The rich legacy of Nizams

DC CORRESPONDENT
Published Jun 1, 2014, 5:56 am IST
Updated Jan 13, 2016, 3:53 pm IST
Hyderabad under the Nizams held a special place as the largest and the wealthiest princely state

OF POWER AND POISON
British Residents in Hyderabad spoke of the mutual antipathy that apparently existed between the Nizam’s eldest wife Dulhan Pasha and her sons Prince Azam Jah and Prince Moazzam Jah.

The mother of the two Sahebzadas was keen to marry them to her nieces, described by the Resident, Lt. Col. T.H. Keyes, as “two half-starved little Hyderabadi girls”. She had even been involved in a public slanging match with the Nizam on the issue of her sons’ marriage, and was supposed by British officials to be not fond of her sons.

 

To illustrate the discord between the mother and sons, Keyes recalled what Prince Moazzam Jah used to reveal to his guests. The younger Sahebzada claimed that his mother wanted to become the regent on the Nizam’s death. “When someone takes the cue and asks how she could be regent when his brother and he are of age, he replies: ‘We won’t be here. Mother is always experimenting with poisons, and there are no cats left in King Kothi’.”

...The rumours of poisoning in 1932 also led to revival of allegations that Sir Salar Jung I had been poisoned by the Nizam’s zenana as he had been insisting on Mahbub Ali Pasha being sent to Europe for education.

TONNES OF GOLD FOR WAR EFFORT
Mir Osman Ali Khan, Nizam VII, may have delayed his decision on merging Hyderabad State with the Indian Union after Britain left the country in August 1947, but he created a record when he responded to the call of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1965. The PM visited Hyderabad and requested the Nizam to contribute generously to the National Defence Fund, set up in the wake of the Indo-Chinese skirmish. Without a second thought, Mir Osman Ali announced that he would contribute five tonnes of gold to augment the war fund. In monetary terms, the Nizam’s contribution was about Rs 75 lakh, or about three-fourth of the annual Privy Purse he received from the Centre. In terms of today’s gold price in the international market, this donation translates to a whopping Rs 1,500 crore.

The Nizam’s donation of 5,000 kg of gold to the National Defence Fund in 1965 was the biggest ever contribution by any individual or organisation in India and remains unsurpassed till today.

However, known for his wit and frugality, Mir Osman Ali Khan did not hesitate to seek the return of the empty iron boxes once the gold coins and bars were offloaded in Delhi. “I am donating the gold and not the iron boxes. Do not forget to return them,” the Nizam told the officials even as his son-in-law and confidant Ali Pasha carried trays of gold coins from the Nazri Bagh Palace. The empty boxes were duly returned.

ALBERT ABID AND     THE SILK SOCKS
Hyderabad’s history is full of fables about foreigners who gave Hyderabad a new meaning and purpose. Albert Abid Evans, a Jew from Armenia, gave Hyderabadis their first department store and a new name to an otherwise abandoned locality.

Abid’s, one of the busiest business centres of Hyderabad, owes its name to Albert Abid, who set up a shop that served the needs of Hyderabadis from needle to grains and stationery to clothes.

...As a valet of the Nizam, Abid looked after Mir Mahbub Ali Khan's wardrobe, the biggest of its kind in the world. It is rumoured that Nizam VI did not like to repeat his silk socks and the enterprising Abid would put the used socks back in the packet they came in and recycle them while his trusting master kept paying for new socks! If rumours are to be believed Abid also helped himself to the rings from his ruler’s fingers when his ruler was in a stupor and promptly thanked the Nizam very profusely the next morning for gifting him the jewellery.

AN UNHAPPY PRINCESS
Niloufer Khanum Sultana, who was called the world’s most beautiful woman, was pained by the fact that she was unable to produce an heir and felt that she had failed in her duty as a princess. It was especially upsetting for her that her cousin Princess Durru Shehvar had given birth to two lovely boys, Prince Mukarram Jah and Prince Muffakham Jah.

On a particular occasion, when Princess Niloufer was in England in response to her mother’s distress call about her financial and social health, Prince Moazzam Jah decided to let everyone know that it was not he who was responsible for their childless marriage. He brought a lady of doubtful repute into his home, and was apparently able to demonstrate his virility. Princess Niloufer returned from England to learn of this treachery and never shared a room with her husband again.

Her husband’s betrayal was not the only fact that pained her. She also returned to find that her personal maid, of whom she was very fond, had died in childbirth. This moved her to open a hospital for children and women. The Niloufer Hospital is still a sought-after medical institution today.

This gesture of the childless princess earned her a place in the hearts of Hyderabadis.

BORN TO RULE
Prince Mukarram Jah had the best of education — Doon, Harrow, Cambridge and LSE. He also trained at the Sandhurst Military Academy in England. ...During a visit to Hyderabad, his first wife Princess Esra said he was a bright young man when she married him but was overwhelmed by the fast-paced political developments at home.

In 1969, the Indira Gandhi government decided to discontinue the annual purse to descendants of former rulers of princely states, who numbered around 600. The land bank vanished with the Land Ceiling Act. Mukarram found himself at a complete loss when he lost his privy purse and was compelled to sell off his assets. He would dispose invaluable jewellery to meet his immediate needs without verifying the value of the gems he offered for sale. Not surprisingly, he was taken for a ride by everyone, while the list of those dependent on him kept expanding. This list had grown to include the legion of relatives (14,792), servants (14,000), grandfather’s concubines (42) and children (hundreds of them).

Despairing of the circumstances he found himself in after the demise of his grandfather, this last true blue Nizam protested, “I was taught to be a soldier, not an administrator.”

Given the title of the eighth Nizam and brought up as an imperial prince of the Ottoman Empire, he was not wrong when he once confessed, “I was born to rule. That was the only thing I was prepared for.” Some believe it was the burden of having to deal with so many trusts and their beneficiaries that caused Mukarram Jah to leave for Australia.

3,000 WIVES?

In June 1936, the India Office received a letter from one Irene Cowen from Sheffield, asking how many wives the Nizam had and how many children. “A Hyderabadi had given a lecture on the Nizam’s government and in that had mentioned that the Nizam had over 3,000 wives, but he did not know the exact number, and had described him as having ‘a good many children’,” she wrote. ...The Foreign Office sent Miss Cowen this reply: “The statement made by your lecturer is, on (the) face of it, incredible. Nor is any record of the kind suggested maintained in this office.”

The Nizam, however, did have over 100 women in his zenana and was even accused of kidnapping some. As for his progeny, it is claimed that Osman Ali Pasha sired over 147 children. A more modest estimate puts this figure at 28 daughters and 44 sons. However, like most stories about the Nizam, this claim is often exaggerated.

According to his daughter Basheerunissa Begum, it was impossible even for the family to keep track of everyone in the palace as each wife of the Nizam and her children had separate living quarters within the palace and had numbered badges to help the palace guards keep track of their security and identity.

 

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