Malik Sartaj Wali Khan, affectionately called Buddan Sahab, was the youngest of the four children of Malik Mohammad Shahanshah Wali Khan, the wealthy lord of Bareilly. Shahanshah Wali Khan – the son of Nawab Sikander Jehan Begum and Malik Saadat Wali Khan – was himself known by the somewhat inopportune nickname of Puttan Sahab.
Puttan Sahab had been dealt a charmed hand in life; he was blessed with good looks, a charismatic personality and a brilliant mind. The British governor of UP (Uttar Pradesh) used to frequent him often for intellectual conversation, coupled with mouthwatering dinners at the lord of Bareilly’s 24-seater dining table.
Puttan was also very rich – revenue from his vast agricultural possessions would arrive in boris or sacks filled with gold coins, which were emptied on the terraces of his haveli Shahanshah Manzil. The income tax he paid to the government alone used to exceed Rs. 40,000 per year! Puttan Sahab was also the first in the Bareilly district to own an automobile, a Bentley 4-door sports saloon that had been shipped directly from England, complete with an English chauffeur.
Having a larger-than-life father like Shahanshah Wali Khan was not easy for his two sons growing up; they felt constantly intimidated. While both suffered in their own way, the older son, Iqtidar Wali Khan (Nabban Sahab), was harder hit. At age 21, he was expelled from home and inheritance (“aaq kar diya”) when he dared leave his first wife, a princess of Rampur, to marry a lower-caste Hindu woman who he had fallen in love with. Nabban’s mother and two sympathetic sisters used to sneak him into the zanaankhana kitchen when he had no money to eat; the monthly stipend of Rs. 100 that his father had deemed fit for him was a pittance.
He would withdraw to secret corners of the Delhi haveli in search of a little peace and quiet. That is where he found his soulmate: a doe-eyed, waif-like creature, hiding away for the same reasons. With her flaming red mane and bottle green farshi gharara, she took his breath away
As the only remaining son, Buddan was lavished with doubled love and attention – much to his disadvantage. He got accustomed to the lackadaisical nawabi life, lost interest in his studies and dropped out of college at age 17.
Buddan’s father had a younger brother Malik Mohammad Iftikhar Wali Khan and two sisters, Husn Ara Begum (Dillan) and Shaukat Ara Begum (Shakkan). The family would visit the aunts at their respective susraal on special occasions. On one such occasion – the marriage of Shakkan’s daughter Anwar Jehan Begum (Achchan) – Buddan and his parents travelled to Delhi. Aunt Shakkan was married to Abdul Hameed Khan, a direct descendant of the illustrious Regent of Rohilkhand Hafiz Rehmat Khan Barech: and the wedding was an affair of corresponding pomp and show.
When the endless festivities got overwhelming for Buddan, he would withdraw to secret corners of the Delhi haveli in search of a little peace and quiet. That is where he found his soulmate: a doe-eyed, waif-like creature, hiding away for the same reasons. With her flaming red mane and bottle green farshi gharara, she took his breath away.
They hit it off immediately, laughing at the ridiculous rituals of traditional weddings. He discovered that the girl who had stolen his heart at first sight was his cousin Rafat Jehan Begum (Raffan), the fifth and youngest daughter of Shakkan Begum.
Buddan spent the rest of the Delhi trip in a blissful daze; he and Raffan were like two peas in pod. Fortunately, the news of their love was met with much joy among both families. Engagement rings were duly exchanged and a little ceremony conducted before Buddan left for home.
Alas! The beautiful story took a nasty turn when differences developed between siblings Puttan Sahab and Shakkan Begum. The root of the trouble remains a mystery, but it escalated to such acrimony, that, just to spite her brother, the hot-headed Shakkan called off the children’s engagement. Buddan was distraught, and pleaded with his father to patch up with Shakkan; but Puttan, severely annoyed by his sister’s high handedness, let his ego get in the way of his son’s happiness. He promptly packed Buddan off to Aligarh Muslim University, ostensibly to complete his studies. But the true reason for Buddan’s departure from Bareilly was not lost on anybody. The love birds were thus separated in body, but their hearts belonged to each other for the rest of their lives.
With Buddan safely in college, his father started looking for a suitable bride for him. The wealthy and influential Nawab of Sherpur had lands that spread to Pilibhit to the east and Lucknow to the south, and tigers roamed the dense forests of katha where he hunted; he also had three unmarried daughters. Although even the youngest was a good ten years older than Buddan, Shahanshah Wali Khan’s mind was made up. Without so much as broaching the topic with his son, he sent a marriage proposal for the Nawab of Sherpur’s youngest daughter, Asmat Jahan Begum.
The Nawab of Sherpur was eager to palm off his plain-looking daughters, who no longer had youth on their side. The two men agreed on a date for the nuptials, and broken-hearted Buddan had no choice but to comply – he knew how his father dealt with rebellious sons.
The wedding was a grand affair. Buddan, the groom, arrived on an elephant decked with jewels, while the bride’s palki was made of pure 24-karat gold. Gold and silver coins were showered at the baraat, and no expense was spared to make it a truly magnificent occasion.
The two had not spoken or even exchanged letters since their last meeting in 1956, so we decided to remedy the lapse by calling Raffan. As they shyly exchanged greetings over the phone, Buddan Sahab kept urging her to come to Bareilly to live with him
But the union was destined to fail. Not only was Asmat Jahan Begum much older than Buddan, she was a homely, simple person, while Buddan was fond of the finer things in life. Over time, she confined herself to the domesticities of the zanaankhana, while he spent most of his days outside of the house.
During those years, Buddan, or Sartaj Wali Khan, travelled far and wide, visiting many parts of Europe and even the United States. In 1956, he made a stop in recently created Pakistan, to meet his first and only lady love. Raffan Begum’s father had moved the family to Lahore at Partition, and that is where she lived, still single.
For the first time since their broken engagement, the two had an opportunity to spend time together. Sartaj professed his love for her again and promised to return with a formal proposal.
Soon after his return to Bareilly, however, Sartaj’s father, Shahanshah Wali Khan, passed away. He got so embroiled in matters of property and inheritance that the wedding with Raffan was sidelined once more.
Sartaj had four children from his unhappy marriage with Asmat Jahan Begum. Full of resentment towards the wife that his father had forced upon him, he kept a mistress for much of his later years, a Hindu woman who he would unabashedly drive around town in his Rolls Royce.
When my sister Ayesha and I travelled to Bareilly to meet him, Buddan Sahab was 90 years old and still complained “Burhiya se meri shadi kara di” – an ironic twist of fate, as he himself had been called Buddan since he was a boy!
He was also just as much in love with Raffan Begum. The two had not spoken or even exchanged letters since their last meeting in 1956, so we decided to remedy the lapse by calling Raffan. As they shyly exchanged greetings over the phone, Buddan Sahab kept urging her to come to Bareilly to live with him.
On our return to Lahore, we visited Raffan and got her to speak to Buddan Sahab once more. How her frail, waif-like face beamed with joy!
Buddan Sahab died in 2014, shortly after we met him. Raffan Begum never married, and passed away in Lahore only recently. Though borders, petty politics and futile pride had divided their love in life, perhaps in death they might be finally united!
Shehla Ahmad Khan is a doctor and genealogy enthusiast based in Lahore. She can be reached at email@example.com