Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Nizam VII as a poet and a publisher

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad - 55

Nizam VII as a poet and a publisher
By Narendra Luther

An ideal Muslim ruler is expected to be ‘ master of sword as well as of pen’. Four out of the seven Nizams of Hyderabad were poets. The first two wrote in Persian and the last two both in Persian as well as in Urdu. The last two had also employed poetic preceptors – ustad - well known poets to give them instruction in the art of composing poesy, and to correct their compositions. Jaleel Manikpuri was the last ustad.

The ustad had to be available at all times of the day and night. There was no knowing when the Nizam would get inspiration to compose a couplet or a ghazal. As soon as that happened, it was rushed to the teacher for necessary action. Sometimes only an idea would strike him and the ustad had to give it shape and form. The corrections and improvements in the ruler’s composition were made in a most respectful manner. If the ustad had to modify a word or a phrase, he first praised the original in superlatives, congratulated the royal pupil and then suggested that in his ‘humble opinion’ it could perhaps be put differently!

The last Nizam used often to send his poems to local newspapers. They had to be published on the front page prominently along with the modifications suggested by the ustad. By the time he was about 30, the ruler had composed a large number of poems in different genres and so decided to publish an anthology. In that connection he issued a detailed firman (royal order) on 18th February 1919. It is amusing to note some of the contents of that order:

“My ghazals which represent my random thoughts and which number 750 have been published in 6 separate volumes containing 150 ghazals each. All interested readers and critics are informed that they can obtain them at one guinea per copy. The second edition will not be published unless it becomes absolutely necessary.

Every purchaser will have to buy all the six sets. Single volumes will not be sold.

The price i.e. 6 guineas will be uniform for all buyers within the state and outside.

The purchaser will bear the postal expenses.

Every volume will carry an official seal. In the absence of that it will be deemed to have been stolen.

Printing any copy of these volumes is forbidden. Anyone found doing so would be responsible for the consequences.

The books will be sold within a month and can be had from the Nazri Bagh (Nizam’s palace).

The price is to be paid in advance.

A copy of the above order should be published in a Gazette Extraordinary.”

A guinea was one pound and one shilling and at that time was equal to 21 rupees. In those days, a book of that size in Urdu would ordinarily sell for a fraction of a rupee. At the present rate the amount would be easily over 1,000 rupees per copy.

Needless to say that the sets sold out in no time. All those who wished to demonstrate their loyalty to the young ruler purchased copies at that exorbitant price.

It’s a pity that none of those volumes is available today.

Once, some claque amongst the courtiers praised the Nizam’s poetry to the skies and suggested that it deserved to be prescribed as a text for the graduate course in the Osmania University. The Nizam approved the idea. Moulvi Abdul Haq, popularly known as the ‘Father of Urdu’ was the professor of Urdu at the University and it fell to his lot to implement the orders. He was in a fix. If he did not carry out the edict, he would attract the royal ire; on the other hand if he obeyed, he would become the laughing stock amongst the men of letters. He asked for an audience to attempt to get the orders cancelled. When he reached the Presence, he saw the Nizam sitting in his usual rickety easy chair. Manzoor Jung, Hosh Bilgrami and Zain Yar Jung were standing in front of him.

“Yes, Moulvi. Have you seen our orders?” asked the Nizam as he saw the savant.

“Yes, Ala Hazrat,” submitted the professor as he made the customary seven bows, “I am here in that connection. Your compositions are royal amongst verses. What can be a greater honour for me than to explicate them to our students. But my humble submission is that this worthless creature lacks the necessary depth of scholarship to be able to explain it adequately to students. Your Lordship’s slave thought of presenting himself before His Master many times in order to obtain adequate understanding of the subtle points in the royal verses but I couldn’t gather enough courage for fear that if in spite of the expostulation of His Exalted Highness, my limited brains could not grasp them, then what would I do?”

The Nizam looked at his acolyte, Hosh Bilgrami and chuckled: “Do you hear what he says?” Hosh stepped forward with folded hands. “Yes, Ala Hazrat, the royal composition is indeed royal amongst the common compositions. It is not easy to explain it.”

“You are right,” observed the Nizam, “if the teacher himself can’t understand, what will he explain to the students? That’s right. But,” he added after a pause, “how long do you think it will take for the University to get such teachers who can appreciate my poetry adequately?”

“Exalted Highness,” submitted Hosh, “it depends not on the poetry but on the intelligence of the reader.”

“Right you are. It is the intelligence that matters. I can give them my poems, but I can’t invest them the intelligence necessary to grasp them. Cancel the orders for teaching my poems in the University. Let the teachers understand them first.”

So the ‘mad’ Maulvi, as the Nizam used to call Professor Abdul Haq, saved the students from the imposition – and his own face amongst the academia.
Some of the Nizam’s poems were translated into English by Sir Nizamat Jung, a Cantabrian and a former judge and a minister of Hyderabad who himself was a very good poet in English. Some of them were reproduced in D.F. Karaka’s biographical book on the Nizam: “ The Fabulous Mogul”

Such was the urge of the Nizam for writing poetry, that after India became a republic on 26th January, 1950, and he became the Raj Pramukh of Hyderabad, he composed a poem in Persian to mark the event. He had it translated into English by Sir Nizamat and sent the original along with its English translation to the chief minister of Hyderabad, M.K.Vellodi. Addressing him as ‘My dear Friend’, in his covering letter marked ‘Personal’, he wrote: “I shall be grateful if you kindly forward this to the high authorities in Delhi, on my behalf, and ask them that if they have no objection, I would like this poem to published in English papers in India, in commemoration of that historic declaration as it was an unique event in the annals of India”. He signed it as ‘Nizam VII (MOAK)’. The initials stood for Mir Osman Ali Khan.

The chief minister wrote to V.P. Menon who was secretary of the ministry of states of India. Menon showed the letter to Prime Minister Nehru. He felt that it would be better if both the original and the translation were published together. When this view was conveyed to the Nizam, he sent both the versions with a letter to say that the translation could never convey the original sense fully. The 16-line poem concluded:
The New Dawn’s greetings, “OSMAN”, rich and strange,
And the four quarters hail the promised change!
However, it is not known whether any paper published the poem.

The number of his poem was indeed very large. He had established a trust and appointed a committee for the purpose of publishing his poems in Persian and Urdu. The Trustees thought it would take a long time to sift through the whole body of his outpourings and so decided to publish two volumes in the first instance. Accordingly, in 1975 the Trust published one volume of three hundred poems in Urdu and Persian covering four different genres. The second volume is yet to come. Ironically, the volume does not indicate any price!

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