|Biographical detail : ||Begum of Bhopal
After the demise of her husband in 1844, Sikandar Begum was appointed the regent of her young daughter, Shahjahan Begum. Sikandar Begum ruled Bhopal the second biggest Muslim princely state of British India.
Sikandar Begum, the Nawab of Bhopal, who ruled for about twenty-three years was a person of great repute as an administrator effecting plausible reforms in the judiciary, revenue, education, police and other systems of Bhopal.
Her travel experience to Makkah was published in 1870. Sikandar Begum may have been the first eastern lady to write about her travel experiences. The book gives the snapshots of the living conditions and tribal customs rampart in the places the princes visited: water was extremely scarce in Jeddah and its residents mostly depended on rain water; bad construction of houses and lack of drainage systems; the only mode of travel was camels driven by Bedouins who often resorted to robbery. Beggary was very common and even those who earned handsome salaries felt no qualm to seek extra for ‘bakhshish’. Sikandar Begum was utterly appalled by the dirt and squalor in the streets. Jeddah was a desolate looking city pervaded by unsavoury odours while Makkah was wild and melancholy looking place.
People she met and visited during her tour, to her judgement, looked palpably harsh and in character miserly, violent tempered and hard-hearted. Generally, well-to-do persons there had three or four wives, all bedecked with costly jewellery. Guests in that part of the world were greeted with sweet-scented incense and cordial embraces.
However, Sikandar Begum’s voyage cannot be called a journey of spiritual soul-searching. Her references to her spiritual experiences are random and brief. Against the historical background, the holy cities now have since made a quantum leap in terms of urban development and modernisation beyond one’s imagination.
Sikandar Begum’s staunch loyalty to the British earned her the Great Cross of Star of India Award.
It was only due to Sikandar Begum’s efforts that the locks of Jama Masjid were re-opened after the British closed it, in 1857, for prayers.
The English translation of Sikandar Begum’s travelogue by Willoughby Osborne appeared 100 years later. Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, a senior lecturer of history at Nottingham University, has edited Willoughby Osborne’s book that has now been published, under the title of Princess’s Pilgrimage, by Oxford University Press, Karachi: ISBN 978-0-19-547630-9