|Sharmila Tagore at Flag Staff House in Bhopal on Wednesday. Picture by Saeed Faruqui|
Bhopal, Dec. 28: Sharmila Tagore today landed in Bhopal with the "purpose" of settling a long royal wrangle her late husband, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, had with his sisters over mansions and palaces in Bhopal spread over 2,000 acres.
This is the first visit by Begum Ayesha Sultana " as Sharmila is known in Pataudi's family " to Flag Staff House after the death of Tiger Pataudi, the former Indian cricket captain, in September.
Sitting in the verandah of Flag Staff House, over which Pataudi had fought several rounds of court battles with his sisters, Sharmila seemed confident to reach a deal that would satisfy all. "I have come here with a sense of purpose. There is little point in continuing these never-ending court cases and paying hefty fees to lawyers," she said.
Pataudi's two sisters " Saleha, 71, and Sabiha, 69 " live in Hyderabad. "I have excellent rapport with both of them," Sharmila said. "Sabiha Begum has not come but her husband, Arjuman Ali Khan, is here."
Sharmila, wearing a mehndi green sari and a matching shawl, said her children " Saif, Saba and Soha " and their cousins (the children of Saleha and Sabiha) were keen on an early and amicable settlement. Echoing Sharmila, Saleha's son Faiz Bin Jung said: "It's (the dispute) a family matter and we will sort it out within the family."
After the death of Pataudi's mother Begum Sajida Sultan, the last nawab begum of Bhopal, the cricketer was recognised as the head of the royal house. However, Saleha and Sabiha have been fighting for what they claim is their share in the ancestral properties.
Flag Staff House, a mansion built on seven acres in the present-day upmarket Koh-e-Fiza area of Bhopal, is one of the estates under dispute. It was built as a guesthouse to entertain visiting Englishmen during British rule. The mansion was Pataudi's home whenever he visited Bhopal.
In 2005, Pataudi had moved Jabalpur High Court against a fast-track court verdict that granted his sisters the right to stay in Flag Staff House.
Pataudi moved court after Sabiha sent a fax from Hyderabad seeking the keys to the mansion. The caretaker declined, asking her to wait till Pataudi returned from Britain.
Pataudi, in his appeal, claimed that he was merely a tenant of Flag Staff House, paying a rent of Rs 2,000, and thus could not allow his sisters to stay in the mansion. He said his mother had appointed him the tenant a few months before she died in 1995.
The Bhopal court rejected his plea, saying the lease document was not valid. It said the sisters had the right to use the house as Pataudi's lease as tenant had expired.
However, within the family no settlement was reached on how the siblings should jointly own Flag Staff House.
In addition to this, the Pataudis are also fighting cases against the Madhya Pradesh government for encroachment on their estates.
Sharmila's elder daughter Saba is looking into another set of disputes as the custodian of the Auqaf-e-Shahi, a Rs 1,000-crore worth of princely endowments and properties with religious and charitable significance.
There was a spot of brightness amid all this for the family though.
Sharmila said she was pleased to know the BCCI planned to hold a Pataudi Memorial Lecture on the lines of the Sir Donald Bradman Oration. She said she had a few names in mind for the lecture. "Yes, I would like to suggest a few names like Mike Brearley, Ted Dexter (former England skippers) or Ian Chappell (former Australia skipper)," she said.