Hyderabad hues

When he died in 1967, the Times described Nizam Osman Ali Khan as a ‘shabby old man shuffling through his dream world’. Those words, however, were no reflection of his immense wealth — at Independence, he was considered the richest man of his time, and legends of his affluence were only surpassed by legends of his eccentricity.

Known as his ‘Exalted Highness’, the only Indian ruler to have this distinction conferred on him by Britain, in recognition of his contribution to the war chest in World War I, he, nevertheless, dressed in rumpled clothes and wore the same fez for three decades. He spent sparingly, although in his desk lay the 185-carat Jacob Diamond, which he used as a paperweight, his room had millions of dollars in cash wrapped in newspaper, and in his unkempt garden were lorries mired in mud, weighed down by gold ingots, pearls and precious stones. He ruled over nearly 15 million subjects spread over an area as large as France from Hyderabad, a city that in the 1940s, remained the last bastion of the Indo-Islamic culture, drawn from a composite heritage of Central Asian, Persian, Mughal and Vijayanagara influences. By the time his grandson Mukarram Jah became the titular VIII Nizam, much of Hyderabad’s fabled jewels had been pilfered or placed in Government vaults, and its charming palaces with their cusped gateways demolished or lost to legal disputes. And yet, the city’s famed legacy thrives as a memory.

It was this that entrepreneur Mita Banker, designer Rehane and Rai Saheba Begum Scheherazade Rikhye Javeri came together to showcase and discuss at The Folly, Amethyst, early this week. Draped in a shocking-pink Kanjivaram shawl, her long hair crowned with a zardozi topi, Javeri regaled the audience with details about princely life in Hyderabad, her experiences as advisor to the VIII Nizam, the legal battles waged across the world to safeguard and reclaim his assets, and her championing the cause of women.

Javeri, fondly called Sherry, is the daughter of UNESCO Peace Prize awardee and military advisor to the United Nations, Major General Indar Jit Rikhye. She was educated in Mumbai and London, and was felicitated with the Rumi Award this year for her book of Sufi poetry, Nineteen, the Godly Verses. She is also an avid collector of art, artefacts and antiques and a preserver of culture and cuisine. Descended from a minister of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, she married into the Zaveri family — custodians and jewellers to the Aga Khan, the Shah of Iran and the Nizam. For years, her late husband, Sadruddin Javeri, and she worked at providing the common man a glimpse into the lifestyles of the Nizams, as can now be seen at the Chowmahalla Palace.

“I’ve known Mita for many years, and we connected because of her interest in art and culture when she lived in Hyderabad. When she told me about this exhibition, showcasing the different cultures of India that would meet in fabrics, wearing apparel, antiquities and jewels in the old style, I was keen to come,” says Javeri, pointing out her 150-year-old collection of jackets and robes in bright shades, the gold zardozi having darkened with the passage of time.

The antique showpieces hold their own to the heritage pashmina shawls, borders with gara work, saris, dupattas, dhurries, dastakhans, silver jewellery and necklaces studded with stones.

In a glass cabinet are jugni, rows of pearls with a stunning emerald centrepiece, bazuband (armbands) and an exquisite necklace with George V coins, the ‘Muslim’-inspired chand taara and the ‘Hindu’ beads that represent the Hyderabadi Ganga-Jumni tradition.

“It’s almost lost now. This is what we want to revive,” says Javeri.

“The collection has to interest people, and for this, we travelled to source stuff from Hyderabad, Benares and Jaipur, including two dupattas that date back to princely Patiala,” says Banker.

“We had done a similar exhibition four years ago, and we’ve decided to do this more often. It was an educative experience putting it all together.”

The fairytale may have dimmed on the city that was once ruled by the richest man in the world, but it lives on in the resplendent stones in chokers, brocade that glistens on age-old cloaks, coloured skeins that embellish shawls, in the enthusiasm of the show’s curators and in one woman’s memory of a more genteel time.

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Printable version | May 3, 2021 5:21:51 PM |

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