Niloufer, the beguiling princess of Hyderabad

Winsome Beauty: Her good nature and coltish charm would light up the fabulous palaces of the Nizam. Illustration By: Artist Harsha

Niloufer. The very name evokes divergent images. For some, a bewitchingly beautiful woman’s face which takes away one’s breath away swims into view. And for some others, the image of a hospital where death stalks sends shivers down the spine.

With due apologies to the Bard, there is indeed plenty in the name. Interestingly, the connection between the two is unbreakable. It is 28 years since Princess Niloufer Farhat Begum, the Turkish wife of Prince Moazzam Jah, breathed her last. And strangely, the hospital named after her continues to be in the news for the wrong reasons.

Regal and unattainable like Mona Lisa — out of the reach of ordinary mortals — beauty and brains, fame and fortune, she had it all. With her winsome beauty and coltish charm she lit up the fabulous palaces of the Nizam. This ravishing princess also had a heart that beat for others. When she saw her maid servant, Rafathunnisa, die during childbirth she got devastated. She did not remain content with just sympathizing with the bereaved family but decided to do something for women in general. “Hereafter, no more Rafaths shall die for want of good medical facilities,” she resolved.

This tragic incident led to the establishment of a hospital for women and children which the Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, named after his daughter-in-law. Niloufer used a silver trowel for the ground-breaking ceremony of the hospital on April 29, 1949. June 12 marks the death anniversary of the Princess who gave so much to Hyderabad and womanhood.

Life like no other

NilouferHow about a peep into this royal superstar of awesome dimensions? Daughter of Damaad Salahuddin Bey Moralizada, a prominent member of the Ottoman Court, Niloufer and her cousin, Durru Shehvar, were swept away into royal weddings. While Niloufer got married to Prince Moazzam Jah, the second son of the 7th Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, her cousin entered into wedlock with the Nizam’s eldest son, Prince Azam Jah.

The weddings took place on November 12, 1931, at Nice in France and were hailed as a ‘union of two great dynasties’ linking Europe and Asia. The coming together of the true blue Ottoman and the Asafia lineages became a talking point in the two continents. Both Niloufer and Durru Shehvar were arguably the most gorgeous women. The former was counted among the ten most beautiful women in the world. Interestingly, both the charming cousins have hospitals named after them in Hyderabad — Niloufer Hospital and Durru Shehvar Children’s and General Hospital.

After marriage, Princess Niloufer moved into Hill Fort with her husband. An Urdu poet of no mean repute, Prince Moazzam Jah organized mushairas almost every day. Fond of a lavish lifestyle, he doted on his wife and got her painted and photographed. Life seemed to be hunky-dory.

While Princess Durru Shehvar came into the family way an year after her marriage and returned to Nice for confinement, it was not the case with Niloufer. In a traditional society she was expected to bear children and her inability to do so put pressure in her marriage and ultimately after 21 years she parted ways with Prince Moazzam Jah in 1952 and moved back to Paris. Later, she married Edward Pope, an American diplomat, in 1963 and died in Paris on June 12, 1989.

Her mysterious appeal and enchanting persona captivated Istanbul, Paris and Hyderabad. Even to this day her violet eyes, perfect features, blue black Circassian hair, creamy complexion and dimples in the cheeks remain the talk of the town. Known for her sartorial taste, the bewitching Niloufer attired herself in the best of dresses. She wore saris designed by Madhav Das and even now the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, has a collection of her 32 fabulous saris.

Considered a torch-bearer for women’s advancement, Princess Niloufer led an active public life in Hyderabad. She attracted a lot of attention and some of the most famous people were her friends. She was also offered a role in a Hollywood film but turned it down. Along with her fashionable cousin, Princess Durru Shehvar, she dominated Hyderabad’s social circles.

rincess Niloufer was associated with the Red Cross and was also part of the elite Lady Hydari Club. The charming cousins were the cynosure of all eyes. They were at the Malakpet Race Course, graced a number of forums and attracted many European women. While their charity work received the full support of the Nizam, their celebrity lifestyle didn’t go down well with the royal family. When World War II broke out, Princess Niloufer obtained training as a nurse and treated injured soldiers brought here for convalescence.

An epitome of royalty, Princess Niloufer had the glamour of Marlo Mandarin, flamboyance of Princess Diana and beauty of Nargis. A woman of substance every which way, she was one of the rare ones, so effortlessly herself, and the world loved her for it.