Dinesh C Sharma | Nizam auctioned gifts to create Pocket Money Trust for grandkids
The end of Nizam’s Rule in September 1948 and subsequent curbs on the sale of his personal property and jewellery put the deposed royal family in a fix. The last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, kept on devising new strategies to overcome the cash crunch to run his vast household. One such was the auction of numerous gifts he had received over decades to create a Pocket Money Trust for meeting the expenses of his two grandsons – Mukarram Jah and Mufakkam Jah.
“The silver Pandans and Ittardans etc. which were presented to me on special occasions during my 35 years of rule are of no use to me now and I intend to sell these silver articles in due course,” the Nizam wrote to Hyderabad Chief Minister M K Vellodi on June 29, 1950. Pandans are boxes to keep betel leaves and ingredients, while Ittardans are decorated scent bottles.
A year later, he informed the Hyderabad Government that he had to raise cash for the creation of the Pocket Money Trust as well as the purchase of a summer house at Mahabaleshwar, known as ‘Woodlawn’, and sought permission to dispose of the gifts as “the price of silver has now gone high.”
“I have decided to sell these silver articles in Hyderabad on a commission basis, through one or two reliable firms who deal in such articles,” Mir Osman Ali Khan wrote in the letter dated May 8, 1951. The letter forms a part of the declassified files of the Ministry of States (now the Ministry of Home Affairs).
Two days later, the Nizam wrote again to Vellodi saying that he wanted to sell bunches of Bahrain pearls that he had purchased “8 to 9 years ago from a pearl merchant in Bombay” as well as some khulla naginas (loose stones), in addition to silver Pandans etc. The auction, he said, could help him raise Rs 20 lakh to Rs 25 lakh. The Nizam wanted the government to permit the sale in Bombay.
The Nizam had to seek the government’s nod for the sale since these items were not a part of the list of jewellery he had submitted to the government. The jewellery was placed in the custody of two separate trusts he had created and could be sold only after his death.
Very soon, Osman Ali Khan wrote another letter to say that the sale of khulla naginas fetched only Rs 7.5 lakh and there were no takers for the set of Bahrain pearls. Hence, he requested that he should also be permitted to sell away some “Eastern type of jewellery.”
In the absence of the exact nature of the sale, Nizam’s decision to dispose of minor jewels in the open market evoked great interest in Indian and international dealers. Among the firms interested were Karcharsing Nagindas Gandhi; Caste, Fitch, Swan & Jefferson; P C Cartier; T R Tawker and Sons.
Cartier approached the Ministry of External Affairs saying “If the news about the sale is verified, the disposal of the same should be done over a period of time. This process would allow painless digestion by the market.” Cartier also informed that Nizam had told one of his friends (Floyd Blair of National City Bank, New York) while he was in Hyderabad that ‘Cartier was likely to act as gent’ for the sale of jewellery. American Retail Federation, Washington, too wanted to be involved in any auction of the jewellery.
There were also press reports and rumours about the famous Jacob diamond as well. The central government wanted Vellodi to ascertain that Jacob was not on sale. He wrote back to the centre confirming that the sale was confined to “jewellery still retained in King Kothi” and did not cover any items that were lodged in a bank in Bombay. He assured the centre that no jewellery belonging to the Trust will be sold without the knowledge of Shavax Ardeshir Lal who represented the Government of India on the Nizam’s Trusts.
In April 1950, C B Taraporvala, Financial Advisor to Nizam, informed Lal about Nizam’s decision to sell gold and Ashrafis weighing 30,000 tolas. “The gold will be dispatched, as usual, by passenger train to the Reserve Bank of India, about the end of April and after getting it melted and refined in the Mint, it will be delivered to the Bullion merchants against payment through the agency of the Central Bank of India,” he wrote. The sales proceed were to be invested in the Government of India securities through RBI.
(The writer is a journalist, researcher and author based in New Delhi)