The heir apparent to a long line of women rulers in Bhopal State, central India, Princess Abida is a profound witness to history.

Bred by her grandmother to be a perfect synthesis of East and West, she knew most of the leaders in the independence struggle. The English Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, for example, she found to be the wrong man in the wrong place.
She remembers more fondly the time a jar of pickles ruined a state arrival in England in 1926. Her grandmother outwitted King George V in an emotional showdown, the only time a Privy Council ruling was ever overturned. To relax, everyone went to see the Charlie Chaplin's latest, The Gold Rush.

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She grew up with two sisters in a palace of women. European governesses played out the shadow conflicts between their countries yet never left Bhopal. India's national poet Sarojini Naidu would visit for months. Princess Abida knew most leaders well before they became prominent.

She rode horses, played polo, hunted tigers and drove Daimlers into the ditches around the palace. At birth, she was taken into her formidable grandmother's room for the next 17 years. From the age of four, she had to wake every morning at four to memorize her daily quota of verses from the Quran. If she could not, she was beaten. Yet today she remembers her grandmother fondly: "Whatever good you can see in me . . . are all due to the early influence of Sarkar Amman."

Princess Abida is among the few left who was on the ship with Gandhi to the hopeful Round Table Conference in London in 1930. She ran her State's Cabinet from 1935 until 1949. Her father chaired the four hundred member Chamber of Princes just before independence. She watched over a long period as political relations between Hindus and Muslims deteriorated.
Princess Abida Sultaan's gripping life story, Memoirs of a Rebel Princess (Oxford University Press) was published in 2004 and recounts many of the episodes and events covered in this interview, plus much more. With a Foreword by Sahibzada Yakub Khan.
In 2007, Siobhan Lambert-Hurley published Muslim Women, Reform and Princely Patronage: Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum about Princess Abida Sultaan's visionary grandmother.
© Harappa 1997-2008
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