Old Delhi story-the White Mughal with 13 wives

Have you heard or read the Old Delhi story of this English General who was more Indian than British?

Chances are, no!An we aren’t talking about William Dalrymple here.

So, what is this Old Delhi story?

This gentleman was David Ochterlony, a top General of the East India Company army. Even though he was born in Boston, he lived a large part of his life in India. But before talking about him in detail, let us read a little bit of Mughal and English history.

After the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughals had become a non-entity in India. The Marathas quickly overpowered them and became the virtual masters of Delhi and North India.

However, the Marathas could not consolidate their hold on Delhi and lost out to the Britishers in the Second Anglo-Maratha War of 1804. After this war, the Mughal King became a servant of the British. He just ruled in name but the most important duties of his kingdom were performed by the Englishmen.

And one of those Englishmen was David Ochterlony.

He was appointed as Resident to the Mughal Court. The main duty of David was to observe what all was going on in the Court. The English did not want to get surprised by the dirty tricks of the Mughals.

Major-General Sir David Ochterlony – 1816
Image credits- Friday Times

He did a good job in managing the affairs of Delhi. In 1804, Ochterlony defended the City of Delhi against the forces of Yashwant Rao Holkar. The Marathas lost the war and Ochterlony, later on became a very special person in the eyes of his employers.

Since the English were new to Delhi, David decided to adopt many practices of the Mughals. He started growing a beard and was always dressed in long clothes. Some people say that he used to talk in Persian and many Delhiites used to confuse him with a white Mughal.

Perhaps, by doing this, Ochterlony was trying to understand the psychology of the once-powerful Mughals.

Ochterlony also copied the Mughals in another way- he ‘married’ 13 Indian women!

Wives?No. Concubines?Yes

David Ochterlony
Ochterlony with his ‘wives’. Credits- The Telegraph

The wife of Lord Lake was definitely not impressed by all this. In one of the parties held in honor of her, she gently rebuked David Ochterlony for his Indian lifestyle.

Lord Lake was the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces at that time.

The Englishmen considered those ladies as concubines, while the Indians looked at them as Ochterlony’s wives.

In fact, he wasn’t the only Britisher who had this big a harem. Another Old Delhi story records that in the early 19th century, every fourth Britisher in India was sleeping with an Indian woman.

‘Akhtar Loony’

Ochterlony was called various names by the British and the Indians. The latter used to term him ‘Akhtar Loony’ or a Loony guy.

I doubt whether the Resident really cared about these epithets. In fact, he went several steps further.

Every week, ‘Akhtar Loony’ used to escort all his 13 wives or mistresses in an elephant ride along the banks of the Jamuna. Each lady had a separate elephant to her own, and after this joyride, the party used to retire to the Resident’s house for dinner.

Before this procession started, Ochterlony always dipped his feet in water collected in a small vessel. After this, all his servants were required to drink this water. It was compulsory.

Where did Ochterlony live?

If you are wondering where did this eccentric guy lived, then let me give you a hint.

It is Dara’s house.

Still confused?

This building still exists and is somewhere in the Kashmere Gate area.

Dara Shikoh's House
House of David Ochterlony


Earlier, it used to be the house of Dara Shikoh, but after his death, the building was taken over by one of the generals of Aurangzeb.

When the Englishmen took control of Delhi, then this building was used by David Ochterlony as his residence.

The strange affair of Mubarak Begum

This Old Delhi story will not be complete unless I told you about Mubarak Begum, one of the 13 wives of David.

Folks say that she was a nautch girl from the Bombay area. Ochterlony fell in love with her one day and married her. Mubarak bore him two daughters.

This lady was very ambitious and used to actively take part in Court gossips and affairs. This nautch girl turned wife of an English general assumed the title of ‘ Mother of the Emperor’.

All this wasn’t likened by the Mughal loyalists who likened her a prostitute or ‘Randi’.

But, Mr. Ochterlony was madly in love with her; not only was she a beautiful lady, she was also roughly half his age.

But, was she faithful to him?

Not the least After his death in the 1820s. she married a Mughal amir.

I think this lady considered wealth and riches to be more important than the husband-wife relationship.

There is a ‘Randi ki Masjid’ in the old quarters of Delhi. Probably it was made by this unfaithful wife of David Ochterlony.

City Monument – Mubarak Begum Masjid, Hauz Qazi
Randi Ki Masjid. Creds- Mayank Austen Soofi

Loony Akhtar died one day in the 1820s of cold and fever. He is buried in Meerut, 70 kilometers from Delhi.

That’s it folks for today.

I will come again to you with a fresh Old Delhi story shortly.

Suggested readings;

  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/9715921/Before-British-India-there-were-Indian-Britons.html 
  2. http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/dara-shikoh-library-embodying-the-citys-history-a-library-and-a-church-pulled-out-of-ruins-4651895/

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