REGAL SPLENDOUR: Rana Shiv Nath Sharan Singh with his wifeThe Awadh region of Uttar Pradesh, spread over 13 districts, continues to have a hangover of its feudal past. The area still has 430-odd talukdars or feudal lords who trace their history to the Mughal period.Along with zamindars and jagirdars, they,REGAL SPLENDOUR: Rana Shiv Nath Sharan Singh with his wifeThe Awadh region of Uttar Pradesh, spread over 13 districts, continues to have a hangover of its feudal past. The area still has 430-odd talukdars or feudal lords who trace their history to the Mughal period.Along with zamindars and jagirdars, they were part of the feudal set-up devised by the British after the 1857 mutiny. After Independence, the Zamindari Abolition Act ensured that the zamindars, like the Nawabs of Awadh, receded into history. The talukdars, however, carried on with their stately lifestyles and titles.Explaining why talukdars continue to exist in the area, T. George Joseph, a member of the Uttar Pradesh Board of Revenue, says that the Oudh (Awadh) Estates Act, 1869, which protects their regal status and royal titles, was not repealed by successive governments after Independence.Raja Rai Swareshwar Bali, the talukdar of Rampur-Daryabad in Barabanki district, whose taluka is spread over 30 villages, says that while zamindari was abolished in the villages, the zamindari of talukdars remained intact in NZA (non-zamindari abolition) areas in urban regions.Anand Singh in Mankapur palaceThe talukdars still cling fondly to their past and try to maintain a distance with the common people. Anand Singh, the erstwhile Raja of Mankapur in Gonda district, does not know how many people live and work at his century-old palace. But as he strolls in the 10-acre, lush green campus of the palace, members of his staff of over 400 and other people who consider them selves his subjects approach him cautiously with bowed heads, touch his feet and then back off.In the huge drawing room of his palace, he casts a glance at the ornamental shotguns with gold engravings arranged on the walls and then, reluctantly, starts talking about the past, as if in a soliloquy: “Oh, those were the days; but I have not seen their grandeur myself.” Mankapur Estate once comprised over 189 villages and was one of the largest in Awadh. Even as he presses the rewind button, his son Rajkumar Kriti Vardhan Singh, an MP, practises archery in the lawn outside.advertisementA dog suddenly appears in the room and the former king says, “He is not of a good breed. Come to my farmhouse on the Nepal border to see the real dogs.” Soon it is time for him to drive to Lucknow to spend some time in his kothi (mansion) in the exclusive Qaisarbagh locality.Mohammad KhanThe kothi is a reminder of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’as architectural contribution to Lucknow. The nearby Safed (White) Baradari, which earlier used to host poetry-reading sessions, musical soirees or dance dramas composed by Wajid Ali Shah himself, is the headquarter of the Anjuman-e-Hind, or the British India Association (BIA). It was created by the British after the 1857 revolt.Over 300 talukdars were brought under its banner by the British to materially and militarily help the East India Company re-establish its authority. Even today, talukdars often meet here to talk about the past and lament the perceived disrespect for history and lack of aesthetic sense of present day bureaucrats.Raja Baleshwar Singh, BIA secretary, says the Government misused its power in handing over the Baradari’s parks to an outsider. “The officials did not have the time to go through the documents we showed them to prevent the transfer. The district administration also replaced the beautiful railings surrounding the parks on the sides of Baradari, dating back to 1914, with a brick wall,” he says.Bali, who is also BIA office secretary, says, “During talukdari days, a portion of the revenue contributed to the empire was earmarked for the BIA. We can’t collect revenue now so are running the office by letting out the halls and lawns for social functions. But the Government is objecting even to this.”Nawab Jafar Mir Abdullah, a descendent of Shah and a member of BIA, feels the talukdars themselves have invited disrespect from others by behaving in a manner not befitting royals.Sanjay SinhRana Shiv Nath Sharan Singh, the talukdar of Khajurgaon (Rae Bareli), occupies a place of pride in the feudal structure of Awadh. The title of Rana can be kept only by him and the erstwhile rulers of Mewar in Rajasthan. Being the president of BIA, he is considered the most influential among the talukdars. He says only 10 per cent of the talukdars in the area are doing well. The rest, according to him, are financially and mentally stretched.Reminiscing about the past, he says, “We collected the revenue independently and gave a share to the Nawabs. We maintained an army and arsenal and the system of governance depended on us. But everything changed after the mutiny and now, after Independence, our life too has changed.” His wife Rani Sandhya Singh points out that the palace in which they live is still called either garhi or court as, in the past, people would come there for redressal of their grievances.The “Durbar Day” of the famous Colvin Talukdars College, located on the banks of the Gomti, is one occasion when the royal past is revisited with elan. Held every five years, it marks the culmination of week-long sports competitions when college alumni get together. It is called Durbar Day because talukdars used to assemble there in the past like they would for a royal durbar. The foundation of the college was laid in 1889 with funds generated by talukdars and erstwhile rulers of Awadh.advertisementPrior to Independence, only their descendants could study there. It precedes Lucknow University which was formed in 1922 when Canning College came up opposite it. Talking about the Durbar Day held in December last year, Sanjay Sinh, the Raja of Amethi and college secretary, says, “We tried our best to give a glimpse of our glorious past and the show made many guests nostalgic.”Nawab Mir Abdullah with Shah’s firman which gifted the Baradari to Balrampur’s rulerSinh is a man of many pursuits-he is a former Union minister and a keen flyer, swimmer, horse rider and shooter. He is counted among the modern faces of the erstwhile royalty. Another former ruler who has embraced modernity is Mahmudabad’s Amir Mohammad Khan, who is a London-based nuclear physicist.The Awadh region conjures up images of rebellion and romance, myth and fables. Talukdars were part of this rich tapestry of the past. Independent India has allowed them to cling to their eroding regalia.