa Rao, who is an advisor to the Telangana Government, came to New York, and I told him that January 4, 2016 would be the 100th birth anniversary of Princess Niloufer and he showed interest and put me onto Birad Yagnik, and this exhibition is a result of that,” says Arvind.
So, what’s next? “Who knows a documentary, maybe a movie. Her life lends itself to something bigger than just an exhibition,” says Arvind Acharya, with hope about the unhappy princess who lies buried in a grave in Bobigny near Paris but her memory lives on in the Niloufer Hospital while her husband’s name endures yards away at the Moazzam Jahi Market.
She was the toast of the party circuit in Hyderabad and in Europe wherever she went. But she was unhappy”Arvind Acharya, management consultant