Thursday, August 1, 1996

Poetic Tutor of Nizam VI

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad - 16 :

Poetic Tutor of Nizam VI
by Narendra Luther

The ideal ruler in Islam is a combination of a warrior and a poet. Since every ruler can't be a poet, it was quite common for rulers to appoint a poetic preceptor an ustad - to teach them how to compose poetry, and if necessary, to ghost - write it for them.

In Hyderabad the first Nizam and his son Nasir Jung were poets in Persian. The sixth and the seventh Nizams composed poetry both in Persian as well as in Urdu.

After the fall of the Mughal empire, the annexation of Avadh (Lucknow) and the eclipse of Rampur, Hyderabad became the main magnet to attract Urdu poets in search of fortune from all over the country. Apart from the sixth Nizam, his prime minister, Maharaja Kishen Pershad was also a poet and a patron of letters and arts. It was therefore only natural that poets from all over the country flocked to Hyderabad with great hopes.

The story of the appointment of the first tutor of poetry of the sixth Nizam, Mir Mehboob Ali Khan, is very interesting. He was Nawab Mirza `Dagh', the celebrated Urdu poet (1831-1905). He was born in Delhi and received his education in the Red Fort. After the Mutiny he moved with his family to Rampur where he was treated with special consideration. After the death of Nawab Kalb Ali Khan, he moved to Hyderabad. Though he was greatly admired, he could not get any job. His one great wish was somehow to have an opportunity of an audience with the Nizam.

Ten years passed and he cold not meet the Nizam. Meanwhile, his renown spread all over the State. In the city one special mushaira used to be held every month and in that Dagh used to cast a spell on the audience with the recitation of his compositions.

When the whole city was resounding with the praise of `Dagh', Maharaja Kishen Pershad, the prime minister, one day mentioned about him to the Nizam. The latter sent for him and heard him. He was swept off his feet and was effusive in his praise. From then on Dagh was often invited to join the Nizam at dinner. He would stand for hours in front of the Nizam but did not get any job - nor even a gift. However, he believed strongly that one day Lady Luck would smile on and he would get his due.

One day, the Nizam went for a hunt. There, in the middle of a jungle, all of a sudden, he thought of Dagh. He asked the prime minister, Kishen Pershad to have Dagh fetched immediately. Within two hours, Dagh stood with folded hands before the ruler of the Deccan.

On the evening of the second day, the Nizam was sitting resplendent on a chair in a sprawling field. All the courtiers and members of the staff were standing respectfully on either side. Some riders were giving a demonstration of their horsemanship. The Nizam was watching each of them with great interest. One refractory horse was giving a lot of trouble to his rider but the latter was also an expert. He sat on the back of the horse like a nail riveted to a piece of wood.

All of a sudden the Nizam turned to Dagh and asked him : "Dagh, have you ever done any riding?" Dagh replied with folded hands that in his youth he had done so but years had gone by since then. The Nizam said: "Alright, show me your riding skills today." Dagh shivered at the thought, but had no alternative. On a signal from the Nizam, as if by a conspiracy, the same frisky horse was brought before Dagh. Poor Dagh got on to the horse nervously. As soon as he did that, the horse-trainer cracked his whip on the beast. In an instant Dagh was somersaulting on the ground and the horse bolted away towards the jungle. The entire gathering was rolling with laughter. Dagh was picked up. Fortunately he was not hurt. He dusted himself and came and stood before the Nizam who was still convulsing with laughter. When he recovered, he addressed the crest-fallen Dagh: "You are a good rider. I appoint you as my head syce." Dagh's heart sank. But according to the etiquette, he bowed gratefully and salaamed the Nizam seven times. The Nizam then asked him, "How long have you been in our State ?"

"Ten years, Sire"

The Nizam turned to his prime minister and said: "We appoint Dagh as the court-poet on a salary of one thousand rupees per month." "As His Highness pleases", Kishen Pershad said bowing.

"With retrospective effect. You understand ?"
"Yes, Sire".
"And", added the ruler, "his salary with arrears for the last ten years should be paid right away."

The Maharaja uttered : "Yes, My Lord", in disbelief and retraced his steps. A dispatch rider was rushed with orders to the treasurer in the city for compliance. The Nizam then retired to his tent and all the nobles in attendance swarmed around Dagh to congratulate him. At that time there was no paper money. So the next day the whole city saw carts loaded with silver coins carrying the arrears of ten years' salary of Dagh with police escort arrive at Dagh's house on Abid Road. Dagh then embarked on a life of ease and luxury.

In one of his later ghazals he wrote:

Urate hain maze duniya ke hum ai Dagh ghar baithe Deccan mein ab to Afzal Ganj apni aish manzil hai'

(I enjoy myself sitting at home, My abode is now in Afzal Ganj)

He died in 1905 and was laid to rest in Hyderabad.

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