Interest in the character and fate of the former Hydera¬bad state is still widespread-and likely to endure. It is almost as great as in the evo¬lution of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir. This is surprising as the latter basi¬cally is still alive and kicking, while Hyderabad state has been scrambled in such a way that it has lost its identity almost completely. The story of that eclipse, its whys and wherefores, the losses and gains that the obliteration of a unique personality by the Indian Union brought in its train to the development of the Hyderabadi ethos, is what stirs the interest of most readers. This book will make a signi¬ficant contribution towards satisfying that interest.
The absorption of both Jammu and Kashmir and Hyderabad into the Indian Union proved far more difficult than that of the other nearly six hundred designated princely states of India. This was not only because of their size and wealth, or even their physical location and strategic impor¬tance to the Indian Union. All these factors counted, of course, but the principal factor that created problems was the fact that in one of them—Hyderabad—the ruling dy-nasty was Muslim, though its population was overwhelmingly Hindu, while in the other—Kashmir—it was a Hindu dynasty ruling over a popu¬lation, the bulk of which was Muslim.
The stark reality was that the ruling dynasties in both these states had basically to rely for survival on the support of the minority of their subjects when it came to a crunch against the pressures of outside forces—whether British, Indian or Pakistani. This, willy-nilly, played a dominant role in compelling them to evolve and to conform to a particular type of political and social ethos, such as had prevailed more or less consistently ever since they had established their rule in their respective states.
This book is concerned only with the ethos of one ruling dynasty the Asif Jahs of Hyderabad. Nonetheless, when dealing with the failures or the achievements of the Asif Jahs in Hyderabad and arraigning them at the bar of Indian his¬tory, one should do it in a pro¬per Indian perspective. One should try—as far as possible for Indians with our in-built predilections—not to be un¬duly censorious if one finds that they failed to meet stan¬dards of government which are not to be found in the histories of any other dynasties that have ruled in India, except perhaps in the distant times of Akbar and Asoka.
A great merit of Rajendra Prasad’s history, or rather, impressionistic (and at times very journalistic) account of the rise and decline of the rulers of Hyderabad is his awareness of these compul¬sions, and his sturdy effort to take them into account. Above all, his book is most readable. His delineation of characters—particularly of Nizam VI, Mahboob Ali Khan, and of his son, the succeeding Nizam Osman Ali Khan, who brought about the final debacle of the state in circumstances in which tragedy and comedy seem to have been playing a game of blind man’s buff—is vivid, realistic and balanced. His sharply etched vignettes of notable Prime Ministers like Salar Jung I, Maharajah Sir Kishen Pershad and Sir Akbar Hyderi, who put their stamp on Hyderabad almost as signi¬ficantly as its rulers, whet one’s appetite to know more about these personalities.
Regrettably, the display of all these qualities is somewhat marred, almost wantonly, by ill-timed, if not perverse, at-tempts at being witty, and by the author’s habit of peppering straightforward prose with pedantic and abstruse terms like ‘administrative paraplegia’ and ‘subcutaneous uncer¬tainty’. This is by no means to suggest that all Mr. Rajendra Prasad’s quips and witticisms are unpalatable. Indeed, it is refreshing to read a book in English by an Indian writer in which humour and the light satirical touch are not lacking, and the definite article is not banished, although sometimes it is redundant and occasional¬ly the indefinite article is absent. In a book published in India nowadays, of course, one can never be sure whether this is a lapse of the author or of the printer, but the former deficiency must be attributed to a writer too intoxicated, per¬haps, by the spirit of P.G. Wodehouse (on whose works we are told he is now research¬ing). To whom should one attribute the gaffes in which Byron’s poem ‘Prisoner of Chillon’ is entitled ‘Prisoner of Shaillot’ (presumably, Tennyson’s ‘Lady of Shalott’) and the stout stocky figure of Azam (Prince of Berar) is ascribed to the lean and rather elegant Moazzam (and vice versa)?
A pleasing feature for those familiar with the milieu of the old Hyderabad state is the excellent printing in the ori-ginal Urdu script (with English translations) of several pithy and typically Mughlai court verses. They give an authentic flavour to the book and again bring out, not only the fami¬liarity of the author with his subject, but his non-sectarian approach to it. Here again, it seems strange that a person so au fait with that milieu, should choose to spell Khaliquzzam (the well known Muslim League leader) Qaliquzzaman or Qaliq-uz-Zamman; and Quiwam (the scented tobacco mixture used to flavour paari) as Khimam. Sir Herbert Baker’s creation of the present parliament buildings is also wrongly credited to Lutyens; but these are all minor blemishes.
Your reviewer should like to end by giving some examples of the fine quality of the thought and expression that constitute the bulk of the book and make it worthwhile reading.
The preface points out:
Men of earlier generations passionately believed that their life-styles reflected all that was graceful and cul-tured beneath God’s sky. Perhaps. Today’s spokes¬men laugh away such notions and regard that kind of life as parasitic and antiquated. They are not incorrect either to an extent. It should not be difficult to sympathize with the one and agree with the other, if we remind our¬selves that every age has its distinctive value-systems and dominant attitudes…. The French comprehensively refer to these as the milieu. To Germans it is Zeitgeist, Our ancients called it Yuga Dharma.
About the notorious miserli¬ness of Osman Ali Khan (Nizam VII) he writes:
There was something noble as well as unspeakably mean about his ways…. The New York Times (September 1948) informed its readers that the ‘door fee’ paid to him by 1,156 guests at one of his birthday-dinners yielded Osman the equiva¬lent of $ 57,800, ‘sufficient to pay his personal food bill for 395 years’! And yet he could… display extraordinary generosity if… suffi¬ciently moved. In 1933 Rabindranath Tagore ap¬proached the Miser of Hyderabad for a donation for the Vishwa Bharati Uni¬versity. Prompt came Osman’s response: one lakh rupees…besides an invita¬tion to the Poet to…visit… Hyderabad!…. His Govern¬ment was at the same time giving regular grants to more than sixteen hundred shrines and religious institutions in the State, only a third of which were Muslim institu¬tions.
This review may fittingly end with what the author says on the death of Nizam VII:
The attention which the for¬gotten ruler failed to get during his final years on earth, His Exalted Highness Mir Okman Ali Khan har¬vested in his death. The whole city erupted on the streets in one final burst of adulation and curiosity, as the hearse conveying his frail mortal frame left the Kothi for the last time. Almost the entire populace was on hand to watch the final journey. And with that journey, a part of history departed from the King Kothi never to return again.
Badr-ud-Din Tyabji is a Retired member of the Indian Foreign Service, Delhi.