Tuesday, July 1, 1997

The Father of Banjara Hills

Legends and anecdotes of Hyderabad : 27

By Narendra Luther

Syed Mohammed Mehdi, popularly known was Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung is a person whom the people of Hyderabad can’t forget. He was born in 1894 and married the eldest daughter of Nawab Akeel Jung Bahadur, a minister of the Nizam.

After his graduation, Mehdi was selected for the Revenue Department and served in Bellary, Gulbarga and Nalgonda districts. In each of these placed he took keen interest in the welfare of women and the weaker sections of society. He visited Europe to study the cooperative movement there. In 1926 when Maharaja Sir Kishen Pershad became President of the Nizam’s Executive Council (Prime Minister) he was appointed as secretary to the Council and remained in that job for 11 years. At the end of that he earned the title of ‘Jung’ and so became known as Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung Bahadur.

In 1927 he bought about 200 acres of lands in Banjara Hills from one Moin Yar Jung who was glad to get rid of this waste land. Mehdi Nawaz Jung built a `cave’ house largely made of the existing rocks in 1930 and named it ‘Kohistan’. He exhorted his friends do likewise offering them land at a nominal price in lots of five to six acres each. Free water supply and electricity were also provided for six months. When Rabindranath Tagore visited Hyderabad in 1933, he stayed at the ‘Kohistan’ as a guest of Mehdi Nawaz Jung. He liked it so much that he said that if he did not have his `Shanti Niketan’ to look after, he would have liked to settle down there. He also composed a poem on ‘Kohistan’ and Banjara Hills and translated it into English himself:

‘From the distance thou didst appear
barricaded in rocky aloofness,
Timidly I crossed the rugged path
to find here all of a sudden.
An open invitation in the sky,
and friends embrace in the air,
In an unknown land the voice that seemed ever known,
Revealed to me a shelter of loving intimacy.’

Nizam VII suggested that the Banjara Hills should be named after the Nawab since he was responsible for its development. The latter replied that the original inhabitants of the area were Banjaras and so it was only fair that it should be called Banjara Hills. I was fascinated by a visit to the ‘Kohistan’ and came to develop a great respect for ecology as a result of that. Consequently, when I built my own house in Banjara, I did not disturb any rock in the compound. In 1987 I proposed that the ’Kohistan’ should be made into a museum at Banjara. The then chief minister, NTR agreed to the proposal but by that time, the house had been sold away.

From 1937, for five years as Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad Nawab Saheb improved the civic amenities a great deal. He also established a home for lepers at that time. Later he was appointed successively Secretary of the Development of Commerce and Industry and Agent General of the Nizam in the Berars.

During the Razakar period, 1947-48, he took long leave and remained aloof. He retired from government in 1949.

To merely call him the `father’ of Banjara Hills won’t be doing justice to his multifaceted personality and his manifold services to society.

After retirement he took up social work with great gusto. He was instrumental in establishing the Niloufer hospital for Women and Children in 1953 for which he collected donations of Rs. 35 lakhs.. Similarly, in 1955, he collected donations of Rs.18 lakhs and established the Cancer Hospital in the city which bears his name. Both are now Government hospitals.

He was the founder president of the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Oriental Research Institute at Hyderabad.

On the integration of Hyderabad with India in 1948, he was sucked into politics. In the first popular elections in Hyderabad in 1950, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly. From 1950 to 1960 he remained a minister. He was appointed Governor of Gujarat in 1960. On the completion of his term he was awarded Padma Vibushan.

One remarkable thing about the Nawab was his compassion unrestrained by religion, community or caste. He brought up one Hindu boy from a village as a member of his family. Madhusudan rose to become an I.A.S. officer later.

As a junior officer, I was struck by his courtesy and kindness. In the old days, the photographers of the Department of Information and Public Relations used to cover all types of functions even at the residence of ministers and high officials. On my appointment as Director of the Department, I forbade that and laid down a rule that only official functions would be covered. Once, without my knowledge some private function was covered at the residence of Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung. His son, the late Hashim Mehdi rang up to ask me to send some extra copies of the pictures taken. I said that the coverage was irregular but I could consider sending copies of photographs on payment. Hashim was aghast and explained that his father was a minister. I replied that I knew that but the Department was not a private studio! I was not pulled up for that ‘discourtesy’. Instead, a messenger came, made the payment and took the copies. Nawab Saheb later complimented me on taking such a stand.

Nawab Saheb had another very noble trait -- utter simplicity and a sense of occasion. Once when he was going to a function in an orphanage he was seen dressed in clothes which were darned and had patches. His Begum too wore a very ordinary saree. A niece of his asked why they were dressed so ‘poorly,. He explained to her that he was going to an orphanage and did not want the inmates to feel any complex.

It was typical of him that he should serve people even after his death and so in his will he donated his eyes. They served to give sight to two blind boys.

He expired in 1967. Now, to commemorate such a rare person, a Trust has been established and in keeping with his high ideals on his birthday every year it will be giving an award for human rights which includes ‘empowerment’ of the disadvantaged sections of society. The first award was given by the Governor on the birthday of the Nawab Saheb on 23rd May, 1997 to Mrs. Kumudini Devi for her outstanding work for the relief and rehabilitation of patients of leprosy.

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Pavan said...

I felt really good reading your post on Nawab Saheb. I found your site searching for a "Kohistan in Banjara Hills"(from a quiz question) which was pretty difficult. Thanks for the information.

yaro said...

A very rare and insightful article sir my Grandfather, Father, Uncles
knew Mehdi Nawaz Jung always mentioned him as a very accomplished person and also that he had asked so many people to buy land in Banjara Hills for 25 paise par ghaz but not many did If they had they would have been wealthy beyond their dreams. I and my extended family have settled in the US but still remember the grand time we had in Hyderabad Thanks for keeping the beautiful memories alive
Mohamed A Mirza

bunty said...

very interesting to read about the geographical features and the evolution of locality.

- Ravi Kumar,

reshma M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suresh Kumar said...

The mehdi manzil in road 12 was the residence of Nawab

Suresh Kumar said...

The mehdi manzil in road 12 was the residence of Nawab