Nizam's cabinet - a real whodunit

The mystery chest which belonged to the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, at the Purani Haveli Museum in Hyderabad. — Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

The mystery chest which belonged to the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, at the Purani Haveli Museum in Hyderabad. — Photo: P.V. Sivakumar  

HYDERABAD, JAN. 20. It's a real whodunit. A mystery that could do with a Sherlock Holmes. Palace intrigue is nothing new, but a piece of royal furniture is intriguing the authorities. Yes, the dust of regal past never settles in Hyderabad.

An old wooden cabinet in the Nizam's Museum at Purani Haveli has led to intense speculation. Nobody knows what it is or for what purpose it was used.

"Do you recognise what this is? If you have any knowledge or a sound idea please let us know. We would be delighted to hear from you," screams a signboard at the museum.

It is close to four years since the Nizam's Museum was opened. But so far there has been no breakthrough. Scores of visitors come, eye the intricately-carved cabinet, let out a sigh of appreciation and go away without throwing any light on it.

What's more puzzling is that this is not one of those singular things as the Museum storehouse has at least a dozen such cabinets. As years roll by the mystery only deepens. There is no dearth of theories doing the rounds. Some say elephants hauled these cabinets, balancing them on their huge frames. What gives credence to this theory is that for many years, till the elephants were pensioned off and the stable was disbanded, the Museum items had been stored by the Nizam at the Old Feelkhana.

But again there are many holes in this theory. Why would elephants be required to carry these cabinets? If the idea was to exhibit something then it was nearly impossible. First, the apertures in the cabinets are too small and, second, it is quite difficult to view whatever was sought to be shown from the ground. There are no photographs or descriptions either to support this assumption.

Another theory is that these cabinets could have been camping furniture. The seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, had several items of his father's camp furniture in the trust. But this too doesn't make sense, it is said. A surprising thing about these cabinets is that they cannot stand by themselves as the stands are missing. Also, they have no solid backs or bottoms. Some of the cabinets do carry the insignia of the sixth Nizam who died in 1911. So one could safely presume that these cabinets belonged to the turn of the last century.

So intrigued was Prince Muffakham Jah that he wanted a notice to be put beside the cabinet inviting information about it from the public. But right now the authorities are using the cabinet for displaying the Asafjahi coins, currency notes and postage stamps. Of course, they have to drive nails under the cabinet to make it stand. You can gather your investigative skills and have a go at the riddle. But, remember, there are no prizes for guessing what it is.

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