Sep 23, 2011

Saba Ali Khan – Return Of Lady Custodian

Not many know that Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi -- grandson of the last Nawab of Bhopal, Hamidullah Khan -- had done two things in his life that cannot be denied place in the history of Bhopal and its Muslim people. 

The Bhopal-born Nawab of Pataudi had donated a piece of land in the City of Lakes for a mosque later named after his mother. And he recommended that his elder daughter, Saba Ali Khan, succeed him in Awqaf-e-Shahi -- the princely waqf properties he was managing in the name of God for charity. Pataudi donated the land for a mosque in 2003. Five years later, he recommended Saba's name as naib-muttawalli or deputy patron. Pataudi, associated more with glamour than matters of faith, had donated the land named after Sajida Sultan, Bhopal's last begum. Earlier, the city had several mosques but none had been built or sponsored by a male regent. The Taj-ul-Masjid, Moti Masjid and Jama Masjid in the former princely state -- ruled by three generations of begums for a century from 1829 -- were all built by women rulers.

'It had remained one of the biggest ironies of nawabi rule in Bhopal, spread over 240 years, that none of the male regents built a mosque,' said Arif Aziz, author of several books on mosques in the Madhya Pradesh capital.

Some say, Pataudi got the nickname Tiger because he had killed a tiger at the age of 16 in the forests of Madhya Pradesh. 'Tiger may not have directly built Masjid Sajida Sultan but his contribution had been immense,' Aziz said. The current market price of the land, which forms part of Pataudi's personal fortune, is said to be around Rs.7 crore. Spread over 19,600 square feet and overlooking the serene Bada Talab (big lake), the mosque has a separate enclosure for women that can accommodate around 150. In 2008, when the mosque came up, Pataudi and daughter Saba visited the city and Tiger recommended her as deputy patron of the dozens of shrines, orphanages and religious trusts that are part of the princely waqf properties of Bhopal. Pataudi had given a signed letter in Urdu to authorities. It said: 'I have been fulfilling my duties as mutawalli of Awqaf-e-Shahi, Bhopal. However, I feel the time has come to share my burden. I, therefore, propose my elder daughter Saba as asnaib mutawalli (deputy patron). As per the merger agreement between State of Bhopal and the state government, Saba may be appointed as my deputy so that she acquaints herself with the functioning of waqf during my lifetime.' 

Keeping in mind the religious sensitivity, he had preferred Saba as his deputy. His other two children, Saif Ali Khan and Soha, belong to film industry. Once Saba becomes mutawalli, she will become the first woman head of the Awqaf-e-Shahi - since the end of princely rule - to govern religious properties worth over Rs.300 crore, including Bhopal's picturesque Jama Masjid. The mantle of maintaining huge properties of the erstwhile royal family extending from Bhopal to Saudi Arabia, now falls on Pataudi's daughter Saba Ali Khan, whom he had begun grooming for the task three years ago. The properties that are now under the royal trust include religious structures, grand mosques and adjoining lands, charitable institutions, vast agricultural properties, graveyards, the famous Raisen dargah and the 'rubaats' for Haj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, that are run by the Auqaf-e-Shahi (the royal Waqf). However, the role of handling these properties is more of a socio-religious mantle rather than being an owner.  These properties are apart from the few personal properties left with the family. With her head covered, Saba, dressed in salwar-kamiz, was taken around by Pataudi himself to have a look at the properties whose affairs she had to manage.  "Pataudi was the mutawalli of Auqaf-e-Shahi and now Saba would take over", said Rashid Ul Hasan Khan 'Afaq', who was his personal secretary for almost ten years. Says litterateur Professor Afaq Ahmad, "It is natural that after Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, his daughter, Saba, would become the mutawalli (custodian). There shouldn't be any hitch in that", he said. "With his clout, he could have played even a greater role in Bhopal. Now his daughter has an important responsibility on her", said Afaq Ahmad. Apart from Waqf land, the family owns private properties also but the status of several properties is unclear. It is believed that as Saba is not associated with Bollywood and thus away from glamour, she was chosen for the role. This hardly raised any eyebrows in Bhopal, as Begums had ruled the erstwhile princely state for over a century.  The properties are estimated to be worth hundreds of crores but as they are Waqf properties, her role would more be supervisory. The Waqf properties can't be put for any other use except for which they have been endowed.  "There are shops on Waqf land from which the income is nominal. Besides, many properties are under encroachment, which she in her new role would have to deal with", says a Waqf official, on conditions of anonymity. "Regarding personal properties, some of them are either under litigation and a few have reportedly been sold as well", he added. 

'For the people of Bhopal, he was nawab, but our relationship remained as players. He was a very friendly and jovial person. Along with Indian cricket, it is also a big loss to the people of Bhopal,' Aslam Sher Khan, former hockey Olympian, said. 

Photograph courtesy DNA:  This photograph was taken during a sports meet in 1966, organised by the Maulana Azad College of Technology, Bhopal. (The college is now called Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology, or Manit, Bhopal.) Pataudi graced the sports event as the guest of honour. He accompanied his mother Begum Bhopal, who was invited as the chief guest at the sports meet. Ajit Jogi was secretary of the students' council in academic year 1965-66 of MACT, and Umesh Chandra Malviya (right), was president. This photograph is from Malviya's collection.

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