Pages from K.M. Munshi's Diary: The Sprawling Decadence of Nizam Mir Osman Ali

The first part of a revealing historical account of K.M. Munshi's stay and experiences in the erstwhile Princely State of Hyderabad as the Agent-General appointed by the Government of independent India.
Pages from K.M. Munshi's Diary: The Sprawling Decadence of Nizam Mir Osman Ali

Preface

On December 25, 1947, Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi was appointed the Agent-General in charge of overseeing and resolving the deadlock caused by Nizam VII, Mir Osman Ali of Hyderabad who had stubbornly refused to integrate his state with India. Five days earlier, over tea, Sardar Patel had told him: “Hyderabad is a cancer in the belly of India. Munshi! Will you go to Hyderabad?”

It was not a request but a command to a friend, companion and admirer.

Munshi next met Mohandas Gandhi and asked him a pointed question:

“And what if the negotiations with the Nizam fail?”

Gandhi’s reply in Gujarati: “ to pachhi puru karej chhutako chhe: There will be no alternative but to bring things to an end.”

Perhaps some semblance of sense and reality had at last awakened inside the apostle of non-violence. But we can only speculate. Munshi describes his reply as “cryptic.”

The entire country including the media reacted favourably to the news of Munshi’s new role. Interesting reactions poured from various sections. The formidable historian Dr. R.C. Majumdar mentioned Munshi’s new appointment to a friend, the friend said:

“I am sorry for the Nizam.”

“Why?” asked Majumdar.

“The Nizam is finished.”

The Nizam and his alleged Government had just one word for Munshi: Shaitan.

Munshi had refused to take any salary for this assignment.

Pages from K.M. Munshi's Diary: The Sprawling Decadence of Nizam Mir Osman Ali
The Story of the Communist Collaboration with the Nizam of Hyderabad and his Bloodthirsty Razakkars: An Introduction

A key point that was included in his briefing was timing: Munshi had to be physically present in Hyderabad exactly on January 5, 1948 at any cost. Accordingly, he landed there and armed with history and voluminous documentation, began to survey the scene personally. What he witnessed there not only confirmed the worst he had heard and read about the Nizam but convinced him of the urgent imperative to liberate Hyderabad from the last vestige of an untrammelled medieval Islamic tyranny. In practical terms, the real enemy was Kasim Razvi, the fanatical head of the terrorist outfit, Ittehad-ul-Musulmeen, who was now calling the shots.

Mir Osman Ali

Mir Osman Ali is the most recent and the last representative of a despotic ruler and a State under a “pure” Islamic rule. Like every Muslim king or Nawab throughout Indian history, the Nizam of Hyderabad was a sick man by any yardstick.

When K.M. Munshi met him on January 9, 1948 at King Kothi, he was sixty-two and sick in health. Munshi describes the King Kothi as “a collection of several ugly houses which are occupied by the Nizam, his extensive harem and his Arab guards, with a high wall surrounding them.” The Nizam was a “thin old man with a stoop wearing a faded fez, a moth-eaten muffler, an old sherwani and a pyjama which had last been pressed when they had first come out of the tailor’s shop.” Munshi’s first meeting was also the last. Throughout the meeting, the Nizam kept gloating about the glorious Asaf Jahi dynasty, indeed, every topic other than the integration.

Munshi writes in a dignified tone of understatement about the Nizam but the message is unambiguous: the Nizam was fanatical, autocratic, miserly, filthy-rich, delusional and insane. Even as recent as the 1980s, stories of the Nizam’s fetishes about pet animals and other eccentricities were staple diet for our newspapers and periodicals.

But as a statesman and liberator of Hyderabad, Munshi’s observations make for truly informative study and valuable first-hand accounts.

Unquenchable Thirst for Money

Apart from his autocratic ways—characteristic of Muslim rulers—the enduring twin loves of the Nizam were money and power. Of these, money occupied the top slot. He could never have enough. Here are some numbers.

Pages from K.M. Munshi's Diary: The Sprawling Decadence of Nizam Mir Osman Ali
The Appalling Lifestyle of the Muslim Aristocracy

He had an annual privy purse of five million rupees plus miscellaneous allowances from the State. Add to this an annual income of twenty-five million rupees from Sarf-i-Khas, vast tracts of land, which he treated as his personal property. Then there was the unending supply of Nazars (gifts) he received almost on a daily basis. After Hyderabad was liberated, Munshi found a substantial list of the Nazars that the Nizam had received over the years. This is how he describes this practice:

Every notable person who visited the Exalted, either by invitation or not, was obliged to present an asharfi, a gold sovereign— or its equivalent which was Rs. 124/—as nazar for the privilege of meeting him. On his birthday, he received nazars from everyone, from the wealthiest nobles down to a low paid officer.

The Nizam indeed embodied miserliness and money-thirst: he never spent a paisa even on himself. He rarely wore new clothes, and even in 1948, drove a rickety car made in 1918. Charity was unimaginable and he never showed any hospitality to a visitor howsoever distinguished. He was also a fabulous hoarder and what gave him most joy was gazing at his wealth for hours together.

It was said that cash, currency notes, gold, silver and jewellery, estimated at a fabulous value, were stacked in the Nazar-i-Bagh,of the King Kothi in cellars, safes, cupboards, even on tables and floors. The floors of the Nazar-i-Bagh could not…be swept by the servants except under the watchful eye of the Exalted. Valuables which lay on the ground were covered with white sheets lavishly besprinkled with the droppings of the doves and rodents which, like ancient dragons, guarded the treasure.

K.M. Munshi
K.M. MunshiPic Courtesy: Life

A popular story used to do the rounds about this. Even as the Nizam would sit leisurely drinking his coffee, gazing at his spectacular wealth, some of these rodents would scurry up and take a quick sip from his saucer. Nothing disturbed the Nizam while he was in this meditative state.

Abundant Harem

Munshi also mentions the Nizam’s “abundant harem” in a matter-of-fact manner. It was controlled by the Principal Begum, the mother of his (official) Princes and Princesses. She was his chief caretaker and nurse of sorts. The Nizam had also taken a fancy for a beautiful Hindu lady who he quickly appropriated, converted her to Islam and thrust her into a large house in his King Kothi.

Pages from K.M. Munshi's Diary: The Sprawling Decadence of Nizam Mir Osman Ali
The Depraved Annals of the Muslim Aristocracy in Medieval India

As was customary, he used these women as chattel and treated his children and grandchildren with the same streak of heartless autocracy. If anyone complained of ill-health, he would cut off or drastically reduce their food supply. It was said that this measure would hasten their recovery. Here is an interesting data point about the size of the Nizam’s “family.” The Nizam made a Family Trust after losing power in 1948 and allotted shares from his property and wealth to the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries include the following:

  • Five minor sons of his favourite wife, Laila Begum

  • Two minor daughters and eight sons from different mothers

  • 37 grandchildren and 15 daughters that he had sired

  • One heir-apparent, the sister of the heir-apparent and the mother

  • Another wife of the Nizam, who was Imam Zung’s daughter

  • Three ladies hailing from noble descent

  • All the wives of the Nizam

  • 45 mistresses

There seems to be an iron-clad rule of natural law that the progeny of wealthy and eminent people will invariably squander their inheritance. The most visible demonstration of this rule is the fate of the successors of Sultans and Nawabs in Indian history. The Nizam’s progeny were no exception. They proved adept at draining the obese allowances that they had received. Money always seemed in short supply. They borrowed substantial sums from private moneylenders who were only too glad to lend at enormous rates of compound interest. The windfall they received just a few years after 1948 is the stuff of legends. It appears that this profligate squandering continued unabated up to the 1980s as the following accounts narrate.

Munshi then provides sordid details of the Nizam’s other incurable lust: power. That story will be narrated in the next part of this series.

To be continued

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