At 92, Shah Alam Khan, one of Hyderabad’s royals who is still referred to as ‘Nawab’, is gracious enough to stand up to welcome you into his study at the Hyderabad Deccan Cigarette Factory in Musheerabad. What’s more, he eloquently reminisces on the “good old days” when Hyderabad was still ruled by the Nizams.
“Life was not expensive at all. I once saw a goat being sold for four rupees… four rupees!” he says incredulously. With seven sons, Alam’s family has, over the years, expanded their businesses in various fields but one thing that they all take pride in is ensuring that the Nawabi and Hyderabadi culture isn’t forgotten.
Alam’s son Mehboob Alam Khan is a well-known food historian and connoisseur who has helped preserve the Hyderabadi Mughlai cuisine that the city is famous for. Working with various restaurants, Mehboob helps them maintain authenticity in their recipes.
“Hyderabad was known for two things — biryani and sherwani!” says Alam, and says that training today’s chefs is all that is required to bring back the lost culture. “The cooks in our city know only a little bit of this and that. But our womenfolk know a lot of recipes,” he says.
Sipping a typically Hyderabadi cup of chai, he talks about growing up in the Cantonment area in Secunderabad and moving on to study at the Jagirdar College — what’s now known as Hyderabad Public School. “We had the best of Continental as well as Mughlai food. Even the schools served amazing food, that we didn’t even get at home!” he remembers.
Alam then pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Political Science from Osmania University, where he says his professors helped mould his life: “I can’t forget the way my English teacher, Prof Doraiswamy, taught us. When the results came out and I passed, I went to his house and fell at his feet.”
The lessons came in handy when he took over the reins of a cigarette factory from his wife Begum Abida Khader’s father in 1945. “When I used to hoist the flag during ceremonies, I’d tell them that this is the place where you as well as me fill our tummy. If there’s a quarrel in the house between the husband and the wife, then your house is not good. If there’s a quarrel in the factory, it’s not good for the industry,” Alam explains.
Alam still goes to office every day but has one regret: Not doing enough to preserve Hyderabad’s culture — “I once had the opportunity to address the old boys’ association of Osmania University in Karachi. And I told them with tears rolling down my cheeks that I can’t believe that the association is here… it should have been in Hyderabad. And with it, you have also taken away our culture.”