Living Hyderabad Motoring

Integrated legacy

Every Sunday, a street in Abids comes alive when a few vintage automobiles are driven out from the basement of one of the mansions and parked on the road near a school. Some are taken for a spin with roaring engines and the occasional long blast of horn harking back to leisurely times when only a few vehicles competed for road space.

The automobiles belong to Captain Kerman Pestonjee who collected them over just four years in 1990-94. The pride of place in the collection is the first one in the line up the 1933 Dodge with ‘King Kothi Hyd.A’ written in white on a red numberplate. “It belonged to the Nizam who used it for nearly 15 years. It was his favourite,” says Kerman about the acquisition that pushed a hobby bike tinkerer to the status of a prized collector of vintage automobiles.

This wasn’t the only brush with royalty for Kerman Pestonjee. “I have been in Hyderabad for 200 years,” he says figuratively and begins narrating an incredible tale of business acumen, royal fickleness, grit and luck.

The story begins with the arrival of his great great-grandfather in the Nizam’s Dominion which then encompassed parts of central India. “They were bankers as well as businessmen and when they saw black soil, they helped promote cotton cultivation. When they came to Hyderabad, about 500 bullock carts loaded with cotton were transported annually from the region to Bombay, to be shipped to Manchester. At the peak of their business, 3 lakh bullock carts were transporting the cotton to Bombay. As a result, jungles were cleared, roads were laid, bridges built, travellers’ bungalows and amenities were developed,” says Kerman Pestonjee.

Integrated legacy

The Nizam Nasir ud Dowla, who was having financial troubles asked the Pestonjee brothers to become the Mint Masters of his Aurangabad facility with a permission to mint their own coins. A few million coins called Peston Shahi Sikka were minted. On one side of the coin was the name of Peston family and on the other Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah (The Nizams didn’t use their names on coinage till 1857). For about 10 years between 1832 and 1842, silver and copper coins were minted at Aurangabad with the Peston name. The Pestonjee family became so prosperous that they built their house next to the Residency building. Being allowed to do that was in itself a sign they had arived in the upper echelon of Hyderabad society.

Their luck proved fickle. “The Nizam had borrowed about 40 lakhs and was unable to pay interest. To make good, the Nizam gave a few hundred square km of land as jagirs to Pestonjee family but that wasn’t good enough. They were broke. The money lent was not their own. They had to return to their creditors. They sold off everything except the Seth Viccaji Seth Pestonji Meherji Agiary in Secunderabad (fire temple) and the Dokhma (tower of silence). The family retired into poverty,” informs Kerman.

Integrated legacy

The business family turned working class and by sheer dint of hard work and work ethic turned the corner. Pestonjee Kotwal got a job in Surat municipality and after a few years of working at different places he got the tough job of Police Suprintendent in Nizam State. Dadabhai Pestonjee was a Civil Surgeon.

“As a young boy, I used to man the counter at Lepakshi and earn money for myself. It would have been easy for me to ask money. But I wanted to know what it takes to earn it,” says Kerman talking to a bunch of youngsters who came to gawk at the automobiles.

Daddy’s love

Hyderabad’s landmark retail cloth store Chermas was begun by Kerman Pestonjee with export surplus clothing. The name Chermas is a blend of his daughters’ names: Cherry and Maniza who were born in 1977.


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Printable version | Nov 24, 2021 5:02:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/living-hyderabad-kerman-pestonjee-vintage-vehicles-nizam/article19650723.ece

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