History & Culture

The Hyderabad connect

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Through his writings, Philip Meadows Taylor sparked interest in Deccan’s history among Europeans. A look at the life of the Britisher who stayed a loyal friend to Hyderabad.

Colonel Philip Meadows Taylor is considered the first Indo-Anglican fiction writer. Entering military service under the Nizam of Hyderabad, Taylor soon moved to administration and became popular with the people in the Nizam’s dominions. He imbibed Hyderabadi customs and culture and promoted its arts as no other British national ever did. He excelled in many fields, but is remembered more for his fiction writings based on Deccan history.

Taylor, a British Colonel in Hyderabad, was the first to write fiction with a strong Indian flavour. He had great understanding of India, particularly the Deccan, its history, its people and their sensibilities. A crop of English fiction with history in the backdrop has come up during the 19th Century and Taylor was a pioneer in this direction. Taylor served the Hyderabad State for almost four decades, interacting with people, understanding their traditions and practices. He endeared himself by practicing the customs, manners, dress, language, and the lifestyle of Hyderabad’s nobility to its minute detail.

Taylor was born in Liverpool, England, in 1808 and as a young lad of 16, came to Bombay in search of employment. But he soon moved south and joined the army of the Nizam at Hyderabad and worked for the next 40 years in the Nizam’s dominions. As a result , he learnt several Indian languages including Hindustani, Persian, Marathi and Telugu.

In 1832 Taylor married Mary Palmer, daughter of William Palmer, a rich banker in Hyderabad. The Palmers were an influential family. William’s father, General Palmer, was a British Resident at Poona and had married a Begum of Lucknow. Taylor’s marriage brought him close to the Nizam and the nobility and thus to the social and ruling elite of Hyderabad. From army, Taylor soon moved to administration and worked in various capacities in Hyderabad state.

But Taylor is remembered even more for his literary contributions. His Confessions of A Thugh, (1839) was the most influential novel about India before Kipling’s Kim and was one of the best selling crime novels of the 19th Century. It was then that Taylor’s publishers in London asked him to write another novel, this time on Tipu Sultan of Mysore. Taylor took the job so seriously that he even met the Duke of Wellington, who as Arthur Wellesley, defeated and killed Tipu Sultan in May 1799.

Tippoo Sultan was published in 1840 and it brought a great name for Taylor as a writer of historical fiction. Tippoo Sultan.

After he returned to England in 1860, Taylor devoted his time in retirement to writing novels on Indian themes. In 1863 appeared Tara, two years later came Ralph Darnel and in 1872, he wrote Sita. All these novels had historical occurrences in India as the backdrop. Taylor also published A Student Manual of the History of India, for the benefit of British civil servants to have an understanding of India’s history. In 1875, Taylor came and stayed in Hyderabad as a guest of Sir Salar Jung I, the Prime Minister of the Nizam. The next year, Taylor passed away at Mentone in southern France, while sailing back to England. His other famous works The Story Of My Life (1877) and A Noble Queen (1878) were published posthumously.

In his writings, Taylor exhibited an urge to understand and appreciate Indian social customs, manners and religious practices in their true perspective. He developed real interest in the study of Indian ancient classics and thus emulated other famous Orientalists like William Jones. His work on Mohammad, Gawan and other Bahamani Sultans sparked interest among European scholars in the history of Deccan.

Indian Archaeology was yet another field that enormously interested Taylor. He carried out significant archaeological excavations in Gulbarga region and published his findings in the Journal of Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and in the Royal Irish Academy publications.

He is considered one of the earliest path breaking archaeologists in India. Rich tributes are paid to Taylor by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in its numerous publications. Taylor was an accomplished painter and a photographer, at a time when photography itself was in its infancy. His series of paintings on Ellora cave sculptures earned him a great reputation as an established painter and sketch maker.

His beautiful sketches of the Golconda fort, Qutub Shahi tombs and Charminar, besides several other captivating local images, eloquently speak of his artistic skills and regard for Hyderabadi culture.

Taylor remained a loyal friend of Hyderabad throughout his life. When the British tried to annex Berar from the Nizam, because of the good quality of cotton grown there, Taylor, even while in retirement, vehemently opposed such a move.

In March, 2012, one Dr. Alberto Taylor, a fifth generation descendant of Col. Taylor, visited Hyderabad from California to trace his ancestral roots. He went round places in the erstwhile Hyderabad dominions associated with Meadows Taylor as mentioned in his autobiography, The Story of My Life. At Surpur, he was amazed that people still remembered with nostalgia the services of Meadows Taylor to that area.

He even stayed for a day in “Taylor Manzil”, an inspection bungalow on a hill near Surpur, which his illustrious forefather had built.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 10:12:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/the-hyderabad-connect/article7818101.ece

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