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Saba finds job papa gave her ‘enriching’

Bhopal, March 17: Saba Ali Khan, the older daughter of Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, finds being the custodian of Muslim mosques and shrines “rewarding and enriching”.

The country’s only woman muttawalli, Saba considers managing and running waqf properties as something she was meant to do.

“I think I should be famous for doing the job of muttawalli. I would rather be known for this. I have no intentions of joining film industry or politics,” she said on her visit to Bhopal yesterday. Saba’s mother Sharmila Tagore, brother Saif Ali Khan and sister Soha are film stars.

The Pataudis are the former rulers of the princely states of Pataudi (Haryana) and Bhopal. They hail from Pataudi town near Gurgaon but their Bhopal link was established three generations ago when Nawab Iftekhar Ali Khan Pataudi married Begum Sajida Sultan, the last regent of Bhopal.

After her death, Tiger Pataudi became the “Nawab sahib of Bhopal” and even after the abolition of privy purses, the family continued to be loved and considered the erstwhile rulers of Bhopal.

In an interview to the local media, Saba credited her father with understanding what she intended to do. “I am intrinsically very Islamic. That’s why my father wanted me to take up this responsibility. Islam is something I feel connected with way back.”

Saba is the caretaker of the Rs 1,000-crore Auqaf-e-Shahi that looks after the Bhopal royals’ religious endowment. She is the first woman naazir (caretaker) of the rubaat (guesthouses) set up by the Bhopal royals in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Last year, the Saudi government recognised Saba as naazir.

When Qusia Begum — she ruled Bhopal from 1819 to 1837 — went to perform Haj, she carried several bagsful of silver and gold coins. The Saudis were so impressed that they offered to grant nationality to a family from Bhopal deputed to look after the accommodation facilities. The practice continues till date.

However, a naazir’s job is not easy. The two rubaats in Mecca and Medina that used to house over 300 Hajis hailing from Bhopal have been taken over by the Saudi government, which gave a hefty compensation (about Rs 57 crore) but did not provide alternative sites.

There were also complaints about Anwar Mohammad Khan, the Bhopal-based secretary of the Auqaf-e-Shahi.

Saba yesterday chaired a meeting of the Auqaf-e-Shahi and set up a five-member executive board to visit Saudi Arabia and resolve the issue before Haj begins in October. She also relieved Anwar of all responsibility.

Saba said she would visit Bhopal frequently to monitor committee work. This would ensure that income through the Auqaf would be used for more charitable purposes.

Asked if other members of her family would get involved in Auqaf activities, Saba said her father had chosen her to be the muttawalli. “If I was not capable, my father would not have decided to make me muttawalli.”

In 2008, Tiger Pataudi had brought Saba to Bhopal, deciding to share his “burden” with his less famous jewellery-designer daughter. A letter written in Urdu and signed by him had said: “I have been fulfilling my duties as muttawalli of Auqaf-e-Shahi, Bhopal. However, I feel the time has come to share my burden.

“I, therefore, propose my elder daughter Saba, as naib muttawalli (deputy patron). As per the merger agreement between the State of Bhopal and the state government, Saba may be appointed as my deputy so that she acquaints herself with the functioning of waqf during my lifetime.”

After his death in September 2011, Saba was formally appointed muttawalli of Bhopal mosques and shrines.