Demonetisation, India and Hyderabad

Demonetisation, India and Hyderabad

Demon-atisation … confinement by credit card in India; a morality tale of illegal tender, the subcontinent on a shoestring! Hazy reflections thereon … on the poor Nizam of Hyderabad, once the richest man in the world, and on the demise of his currency, the Osmania Sicca!

No traffic flow on the Bandra-Worli Sealink Toll Road, Mumbai, aftermath of demonetisation, before suspension of the toll payments
No traffic flow on the Bandra-Worli Sealink Toll Road, Mumbai, aftermath of demonetisation, before suspension of the toll payments

"Who will buy this wonderful morning?" - Street market in Mumbai, demonetisation aftermath
"Who will buy this wonderful morning?" - Street market in Mumbai, demonetisation aftermath

Depositors outside Canara Bank branch in Mumbai queuing to deposit their holdings of Rs1,000 and Rs500 bank notes.  Same scene at all bank branches pan-India
Depositors outside Canara Bank branch in Mumbai queuing to deposit their holdings of Rs1,000 and Rs500 bank notes. Same scene at all bank branches pan-India

Exact money only at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai (formerly Victoria Terminus), designed by Frederick William Stevens in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria
Exact money only at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai (formerly Victoria Terminus), designed by Frederick William Stevens in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria

The Church of St John the Evangelist, the "Afghan Church", Naval Cantonment, Colaba, built to honour those lost in the First Afghan War (1839-1842)
The Church of St John the Evangelist, the "Afghan Church", Naval Cantonment, Colaba, built to honour those lost in the First Afghan War (1839-1842)

The Pipes and Drums, 7th Battalion Sikh Regiment, Remembrance Sunday 2016
The Pipes and Drums, 7th Battalion Sikh Regiment, Remembrance Sunday 2016

1898 depiction of the last stand of 44th Regiment of Foot at Gandamak by William Barnes Wollen (1857-1936), Essex Regiment Museum
1898 depiction of the last stand of 44th Regiment of Foot at Gandamak by William Barnes Wollen (1857-1936), Essex Regiment Museum

Frontispiece for "Afghaunistan" published in 1847 by 2nd Lieut James Rattray (1818-1854), Artist, 2nd Grenadiers, Bengal Army, serving officer in the First Afghan War
Frontispiece for "Afghaunistan" published in 1847 by 2nd Lieut James Rattray (1818-1854), Artist, 2nd Grenadiers, Bengal Army, serving officer in the First Afghan War

Valley of Jugdulluk, "Afghaunistaun" scene of the last stand by 44th Regiment of Foot by Rattray
Valley of Jugdulluk, "Afghaunistaun" scene of the last stand by 44th Regiment of Foot by Rattray

Assistant Surgeon William Brydon arriving at Jalalabad, Remnants of an Army by Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler (1846-1933), exhibited in 1879 at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, now in the Somerset Military Museum
Assistant Surgeon William Brydon arriving at Jalalabad, Remnants of an Army by Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler (1846-1933), exhibited in 1879 at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, now in the Somerset Military Museum

Mir Qamar-ud-din Khan Siddiqi Bayafandi, Asaf Jah 1 (1671-1748), appointed Viceroy of the Deccan in 1712, reclaimed by force in 1724; Nawab Mir Nizam Ali Khan Siddiqi Bayafandi Bahadur, Asaf Jah II (1734-1803), ruled the Deccan from 1762 after 14 years of fraternal strife following the death of his father
Mir Qamar-ud-din Khan Siddiqi Bayafandi, Asaf Jah 1 (1671-1748), appointed Viceroy of the Deccan in 1712, reclaimed by force in 1724; Nawab Mir Nizam Ali Khan Siddiqi Bayafandi Bahadur, Asaf Jah II (1734-1803), ruled the Deccan from 1762 after 14 years of fraternal strife following the death of his father

Lieutenant Colonel James Achilles Kirkpatrick (1764-1805), British Resident Hyderabad (1795-1805), and his wife Khair-un-Nissa (1786-1813), by George Chinnery (1774-1852).  Their relationship and marriage was a source of scandal at the time
LEFT: Lieutenant Colonel James Achilles Kirkpatrick (1764-1805), British Resident Hyderabad (1795-1805), and his wife Khair-un-Nissa (1786-1813), by George Chinnery (1774-1852). Their relationship and marriage was a source of scandal at the time RIGHT: The Kirkpatrick children by George Chinnery; Mir Ghulam Ali Sahib Allum “William” (1801-1828) and Noor-un-Nissa Sahib Begum ”Kitty” (1802-1889)

The Nizam Asaf Jah V visiting the British Residency 1830, by Captain Robert Melville Grindlay (1786-1877), East India Company, and founder of the London-based agency Leslie & Grindlay in 1828, the forerunner of Grindlays Bank (coincidentally the bank that raised the US$30m FRCD for Canara Bank, London Branch).  The building was designed by Lieutenant Samuel Russell of the Madras Engineers.
The Nizam Asaf Jah V visiting the British Residency 1830, by Captain Robert Melville Grindlay (1786-1877), East India Company, and founder of the London-based agency Leslie & Grindlay in 1828, the forerunner of Grindlays Bank (coincidentally the bank that raised the US$30m FRCD for Canara Bank, London Branch). The building was designed by Lieutenant Samuel Russell of the Madras Engineers.

The young Nizam Asaph Jah VI, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan Siddiqi Bayafandi at around 11 years of age, possibly with his tutor Captain Robert Clerk, c 1875, the Nizam would take refuge from instruction in the zenana (his harem); and aged 23 years as featured in the Illustrated London News of 1889
The young Nizam Asaph Jah VI, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan Siddiqi Bayafandi at around 11 years of age, possibly with his tutor Captain Robert Clerk, c 1875, the Nizam would take refuge from instruction in the zenana (his harem); and aged 23 years as featured in the Illustrated London News of 1889

Osman Ali Khan, Asaph Jah VII (1886-1967), ruler of Hyderabad from 1911 until 1948 and the annexation of Hyderabad by India.  He continued as Rajpramukh (Governor) from 1950 until 1956; and on the cover of Time Magazine of 22nd February 1937 as the richest man in the world.
Osman Ali Khan, Asaph Jah VII (1886-1967), ruler of Hyderabad from 1911 until 1948 and the annexation of Hyderabad by India. He continued as Rajpramukh (Governor) from 1950 until 1956; and on the cover of Time Magazine of 22nd February 1937 as the richest man in the world.

Transports of delight.  The Nizam’s official elephant; his 1912 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost “throne car” built by Barkers of Edinburgh, low mileage, one careful owner, now happily restored
Transports of delight. The Nizam’s official elephant; his 1912 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost “throne car” built by Barkers of Edinburgh, low mileage, one careful owner, now happily restored

Durbar Hall, Chowmahalla Palace.  Construction began circa 1750 and the palace was completed in the 1860’s. Barkat Ali Khan Mukarram Jah (grandson of Asaf Kah VII and since 1967 the titular Nizam of Hyderabad) and his family restored the palace and it is now open to the public.
Durbar Hall, Chowmahalla Palace. Construction began circa 1750 and the palace was completed in the 1860’s. Barkat Ali Khan Mukarram Jah (grandson of Asaf Kah VII and since 1967 the titular Nizam of Hyderabad) and his family restored the palace and it is now open to the public.

No. 110 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps formed at Rendcombe Gloucestershire November 1917, moved to Kenley in 1918, re-equipped with the DH9A bombers donated by the Nizam, sent to France Sept 1918 as part of the Independent Airforce, one plane is on display at the Royal Airforce Museum, Hendon; the Hyderabad Squadron’s demi tiger crest of the Nizam of Hyderabad
No. 110 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps formed at Rendcombe Gloucestershire November 1917, moved to Kenley in 1918, re-equipped with the DH9A bombers donated by the Nizam, sent to France Sept 1918 as part of the Independent Airforce, one plane is on display at the Royal Airforce Museum, Hendon; the Hyderabad Squadron’s demi tiger crest of the Nizam of Hyderabad

Sidney Cotton (1894-1969), Australian pioneer of aerial photography before and during WW2 and MI6 agent, recruited by Mir Jung, the Hyderabad Agent-General in London to run guns, ammunition and equipment from Pakistan to Hyderabad in a fleet of converted Avro Lancaster Mk Xs from Victory Aircraft Ltd of Canada.  He was subsequently convicted in London of gun-running and fined a token Stg200.
Sidney Cotton (1894-1969), Australian pioneer of aerial photography before and during WW2 and MI6 agent, recruited by Mir Jung, the Hyderabad Agent-General in London to run guns, ammunition and equipment from Pakistan to Hyderabad in a fleet of converted Avro Lancaster Mk Xs from Victory Aircraft Ltd of Canada. He was subsequently convicted in London of gun-running and fined a token Stg200.

The Falaknuma Palace, restored in a joint project by the VIII Nizam’s wife, Princess Evra Kah and Taj Hotels
The Falaknuma Palace, restored in a joint project by the 8th Nizam's wife, Princess Evra Kah and Taj Hotels

The dining hall, Falaknuma Palace with seating for 101 guests
The dining hall, Falaknuma Palace with seating for 101 guests

The Rs20 Sunni indulgence dispensed at the tomb of the Nizam
The Rs20 Sunni indulgence dispensed at the tomb of the Nizam


In Delhi Sunday evening 6th November 2016 at the start of a second visit to India in a matter of months … an ambitious two-week itinerary involving points north, west, and south-by-south-west, the great conurbations and some in-betweens.

The anxious over-wrought approach of the debut visit had been gaily abandoned in favour of cavalier from-the-hip complacency …  don’t need foreign currency, ATMs abound, SIM cards cheap, traffic bad, addresses who knows but we managed!  Kingfisher.  Compound error number one …

Second error was coming the week after Diwali (30th October-3rd November), the Festival of Lights, the biggest celebration of the Hindu year commemorating the victory of goodness over darkness in a conflagration of firecrackers.  Choking Catherine wheels!  

On arrival, at the Red Fort and elsewhere, darkness appeared to have mounted a successful rearguard against the triumphant good.  Was it days of enthusiastic pyrotechnics rendering the atmosphere of the National Capital Region heavy with particulates?  Visibility severely impaired and a PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) reading through the roof … bits less than 2.5 micrometres across touched 999 on the scale, sixteen times the acceptable level of  …  60!   True grit … airborne!

Perhaps it was the incessant jams of lopsided over-burdened trucks, buses, cars, three- and two-wheelers wheezing after five days of parked celebration belching out their spiritually darkened exhaust in a vain effort to move?  Was it the volcanic spume erupting from the chimneys of coal fired power stations … or even the massed farmers of Haryana and the Punjab torching their stubble after the harvest in a vast display of enflamed synchronicity?   Kingfisher.

Regardless, due to “air pollution” the central government declared an “emergency situation”  … of course no connection with or anticipation of an atmospheric contribution from the imminent arrival of the British Prime Minister for the India-UK Tech Summit.  The ghost of Guy Fawkes running amok?

The air was heavy on the chest, smart in the eye, and acrid on the tongue.  No wind, little light and nothing to breathe!  Lutyens’ New Delhi architectural magnificence smothered in a mulligatawny gloop of smog.  Slaking Kingfishers!

… and so an exfiltration flight up north to Le Corbusier’s clean sunny upland city of Chandigarh.  Late evening Tuesday 8th November the hotel concierge sent us on a routine mission down the road to an ATM to cash up for the odyssey.  Funny … mild inconvenience as the ATM refused multiple cards and PIN numbers, and we had a crack of sparrow’s departure.  Oh lakhs and crores!

Hotel departure Wednesday 0040hrs 9th November, and the pantomime dawning that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had summarily declared our money, that is those Rs500 (US$7.00) and Rs1,000 (US$14.00) notes that we had been given at the airport, illegal as of the previous midnight!  Oh no he didn’t?  Oh yes he did!  He slipped this one out as the world was looking elsewhere counting Trumps!  Incredulity!  Two penniless rears of the panto horse!  Holy cow!

In an officially misplaced triumph of hope over expectation, banks and ATMs were shut Wednesday to prepare to distribute the new bank notes from Thursday!  Whoa, Silver!  Not so simple when there are 2.2 lakhs (220,000) ATMs in country, each requiring laying on of ayurvedic hands to effect the adjustment, and the freshly illegal tender represented 86% of cash in circulation!  Pulping paper Batman!  86% of all cash had been decommissioned!  Just like that! 

Holders of the old illegals had 50 days to deposit their absorbent into their own bank accounts (less than half of households do, and visitors don’t!) … in reward they could withdraw one spanking new Rs2,000 a day, if any were available!  Cue queues round the blocks!  But the new notes are different, smaller but perfectly formed; each ATM has to be relieved of the old, primed with the new, and have its innards realigned manually to dispense … in the immediate aftermath of this pecuniary masterstroke only the lesser Rs100 (US$1.50) notes and smaller were good for service!  Pips squeaking! 

In India, 90% of all transactions are cash based … the proud lesser note float, at 14% of legal tender, was being asked to do an awful lot of heavy lifting, six times its design capacity!  Cashed out darkness!

Even if you could get your daily new note spanker, nobody in India was willing to give change for a pristine Rs2,000 … exact money only at merchant outlets and railway stations!  Worthless Rs2,000!  Cash economy slamming on the brakes, crashing down through the gears!  Default POS position, no change!

For your sorry firangi correspondent, illegals represented 98% of cash-in-wallet; the residual 2%, a legal and exceptionally tender Rs140 (US$2.00) was tea for two for ten days!   No bank account, no dollars, no money!

Immediate dispatch of a standard email to all contacts courtesy of a friend in Nigeria or wherever; “Dear Friend, I have had an accident.  I am stranded in India.  The Prime Minister has taken all my money.  All my money is illegal.  My debit cards don’t work.  Desperately thirsty.  Please wire money immediately to a bank account in India.  Earn a high commission.  I am desperate and counting on you!”  Replies?  None!  Trapped in hotel, lonesome credit card confinement for ten days … I’m ex … India on a shoestring!  Priceless!

Thirty years ago as a dogsbody in London, the very first transaction on which I sent invitation telexes was the raising from the flush banking community of a US$30million five year floating rate certificate of deposit for the cash-strapped London Branch of Canara Bank, a leading Indian bank.  No queues to deposit money then!  We all needed a correspondent bank to lean on!  Now the queues outside Canara branches suggested that my previous telexed facility with the fine London Branch would count for nothing should I attempt to claim a priority relationship!  A career circle … minus the plug?

One month post the event the perma-queues were still at it, retail “global warming” on a round the block scale.  Watch for over-heating … At least the demon was let out of the box in the cooler season, post-monsoon, post-harvest.  Otherwise imagine the temper … atures …

The demonetisation declaration, prepared in secrecy, was designed to wrong foot counterfeiters and ensnare the undeclared black economy, estimated at 20% of GDP (World Bank 2010) or more (others), eradicate corruption and so boost the government tax take.  It caught the nation by surprise, and perhaps the perpetrators too …

… but it has happened before; in January 1946 immediately after WW2 in black market army surplus mayhem, and more recently in 1978!  But in 1978, the satanic notes were just 15% of issued absorbent tenderness!  Not our significant other 86%!  And in 1978 less than 15% of the 15% demonic was deposited back into the banks!  Something of a Reserve Bank “pat-on-the-back” windfall.  This time around the perma-queues testified to the redeposit figure being much higher!  As of 10th December it was Rs12.44lakh crores or 80% of the designated illegal notes in issue that were piled up back at the banks.  In the face of this redeposit tsunami, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had re-issued only Rs4.61lakh crores of new notes… a lamentable 30% replacement ratio, but 30% that no-one could use!  I am telling you, a perfect Catch 22!  End April is cash normalisation target … 6 months after Demon Day.  Statisticians say the banks have extraordinary loan to deposit ratios, and interest rates have fallen!  Dream, and growth and taxes will come!

In 1978 the debate was out as to whether demonetisation caught any “black money”.  I. G. Patel, the RBI governor, on the subject; “The idea that black money or wealth is held in the form of notes tucked away in suit cases or pillow cases is naïve …”.  Is it different today?  Demand for real estate, gold jewellery, and other luxury items can expect a hit.  Watch that “winded” 4Q 2016 GDP number … before the “predicted” second economic wind in 2017?  And this is before the boost from the proposed changes to General Sales Tax (GST)!  Political potatoes … not for the paan kiosks and kirana stores!

So, on Remembrance Sunday down and almost out in Mumbai and feeling sorry for ourselves, a conciliatory visit to the Church of St John the Evangelist, the “Afghan Church”, was in order.  Located in the Naval Cantonment in Colaba just to the south of the city centre, it is a striking building offering impressive yet refined sanctuary, if perhaps a little down at heel.  It deserves more. 

The church was commissioned by the East India Company to commemorate those lost in the First Afghan War (1839-42) and the utterly ignominious and humiliating retreat from Kabul by the garrison, the Army of Kabul, under the command of the wholly unsuited, Major General William Elphinstone.  In his own words; “Unfit for it, done up body and mind”.  In 1815 he had commanded the 33rd Regiment of Foot at Waterloo.  Twenty six years later in Kabul, he had not seen any action since the Napoleonic Wars, and was gout ridden.  Campaign wound from serving as aide-de-camp to King George IV?

Kabul was in ferment and erupted on 2nd November 1841.  The British Resident, Sir William Mcnaghten, was assassinated on 23rd December, and the impossible-to-defend military cantonment was besieged.  An evacuation with security guarantees was negotiated.  It was the height of winter.  On 6th January 1842, the garrison of 4,500 together with 12,000 camp followers left.  Disaster beckoned as the column trudged through the high passes of the Hindu Kush.  The guarantees never crystalised.

From the heights the long barreled jezails of the Ghilzai tribesmen easily outshot the Brown Bess muskets of the inadequately equipped column down below.  Tribal horsemen picked off stragglers and supplies at will, and freezing weather took its toll.  After 5 days, on 11th January, Elphinstone, his number two and the wives surrendered, leaving the few survivors to fight on.  Carnage.  The residual was annihilated in a devastating ambush near the village of Gandamak.  

Only the immortalised “sole” survivor, a surgeon Dr William Brydon (1811-1873) made the 90 miles to Jalalabad, arriving on 13th January, saved by a copy of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, stuffed into his hat for added warmth.  An editorial and/or a feature had taken the full force of an Afghan sword.

The church edifice was designed by Bombay city engineer Henry Coynbeare with the interior by William Butterfield.  Consecrated on 7th January 1857, the bell tower was added in 1865.  The church honours soldiers of the British 44th Foot, and the Bengal Army from the 2nd Bengal Light Cavalry, the 1st Bengal European Infantry, the 2nd, 27th, 37th and 48th Bengal Native Infantry, and the Bengal Horse Artillery.  For our visit, the pipes and drums of the 7th Battalion Sikh Regiment in full regalia added resonance.  Chastened.  We were two.

Suitably reflective, it was to Hyderabad, the City of Pearls, in search of impecunious triangulation and solace.  Once the most powerful of the Princely States, larger than France, landlocked in the middle of India, Hyderabad was the seat of the Nizam-ul-Mulk (Administrator of the Realm), home of the Asaf Jah dynasty, the richest in the world.  After Nizam 7G it was also demonetised!

The first Nizam, Mir Qamar-ud-Din Siddiqi (1671-1748) was born in Agra.  His grandfather, Khwaja Abid Khan Siddiqui Bayafandi, and his father, Mir Shahab ud-Din Siddiqi (1649-1710), were successful Mughal generals under Emperor Aurangzeb.  The family was of Turkoman descent, scholars with lineage traceable to Abu Bakr Siddique, the first Caliph of Islam, and to the Prophet Mohammed (the Caliph’s son-in-law).  The boy was a prodigy.  

In 1687 in the Mughal campaign to take the Deccan (Hyderabad), the coveted plateau between the Western and Eastern Ghats, the future Nizam’s dad was in command.  Grandpa, along for the ride, led the attempted storming of the magnificent and impregnable Golconda Fort.  He lost an arm and died a few days later.  They regrouped and adopted the less belligerent and more traditional alternative of bribing their way into the fort and the vast treasury of gold, silver and jewellery.

Son accompanied dad for the rest of the campaign to its conclusion in 1705.  Mughal overstretch, Aurangzeb’s death (1707) and ensuing chaos presented opportunities. 

In 1712 Qamar-ud-Din was appointed Viceroy of the Deccan.  More chaos and back to Delhi, he served as Prime Minister, then resigned.  In 1724, he reclaimed by force his Deccan Viceroyalty, presumably with one eye on Golconda and surrounds.  His sovereignty was recognised by the emperor and … bingo, dynasty established!  Proclaimed Asaf Jah I, as Nizam he swore eternal loyalty to the emperor whilst ruling the Deccan as a personal fiefdom. 

The Nizams extracted nazar (gifts) from all and sundry in return for land grants, a favour, or simply on a whim, and they maintained a well-stocked zenana (harem) of tens to hundreds depending on inclination, with eunuchs and abundant legitimate and illegitimate progeny.  Hyderabad was in the traditional image of a feudal Mughal court; a Sunni Muslim elite had replaced a Shia dynasty and was ruling a majority Hindu population.
 
Inestimable riches were derived from the Nizam’s personal estate, the Sarf-i-Khas, (one third of the territory), plus the gem mines surrounding Golconda, for centuries the only providers of the world’s diamonds (and myriad other gems), and, the uninterrupted fast-flowing streams of nazar from the eager to please.

Another third of the state lands was granted to the Muslim nobility of which the Paigah became the most prominent.  Asif Jah II’s daughter married a Paigah son, a custom that was to continue down the years, and, as perennial-in-laws, the Paigahs were second only to the Nizams.  The final third was held in the name of the office of Diwan (Prime Minister) to cover the cost of government.  Oooh temptation!

The Koh-i-Noor diamond had been found in the 13th century.  It touched many, Mughal emperor, King of Persia, and the family of Shah Shuja, the British puppet briefly installed in Afghanistan after the First Anglo-Afghan War before eventually finding its way into the British Crown Jewels.  Others are the Daria-i-Noor and the Noor-ul-Ain (from the same stone in the Persian crown jewels), the Hope (as le Bijou du Roi was Louis XIV’s), the Princie (sold by the Nizam in 1960 for Stg46,000), the Regent (formerly the Pitt, sold to the French Regent, Philippe II, Duc d’Orleans thence via Louis XV and XVI to Marie Antoinette’s hat) and so on.

Initially battling the neighbours, the Sultan of Mysore and the Marathas, with British interference and assistance in varying measures, and British ascendancy over France (for a while it was in the balance), the Nizam’s descendants were for the most part independently minded but Anglo-aligned.  They enjoyed sovereignty and protection, at a price, under the watchful, critical and paramount gaze of a British Resident and a British military detachment, the Subsidiary Force.  The Nizam retained his own military capability.   The most notable British Resident James Kilpatrick (1798-1805) was to build a Residency to compliment the magnificence of the Nizam’s palaces and the status of Hyderabad.  

Coffers of state were periodically emptied, but the Nizam’s personal fortunes continued to amass.  The late 19th century saw dramatic improvements under the 6th Nizam and the careful modernising stewardship of the Diwan Salar Jung. Hyderabad had its own telegraph, postal service, electricity, telephones, and railways (Hyderabad to Nagpur, 1874).  It was the most important seat of Islamic culture and learning east of Mecca.

The 6th Nizam, Mahboob Ali Khan (1866-1911), embodied the traditional lifestyle, famously flamboyant and yet was a hugely popular ruler.   He was known as Mahboub Ali Pasha or the “Beloved”.  His father died before he was three, and he was raised in the zenana …  In the words of Sir Richard Meade, the British Resident (1875-81) commenting on the onerous educational timetable of the in-betweener; “After twelve the Azure retires to the zenana, and tyranises over 400 women, who spoil and pet him as a matter of course.  Zenana influence is the principal thing against which the tutor of one of these boys has to contend.”

Profligate but generous he was a reformer, promulgating Hyderabad’s first constitution and he replaced Persian with Urdu as the language of administration.  He also bankrupted the state.  In 1895 he took a fancy to the magnificent Falaknuma Palace claiming it as a nazar from Viqar ul-Umra, the 5th Amir of the Paigahs, grandson of Asaph Jah III, and the Nizam’s Diwan (he had over-extended and the Nizam got it for a song).  The Nizam moved in, but in 1911 aged just 45, he succumbed to the ravages of alcohol and opium.  David Barr, British Resident (1900-1905) had earlier commented; “he has exhausted his energies by his devotion to the sensual life of the zenana, and that he is prematurely losing his nerve and his physical strength.”

The same Nizam was recorded in the local press of November 1908 as reacting strongly to being overtaken by one of his officials in a near miss whilst driving to the British Residency on the occasion of the birthday of King Edward VII.  The offending Nawab Surya Jung was fined Rs1,000 and had all his motor cars confiscated by the Nizam, himself something of a collector(see full report below).

There were significant political watersheds. 

Despite a dynastic legacy of eternal allegiance to the Mughal Emperor, the 5th Nizam, critically, decided not to back the Sepoy Uprising of 1857.  He was nominally rewarded, but Queen Victoria trumped him becoming Empress, outranking he who considered himself her equal.  Not amused.

WW1 and on 14th November 1914, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI, the 27th Calif and thus the spiritual head of Islam declared with some reluctance a jihad calling on all Muslims to rise against the infidel British.  The 7th Nizam, Osman Ali Khan (1886-1967) owed allegiance to the Calif, but declined, and issued a farman (decree) calling on all his subjects to remain loyal to Britain.  The Nizam in December 1914; “There is no country in the world where Moslems enjoy such liberty as they do in India.  The folly and rashness of those in whose hands the destiny of Turkey is placed have plunged her in a vortex from which she cannot emerge with any shred of status as a nation.”

The 7th Nizam was to contribute Stg25m, the DH9A bomber aircraft of Squadron 110 Royal Flying Corps (the Hyderabad Squadron), and significant manpower to the British war effort.  Reward?  More titles “Most Faithful Ally of the British Empire”, later embellished with “His Exalted Highness”; but “glass ceiling”… King George V was now paramount!  The Nizam was one of four princes entitled to a 21-gun salute and the acknowledged leader of India’s Muslims.   Bang bang bang!

Hyderabad boomed with the rebuilding of much of the city that had been destroyed by the devastating floods of the Musi River in 1908. 

Publicly obsessively frugal and acquisitive, Osman Ali Khan was well on the way.  Nazar rose to near extortionate levels.  By the 1920’s the zenana comprised 4 official wives, 200 unofficial concubines (down to 42 by the time of his death in 1967).  There were 100 children and grand children, which by 2005 had multiplied to 500 descendants.  The financial up and the ultimate fortune down!

Post WW1 Turkey saw Kemal Ataturk briefly install Mejid, cousin of the deposed Sultan, as the Caliph of Constantinople, only for him to be “abolished” in 1924, and exiled in penury.  The Nizam spotted a philanthropic opportunity in the form of pocket money for the ex-Calif.  With the royal houses of Egypt, Persia and Iraq in fierce competition, he negotiated for his sons Azam and Moazzam to marry Mejid’s daughter, Durrushehvar, and her cousin’s daughter, Niloufer, in Nice in 1931.  Quite a catch, both impressively comfortable sophisticates and polar opposites of their oppressively sheltered zenana raised husbands.

The Nizam’s descendants could claim to be the undisputed spiritual leaders of the Sunni Muslim world.  Azam of the wandering gaze and Pavlovian straight bat follow through was not interested, but both grandfathers had aspirations for Azam’s infant son, Mukarram Jah.  To this day he has refused the role.

The 7th Nizam’s silver jubilee celebration fell due in 1936, but was postponed a year because of the death of King George V.  Osman Ali Khan made the front cover of Time magazine for 22nd February 1937; “his jewels have an estimated value of $150,000,000, he reputedly has salted down $250,000,000 in gold bars and his capital totals some $1,400,000,000, not to mention the fabled “Mines of Golconda…”  The New York Times quoted annual income betweem US$2.5m-50.0m and US$2bn in jewels!  Duncan Mackenzie, the British Resident had earlier estimated the Nizam’s annual income at 27.3% of the net revenue of the state.  The wealthiest man in the world suspended in aspic in a religio-political Neverland with Wendy and a zenana of Tinkerbelles!

With the rise of the Indian National Congress (Congress) the ultimate political watershed was approaching the Nizam’s Mughal idyll.  Due to their autonomy, the Princely States did not take part in the Indian provincial elections of 1937, which saw Congress win in all Hindu provinces.  Congress had no political base in Hyderabad. 

A federation was mooted, but the Nizam demanded retention of his currency and postal services, control of his railways and a written guarantee that Britain would continue protect the Asaf Jahi dynasty as “The Most Faithful Ally of the British Empire”.  Limply Britain only offered to fulfill its obligations “if it could”.  The Nizam would have none of it.  WW2 intervened.

Post WW2, the British Atlee government did not support independence of the Princely States, offering only a federation, with either India or Pakistan.  The Nizam was adamant in wishing for neither.  In 1947 he toyed with the idea of buying Goa from Portugal to gain maritime access, and, as a precaution proceeded to rearm spending Stg20m on guns and ammunition flown in from Pakistan in a fleet of 5 converted Lancasters, arranged by a maverick and multi-faceted Australian, Sidney Cotton (the Lancasters could outfly all airplanes at India’s disposal).  It was all to little avail.

Tensions mounted.  On 13th September 1948, the Indian armed forces invaded.  Operation Polo was quick, and casualty and resistance free, but there were reports of at least 27,000 sectarian reprisal killings.  On 25th January 1950, the Nizam handed over his lands in return for Rs2.5m per annum and a privy purse of Rs5m per annum.  He kept his palaces and jewels.   He continued his now famously frugal lifestyle, adopting an extended family of the impecunious, that resided with him in the palace. 

His currency, the Hyderabadi Hali or Osmania Sicca, was demonetised in stages from 1950 to 1959.  And, since 1967 with the personal fortune in the arms’ length hands of the non-dom 8th Nizam, it has largely gone.  Looted over five decades, stolen by corrupt, criminal and/or incompetent advisers, and disputed and settled in the courts with the hundreds of “related” claimants. 

After years of abject neglect the visible Asaf Jah legacy for the nation now demonstrates some permanence in the recently restored palaces of Chowmahalla, open to the public, and Falaknuma, now a beautiful heritage hotel, a glorious commemoration of past opulence and a feudal Mughal way of life. 

The Nizams’ tombs are in the Makkah Masjid, the main mosque in Hyderabad.  A Rs20 offering for a blessing in front of a sainted Nizam’s tomb imparted with a fly whisk depleted our collected cash reserve, but seemed worth the punt in the hope of purchasing a Sunni indulgence.

And James Kirkpatrick’s magnificent palladian British Residency has also received a restorative lifeline reversing condemnation and near terminal decay.  For the curious Hyderabad is well worth a visit!

The flight out from Chennai passed off without incident, and without recourse to the inflight magazine as head gear.  In Singapore several moneychangers quoted S$0.00 for buying Rupees!  But we were still two!

NOTES:

 

November 1908 Drastic Cure for Road Hogs
“His Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad, the premier native chief in India, has devised a system of treatment for road hogs which, if drastic, threatens to eliminate the nuisance from his broad dominions.  It seems that while His Highness was motoring to the “at home” at the British Residency on the occasion of the King’s birthday, one of the vassals of the State, the Nawab Surya Jung, came along the road at great speed in the wake of his ruler, and, in a moment of fatuous ignorance, overtook the royal car, just missing collision with the car by a space of two inches.  What the illustrious potentate said in consequence of this affront to his dignity, and imperilment of his existence, is not recorded, but his opinions on the subject are adumbrated in the Firman that was promulgated two days later (November 11th), in which the luckless Nawab was sentenced to a fine of 1,000 rupees (about Stg66) and the confiscation of all the motor cars he possesses!  As these cars average in value from 10,000 to 20,000 rupees each (Stg666 to Stg1,332), at Hyderabad, it will be seen that the sting in the punishment does not rest in the fine. 
Our correspondent who communicates these facts avers that the action of the Nizam in this matter is heartily approved by the inhabitants of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, including the British troops in cantonments at the latter station.  It appears that the reckless driving of the Hyderabad nobles, young and old, has been more than a menace to the safety of the non-motoring public, and that many accidents, fatal and otherwise have resulted therefrom.  In this connection, it is added that these hasty scions of the nobility rarely, if ever, condescend to stop and enquire into the results of their carelessness when they chance to run down any children or adults in the roadway.  However this may be, the moral of the Nawab’s punishment is plainly to the effect that it is injudicious for road hogs in India to give the reins to their lust for speed and to run down native potentates within the pale of their own dominions.”



 

Back to top