Those who have followed the amazing journey of Bhopal state from foundation by Dost Muhammad Khan till end with Hamidullah Khan would have observed the strange consistency with which the male rulers were miserable rulers while the strength of the Bhopal state were the women rulers. The 13th Nawab of Bhopal State Hamidullah Khan’s eldest daughter was Abida Sultan. Till date, many older families of Bhopal consider Abida Sultan the true successor of the Bhopal state.
Abida Sultan was brought up by Sultan Jahan Begum in the mould of the traditional, devout, but independent Begums of Bhopal. She was an able rider of horse by the age of eight, who could not be controlled by her horse riding coach Thakur Chiman Singh, and had to be transferred to her fathers riding school where she trained with her father’s Polo team as well as tent pegging with sword and lance. She was an ace shooter and could handle firearms from a very young age. Encouraged by her father, she escaped to the freedom of riding, shooting and enjoying manly sports, turning into a headstrong tomboy who loved danger, the open skies and eventually adopting a defiant attitude towards her aging grandmother. It was only much later that Abida Sultan recognized that Sultan Begum’s greatest gift to her was her discipline – of knowing her God and her religion. It helped her carry her torch of revolt, especially against the misinterpretation of Islam by the bigoted mullahs.