It is an odd coincidence that the release of William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal should have taken place in the same month that Bilkiz Alladin passed away.
Some time in 2000, Bilkiz had organised a reading at her place. Dalrymple was there, reading from At The Court Of The Fish-Eyed Goddess. Whatever else followed is not very clear, but a few years later, Dalrymple came out with the hugely successful White Mughals. Bilkiz always maintained that her help was not acknowledged enough, and that Dalrymple essentially based his entire book on her play, For The Love Of a Begum.
I've read a play she showed me, based on the Khairunnisa story. The whole incident reminded me of Throw Mamma From The Train. In the film, after Billy Crystal and Danny De Vito are both free from the nuisances of their ex-wife and mother respectively, they each settle down to write their book. In what seems like a horrible deja vu, Billy Crystal is about to announce the completion of his book only to find he's been upstaged by De Vito, who has already published the story of their adventures.
Crystal is in a deep, murderous rage, ready for any act he might later regret, when De Vito shows him the book--it is a pop-up children's book, nothing at all like the the no doubt dark and hard-boiled book Crystal has written. He is relieved.
I wish Bilkiz could have seen the For The Love Of A Begum/White Mughals incident like that. The two were so completely different. The play she showed me was a light-hearted romp, part musical, part old-fashioned romance. I don't even begin to see the comparison with White Mughals. Perhaps what rankled was that Dalrymple was not seen to be grateful enough. (He acknowledged her help in the book, but she is one of the many people he thanked.)
Bilkiz passed away on the 16th of this month. The very last time I met her was at another reading. It was drizzling and she was walking from her house to the place where the reading was to take place -- a less than two-minute walk. I offered her a lift, but she insisted that she wanted to walk. Later, she said she'd been doing the rounds of some publishing houses, that she had a manuscript ready.
That will probably never see the light of day now. One could feel some regret, if it wasn't for Bilkiz's enthusiasm that did not allow for such presumption.
Odd that this article written so many years ago, should sound so like an obituary.