March 10, 2020
Deep in a tangled, overgrown jungle in the heart of bustling Delhi, an aging prince lives in a crumbling palace. He eschews all contact with the outside world. Any who push past the labyrinthine thicket of thorns and bramble must face barbed wire and threats that they will be “gun down” if they enter. He is the last of a royal line, outliving his sister and his mother, a queen who took her own life by drinking a cocktail of poison and crushed diamonds. In the evenings, this devoted son silently sets a place for his lost queen mother at the table where he eats alone. If this sounds like the stuff of legend, that’s because it is. For decades, journalists and Delhiites whispered the tale of a lost royal family. In November 2019, the New York Times published “The Jungle Prince of Delhi,” an in-depth investigation by former South Asia bureau chief Ellen Barry that exposed this “royal” story as a complete fabrication. The Times article reached millions, but it wasn’t the first time the family had caught the imagination of foreign journalists. In hindsight, it was the Western gaze that built the mythology of “the royal family of Oudh” and then unraveled it.