Right from my childhood, I have read innumerable articles and heard stories about the “autocratic” regime of the Nizams, particularly, the Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam of Hyderabad.
Telugu films like Maa Bhoomi, and Chillara Devullu, which depicted the oppressive feudal system prevailing those days, have only lent credence to my impression about the Nizam rule.
My grandfather A Narasimha Rao had worked as a circle inspector in the excise department (Aabkari) under the Nizam rule, while my father A Seshagiri Rao was a hardcore Communist Party activist and an associate of poet-activist Maqdoom Mohiuddin. He fought against the feudal system prevailing during the Nizam regime.
I had no opportunity to know about the Nizam’s regime from my grandfather because he had passed away in 1973 when I was too young. As I grew up, I learnt from my father, who expired in 2005, several interesting stories about the pre-Independent days in Hyderabad and the rule of Nizam.
My mother Sampathamma, now 85 years old, spent her entire childhood in the Old City of Hyderabad, still has good memories of the life during the rule of the last Nizam.
Surprisingly, both my father, despite being a Communist, and my mother, never spoke a bad word against the Nizams in general and the last Nizam in particular, in contrast to what I read in the Communist literature. In fact, whenever the topic of the Nizams comes up for discussion in my home, my mother refers to Mir Osman Ali Khan as “Huzur Nizam”, not just “Nizam.”
My mother must have been around 12 years, when Mir Osman Ali Khan stepped down and announced the merger of Hyderabad State with the Indian Union on September 17, 1948, after the much-hyped “Police Action.”
She still recalls the day when the last Nizam announced his surrender to the police forces. “We had a radio set at our house in Aliabad. My father made me, along with my sisters and cousins, sit before the radio to listen to the speech of Huzur Nizam, in which he announced that he was stepping down from power and merging Hyderabad State with the Indian Union. The speech was in Deccani Urdu and we all heard it in rapt attention. And as he finished his speech, we all burst into tears and wept for a long time,” she said on the eve of the 73rd anniversary of Hyderabad’s merger with India.
My mother said the Nizam looked completely lost after surrendering to the Indian forces. “I saw Huzur Nizam for the first time only after he stepped down. He, along with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Chakravarthi Rajagopala Chary and other leaders, went in a procession in an open-top jeep to Falaknuma Palace. All along the route, people lined up to greet them. We all watched the procession from the terrace of our house at Aliabad and Huzur Nizam gave us the last salaam,” she said.
She recalled how the Nizam wished her mother’s uncle – Srinivasa Rao, who was then working in the Revenue Department, as the procession was going past his house. “My uncle was wearing “patte naamams” (vertical tilak sported on the forehead of Brahmins of Vaishnava sect) and standing in front of the house. Huzur Nizam recognized him and greeted him with folded hands,” she said.
I was always surprised at the kind of respect my mother had for the Nizam. “Why not? We were happy during the Nizam Zamana (period). There were no murders, rapes and thefts, which we are now witnessing in Telangana day-in and day-out. If there were any such rare incidents of crime, the punishment was very severe. There was a “jurmana” (penalty) for petty crimes, too,” she said.
My mother refutes the allegation that Mir Osman Ali Khan was communal and anti-Hindu. She said the Nizam had never shown discrimination between the Muslims and Hindus in his rule. “He gave funds for the construction of several temples and paid for their maintenance. He used to have equal treatment towards Hindu and Muslim employees in the government,” she said.
She mentioned that many of our relatives were part of his administration. “I remember one of our close relatives, Guda Sriram Pandit, was working in the finance wing of the Nizam government. On every birthday of the Nizam, all the employees, irrespective of their religion, used to get “Ashrafi” (gold coins) and sweets were distributed. He also used to get a bag of pearls as Nazarana from the Nizam. His wife had several pearl necklaces and bangles made out of these gifts,” she said.
My mother also narrates an interesting anecdote, which she was told during her childhood, about the Asaf Jahi dynasty, but does not vouch for its authenticity. “During the rule of first Asaf Jahi, a Sadhu came to him and begged for some food. The king offered him some curd rice. After six servings, the Sadhu said enough. But the king continued with seventh serving, the Sadhu pushed it aside and said the dynasty would not be able to rule the state after the seventh generation. That is how the VIIth Nizam was the last ruler of Hyderabad,” she said.
She said the Nizams had done a lot of service for the people of Hyderabad – construction of Osman Sagar on Musi River, Osmania General Hospital, Osmania University, State Central Library, Nizam State Railways etc.
“Hyderabad streets never used to be as filthy as they are now. Every day, the Baldia (municipality) workers were sweeping the roads cleanly and sprinkle water to prevent the rising of dust. Every evening, they used to promptly light the oil lamps on the lampposts, as there was no electricity those days, she recalled.
There was a shortage of rice supply and the Nizam government strictly followed the ration system. “However, there were enough quantities of jowar and Nagpur chanas (chickpeas) in the ration shops,” she said.
She regrets that despite doing so much for the people, the Nizam got a bad name in the last days and she attributes it to the emergence of the Razakars in the last days of the Nizam rule, who made him helpless.
“The Razakars groomed extremist elements among the Muslim, trained them in weapons and used them to attack the Hindus. These youths used to hide their weapons behind the “goris” (tombs) in Khabristan (graveyards) and roam around the streets to kill the Hindus indiscriminately,” she said.
She recalled how some of our relatives used to coordinate with one another to counter the attacks from the Razakars in the old city. “They were maintaining a vigil all through the night by sitting on the terraces holding lathis and stones. Women were also keeping chilli powder with them to counter the Razakar attacks,” she said.
She said her father, who was then working as a science teacher at an Urdu medium school in Chandrayangutta, was also beaten up by the Razakars one day. “But he was rescued by the local Muslim families. He stayed back in the school for the whole day and returned home, thanks to his Muslim friends,” she said.
A Srinivasa Rao is Senior Journalist based out of Hyderabad covering developments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana . He has over three decades of reporting experience.