Wednesday, December 1, 1999

A Living Legend

Legends and anecdotes of Hyderabad-52

A Living Legend
By Narendra Luther

Raj Bahadur Gour belongs to a Kayasth family which had settled here some generations ago. Born in 1918, he was a very bright student who always stood first and earned scholarships in every class. Out of his scholarship money he started a reading room and a library in 1934. In 1939, he joined the Communist Party wen it was established in Hyderabad. The next year he became a member of the Comrades' Association. In 1941, when he was studying medicine, he was elected vice-president of the students' union and editor of his college magazine.

Medicine to politics

In October 1946, Raj Bahadur Gour participated in the Anti-Repression Day. Resultantly, along with many of his colleagues, he was arrested on November, 15, 1946.

Restless and impatient, he could not submit to the confines of the prison. A conspiracy was hatched. He and Jawad Razvi started complaining of recurrent fever. They were examined by Dr. Bankat Chander, who found apparently nothing wrong with them. However, he suggested that their teeth might be checked. Dr. Morris, the dentist at the Osmania Hospital, was asked to treat them. He said the equipment could not be brought to the jail and that the patient would have to be sent to the hospital. The dental clinic was on the ground floor and it opened onto the Begum Bazar from the back. They were taken to the clinic on 7th May, 1947.

That was the day Jaya Prakash Narayan was visiting Hyderabad and so most of the police were busy in that connection. A number of comrades in disguise stood in a queue as patients outside the clinic. When the escorting policemen tried to accompany the two detainees inside the clinic, those standing in the queue objected to their breaking the line. They also said the patients could go in but not the police men. The two patients were sent alone inside, and after the treatment, they escaped through the back door to Begum Bazar. There a car stood waiting for them. From there they were driven to Asif Nagar where the car was changed. There the two separated. From that day Raj remained underground for four years.

Escape and arrest

On 24 April, 1951 while drinking water from a pond in a jungle at Devarkonda, Raj was captured and he spent the next thirteen months in jail. During that period he was subjected to torture and was placed in the condemned prisoner's cell. For some times he was in the company of some of the officers who had been detained in the Central Jail after the Police Action. Raj, with some of them who were literary-minded, set up a 'Shaw's Corner' in the jail. There they used to discuss literary topics.

Raj was also one of those who were in favour of the withdrawal of the armed struggle after the Police Action, but once the Party decided otherwise, he scrupulously followed the line.

It was during the Telangana Armed Struggle that he met and married Brij Rani who was also a bold Party worker.

His house

A slum had developed in Chikkadpalli near the big drain. The authorities planned to evict the squatters when Brij Rani stepped in and stopped it. The grateful people offered one of the huts to Brij Rani and Raj, and that is how they got a roof over their head. In 1982, their daughter , Tamara, who is a Russia-trained physician, built a small pucca house there. Raj called it "Chambeli Ka Mandwa" after the famous poem of his friend and colleague, Makhdoom Mohiuddin. Once when communal riots broke out, Raj jumped between the two factions and said they could cross that point only over his dead body. Since then no incident has taken place there.
Trade unionism and literature are his two loves and when he is not settling labour disputes, he is either reading or writing. Since 1970, he has been vice-president of All India Trade Union Congress. Alongside, he has written three books of literacy criticism in Urdu. Raj rose to be a member of the Politbureau of the Party and was a member of the Rajya Sabha for a decade. But he remains rooted to his original slum and his people. Like Makhdoom, he has lead a very clean political life. He has no love for money.

Member of Parliament

When he was a member of Parliament, a visitor had come to offer him some money. At that point , Tamara, a child of eight, came asking for some money. Raj said he did not have any and asked her brusquely to go away. The visitor felt that there was an opening and gave her a rupee. "That was the only time that he ever slapped me " recollects Tamara. She adds that financially the family was in bad shape, but she did not miss money because 'Makhdoom uncle' always brought her whatever she needed. And she seldom needed anything costlier than a copy book or indulged in a greater a luxury than an ice-cream.

Raj got the Bahadur Shah Zafar Award in 1991 for his outstanding service to the cause of Urdu. He found that it carried a cash award of Rs. 25, 000 with it. Perplexed, he asked Tamara what he'd do with so much money!

She discreetly suggested that he could discharge some of his debts. That reminded him that he owned her some amount -- a loan which he had not been able to repay. There were other creditors too. He discharged all his debts and was still left with about Rs. 10, 000. That amount went to the Makhdoom Trust.

Makhdoom, ten years his senior, was his mentor and his bosom friend. They drank and sang and agitated together. There is not an occasion when Raj does not remember him till today. Like him he also loves to tease people and to dominate the company. He has a quick wit. He is blunt his words do not leave any bitterness even after he has said the harshest thing. He immediately cancels the hurt with a charming remark.

Raj looks back at his life and says, " How strange and stupid we were in so many situations." But that does not mean he has any regrets. He believes that the Telangana Armed Struggle was the confluence of three streams: economics, politics and cultural; and it was inevitable in those circumstance for it to come about and for young men and women to join it. He is still involved in his mission - of ameliorating the conditions of the working class. That struggle will never end for him.

He is now the Vice Chairman of the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language established by the Government of India. He travels extensively for various causes still dear to his heart


Monday, November 1, 1999

Two Courageous Journalists

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad-48

Two Courageous Journalists
By Narendra Luther

We have talked about a cross-section of Muslims who had the courage to oppose the razakars in the Hyderabad of 1940’s. Mention must be made of two prominent journalists who voiced their opposition boldly.

Qazi Abdul Gaffar

One of them was Qazi Muhammad Abdul Gaffar. He was born in a well-to-do family of Muradabad in UP in 1889. His ancestors were qazis under the Mughals. In 1857, for giving refuge to a Mughal prince his grand father was executed and his property was confiscated. Later, he was exonerated posthumously and the property was restored to the family.
Abdul Gaffar’s father was in the good books of the British and was awarded the title of Khan Bahadur. However, Abdul Gaffar did not like the British. After his studies, he took a job but fell out with his British superior and left it. Thereafter he took up import and export work but lost money in it. He then turned to journalism. In 1931 he came to Hyderabad and started an Urdu daily Payam. It was a progressive paper and was opposed both to the prevalent feudal system and the communalism of the Ittehad Party. Because of that he earned the enmity of the reactionary and communal elements in the State. But he remained steadfast in his views.
When Sir Mirza Ismail became the Prime Minister of Hyderabad in 1947, Qazi Abdul Gaffar was appointed Director of Information. But after the exit o Sir Mirza, he lost that job.

Warning to [Nizam]

He left Hyderabad in 1947. At the time of his departure, he wrote a letter to the Nizam running into in to twenty-one foolscap pages. In that he warned the Nizam against what he called the ‘dictatorship of the political charlatans’ who, under the guise of protecting the rights of their co-religionists were in fact trying to establish a Fascist domination over the Nizam. They were exploiting the Nizam as a pawn in their game of power politics. He said that his corrupt bureaucracy, was aligned with communal elements. Everything happening had the alleged backing and support of the Nizam. He recalled that he had pleaded with him for a fair and just government, but in vain. If the Nizam favoured one community, the Qazi warned, it would lead to civil war. Nothing less than responsible government could save the Nizam’s position .His refusal to do so would ‘mean utter disregard of public welfare’.
Referring to the fire-eating leader of the razakars, Kasim Razvi, he charged that his ‘constant provocation drenched in angry threats and dripping with humiliating ridicule and contempt has served as nothing else could have done to rouse the complaisant Hindu...The Hindu majority of the State has been goaded into action by constant pinpricks and reckless shouting of the Majlis leaders, who encouraged by Your Exalted Highness’s support and much advertised patronage and the deplorable inactivity of the Government, have gone too far to recede.’ He deplored the treatment meted out successively to Sir Akbar Hydari, the Nawab of Chhattari, and Sir Mirza Ismail. He prophesied ‘that the final outcome of the negotiations is not going to be much different from what Sir Mirza envisages.’
He concluded his forceful and brilliant analysis by advising the Nizam to adopt ‘the self-evident maxim that no ruler can rule without the support of the public opinion representing the majority of his subjects’.
It is easy to guess what would have happened to the author of such a letter if he were still in Hyderabad. But by the time the letter was delivered to the Nizam the redoubtable journalist was out of his reach. The Nizam fretted and fumed, but paid no heed to the contents of the letter. The consequence of that is now a part of history.

Shoebullah Khan

Amongst the journalists who did honour to their calling, and even went to the extent of laying down in his life for the cause that he espoused, was a young handsome journalist.
Shoebullah Khan, born in Hyderabad in 1920, was a fierce opponent of communal fanaticism. He had worked successively in the Urdu Taj weekly and the Rayyat daily, both of which were banned for championing the cause of responsible government in Hyderabad. He then started a daily, the Imroz through which he exposed the atrocities of the razakars and the police. Through his bold writings, he maintained the tempo of popular struggle against the government. He thus earned the ire of the Ittehad Party and the Razakars. In a speech on 19 August 1948 Kasim Razvi warned that any hand raised against the honour of Muslims would be cut off. Defying that threat, on 21 August 1948, Shoeb wrote an editorial criticizing the stand of the Ittehad and advocating the accession of the State with India. That night, when he and his brother-in-law, Isamil Khan were going home after work, some razakars accosted them. While two men engaged Shoebullah in conversation, another shot Shoebullah from behind with a revolver. Ismail was attacked with swords. Shoeb fell on the ground. Then, as if in fulfillment of Razvi’s threat, Shoebullah’s right hand was cut off.
That was the last great offering made in the struggle for the accession of Hyderabad to India. Less than a month later, Hyderabad became a part of India.
Till recently, his death anniversary was observed as the Martyr’s Day. But now he is forgotten.

Gaffar’s Frustration

Gaffar returned to Hyderabad after the Police Action. He then saw that the erstwhile underdogs had become got the upper hand. Some of them turned upon not only the earlier perpetrators of excesses but also on some innocent members of the minority community. They now sought protection. Some fled to safer places, and some migrated to Pakistan. Qazi Abdul Gaffar and Pandit Sunder Lal toured the State and conducted an inquiry into the alleged excesses committed against the minority community. Their report was submitted to the Government of India.
Qazi Abdul Gaffar expired in 1956 at Aligarh. None of his male offspring survived. Of his two daughters, one Fatima and her husband Alam Ali Khan, in their seventies, stay in Banjara Hills. Their three children are in Canada.
It is a different world today.

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Friday, October 1, 1999

The Tables Turned

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad-50

The Tables Turned
By Narendra Luther

B.P.R. Vithal, an I.A.S officer who retired as principal secretary of the Finance Department of the Government of Andhra Pradesh and then served as a member of the 10th Finance Commission was, at the time of Police Action, a young man of 21, studying at Madras (now Chennai).
Arbitrary Removal

His father, Ram Narsu was an assistant professor in the Nizam College. He was an outspoken non-conformist and did not hesitate to utilize his lecture on British history to underline the justification of the aspiration for freedom amongst Indians. The principal, an Englishman called Turner, did not like him and terminated his service one day on the plea that post had ceased to exist.

Narsu’s wife was a good veena player and that had brought her close to Laila, wife of Hasan Latif, a chief engineer in the Hyderabad State. He was and father of Air Chief Marshall I.H. Latif, who became the Chief of Staff of the Indian Air Force, and later served as governor of Maharashtra, and ambassador to France. She was the niece of Sir Akbar Hydari and, on the death of her father, had been brought up by him. She sought Sir Akbar’s intercession in the case of the termination of Narsu’s services. Seeing the injustice and arbitrariness on the part of the principal, Sir Akbar ordered Narsu’s immediate reinstatement.
Father or son

Vithal, meanwhile, had finished his schooling at the Aliya, and joined the Nizam College. A keen, sensitive student, Vithal became interested in politics and took part in the ‘Quit India’ Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi in 1942. He also used to wear khadi. The new principal of the college, Khader Hussain Khan did not approve of his conduct. His warning to Vithal having failed, he called Narsu and told him about his son’s ‘undesirable’ activities. He then gave him an ultimatum: ”One of you will have to leave the college -- you or your son.”

The father mentioned this to the son. Vithal said that the father needed to stay in Hyderabad to provide for the family. Therefore, he would go away. He then went and joined the Christian College at Madras. He found comparatively greater freedom to indulge in his innocent politics in the then British Indian Presidency of Madras.

Like some sensitive young people, Vithal started maintaining a private journal in which he recorded what seemed to be important incidents to him and his observation on various matters.

In Hyderabad and around, tension had started mounting in 1948. Razakars began to pose a threat to citizens who did not share their ideology of establishing an independent Islamic state in Hyderabad. Ram Narsu, anticipating the danger ahead, called a student of his, Makhdoom Ali Khan. He was an active member of the Razakar Party – the Majlis–e-Ittehad-ul-Mussalmeem. At that time he was its treasurer. Narsu asked him whether he would keep his jewelry and valuable in safe custody, just in case...

Makhdoom readily agreed. Narsu then gave him a packet.

“Don’t worry, Sir", replied Makhdoom respectfully, as he took the packet, "Insha Allah, everything will be alright."

From the newspapers in Madras in September 1948, Vithal gathered that something serious was in the offing. He therefore decided to pay a visit to his parents. He took the train from Madras on 11 September and found that train services from Vijayawada to Secunderabad had been cancelled. The train was diverted via Wadi. On the early morning of the 12th, three Razakars with third class tickets got into Vithal’s second class compartment at Wadi. No one objected. Vithal heard them say that Jinnah had died that day. Vithal reached home on the evening of the 12th to the mild surprise of his family.

The Police Action

The Indian forces moved into the State early next morning. Vithal was lucky. Now he wondered what would happen and how long he would be stuck in Hyderabad.
On the 17th when the Nizam read his surrender speech over the radio, Vithal noted in his journal that he tried to sound innocent as if he had been misled. ‘The Nizam is the villain of the piece, though Seshu (his cousin whom he later married) and Indu don’t agree.’

The next day Vithal went to the telegraph office to send a telegram to his relatives in Vijayawada to inform them that the family was safe. As he stood in a queue, a Muslim youth walked in nonchalantly to the head of the line. Vithal told him that there was a queue and that he should not break it. The young man quietly withdrew and stood behind Vithal. That night Vithal recorded the incident in his journal and added a comment: ‘Can you imagine my doing such a thing a few days ago!’

Return of the Trust

The same afternoon Makhdoom Ali Khan came to Ram Narsu. He returned the packet of jewellry, which had been in his safekeeping to his teacher. Then, rather sheepishly he handed Ram Narsu another packet.
“What is this?” the teacher asked in wonder.

“Sir, now it is my turn to request you to keep our jewellry in safe custody with you. If you don’t mind...”.
The gentle teacher’s voice choked as he accepted the packet and absorbed the implications of changed circumstances. He patted the young man reassuringly and said, ‘Don’t worry. With God’s grace things will be alright.’
In due course, the packet was returned to the owner in tact.

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Wednesday, September 1, 1999

Rival of the Seventh Nizam

Legend and anecdotes of Hyderabad - 49

Rival of the Seventh Nizam
By Narendra Luther

If the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mehboob Ali Khan had not died at the comparatively young age of 43 in 1911, the history of Hyderabad would have been entirely different. Instead of Mir Osman Ali Khan, probably his half-brother, Mir Ahmed Mohiuddin, later known as Salabat Jah would have become the seventh Nizam.

The Ninth Son

The prince was born in 907 to Ujjala Begum, the favourite wife of the sixth Nizam. He had eight sons before Mohiuddin, but all of them except Mir Osman Ali Khan had died in their infancy. Mohiudddin also had a sister, Ahmedunissa Begum who was four years junior to him.

Mir Osman Ali Khan was born in 1886 and thus was 21 years older than his half-brother. It was widely held that Mir Osman Ali Khan was not the son of the sixth Nizam. since his mother was already carrying when the sixth Nizam took her into his harem. So when a son was born to the Begum, it was expected that he would be made the heir- apparent. Ujjala Begum demanded that from her husband. He put her off saying where was the hurry. She kept up her demand and one day was so insistent the decision be made without delay that the harassed husband stomped out of the Purani Haveli and drove off to the Falak Numa Palace. There he went into a drinking binge for three days. That resulted in a coma from which he never recovered. His death the age of 43 sealed the issue and the infant prince lost whatever chance he had of inheriting the gaddi.

Controversy about succession

Many nobles of the State also believed that Salabat Jah and not Mir Osman Ali Khan was entitled to succeed Nizam VI. On the latter’s death in 1911, a plea was made to the Viceroy that Salabat Jah was the rightful heir. Some signatures of nobles, including that of Maharaja Kishen Pershad were forged and appended to the petition. It was because of the alleged involvement of Maharaja Kishen Pershad in that ‘conspiracy’ that he lost his prime ministership on the accession of Mir Osman Ali Khan as the seventh Nizam.

Later, however, an inquiry revealed that the Maharaja and some others were not a party to the conspiracy. It was all the mischief of a junior police officer who wanted to curry favour with the new dispensation by vilifying some of the nobles. It took the Maharaja a quarter of a century to reestablish his credentials and regain his old job.

We have earlier seen how Nawab Shahab Jung helped the new Nizam establish his authority over the nobility. In that process the redoubtable Nawab himself became a victim and had to withdraw into a shell till his death.

Nizam’s treatment of the prince

The new Nizam then proceeded to strengthen his position. He was 25 and the pretender was an innocent infant of four. The Nizam ordered his step mother Ujjala Begum and her two children to move to a building in the compound of the King Kothi which was his residence so that he could keep a close watch over them.

The Nizam conferred the title of Salbat Jah on his infant half-brother and made arrangements for his education. The prince grew in a very restricted and ‘protected’ atmosphere. His visitors were screened and his mail was subjected to censor.

Prince’s girl friend

He grew into a handsome young man given to brooding and writing poetry. In his early youth a young Bengali girl, Leila Wellinker, charmed the prince. She was junior to him by eleven years. They were engaged, but the Nizam was opposed to the match and so the marriage had to be called off. The dejected prince then left on a trip to Europe.

Later, Salar Jung III, the founder of the Museum named after him fell in love with her. The chivalrous prince wrote: 'Never mind, I shall compose a sehra on the marriage!' However, that marriage also did not take place and Salar Jung too died a bachelor.

The prince was a dandy, a poet, and a singer with a weakness for the bottle. As a poet he sported the pen name of ‘Nashad’ Asifi- which means ‘the unhappy Asif Jah’.

Friendship with Mirza

The introvert prince found s friend in Aga Hyder Hasan Mirza, a man of regal bearing, and a professor of Urdu. He was descended from the royal Mughal family and could easily pass off as the last Mughal emperor. The prince used to pour out his heart to him in person and in letters. The Nizam did not approve of his meeting many people including the professor. They therefore had to be discreet. In order to be able to meet his friend more frequently and openly, once he had it proposed to the Nizam that the Mirza be appointed his tutor. The Nizam did not approve the proposal and instead advised the prince that he should meet him less often. The prince had therefore to resort to letter writing. Mirza kept those letters in safe custody . After his death, 78 letters were found amongst his papers. Of these, seventy were from the prince and six from Ujjala Begum to Mirza. Eleven of them are in English and the rest in Urdu. Mirza’s daughter, Mehrunissa Hussain has compiled these letters. That makes a good a portrait of the Prince and his times.

Sense of humour

The Prince had a good sense of humour. He derived comfort from the fact that his frustrations were not as great as those of the Nizam at not getting the Berars back from the British or of Mahatma Gandhi in not getting ‘Swaraj’. When he got an attack of piles in Europe, he wrote to Mirza that he had a visit from Nawab Bawaseer Jung. About his neglect by the Nizam, he wrote rather bitterly that, ‘Every dog is the tiger of his lane. If he is the Shah of his palace, this humble being too is the fakir of his hovel.’

The unhappy prince who might have been the Nizam of Hyderabad died at the age of 27 in 1934. His only sister died fifteen days later and that extinguished one line completely.

We are left wondering at the ironies of fate.

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Thursday, July 1, 1999

Mehdi Ali’s Irony of Fate

Legends and anecdotes of Hyderabad—48

Mehdi Ali’s Irony of Fate
By Narendra Luther

One of the rare men of conscience in the civil service under the Nizam was Mehdi Ali. Born in 1917, he was educated at Aligarh and the joined the Hyderabad Civil Service in 1941. Things were hotting up in Hyderabad politically.

In 1948 he was posted as Deputy Collector at Madhira in the Khammam district. The razakars were every where and the administration also was afraid of them. They would enter trains, loot passengers and otherwise misbehave with them. Once they detained a group of Marwaris and accused them of smuggling gold in their jars which, on search, were found to contain only pickles. The police were on the side of the razakars and in spite of the intervention of Mehdi Ali, they were harassed or twelve hours before they were allowed to go.

Mehdi Ali’s boss was the Commissioner of Warangal. He was an Arab named Habeeb Mohammad. He had a good reputation, but soon after the ascendancy of the razakars, he became a fanatic Muslim. He used to declare that he would mix the blood of Hindus with the water of the Bay of Bengal. Mehdi Ali did not like his rabid views, but could not help because he was his subordinate.

The Hindu population was so terror-stricken that a large percent of it moved across into the neighbouring Indian territory.

Under the Nizam the Arabs guarded the treasury in the district and talukas. They were very good at their job and were fiercely loyal. With deteriorating conditions, they became a law unto themselves. One night they attacked Dindkur village, which was about five kilometers from Madhira. The indulged in loot arson and rape. They even removed the mangala sutras of women, which are held very sacred by every married woman. The next morning a silent procession of panic-stricken women came to Mehdi Ali to protest about that and demanding action against the guilty persons. The police station was just opposite the residence of Mehdi Ali. At that time the officer in charge of the Police Station was with Mehdi Ali. His name was Habeebullah.

Mehdi Ali ordered the apprehension of the Arabs. The Police did nothing. The Arabs freely moved around and waited for the train at the railway station. When the train came they quietly boarded it with all the loot. Mehdi Ali felt humiliation and pain at the incident. He wrote to the commissioner patenting about the lawlessness and the incident. The Commissioner felt enraged that the Deputy Collector should complain about his brethren in faith. He wrote to the Government asking for his immediate transfer.

Kasim Razvi also had written to Mehdi Ali accusing him of harassing Razakars unnecessarily, and threatened him with dire consequences unless he changed his ways. Razvi also added that if he did not mend his ways, he might soon se ‘Warangal’. Mehdi Ali did not understand the meaning of that expression. He learnt later that it meant that he would be sodomized.
Mehdi Ali was promptly transferred. However, luckily for him the Police action took place soon and Hyderabad became a part of India. He thus escaped the dire consequences threatened by the Razakar leader.

Soon thereafter, he resumed he resumed duty under the changed circumstances. When in 1949, his turn came for promotion as collector, he found that his name was missing from the list of eight officers who were promoted. All the promoted officers were Hindus. Thereupon Mehdi Ali contacted Mulla Basith Ali who was one of the seven ‘Mirzas’ who had opposed the policies of the Nizam and had advocated the establishment of responsible government, and accession to India. Both met the Prime Minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru and complained about the injustice and discrimination under the new dispensation. Nehru did not believe it. Basith showed hi a copy of the order. On seeing that Nehru was shocked. He immediately rang up the Chief Civil Administrator, Bakhle. Bakhle was naturally surprised on receiving a call from the Prim Minister of India. Nehru asked him if some officers had recently been promoted as collectors.

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Bakhle nervously.
‘How many’?
‘Eight, sir.’
‘ Any Muslim amongst them?’
‘No, sir.’
We have done some screening, sir, and we are trying to redress the imbalance against the Hindus.’
‘This is too much and too sudden. Go slow. Let them not feel that we are discriminating.’
‘Yes, sir'. I shall review the decision.’

The list was revised. Three Muslims wee included in the new list. Mehdi Ali got his due promotion.

But he did not advance further. Some years when his name came up for promotion, he was overlooked. He could not imagine the reason. Vohra, an ICS officer who was trained along with him and who was in a high position in the Government of India told him confidentially that some superior officer of Mehdi Ali had recorded in his confidential roll that ‘his loyalties are divided.’

It was a most brutal cut. Such a remark against an officer who had the courage to oppose the razakars at the height of their power and who risked his entire career for the sake of justice to the oppressed! Thousands of Muslims had gone away to Pakistan after the Police Action. He too could have done that. But he stayed on. H was too shocked to appeal or agitate. How could a Muslim fight such an allegation? They were so vulnerable on that point. He just kept quiet and wondered at the irony f his fate.

When I met him some years ago, he was over eighty. He did not exhibit any trace of bitterness even if he felt any. He had a forgiving smile. Destiny plays strange games with human beings. Prejudice will never be eradicated from the human mind!

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Tuesday, June 1, 1999

Afraid –neither of Nizam, nor of Indira

Legends & anecdotes of Hyderabad – 47

Afraid –neither of Nizam, nor of Indira
By Narendra Luther

As we have seen, there were many Muslims in Hyderabad who opposed the political policy of the last Nizam in the ‘40s, which were dictated largely by the razakars. These courageous men supported the demand of the majority of the population for responsible government, and accession to India.

Mir Akbar Ali Khan was one such outstanding person. He was born in 1899, to Mehboob Ali Khan, a minor jagirdar in Bidar and the commander of one of the irregular troops of the Nizam. In 1919 as a graduate student of the Aligarh Muslim University, he came under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi and gave up his studies to join the non-Cooperation Movement. Later he completed his graduation from the Osmania University. Thereafter, he went to England and became a barrister from the Middle Temple, London. He returned to Hyderabad and set up his practice in 1927.

Devout Muslim

He was a devout Muslim. Every Thursday he would get up at four in the morning and walk up to the Dargah-e- Yusufain to offer his Morning Prayer. For seventy-five years he attended without fail the annual urs at Ajmer. Yet he was without a trace of religious bias. He personified true secularism.

In 1929, as a reaction against the communal policies of the Nizam’s Government, he joined some others like Padmaja Naidu, B. Ramakrishna Rao, Baqar Ali Mirza, Madapati Hanumantha Rao, Ali Yawar Jung, M. Ramachander Rao, M.H. Jafferi and Fazalur Rehman and set up a body called ‘Society of Union and Progress’. The name and inspiration for it was derived from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk of Turkey. No one belonging to any communal party was accepted as its member. The members signed a pledge affirming their belief in responsible government. It had a small membership, was moderate in its outlook, and had a limited impact.


Akbar was elected Mayor of Hyderabad and later, a member of the State Legislative Council. He believed that the State was conservative but not communal till the advent of the Ittehad party, particularly under Kasim Razvi. He felt that there were a number of secular persons but they were not willing to take any risk to rectify the situation. Razvi was crude and insensitive but capable of rousing mass hysteria. Mir Akbar Ali Khan met the Nizam several times. The latter listened to him, but according to Akbar, did not react.

Razvi offered him the prime ministership of Hyderabad after the departures of the Nawab of Chhattari in 1946 on condition that he join the Ittehad party. Akbar turned down the offer.

In 1948, on the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, he organized a public meeting. Razvi disrupted the meeting and his razakars assaulted Akbar. For his protest against the atrocities of the razakars he was constantly harassed. Every evening a group of ruffians used to come and chant murdabad slogans outside his residence in Saifabad. But Akbar remained firm in his resolve.

Joins Congress

After the Police Action, when Hyderabad became part of India, Mir Akbar Ali Khan joined the Congress party. He was the Vice-President of the Reception Committee of the State Congress when its session was held in Hyderabad in 1949. In 1956 he was elected to the Rajya Sabha and served for three consecutive terms spanning eighteen years. Out of that for eleven years he was its Vice-Chairman.

He was an ardent social worker and a builder of institutions. He started the Hyderabad Polytechnic by donating 15 acres of his land at Ramantapur, and 50000 rupees in cash. It was renamed after Jawaharlal Nehru after Nehru’s death. He was also one of the founder members of the Industrial Exhibition of Hyderabad. In 1975 he collected donations in cash and kind for the establishment of the ‘Yusuf Baba Ward’ in the Nampally Hospital. He also founded the ‘Old Boys Association of the Aligarh Muslim University. He used to organize help and relief for widowed women to last them for five years. He was awarded Padma Bhushan.

Strong principles

In 1972 he was appointed Governor of Uttar Pradesh. Mrs. Gandhi, the e Prime Minister felt that he was not helping her put down the then Chief Minister, Bahuguna. He was transferred to Orissa in 1974. In April 1976, his old friend and the renowned Socialist leader, Jaya Prakash Narayan visited Orissa. Akbar invited him for dinner at the Raj Bhavan. Mrs. Gandhi had clamped Emergency on the country and ‘JP’ was fiercely opposing it. Mrs. Gandhi considered him her enemy. One of her aides rang up the Akbar advising him to cancel the dinner. Akbar replied that he was inviting an old friend privately and could not cancel the dinner. He was told that the Prime Minister was not happy about it. He replied that he noted that. That evening the two friends had dinner together. The next morning Mir Akbar Ali Khan sent his resignation as the Governor of Orissa and returned to Hyderabad. He had the good grace not to give any reason.

In Hyderabad he continued to exhibit immense energy and goodwill and immersed himself in social, cultural and educational causes.

In 1994, just short of five years of a century of a life devoted to public causes, Nawab Mir Akbar Ali Khan passed away into history. He had four children out of whom three are alive. The eldest, Riazat Ali Khan served the UN and later took up business. He is settled in Switzerland.

The second daughter, Faizunissa became Hyderabad’s second lady advocate. She tended her father with great devotion after her mother’s death in 1960 and was his constant companion and hostess. She continues her father’s tradition of social service. Her son, Ishaq Anwar is an electronics engineer and runs an ad agency. The daughter, Waseem Kabir is an architect and an interior decorator.

The third, a daughter, Nayeem is a physician and is settled in Canada.

I had the privilege of knowing this man of great courage, rectitude -- and warm affection, and I cherish the association.

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Thursday, April 1, 1999

Civil Servant to Prime Minister

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad

Civil Servant to Prime Minister
By Narendra Luther

Of the 40 Prime Ministers who served the Nizams of Hyderabad, only three were from outside the State. Out of them only one – Akbar Hydari -- was a civil servant in British India.

He was born in 1869 to Seth Nazar Ali Hydari, a Suleimani Bohra businessman of Bombay. His mother was the sister of Badruddin Tayabji, a judge of the Bombay High Court, who later became the president of the Indian National Congress at its third session in Madras in 1887.

Appointment in Hyderabad

After his graduation, Akbar joined the Finance Department of the Government of India and served at Nagpur, Lahore, Alahabad, Bombay, and Madras. In 1905 he was deputed to Hyderabad as Accountant General. Two years later, he was promoted as Finance Secretary. In 1911 he became Home Secretary.

He stayed in what is now called Dilkusha Guest House and is located next to the Raj Bhavan. This building overlooked the Hussain Sagar Lake and had a beautiful rock garden at the back.

Akbar Hydari was responsible for the establishment of the Osmania University in 1918. It was the first university in which the medium of instruction was an Indian language -- Urdu. Beside the University he also had the High Court building constructed. He also established the State Archeology Department which undertook the preservation of many archaeological remains in the State.

He became a Minister in 1921 and held successively the portfolios of Finance, Home and Railways. A landmark reform — first in India -- the separation of judiciary from the executive was effected in Hyderabad in 1922. The Hyderabad Civil Service was established on the pattern of the Indian Civil Service in British India. An Industrial Trust Fund was created for the industrialization of the State. The first public sector unit – Road Transport -- was established in Hyderabad. In 1928 he was knighted and was thereafter known as Sir Akbar Hydari. He was also made a Privy Councilor He represented Hyderabad in three Round Table Conferences in London from 1930 onwards.

The Nizam’s two sons, the Prince of Barar and the Junior Prince were married to the daughter and niece respectively of the deposed Caliph of Turkey on 12th November, 1931 in Nice in France. The Nizam did not attend the joint wedding. Sir Akbar led the delegation comprising the grooms’ party.

As Premier

Sir Akbar Hydari succeeded Maharaja Kishen Pershad as Prime Minister in 1936. The decade of 30’s was a difficult period in the history of Hyderabad. As in the rest of India, political consciousness had risen to new heights. There was demand for responsible and representative government by the people at large. The Arya Samaj and the Hindu Maha Sabha had started agitation against the Nizam. The Indian National Congress was banned even before its establishment in 1938. That led to a good deal of correspondence between Sir Akbar Hydari and Mahatma Gandhi on the subject of political reforms in the State. In spite of their different political standpoints, which could not be reconciled, their correspondence was polite and charming. In one of his letters Mahatma Gandhi enquired about the health of Lady Hydari. In reply, Sir Akbar informed him that Jagadguru Shankaracharya was treating her. In the issue of 17 September 1938 of the Harijan, Mahatma Gandhi referred to Sir Akbar as ‘a great educationist.... and a philosopher...’

The Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Musalmeen declared in 1938 that in Hyderabad sovereignty belonged to the Muslims community. The Nizam was merely its symbol.

Sir Akbar naturally did not feel at ease in the atmosphere of clashing views and aggressive declarations.

After five years as Prime Minister, his relations with the Nizam seemed to have cooled off. One reason for that was that Akbar could not get the Berar back to the Nizam. In 1941 he was appointed a member of the Executive Council of the Viceroy. The Nizam gave him the title of Hyder Nawaz Jung and relieved him. He was not very happy at going to Delhi. Soon after going to Delhi, he passed away in 1942. His body was brought back to Hyderabad and buried in the Bohra graveyard in Hussaini Alam.

He was a kind person and very simple in his habits. He made people feel at ease with him. On the death of his brother, he adopted his three children and brought them up as his own.

He was a devout Muslim but many people have testified to his broad, liberal outlook. His house was somewhat of a cultural centre and artists and writers used to visit it frequently. Ravi Shankar’s elder brother, Uday Shankar came and stayed with him.

He offered his farmland in Shamsabad for housing the Aurobindo Ashram, which was later established at Pondicherry

In order to facilitate instruction in Urdu in the Osmania University, a Bureau of Translation was established and many men of letters from all over India were appointed to translate important books from other languages into Urdu. One such person was the great poet Josh Malihabadi. Josh records in his autobiography that when he was presented to Hydari, Josh made an insolent remark about him. However, later when Josh was dismissed from service due to Nizam’s displeasure, Sir Akbar, ignoring the incident, sanctioned a pension of 1000 rupees a month to him.

Once, when the agitating students of the University marched to his residence, he arranged refreshments for them and thus cooled their tempers.

Lady Hydari was a woman of substance. She was involved n social service and was awarded the Kaiser e- Hind medal for her work during the Floods of the Musi in 1908. The Lady Hydari Club for women commemorates her. She passed away in 1940.

His Hobbies

Sir Akbar had two interests. He used to have boxing sessions with an American physical instructor Weber and the children found it quite amusing to see the burly American with the somewhat puny minister punching each other. His other hobby was collection of miniature paintings. He willed them to the Prince Albert Museum in Bombay, and the State Archaeological Museum at Hyderabad, which he had himself founded. Such of those as were not taken by either of these were given to his children.

He had four sons and two daughters. One of his sons -- his namesake -- rose to be the Governor of Assam. His adoptive daughter, Laila’s son, I.H. Latif became successively, Chief of Staff of the Indian Air Force, governor, and ambassador. His wife Bilkees, stepdaughter of Sir Akbar’s son, Ali has some of the miniature paintings and pieces of exquisitely carved furniture – mementos from a bygone era. And of course lots of fond memories.


Monday, February 1, 1999

The Legendary Kotwal

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad -44

The Legendary Kotwal
By Narendra Luther

The Commissioner of Police of the City of Hyderabad used to be called the ‘Kotwal’. It is one of the oldest offices and used to be the most powerful job in the Government. A number of foreign travelers to the city have made references to this office in their accounts.

The last Kotwal was also the first Hindu holder of this office. He served in this job for over 14 years and became a legend even during his life-time.

Venkatram Reddy was born in August 1869 in Rayanipet village of Wanaparthy estate in Mehboob Nagar district. His father was a Patel of some eight villages and was well off. He was a grand nephew of the then Raja of Wanaparthy. His mother died three days after his birth, and the father, when he was about five. His maternal uncle, William Wahab, then took care of him. (The name might suggest that he was Christian. That was not so. The Raja of Wanaparthy had employed a Catholic teacher to educate some of his boys. So the boys were given Christian names, and in deference to the Muslim ruler, Muslim surnames). He was educated in his village and then at Wanaparthy where he became a class-fellow of Raja Rameshwar Rao II.

Wahab was in the Police and he brought up Venkatram till his sixteenth year when, while serving at Raichur, Wahab died suddenly.

Venkatram stayed on at Raichur and became a ward of Wahab’s successor, a Pathan named Nazar Muhammad Khan. By now the young man had acquired some rudimentary education. Khan got him the job of Grade IV Amin ( ) in the Police. He was so puny and short that he stuffed his dress with cotton for the interview with the Chief of Police. The Chief saw through the trick, smiled, and took him in.

He served in various districts and because of his diligence rose gradually. While working at Nizamabad, he helped trace a British deserter from the army and was given a reward of eleven rupees. Hemkin, the Chief of State Police, adjudged him as the best officer in the state He was appointed head of the district police in 1901 and served in a number of districts including the Atraf-e-Balda – area around the city. His old class fellow who was now the Raja of Wanaparthy asked for his services as Secretary of the Estate, on promotion.

When Nawab Imadat Jung became the Kotwal of Hyderabad, he asked Venkatram to be appointed as his First Assistant. He worked in that capacity for six years and instituted many reforms in the city Police. Imadat Jung died in harness in 1920.

Suddenly, Venkatram was asked to see the Nizam. Although, he had worked in the Nizam’s Private Estate, he had never met the ruler before. He was therefore naturally very jittery. It was a Friday and when the Assistant Kotwal presented himself at the King Kothi. After his prayers, the Nizam looked up the nervous officer four or five times and then said, ‘Well, you can go’. The next day he was appointed the Kotwal. From then on he would see the Nizam not every day, but sometimes several times a day.

Venkatram Reddy handled his delicate job adroitly. Not only the Nizam, but also members of both the leading communities were very happy with them. That was a time when the Freedom Struggle was gaining strength. Hyderabad was engulfed by the Khilafat Movement. A group of agitators came from Ahmedabad and joined the local leaders in demonstration. The demonstration became violent and the doors and windows of the Residency court were smashed. Venkatram Reddy himself went to the site and persuaded the leaders to adopt peaceful means.

He also ensured peace at the Ganesh procession by making four policemen the bearers of the palanquin carrying the idol.

Venkatram did not know English. When the Prince of Wales was to visit Hyderabad, he started learning English. He use to practise speaking words and sentences loudly in his room. His orderly, not knowing the meaning, feared that his master had probably become insane. He rushed to the Police station to inform the officer there. On the second day of the Prince’s stay there was a banquet given by the Nizam. The Kotwal reached the palace ahead of the Prince, but was refused entry by the military, which was incharge of the security inside the palace. When the Prince arrived, there was no one who could guide his party to the right block. That caused acute embarrassment to the host and the guest. The Nizam then asked Venkatram to take total charge of the arrangements.

The Nizam gave him the title of Raja Bahadur on his birthday. A year later the British Government awarded him the Order of the British Empire.

After many extensions of service, he finally retired in 1934. In relaxation of rules for pension, instead of half his salary, he was given a pension of 1,000 rupees a month. Immrdiately thereafter, he was appointed Special Officer of the Nizam’s private estate. He was also made chairman of the Commission for Inquiry into the Indebtedness of the Sahibzadas.

Venkatram was one of those rare officials who get involved in social work. He persuaded the Reddy community to get educated and take up Government jobs. To facilitate their stay in Hyderabad, he established the Reddy Hostel through donations raised from the Rajas and leading landlords and businessmen. He also established the Reddy Women’s School. Since the
Osmania University did not grant recognition to a Telugu medium school; he got it affiliated to the Karve institute at Pune. Now the school has become a college. He also established a number of other educational and philanthropic institutions. As a member of the State Legislature, he supported the bills for the eradication of child marriage and for widow remarriage.

When he died in 1956, he had only thirty rupees in cash on his person. His first wife died a few months after the birth of his son, Ranga Reddy. His second wife had already two children. The daughter, Narsamma was married to a contractor who built Pathergatti. The son, Laxma Reddy did Bar-at Law, married two English ladies one after another and became a judge of the High Court. He had three sons and a daughter who are no more.

His own son became commissioner of excise and because of the job, was known as Abkari Ranga Reddy. A bachelor, he adopted Madhusudan Reddy as his son. Now going on seventy, this charming gentleman, lives in Banjara Hills. He is the sole surviving descendant of the last and great Kotwal of the city.

A statue of Vekatram Reddy stands in the circle opposite the YMCA at Narayanguda. He had given the institution the land.

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Friday, January 1, 1999

Vande Mataram and Hyderabad

Vande Mataram and Hyderabad
By Narendra Luther

Vande Mataram is in news these days. It has figured in Hyderabad’s history – in the thirties. It literally means ‘Salute to the Mother (land)’. It is a song written by the Bengali novelist, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1838-1894) in his novel: ‘Ananda Math’ in 1882. It consists of twenty-six lines in four stanzas. Aurobindo translated it into English verse in fifty lines, and Suresh Pant into Hindi in 27 lines. The first political occasion when Vande Mataram was sung was at the 1896 session of the Indian National Congress. Rabindranath Tagore scored the music for it.

The partition of Bengal in 1905 marked the beginning of the national awakening. Since then this song became very popular and has been sung at most political gatherings. The British authorities banned its singing in public. That however, did not prove very effective. The Congress Working Committee resolved that its first two stanzas could be sung in any public function. In 1937 a sub-committee consisting of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and Acharya Narendra Dev was constituted to examine in consultation with Rabindranath Tagore its suitability for the national anthem.

Mahatma Gandhi, writing in the Harijan of July 1, 1931, said that the song ‘enthralled’ him. He considered it as “Bengal’s gift amongst many others to the whole nation”. Nehru, speaking in the Constituent Assembly on August 25, 1948 said that the song “was intimately connected with our struggle for freedom. That position it is bound to retain and no other song can displace it. It represents the passions and poignancy of that struggle” and that “no other song can displace it.” The title of the song along with slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ became the war cry of freedom fighters of India.

When the Congress launched its agitation in Hyderabad in 1938, ‘Vande Mataram’ became a popular slogan. Gradually the unrest spread to students. The lead came from Aurangabad where instead of the official anthem ‘God Preserve Osman’, sung compulsorily in schools, students began to sing Vande Mataram.

The Osmania University had three hostels. Each had two prayer halls – one for the Hindu students and the other for Muslims. In September 1938, the Hindu students started reciting the Vande Mataram song in their prayer halls. The authorities forbade it saying it was not a religious song and it offended the susceptibilities of the Muslim students. On their refusal to comply with the orders, the boarders were expelled from the hostels. They were evicted forcibly after 9'o clock in the evening. Police was posted in the university campus. The next morning, on learning about the expulsion of the boarders, the Hindu day-scholars went on strike. This crystallized their grievances. The protest now covered also the orders regarding compulsory official dress for the students, namely, the sherwani and pajama. Further, in the Ethics class for the Hindus, the books prescribed were written by non-Hindus, while for the Muslim students, the books were written by the Muslims. Another point for agitation was that while there were post-graduate classes in Arabic, Persian and Urdu, there were none for Sanskrit, Telugu, Marathi and Kannada. Objection was also taken to the derogatory reference to Hindus by the professor of religion, Mazhar-ul-Hassan Gilani on the occasion of the birthday of the Prophet in 1937. When Jinnah addressed the Students' Union of the University, he started by saying ‘My Muslim Students’.

When a delegation of the expelled students waited upon the then Prime Minister of the State, Sir Akbar Hydari, he admitted that there was nothing in the song that could hurt the Muslims, but advised that the song might be sung at social functions and not in the prayer hall. The students did not relent.

The University then rusticated the recalcitrant students. Some colleges both in the city and the districts followed suit. In all 850 students were rusticated, out of which 420 belonged to the city.

Sarojini Naidu’s son, Dr. Jaisoorya took the case to the Congress High Command and secured messages of support from Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose. The latter said, “Don’t yield under any circumstances; the Government will come to terms. At least for six months the struggle should continue”. Mahatma Gandhi told the students: “You have every right to sing this national song in the Prayer Hall”

The Inter-University Board passed a resolution against the admission of the rusticated students to any university. Whereas the Andhra, Annamalai and the Benaras universities complied, the Vice Chancellor of the Nagpur University, Justice Kedar, offered to take all the rusticated students into his University by relaxing the rules of admission. He was accused of communal bias in that step. He replied, “ If Muslim students had been harassed on such imaginary grounds in a Hindu State, I would have admitted them unto the University. My support to genuine students’ cause is always there”.

Quite a number of the rusticated students later made a name in politics. The most prominent of them turned out to be P.V.Narasimha Rao from Warangal where he was born to a well-to-do agriculturist in 1921. He too went and joined the Nagpur University where he completed his graduation. Later, he took a degree in law from Poona. During his stay in Maharashtra, he also acquired a high degree of proficiency in Marathi. He became the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and later the Prime Minister of India.

The song is now given equal importance with the national anthem- ‘Jana Gana Mana’ and is sung at most functions.