Begum Wilayat arrived at New Delhi station in the early 1970s and occupied a VIP waiting room with her dogs, servants and two children, demanding that the state return to her the looted wealth and property of her ancestors. Refusing to move, she squatted in the room, furnishing it with rugs and antiques, for almost 10 years before being granted Malcha Mahal, a 14th-century hunting lodge in thick forest south-west of the city. “Wilayat announced to the world that she was the Queen of Oudh, demanding the vast properties of a kingdom that no longer existed,” wrote Barry. “An ordinary grievance, unaddressed, had metastasised to become an epic one.”
He ranted a little, complaining of persecution by a criminal gang. He was flinging his hands wide, declaiming and then dropping to a dramatic whisper, as he spoke of the decline of the house of Oudh.
“I am shrinking,” he said. “We are shrinking. The princess is shrinking. We are shrinking.”
When I asked if I could publish our interview, he balked. For this, he said, I would need the permission of his sister, Princess Sakina, who was not in Delhi. I would have to come back.