Rampur Nawab’s feudal life finds depiction at IGNCA exhibition


Show focusing lives of 3 matriarchs and palace intrigues on till May 10

New Delhi, May 5: The jovial air reverberates with a variety of vibrant music alongside moving visuals of dance, warm conversations and pious chanting of prayers — as if in continued celebration of an era that is gone along with the last vestiges of feudalism that once hung heavy over the Gangetic plains.

‘Story of a Rampur Family’ thus comes across as an exhibition that invokes the cultural zenith of a princely state more than a 100 years ago in what is now northwestern Uttar Pradesh, 200 km away from the national capital.

The 22-day show, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), is a peek at one critical phase in the history of Rohilkhand when its Nawabiat was on slow decline after the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. The entire sequence of the royal family, with added dramatics to the in-house conflicts, has been essayed with distilled extracts from a novel that has facts occasionally laced with fiction.

A recent release of the English translation of an acclaimed 1989 Hindi novel triggered the idea of hosting an exhibition, stringing together its events into a grand build-up. Thus was brought out ‘Gold Dust of Begum Sultans’ that zooms on to the palace intrigues at the Rampur palace, but with a paradox: it mainly profiles three strong matriarchs of as many generations even as Nawabs customarily controlled the household that came into existence way back in 1774 after the first war with Rohillas — the highlanders from Afghanistan.

Conceptualised and designed by artist Ranesh Ray, ‘Story of a Rampur Family’ takes the visitor down the narrative of Zubeida Sultan’s novel ‘Sunehri Rait’, which has now been translated by Delhiite sisters Syeda Hameed Zakia Zaheer. Middle-aged Ray, who sequenced the text extractions in 75-odd flex panels that also feature photo prints and sometimes paintings, has taken care to keep the labyrinthine plots simple at the IGNCA gallery.

“The storyline is complex,” he notes. “I have tried to ensure that the cultural values and system of its times are well brought out.”

Complementing the visuals, which also feature collections of the royal family’s household objects, documentary filmmaker Iffat Fatima has put up sounds and sights redolent of the lifestyle of Rampur Nawabs. While seven of them are audio recordings, there are three videos spread out across the exhibition space.

For dance, it’s a clipping from Satyajit Ray’s 1958 film Jalsaghar. “The rest two are lengthier. One is a 28-minute movie is a Muharram-time Majlis gathering (shot in November 2015) which is of special significance to the Shia community (to which the Rampur family belonged). The other is a video where four members of the household reminisce the olden days.”

Besides Syeda and Zakia, the translators of the novel, the video shows Hameeda Srivastava, who has contributed some of the Rampur household antiques now on display at IGNCA. They include clothes, jewels, tray-cover, wedding finery, mourning rites and rituals of Rampur at the show, which also features a set of dolls of historical importance and dress.

The 218-page novel throws light on the old decrepit order of Rampur (presented as Mohammadpur in the novel) through its team of characters—some of whose names have been changed and historical quirks further embellished.

Concluding on May 10, the show has been organised under IGNCA’s Janapada Sampada Division under its programme on ‘Confluence of Traditions and Composite Cultures’.

The 1985-founded IGNCA is a premier autonomous institution under the Union Minisry of Culture, promoting diverse as well as interdisciplinary programmes of research, publication, training, creative activities and performance in the field of arts and culture.



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