It wasn't quite how the day was planned - but what does that matter! It can't get much better than this ...
A walk round the Triplicane district of Chennai with my friend and heritage expert Yusuf Madhiya ended up with a call at Amir Mahal, the palace of the Nawab (or Prince) of Arcot. The family has an impressive mid-nineteenth century palace in eighty acres of grounds. That includes a cricket pitch where a match was underway ... a sort of England v India contest.
The British Deputy High Commissioner's team was playing - and lost by a wide margin. And I ended up giving an award to the man of the match. (And no, he wasn't from the British-led team).
So in this photo you have: Yusuf; me; Yash, the man of the match; our host, Mohammed Asif Ali, the Dewan (senior adviser) and heir to the Prince of Arcot; the British Deputy High Commissioner here, Oliver Ballhatchet; and his father, Ralph.
The Prince of Arcot trophy is a round-robin twenty-over cricket tournament played over several successive weekends. There can't be many tournaments anywhere in the world which are staged in the grounds of a royal palace.
The hospitality was wonderful. I was invited to join cricketers and guests in partaking of an excellent chicken biriyani and - as a sweet dish - a spectacular bread halwa, a palace speciality, rich in nuts and fruit.
The heir to the current Nawab, his son Nawabzada Mohammed Asif Ali, gave me a tour round his palace and explained something of the family's story - a princely family which is doing conspicuously well in the democratic era.
The title was established by the Mughals in the 1690s as the Nawab of the Carnatic - an area which included what was then Madras but initially had as its capital the town of Arcot. The dynasty had to weather the demise of the Mughals, the rise of the Marathas, and then the increasing power of the British. It did so with a fair measure of success.
But when the thirteenth Nawab died in 1855 without a direct male heir, the British invoked the indefensible 'doctrine of lapse' to annex his territory.
The family petitioned for the title to be restored. And unusually, the British authorities agreed that the uncle of the last Nawab could indeed resume a princely title - but a new one as Prince (though generally known as Nawab) of Arcot. That was in 1867.
The Nawab's old palace in Chepauk, close to what is now Chennai's Marina beach, had been taken over by the government - so the restored princely family built a new one on land they owned in Triplicane. And that's the imposing, and distinctly well-kept, palace where the royal family continues to live.
The princely family were important players in regional politics - and by-and-large were well disposed to the British (to whom, of course, they owed the restoration of their title).
In the palace's durbar room there are oil portraits showing various Nawabs of ages past alongside - and in one case arm-in-arm with - the top British officials of the region. Of the two joint portraits shown here, the first includes (on the right) a distinctly grumpy-looking Duke of Buckingham, Governor of Madras Presidency, and in the second portrait the Brit depicted is Lord Connemara, another Governor of Madras (after whom Chennai's leading heritage hotel is named, now the Taj Connemara).
Also on display in the durbar room are photographs of more recent VIP visitors to the palace including Queen Elizabeth, the Shah of Iran and Jawaharlal Nehru (who's not from a royal family but sure did start a dynasty).
Yusuf presented Mohammed Asif Ali with his painting of the entrance gate to the palace, one of many pieces of his artwork which features in his recently published Guide to Chennai Heritages.
The Nawabzada explained that because the title of Prince of Arcot was established by letters patent, they escaped the measures to restrict the influence of princely families introduced after India's independence. Indeed, the family still gets a pension from the Indian government - as set out in the terms of the grant of the title more than 150 years ago.
The princely family's considerable influence comes above all from their extensive property holdings in Chennai and elsewhere. The Nawab of Arcot and his family are well-off. And they have a long established tradition of philanthropy and community involvement which means that the family is well regarded locally,
The family are Muslims and the Wallajah Big Mosque in Triplicane - Chennai's largest mosque - stands on their land. Indeed it was built by the family in 1795 and takes the name of one of the most formidable Nawabs of the Carnatic, Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah.
The present princely family have been taking steps to prevent encroachment on the sizeable grounds on which the mosque stands,
The princely family has also endowed and built several Hindu temples - and the area around the palace includes both Muslim and Hindu brahmin localities.
I was told that during the month of Ramadan, Sindhi Hindu families - who came over to Madras from Karachi at the time of Partition - come every night to provide food at the Wallajah mosque for Muslims breaking their fast. It's said to be in gratitude for the welcome the Sindhis received when they arrived as refugees more than seventy years ago.
In these bleak times, that's such an inspiring example of inter-faith harmony.
Thank you Muzaffar for all your help.
Thanks for sharing such a good information to all of us. It will help us to visit this place and enjoy the delicious food. Very informative blog.
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