The princess of Southern Oregon
It might be hard to believe, but a woman living in Southern Oregon was born a princess of India, descended from generations of royalty, raised in a walled, 65-room castle with servants.
Her name is Tahseen Paulson, and she lives in Klamath Falls with her husband, Charles, an engineer for the city, whom she met in a London pub in 1984 when he was in the U.S. Army. They soon married, and he brought her home to Klamath Falls in 1986.
Now she’s retired from her career working with seniors in the state Department of Human Resources and, because so many incredulous friends and co-workers have asked about her fairy-tale royal upbringing in Lahore, Pakistan, she has published a book about it.
It’s titled, “The Princesses of Aikman Road & Impoverished Splendor.” It details a sheltered life of three sisters whose father, the grandson of the fifth Nabob of Lahore, raised them in the time-honored British way, she says, so they wouldn’t have an Indian accent or a Muslim religion. They were rarely allowed to get out of the car, shop or go to the movies, and their teachers were vetted for English ways and English accent.
Paulson, who has a slight English accent but no trace of Indian or Pakistani accent, will do a reading-signing of her book at Bloomsbury Books, 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 21.
Paulson is on a book tour, hoping to show Americans that, long ago, in the 1950s and ‘60s, there was a Pakistan “that was just a nice, safe, free place where you didn’t have to worry about terrorism or getting kidnapped or mugged, as goes on now. It was very cosmopolitan, very British — and everything changed after we left in 1972 and took Pakistan back 200 years.”
The portion of the book called “Impoverished Splendor” was written by her sister MM Shamster Ali, who lives in London. Another sister, the editor of the book, lives in Ireland. In order to immigrate to the U.S., Paulson was required to renounce her royal title and swear never to use it.
“It’s rather fun, but being royalty entitles me to absolutely nothing,” she said, in a phone interview. “I’m a princess. Daddy was a prince in a line going back to the 1700s. My mother was a really rich princess. My title was sahibzadi.”
Under the British Raj, or Crown Rule, Muslim princes governed smaller states of India and received a “privy purse,” (expenses paid from taxes), but when they moved to the new Muslim state of Pakistan after partition, she said, that went away.
Her family was well known in Lahore and knew the ruling class, including Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but “after they hanged him in 1979, everything changed. Daddy, who lived to be 100, said, ‘This country has gone to hell. Don’t ever come back. It’s not the country you knew. If you came back, you’d be on a watch list of both the U.S. and Pakistani governments.’”
Despite its “ruined reputation” in the world, she says, the country is “50-50, so many people are really nice, open-minded, not at all what you read in the paper.”
Her father was a prince brought up under British rule in India, and “he liked that lifestyle, education and level of intelligence, which was not common to the Indian public. He wanted us to live that life and not go to public schools. He wanted us to have free minds and do what we wanted to do, not what the religion said — and that’s what we’ve done.”
How was the adjustment to American life? “I absolutely love it in Klamath Falls. When I got off the plane in May 1986, it was hot as hades and reminded me of Lahore. We’re very lucky to live in a country that appreciates beauty and where you don’t have to worry about being kidnapped and murdered. Pakistan will never be like this.”
Asked how her husband, an Oregon millwright who worked for Modoc Lumber for a decade, adjusted to a princess bride, she said it wasn’t part of the attraction. “He thought I was cute, and I thought he was cute, and we still do, and I don’t imagine anyone in Klamath Falls knows I’m a princess.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.