Wednesday, January 25, 2017


By William Dalrymple

"Fibs," said Mir Moazam Jah. "That's what everyone of your generation thinks I'm telling, at least when I talk about Hyderabad in the old days. You all think I'm telling the most outrageous fibs."
The old man settled himself back in his chair and shook his head, half-amused, half-frustrated: 

"My grandchildren, for instance. For them, the old world of Hyderabad is completely inconceivable: they can barely imagine that such a world could exist."

"But what exactly can't they believe?" I asked.

"Well the whole bang-shoot really: the Nizam and his nobles and their palaces with their zenanas (harem) and the entire what-have-you that went with the Hyderabad state."

Born 6 October 1933 in Nice, in France, Prince Moazam Jah was the heir to possibly the world's biggest private fortune.  The scion of two great dynasties, his maternal grandfather was the last Ottoman Caliph ('Abdu'l-Mijid II) and his paternal grandfather the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad (Osman Ali Khan), widely considered the richest man in the world during his lifetime, amassing a fortune
worth a staggering US$210 billion in today's money. 

Mir Moazam is a sprightly and intelligent 84-year-old, with a broad forehead and sparkling brown eyes. "Take the palace I grew up in," he continued. "It was by no means the biggest but it had a staff of 927 people, including three doctors. There was even a regiment of African women who were there just to guard the zenana. But tell that to my grandchildren. They've seen how we live today, and they just think that I'm making it up. Especially, when I start telling them about my grandfather, Fakrool Mulk... He was a remarkable man, a great servant of the state, but he was also - how shall I put it - a larger-than-life character."

"Tell me about him."

"Well, where shall I start? You see, although my grandfather was deputy prime minister in the Nizam's government, his real passion was building. Over the course of his life, he built this great series of vast, rambling palaces, but he was never satisfied. As soon as he had finished one, he immediately began to build another. Sometimes he would just give an entire palace away. Of course, he built up enormous debts in the process."
"Was he a trained architect?"

"Well, that was precisely the problem. No, he wasn't. But every evening he would go out for a walk, and with him he would take his walking stick and this great entourage of his staff, which always included his secretary, his master mason, his builders and a couple of his household poets - some 30 or 40 people in all.

"Anyway, on these walks - when the inspiration came - he would begin to draw in the sand with his walking stick; maybe a new stable block, or a new palace, according to how the fancy took him. The draughtsmen he had brought with him would jot it down on paper and then draw it up when they got back. Well into his seventies he was still adding new wings to his palaces."
"Did he have a favourite palace?"

"The one he lived in the longest was Iram Manzil. It wasn't the largest, but the reason he really loved it was the stuffed tiger."

"The stuffed tiger"

"You see, after building, my grandfather's other great love was tiger shooting, and the season for shooting tigers was only a few months each year. So, on the hill outside Iram Manzil, he built this railway track and on the track he placed a stuffed tiger on wheels. It would be let loose from the top of the hill and we would all line up and let fire with our double-barrels: bang! bang! bang! All of us aiming at this wretched tiger as it careered down the hill. By the time it reached the end of the track it was blown to bits, poor thing. So the men who were employed to look after the tiger would patch it up and pull it back up, and off we'd go again.

"But, like my grandchildren," added Mir Moazam, looking me in the eyes, "you probably find it difficult to conceive the life I'm describing. And why shouldn't you? This entire world was almost completely uprooted years before you were born."

But I did believe Mir Moazam, for I had long heard equally fantastical stories about Hyderabad, which was, until 1948, a huge, autono-mous princely state in central-southern India.

YEARS AGO, Iris Portal, an old friend of my grandmother, had told me how, one day in the late 1930s, she had been taken to see some of the Nizam's treasure. One of the Hyderabadi princesses had led Iris to a series of open-fronted sheds in the grounds of one of nine palaces, past a group of Bedouin Arab guards all lolling about half-asleep in a state of dishabille, and there at the back of the sheds was a line of trucks. 

The trucks were dusty and neglected, their tyres rotting and sinking into the ground, but when the two ladies pulled back a tarpaulin, they found that the trucks were full to the hilt with gems and precious stones and pearls and gold coins. 

The Nizam apparently lived in fear of a revolution and had equipped the lorries so that, at short notice, he could get some of his wealth out of the country if the need came. But then he lost interest and left the lorries to rot, quite incapable of being driven anywhere, but still full of their jewels.

For all the fairy-tale quality of these stories, I soon discovered that they were confirmed in every detail by the most sober history books. The Nizam, Osman Ali Khan, did indeed possess the largest fortune in the world: according to one estimate it amounted to at least Pounds 100m in gold bullion and Pounds 400m in jewels, many of which came from his own Golconda mines, source of the Koh-i-Noor. For the first half of the 20th century, the Nizam ruled 15m subjects and a state the size of Italy as absolute monarch, answerable (in internal matters at least) to nobody but himself. Nor was Hyderabad a poor country: in its final year of existence, 1947-8, the income of the state rivalled that of Belgium and exceeded that of 20 member states of the United Nations.

Fragments of this lost world still survive as you drive through the city today. New buildings are mushrooming everywhere, often built over the old Indo-Islamic bazaars and the colonial town houses. But look a little further and you soon discover that many small pools of the old Hyderabad are still completely intact.

The Falaknuma Palace is one such place. A huge complex of white classical palaces raised above the town on its own acropolis, the Falaknuma was the principal residence of the sixth Nizam. But, today, it is subject to a bitter legal dis-pute and the entire palace complex lies empty, locked by court order, with every doorway sealed by red wax. Wipe the windows and peer inside and you see cobwebs the size of bedsheets hanging from the corners. 

The skeletons of outsize Victorian sofas and armchairs lie dotted around the parquet floors, their
chintz entirely eaten away by white ants, so that all that remains is the wooden frame, the springs and a little of the stuffing. Beyond are long, gloomy corridors, leading to unseen inner courtyards and zenana wings, mile upon mile of empty, classical arcades and melancholy bow fronts, now quite empty but for a pair of lonely chowkidars (guards) shuffling around with their lathis (long sticks) and whistles.

That this fairy-tale extravagance has always been part of the culture of Hyderabad is demonstrated by the Qutb Shahi tombs, a short distance to the east of the Falaknuma. They are wonderfully ebullient monuments dating from the 16th century, with domes swelling out of all proportion to the base, each like a watermelon attempting to balance on a fig. Above the domes rises the citadel of Golconda, source of the ceaseless stream of diamonds that ensured that Hyderabad's rulers would never be poor. Inside the walls, you pass a succession of harems and bathing pools, pavilions and pleasure gardens - a world that seems to have jumped straight out of the pages of the Arabian Nights.

This oddly romantic and courtly atmosphere infected even the sober British when they arrived in Hyderabad at the end of the 18th century, and the city became the location of one of the most affecting of Anglo-Indian love stories. The old British Residency, now the University College for Women, is an imposing palladian villa that shelters in a fortified garden in the south of the town. The complex was built by James Achilles Kirkpatrick, who, shortly after arriving in Hyderabad, fell in love with Khair-un-Nissa (Excellent Among Women), a great-niece of the dewan of Hyderabad, whom he married in 1800 according to Muslim law.

I found a battered token of Kirkpatrick's love for his wife surviving today in the garden at the back of the residency. As Khair-un-Nissa remained all her life in strict purdah, living in a separate bibi ghar at the end of Kirkpatrick's garden, she was unable to walk around the side of her husband's great creation to admire its wonderful portico. Eventually, the resident hit upon a solution and built a scaled-down plaster model of his new palace for her, so that she could examine in detail what she would never allow herself to see with her own eyes. The model survived intact until the 1980s, when a tree fell on it, smashing the right wing. The remains of the left wing and central block now lie under a piece of corrugated iron, near the ruins of the Mogul bibi ghar , buried deep beneath a jungle of vines and creepers, in an area still known as the Begum's Garden.

Another legacy of Old Hyderabad to filter down to the modern streets is a fondness for witchcraft and sorcery. In the Lad Bazar, a short distance from the Charminar, I found a shop that sold nothing but charms and talismans: silver ta'wiz blessed by Sufis, special kinds of attar that deflected the evil eye, nails worried into the shape of a cobra to protect from snake bites. On one side of the shop were piled huge bundles of thorns: "Put them at the entrance of your gate along with a lime and a green chilli and it will take on any bad magic," said Ali Mohammed, who ran the shop.

"Do you really believe they work?" I asked.

"Definitely," said Ali Mohammed. "I have seen it for myself. The murshad (sorcerers) of Hyderabad are very powerful. They can kill a man with a look if they want to."

"Magic? Oh yes, there was no shortage of magic," said Mir Moazam's wife, the Begum Meherunissa, when I told her about my conversation in the bazaar later that afternoon. "In the time of the Nizam, there were many such stories. On summer evenings, the womenfolk of my family would go for a stroll in one of the gardens. One day, after we had returned, my aunt began to behave very oddly, and there was this smell of roses wherever she went. Luckily, my grandfather realised what had happened. He called a murshad, who questioned my aunt. Quite suddenly, she started speaking with a man's voice, saying, 'I am the djinn of the rose garden and I am in love with this woman.' The murshad performed an exorcism and the djinn was sent off. After that, the murshad became a regular visitor. 

He could work small miracles."
"You saw him work miracles?"
"Many times. Or rather not him so much as his djinn"
"He had his own djinn?"

"That's right. To master a djinn you must first fast for 40 days. Very few succeed. But this man succeeded and the djinn gave him the strong powers. The children of Hyderabad all knew him as Misri Wallah Pir (the Holy Man Who Gives Sweets) and they would run after him and shout, 'Pir, sahib, give us sugar.' So he would bend down and pick up a handful of mud and throw it and, before it reached us, midway in the air, it would turn to sugar. It was delicious: clean and white, with no sand or impurity. My mother was very angry when I told her I had eaten some of Misri Wallah Pir's sugar, and said that it would become mud again in my stomach. But it never did me any harm."
"So you saw him turn mud into sugar more than once?"

"Often. We children would follow him around and spy on him. Once, my friend asked Misri Wallah
Pir for some biryani. Pir sahib said, 'I am a poor man, how can I afford biryani?' But we pleaded with him and eventually he called his djinn - ' Idder ao Mowak hal !' ('Come here, spirit!'). And, within seconds, a delicious biryani appeared before us out of the thin air.
"Another time, a sick man begged him for grapes. It was not the season, but the djinn brought them all the same."

"But, you see, everything changed after the independence," said Mir Moazam, who had listened to his wife's story. "After the Indian army invaded and toppled the Nizam in 1948, that whole world collapsed. I left for Paris to work with UNESCO and barely recognised Hyderabad when I returned 20 years later. Almost all the great houses had gone. The aristocracy lost their status and their income after the fall of the Nizam, so they sold everything - land, houses. They knew nothing about business, selling their heritage was the only way to make ends meet."

The old man took my hand: "My children tell me you mustn't live in your memories. And they are right, of course. That is why I never go back to the old palaces where I spent my childhood. At every step there are fragments of history. And, frankly, it breaks my old heart to see them as they are today."

For centuries, the Nizams of Hyderabad had ruled over an area the size of France in southern India, initially governing on behalf of the Mughal Empire but later becoming independent rulers. Eventually, they became closely allied to the British, and were accorded the status of premier princely state in all of India.

* William Dalrymple travelled to India as a guest of Greaves Travel (0171-487 9111). This is an excerpts from his new book, The Age of Kali: Indian Travels & Encounters, is published by HarperCollins

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bliss and Heaven Feel at Jallikatu Protests

Bliss and Heaven Feel at Jallikatu Protests
Syed Ali Mujtaba

 “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!” What William Wordsworth said about French Revolution in 1888 can aptly describe the mood
of the protest against ‘Jallikatu’ ban at the Marina beach in Chennai.

Chennai’s Marina beach has become the epicenter of protests against the Supreme Court’s ban on ‘Jallikattu’, a traditional bull-taming sport popular all over Tamil Nadu conducted during ‘Pongal’ harvest festivities in mid-January.

Thousands of youngsters are squatting on the Marina sands, defying Supreme Court’s order to register their support to the traditional bull-taming sports that represents Tamil Cultural identity.

Protests erupted in support of ‘Jallikattu’, after the Supreme Court on January 12 refused to pass an order allowing the sport to conduct before the ‘Pongal’ festival.

The apex court had outlawed ‘Jallikattu’ in 2014 and the state government's review petition was dismissed last December.

The spontaneous protest has shades of Arab Spring, where all sorts, of people have joined the bandwagon at the seafront.  After a pall of gloom that was set in the city due to ‘Vardha’ cyclone, it’s a season of protest festivity in Chennai. There is defiance in the air and arguments are flying thick and fast in its support.

The ‘Babri Masjid’ demolition case is cited as the most recent example of the defiance of court order supporting the traditional sports having emotive significance in the history culture and tradition belief of the Tamil society.  

While talking to a few ‘Jallikattu’ protesters at Marina who has turned out in massive numbers after coming to know about it through the social media, one can get a sense of their anger against the Supreme Court ban.

“When the ‘Sangh Parivar’ and the BJP can defy court order, then why can’t others do the same?  Can there be two parameters; one for the North Indians other for the South Indians, one for the Aryans and other for the Dravidians, one for the Fair Skins and other for the darker ones,” said a belligerent protester, holding a torch light vigil on the breezy evening at Marina on Thursday, January 19, 2017.

The charged souls further argued; “even as the cases were pending before the Allahabad High Court, the ‘Sangh’ outfits had defied all bans, and demolished the contested mosque, without caring about its consequences.”

“What is the result of that defiance of the court ban, one asked and answered, even 25 years has elapsed, nothing has happened so far and the cases are still pending before the court.”

“Perhaps same will be case in Tamil Nadu too for defying the court ban. Who will be there to see what happens after 25 years from now,” this never ending argument stopped for a pause.

Here is a case where a huge section of people want to defy the court order and organise their cultural event that has a larger traditional, cultural and emotional significance.

The protesters want a clear cut assurance from the government to hold their traditional sports as before. Their core demand is to conduct ‘Jallikattu’ without any delay, amend Sections 22 and 27 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, scrap FIRs filed against protesters and ban the animal welfare organisation PETA in Tamil Nadu.

The situation on the ground suggest that any attempt by the government to carry out the court order, ignoring the public sentiment will only lead to worsening of the law and order situation. In such case the challenge before the government is how to defuse the situation and placate the protesters to call of the protests.

The only option before the state government is to come out with a special resolution to lift the Supreme Court ban. This can be introduced in the Assembly session that is to begin on January 23.

The special resolution can be couched with wording of   precautions against any cruelty towards animals and allow the traditional sports to continue as per the wishes of the people.

‘After all, our laws are meant for the people to address heir genuine aspirations and sentiments. If the court can give primacy to the animal’s welfare, the government of the day can make laws for the popular sentiments.

This kind of special resolution can provide a huge relief to the people and the current band of protesters can be placated and the situation could be defused without the use of any force,” goes another argument in support of ‘Jallikatu.’

However, this resolution is likely to be challenged and again could be stayed by the Supreme Court. In such case the state government will be heavily reprimanded for defying the court’s orders and should be ready for the maximum punishment.

As the pressure is mounting, the government has no other option than to take this calculated risk.  Right now the priority before it is to resolve the law and order situation, it can face the contempt of court later. Perhaps one day Jail for OPS, like it was for Kalyan Singh!

Meanwhile, the crowd at Marina is not ready to listen to anyone and they are in a defiant mood to resist any move that would endanger their heritage and identity.

It is happening elsewhere in the state too. Students and youngsters are seen on the roads and public places demanding the conduct of ‘Jallikattu.’

After the Anna Hazare protest touted as second freedom struggle in 2012 in New Delhi, this is the most significant protest movement that has happened in the country.

The notable feature is the democratic nature of the protest movement and the spontaneous nature of people mobilization. Apparently there is consensus among the protesters to keep away from all known political forces and there is complete absence of any charismatic leader to lead the protest.The capacity of the protesters to self-motivate and self-organize reminds of 2015 Chennai floods, where standing together for a cause was much evident in this protest.

The protesters is adhering the principals on ‘nonviolence’ and ‘satyagrah’ and there are no hoodlums and rowdies among the protesters.  The protest is by and large peaceful and even though there are large numbers of female participants, there is no incidence of eve teasing activities,.

The most interesting part of this protest is even though the Supreme Court order does not impact normal life of any individual, this issue has caught the imagination of the people and they have come out in large numbers to defy the ban.

Even though this protest is not being articulated or dictated by any political mandate or through written campaign material, there is a human emotional appeal in this protest that is beyond the established political and ideological narrative.

This narrative is deifying the human - animal relationship within the cultural matrix of Tamil Nadu and this is reflected from almost the entire participant's banners and ply cards and speeches.. This is the most unifying element of this protest.

The role of social media in coxing the youngsters to come out of their homes and offices, schools and colleges to join the protest is commendable.

The emergence of such massive movement in a city like Chennai that goes by the adage; ‘mind your own business’ is astonishing. Here the free spirits are quite excited about this struggle while other others like me are anxiously struggling to comprehend its complexities and its future trajectories.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Bihar Postal Series- Syed Mahmud most Conspicuous Omission

Bihar Postal Series- Syed Mahmud most Conspicuous Omission 
By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The Postal Department of India, recently has commemorated great deeds and achievements of eight personalities of Bihar by releasing stamps on them. However, the most conspicuous by its absence in this list is  Dr Syed Mahmud, one of the foremost freedom fighters from Bihar.

The eight stamps released on December 26, 2016 to remember freedom fighters of Bihar are: 1) Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha 2) Karpoori Thakur 3) Dashrath Manjhi 4) Vidyapati 5) Kailashpati Mishra 6) Kunwar Singh 7) Phanishwar Nath Renu 8) Sri Krishna Sinha.

The omission of Syed Mahmud from this list is most glaring. The presumption is, whoever has prepared the list of Bihar postal stamp series, is either ignorant about Syed Mahmud’s contribution to India’s freedom struggle, or the usual communal mindset that prevails in such selections and omissions process.

Mahmud was educated at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and as student attended the 1905 session of the Indian National Congress. He was one of those students who opposed the pro-British loyalties of the All India Muslim League.

After being expelled from AMU for his political activities, Mahmud traveled to England and studied Law at Cambridge University before going on to study at Lincoln's Inn to become a barrister. While in London, he came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi and J.L. Nehru in 1909.

He obtained Ph.D. from Germany and came back to India in 1912. It was from 1913 he started his legal profession in Patna under the able guidance of Mazharul Haq. After practicing law for a few years in Patna, he was drawn into the freedom struggle and movement for India's independence.

Syed Mahmud was one of the young Muslim leaders who played a role in crafting the  Lucknow Pact between the Congress and the Muslim League in1916. Under the influence and leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, he participated in the Indian Home Rule Movement and in the Non-cooperation movement and the Khilafat movement. 

In 1923 he was elected to the post of deputy general secretary of the All India Congress Committee along with Jawaharlal Nehru which resulted in close friendship between the two leaders. Nehru signed as witness at the 'Nikahnama' marriage of Syed Mahmud's daughter.

In 1930, along with M.L. Nehru and J.L. Nehru he was imprisoned in the Naini Jail of Allahabad, for his participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement.

After the sweeping Congress victory in the 1937 central and provincial elections, Syed Mahmud became Minister for Education, Development and Planning in Sri Krishna Sinha led cabinet in Bihar.

This development had its own share of controversy, Syed Mahmud was considered one of the leading prospective candidates to serve as Chief Minister of Bihar but instead Shri Krishna Sinha was made the Chief Minister.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in his book “India wins freedom” talks at length about this controversy and blames Nehru for not making him the first CM of Bihar. Perhaps, Mahmud’s Muslim identity came in the way of his selection in that communally charged atmosphere and Nehru chose Sri Krishna Sinha to placate the Hindu lobby within the Congress party in Bihar.

While, serving as education minister in Bihar Mahmud’s emphasis was on providing primary education to largest possible number of people. He worked for revision of curricula, appointed Urdu teachers in the Patna University. He fought for raising the proportion of Muslims in the government jobs and in the local bodies in Bihar.

Syed Mahmud was one of the members of the Congress Working Committee that endorsed the 1942 Quit India movement, calling for an immediate end to British rule. He went to jail along with other freedom fighters for being part off the Quit India agitation.

After India's independence, Syed Mahmud was elected to the first Lok Sabha from the Champaran-East constituency and second Lok Sabha from the Gopalganj constituency.
He served as Minister of State for External Affairs between 1954 and 1957. He participated in the historic Bandung Conference (1955), where the Panchsheel was spelled out. As a mister of external affairs he played remarkable roles in India's useful diplomatic relations with the Gulf countries.

Syed Mahmud was one of the secular Muslim leaders who opposed the Muslim League's demand for the creation of a separate Muslim state of Pakistan. He was pained with communal partition of India.

Syed Mahmud authored several books. “The Khilafat & England” was one among them. He wrote another book, "A Plan of Provincial Reconstruction (1939)". His book on Hindu Muslim Accord (1949), celebrating the `Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb of India,' is widely quoted. He launched a bilingual (Urdu; Hindi) newspaper called “Raushni” to mitigate the Hindi-Urdu tension.

Mahmud's standing with Indian nationalist’s leaders was second to none. The postal department by omitting Mahmood’s name from the postal series on Bihar has belittled the contributions of a giant freedom fighter from Bihar.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He hails from Bihar and can be contacted at