On 4th January, 1916, Niloufer was born in the Goztepe Palace in Istanbul in Turkey. Her mother was Adile Sultan, a grand-daughter of Sultan Murad V, who had been deposed on the grounds of purported mental illness.
Adile herself was married and divorced and it was with her second husband, Salahuddin Morali, that she gave birth to Niloufer.
At the age of eight, Niloufer moved to Nice in France. This was not a voluntary move. Turkey had lost its bearings during the First World War. When the war ended, the mighty Ottoman empire was divided, and all that was left of it was Turkey itself. Kemal Ataturk, the revolutionary leader, decided to modernize the country.
Princess Niloufer With Prince Moazzam Jah
He forbade the wearing of traditional dresses and decreed that women had to dress in the European style. Fearing that the presence of royalty might bring the Sultan back to power, he banished the entire royal family into exile.
This meant that the Sultan, Abdul Majid II, who also had the title of the Khalifa, had to give up his palatial possessions and move to southern France. For the Muslims worldwide, this was a low point in their history when the Khalifa himself became a poor man. At that time, rescue came in the form of the Nizam of Hyderabad. The Nizam promised the Khalifa a pension of 300 British Pounds a month. On this income, the Khalifa maintained his establishment.
Princess Niloufer With Begum Aga Khan
The deposition of the Khalifa was a significant political event. Mahatma Gandhi felt that this would be the right time for the Khilafat movement, to restore the Khalifa. The leaders of the movement were Maulana Mohammed Ali and Maulana Shoukat Ali. During this movement, Shoukat Ali came to be on very friendly terms with the Khalifa.
Thus, in 1931, seeing that the Khalifa had no son, Shoukat Ali proposed that the Khalifa’s daughter, Durru Shehvar, be married to Azam Jah. The negotiations for the terms of the marriage started, but soon broke down, as the Nizam felt that the requirement for the Mehr was exorbitant. Eventually, the Nizam was able to get two marriages within the specified amount. In this way, the marriage of Niloufer to Moazzam Jah was finalized. They were married on November 12, 1931; at this wedding, the Khalifa himself acted as the Kazi.
A few weeks later, the two princesses, Durru Shehvar and Niloufer set sail for India. They spent a few days in Bombay, and played tennis with the daughters of the Governor of Bombay. They were taught how to wear sarees, and the expected etiquette in the presence of the Nizam. With great trepidation, they boarded the train to Hyderabad.
When the train pulled up at the Nampally station, Azam Jah hopped off the train and simply prostrated in front of the Nizam. He bowed again several times; this pleased the Nizam who kept smiling and repeating “fatherly affection”. When the turn of Niloufer, she stepped off the train ever so lightly. All eyes were on her. At this moment, the Boy Scouts presented a guard of honour.
Niloufer and Moazzam Jah moved in to Hill Fort. The shell of this building still stands, on the ascent from Public Gardens to Noubat Pahad. It was a large house, purchased from the previous owner, Sir Nizamat Jung. Moazzam Jah’s rooms were on the ground floor and Niloufer’s on the first floor. Almost every evening, Moazzam Jah organized a mushaira. Many well known names were present in the gatherings.
A book by one of those, Sidiq Jaisi, details these glittering evenings. One of those present was Fani Badayuni, for whom a car used to be sent every evening to bring him to Hill Fort. Another well known name that graced these sessions is that of Akhtari Bai, who later attained fame as Begum Akhtar.
As the years rolled by, Durru Shehvar gave birth to a son, Mukarram Jah. When several years passed, and still Niloufer had not conceived, she consulted various doctors in Europe and was planning to go to America for a medical visit. During this time, one of her maids died during childbirth. At that time, there was no specialized hospital for children and mothers. Niloufer’s resolve to build such a hospital materialized in the form of the current hospital in Red Hills.
While her private life seemed empty due to lack of children, her public life became very glittering. She was invited to several functions, inaugurated several events and became a torch-bearer for women’s advancement. During the Second World War, she obtained training as a nurse, and helped in relief efforts. Her beauty, and her active public life, received mention in the press, and frequently on cover pages of magazines. She was judged one of the 10 most beautiful women in the world, and was offered several roles in films.
Niloufer had a style of dressing that attracted the public and caught the attention of the fashion media. Her sarees were especially crafted by Madhavdas, a designer from Bombay. These were frequently studied and analyzed. Even in later years, when she shifted to wearing European style clothes when travelling abroad, she still managed to cut a fine figure. One of her European dresses formed the topic of discussion in the New York Times in 1961.
When India became independent, Niloufer was in a peculiar position. Hyderabad had yet to decide on joining the Indian Union. As this situation dragged on, eventually Hyderabad was amalgamated into the Indian Union by a “Police Action”. Although the Nizam was retained as the Head of the State, he was just a shadow of his former self.
Niloufer decided never to return to India again. Her marriage with Moazzam Jah came to an end in 1952. She continued to live in Paris, with her mother, in a flat. Since she was only 36, she continued to attract a lot of attention, and had some of the most famous people as friends. She was offered yet another role in a Hollywood film, but she turned it down again.
Niloufer died in Paris in 1989 and was buried next to her mother.
The Author of this Article is: Arvind Acharya. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org