‘The last Nizam of Hyderabad was not a miser’

Surviving aides say Mir Osman Ali Khan donated generously for social causes, but did not like to spend on himself

Updated - February 26, 2017 08:42 pm IST

Published - February 25, 2017 09:35 pm IST

Final abode: The tomb of Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, at the Masjid-e-Judi.

Final abode: The tomb of Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, at the Masjid-e-Judi.

In one of the narrow lanes of Noorkhan Bazar lies the house of Ahmed Abdul Aziz (90). The huge columns of his ancestral home show that it belongs to another time, a forgotten one. As one enters his house, pictures on the walls hint of his association with the erstwhile Hyderabad and also its ruler, Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh and the last Nizam.

Ask him about the memorabilia and he lights up like a lamp. “This,” says Mr. Aziz, pointing to a framed handwritten note, “was written and sent by Ala Hazrat [the Nizam] to my uncle Din Yar Jung, thanking him for his services.” Din Yar Jung was a civil servant in the Hyderabad state and worked directly under the Nizam.

“The Nizam had even come to our house once for a wedding. He was very fond of my uncle,” recalls Mr. Aziz, who had joined the Hyderabad State Army briefly till it was disbanded after the 1948 Police Action. He then joined the Sarf-e-Khas, the private security force of Mir Osman Ali Khan and served till the latter’s death.

Last Friday — February 24 — marked 50 years of Mir Osman Ali Khan’s death. On the day he died in 1967, at the age of 81, thousands of people had turned up on the streets of Hyderabad for his funeral. For Mr. Aziz and the limited number of people who closely interacted with Mir Osman Ali Khan, the former monarch was nothing like what he is known for among the public today.

One common public perception is that the Nizam was miserly, even though he was one among the richest in the world during his reign.

Says Syed Abid Hussain (74), the nephew of the former Nawab of Masulipatnam and who has had several interactions with Osman Ali Khan until the latter’s death: “The Nizam donated so much money for public causes, apart from building educational institutions in Hyderabad. People called him a miser simply because he lived a simple life in spite of being the ruler. He would just wear a sherwani over a white kurta and pyjama. He would only dress up for special occasions.”

Help for the State army

According to Mr. Aziz, Osman Ali Khan had hired ex-Hyderabad State army personnel in the Sarf-e-Khas so that they were not unemployed post-1948, and that the erstwhile ruler would also purchase items from auctions just to help out families monetarily. “Many lost their government jobs after 1948 and began auctioning their household items for money,” recalls Mr. Aziz.

Shahid Hussain (70), former chairman of the Nizam’s Private Estate and a trustee of the Nizam’s Trust, also echoes the sentiment.

He says: “As chairman, I had free time and would look at old files in the King Kothi palace. One of them was about the purchase of a blanket. The Nizam’s Peshi [secretary] wrote to him stating that only ₹4 was sanctioned against its cost of ₹7. Osman Ali Khan wrote back to him saying that his old blanket would last him that winter and added ‘ Zindagi baaki rahegi toh agle saal dekhajaaega [we will think of a new blanket if I live till the next winter].’

“This was much before 1947. On the same day, the Peshi also informed the Nizam that one of the mosques, either the Jama Masjid in Delhi or the Badshahi mosque in Lahore, had asked for ₹75,000 to repair one-fourth of its floor. Osman Ali Khan sanctioned ₹3 lakh instead, stating that the remaining three-fourth of the floor should not look old,” recalled Mr. Shahid.

Mr. Shahid feels that if Osman Ali Khan was really a miser, he would not have sanctioned that money. He added that the former monarch even smoked the Charminar brand cigarettes, which were specially rolled for him in roasted tobacco, only with the sole intention of promoting the local industry in Hyderabad.

Immense wealth

Osman Ali Khan possessed such enormous wealth that he was on Time magazine’s cover for the February 22, 1937 issue. Having interacted with the former monarch till his demise, Mr. Hussain recalls how the Nizam’s grandson, Mukarram Jah Bahadur, who was ceremonially declared as the eight Nizam, spent one whole month assessing his grandfather’s scattered wealth after his demise.

Mr. Hussain also remembers seeing a number of vehicles in the King Kothi Palace, which included cars from the Rolls Royce and Dodge stables as well. Then there is also the story of the 185-carat Jacob diamond, which Osman Ali Khan purchased for a huge sum and reportedly used as a paperweight.

The Jacob diamond is also part of the Nizam’s Jewellery, a precious collection running into several thousand crores of rupees today. At present, the 173 exquisite pieces from his treasury, which include priceless uncut Colombian emeralds, rare carat Alexandrite ring, a necklace with 12 flat diamonds and other things, lie in the Reserve Bank of India’s vaults.

The collection was displayed at the Salar Jung Musuem in 2008, for which security had to be increased by several notches. It was obtained by the Indian government after a 23-year-long legal battle post its discovery in 1972 with the ‘H.E.H Nizam Jewellery Trust’ and the ‘H.E.H Nizam Supplemental Jewellery Trust', which were formed by Osman Ali Khan in 1951-52 to safeguard his family's ancestral wealth.

A content man

For a man who lost his territory via annexation by India, Osman Ali Khan never rued it, according to both Mr. Aziz and Mr. Hussain. Little had changed in his personal life post the Police Action, they claim. “He was a very content man even after 1948. But he was not happy as the Raj Pramukh,” says Mr. Hussain.

He recalls that the Nizam would gloss over matters pertaining to his private estate everyday and would make personal visits whenever he wished. “He had once come to our house unannounced. We had to wear our sherwanis and Turkish caps in a rush before meeting him,” laughs Mr. Hussain.

“It just didn’t bother him that he was no longer the ruler. Even after 1948, those who were in his administration continued to work for him, like my uncle Din Yar Jung,” says Mr. Aziz.

Having grown up watching his uncle Din Yar Jung work for the Nizam in different capacities, he says that Osman Ali Khan never interfered with his administration’s work. The Nizam, who ruled from the King Kothi palace until 1948, continued to live there till his demise.

Most of Osman Ali Khan’s time in the King Kothi Palace was spent in the verandah sitting on his chair everyday, Mr. Aziz recalls. While drinking coffee and cigarettes, which he would throughout the day, the former monarch would inform his Peshi about what he wanted to eat.

According to Mr. Aziz, Osman Ali Khan was a just man. “He had once fired a guard in the Sarf-e-Khas alleging that he stole something from the palace. But the Nizam later found the item and re-hired the guard with a raise of ₹5 in his salary,” he remembers.

A peculiarity among the royalty was the formal communication between father and son. Nawab Fazal Jah Bahadur (71), one of Osman Ali Khan’s sons (with another wife named Leela Begum) has memories of him going to the King Kothi Palace just to offer ‘salaams’ to his father everyday.

“He would ask me how I am doing, and that’s it. A car would be sent for us everyday, we would not talk much,” reminisces Fazal Jah, who is the last surviving son of Osman Ali Khan. His most memorable day with his father is that of his marriage in the King Kothi Palace, which even the then Vice-President of India, Zakir Hussain, had attended.

Communication with kin was highly formalised to the point that intermediaries would be used to send messages back and forth, says Mr. Shahid. Prince Mukarram Jah Bahadur, one of Osman Ali Khan’s grandsons who was crowned as the eight Nizam ceremonially, had interacted face-to-face with his grandfather just thrice in his life, points out Mr. Shahid.

Today, Fazal Jah is on the committee that takes care of the Masjid-e-Judy at King Kothi, where the former monarch lies buried, beside his mother’s grave. While Osman Ali Khan’s death anniversary passes in silence more or less every year, his legacy remains alive in the form of the Osmania University, the Osmania General Hospital, the High Court and other institutions which he built during his reign (1911-1948).

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