The real princess diaries in Spain
The true story of Maha Akhtar who lived every girl’s dream when she realised she was the granddaughter of an Indian Maharaja.When Maha Akhtar tried to renew her British passport while studying in Spain, she discovered that her mother had not told her the truth about her father, and she was the granddaughter of an Indian Maharaja.
Akhtar has not completely gotten over the shock, and while her family story could become a Hollywood film, she has written a book called The Maharani's Hidden Granddaughter to tell her side of the tale.
Akhtar was taken aback when her request for a birth certificate, which she needed to complete her passport application, was turned down. She did some digging and learned that she was not born in Australia as her mother had told her, but in Lebanon.
More surprisingly, her father was Ajit Singh, offspring of Anita Delgado and Jagatjit Singh. Delgado, a young Spanish dancer from Malaga, married Singh, one of India's richest Maharajas, 1907.
Akhtar had always thought her father was her mother's Pakistani husband.
"I felt tremendous anger and shock, I felt like I had lived a lie but with time, and by discussing what had happened with my aunt, I started to feel compassion towards my mother," the 44-year-old Akhtar said at the presentation of her memoirs in Madrid this month.
The marriage of Anita and the Maharaja of Kapurthala in northern India is well known in Spain thanks to the 2005 book Passion India by Javier Moro that tells the story of the couple.
Oscar-winning Spanish actress Penelope Cruz bought the rights to the book with hopes of turning it into a movie in which she would play the lead role.
Anita met Jagatjit, (a prince18 years her senior) when he came to Spain for the wedding of King Alfonso XIII in 1906 to Princess Victoria Eugenie.
She married him the following year at the age of 17, becoming the Maharani of Kapurthala. They divorced after she had an affair with one of the Maharaja's sons from one of his four previous marriages.
In the 1960s their son Ajit had a brief affair with Akhtar 's mother, Zahra Ajami, which resulted in her returning to Beirut alone and pregnant.
The Maharaja paid a Pakistani associate to marry Zahra and after she gave birth to the baby -- Maha Akhtar -- the couple then moved to Australia.
Akhtar, who was educated in Britain and the United States, said she had never heard about the Spanish Maharani before learning the truth of her ancestry.
Since making her discovery, Akhtar has made several visits to New Delhi to meet family on her father's side.
"I did not go looking for them, they found me and I'm very happy they found me because I would not have gone looking for them. Because it's embarrassing, you don't go knocking at somebody's door," she told AFP. "They have been generous and kind and just welcoming and warm. I feel part of this, they have made me feel part of that family. They are extremely open, they have not hidden anything from me," she added.
Akhtar worked as a production assistant for The Cure, the British new wave rock band, and then for 15 years in New York with veteran CBS news anchor Dan Rather. She became a professional flamenco dancer in 2005. Akhtar began to study flamenco in 1996, years before she became aware that her grandmother had been a dancer from Spain.
"I have a passion for dance. I don't know where this passion comes from," said Akhtar, who has also studied the kathak, the classical dance of northern India.
Akhtar, who speaks six languages, currently divides her time between New York, Seville and New Delhi.
Translation rights for The Maharani's Hidden Granddaughter, have already been sold in Brazil, China and Germany and an English version will be launched shortly in India.
17 June 2009
AFP / Elisa Santafe / Expatica