October 15, 2016

Happy birthday Sir....Dr Raman Singh

My first encounter with the humbleness of Dr Raman Singh, Chhattisgarh’s CM for 12 years, was sometime in August 2003. At that time, he had sacrificed his UnionMinisterial post to take over as head of Chhattisgarh’s BJP unit just because his party wanted him to do so following the refusal of Ramesh Bais to take over the position.

Dr Singh was sitting in BJP’s Raipur HQ, along with a senior journalist Rasik Parmar who was his PRO at that time.
I was Star News correspondent. When I went to meet him, he offered tea. To my surprise he said “spend more time with Nand Kumar Sai who was the most likely Chief Minister candidate of BJP”.( “Tum mere pass time waste mat karo bade logo ke pass jao waha tumhe fayda hoga.”)
I didn’t go and insisted that he was the man to spend time with and learn more about the election trends.
To be true, I had strong feelings about this bespectacled Ayurveda doctor whose humbleness contrasted sharply with his physical stature (standing taller than me - 6ft plus).
He was completely novice with regards to facing television interviews.
My gut feeling made me push him into buying a bandhgala. Dr Singh reluctantly agreed. And for Star News’ Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri I made his promo instead of Sai’s.
In Mumbai, my Input Editor at that time Sunil Saini did not disapprove my inputs on CM candidature.
After few months, Dr Singh became the Chief Minister of the state. He kept his promise and gave me his first interview as CM.
Today, after three times of CMship, he rarely moves out of the camera frame while giving Tv interviews. When I look back I remember it took me more than 6 months to convince him to stay within the camera frame.
Dr Singh is still humble in his approach and despite not reporting his news for more than 10 years – he still makes it a point to meet me whenever he lands in Hyderabad.

Happy Birthday Sir.

August 15, 2016

Who is Gudsa Usendi, the 'invisible' Maoist?

Gudsa Usendi isn’t a new name for journalists covering Maoist activities in Chhattisgarh and AP. Only, no journalist has ever met Usendi 

On the morning of May 28, 2013, Tuesday, three days after Maoists ambushed a Congress leaders’ motorcade and killed 27 people, some media houses and journalists received a four-page press note and an audio tape statement.
Sent purportedly by Gudsa Usendi, the CPI-Maoist’s Dandakaranya special zonal committee spokesperson for Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, the statement claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the media statement, the ambush was to avenge "atrocities committed by Salwa Judum”, the anti-Maoist tribal militia founded by Mahendra Karma, one of the Congress leaders gunned down.
Gudsa Usendi isn’t a new name for journalists covering Maoist activities in the two neighbouring states: he is in constant touch with the media, sending audio clips, press notes, updating them about attacks.
Only, no journalist has ever met Usendi. He is what can be called a “phantom spokesperson” for the Maoists.
So, who is this man, Gudsa Usendi? Maoist sympathisers and former ultras say Gudsa Usendi is just a name: the person using that name changes from time to time. Usendi, those in the know of Maoist operations in the region say, is the title used by the spokesperson for Dandakaranya special zonal committee. 
To know more about the myth/legend behind Usendi, one has to travel back in time to June 25, 2000. According to reports, it was raining heavily at Potenar village in Abujhmarh, Chhattisgarh, that night when police surrounded a hut while hunting for Maoists. Five ultras were killed, of whom one was identified as Gudsa Usendi, 17. According to former Maoists, Gudsa, who came from the Maria tribe in Abujhmarh, had dropped his given name and took on the moniker ‘Ramesh’ after joining the Maoist ranks. As if to pay back the compliment, a year after his death the Maoist spokesperson of Dandakaranya  took on Usendi’s name to keep alive his memory.
The practice has continued ever since.
Police reports and sources within Maoist ranks claim Usendi functions in a professional manner: he is equipped with cellphones, laptops and a team of PR persons among Maoists. A message from Gudsa Usendi could appear as a note under your door, a letter postmarked at a small town on Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh border, an email from an IP address that traces back to a neighbouring state, or even a micro-SD card stuck on a sheet of paper.
For the last two years every Maoist division (equivalent to a zilla in panchayati system) has access to laptop, memory cards, a portable inkjet printer and cellphone. The files – press notes are usually in PDF format – are emailed from the top of a tall tree on a mountaintop where a GPRS-enabled phone can log on to a stray network, it is learnt.
And this is where Gudsa Usendi comes into the picture – never seen, but always read and heard, say former Maoists.

August 16, 2015

How witch-hunting grips Chhattisgarh tribal villages

Some women in Chhattisgarh’s tribal areas are branded witches and suffer humiliation. An awareness campaign seeks to stop the practice

She keeps spitting every few minutes but the taste of urine still seems to linger in Bisahin Bai’s mouth. The humiliation of having been forced to drink urine and paraded naked continues to haunt her. That was 14 years back but the memory is fresh. Sitting in her mud house in Lachkhera in Gariyaband district in Chhattisgarh, Bisahin Bai finds it difficult to erase the horrifying memories. Bisahin Bai along with Shyama Bai and Teerath Bai are waiting for justice after suffering assault, being paraded naked, tonsured and forced to consume urine after being branded ‘Tonhi’ (women involved in witchcraft) by the villagers. The village is just 92 km from the state capital Raipur. Seventeen out of the 20 accused in this crime were sentenced to a year in jail but they walked free after their case went to the high court. The lower court had asked the accused to pay '1 lakh each to the victims but till date nothing has been paid. Bangles and gold chains of the victims are still in court custody which were seized by the police from the possession of the assaulters. Assault on women for ‘practising witchcraft’ is not new to Chhattisgarh. In the last decade the tribal-majority state witnessed around 1,500 incidents and 210 deaths.

“They branded me as a witch, tonsured my head and paraded me naked in front of the villagers,” Bisahin Bai recalls incoherently amid tears, clutching the hand of Teerath Bai. “When I think of that day, it still sends shivers down my spine,” she says. Then her tears silence her for a few minutes. She wipes her face with the end of her grimy saree. 

Even 14 years later, that memory remains painful to her. It was 10 am when a group of men dragged them one by one from their houses by the hair. “We were pleading but they kept accusing three of us of practising Tonhi and bringing ill health to a man in the village,” Teerath Bai says. “The men kicked us. Not a single person in the village came to our rescue. They asked all three of us to hold live electric wires. 
They said if you are not a witch, nothing will happen to you,” Teerath adds. Shyama Bai remembers the horror of being stripped. When they refused to take off clothes the men forcibly stripped them and made them walk in the village. “We were made to jump in the fire. Our mouths were parched, but when we asked for water they urinated into our mouths instead. We were left to die, bleeding profusely. We fainted. They threw water on us and made us sit in the village square,” she recollects. “All three of you are witches,” they were told. “They hit us with sticks and asked us to untie our hair. 

They started shaving our heads right there,” Shyama Bai says. Bisahin, the most timid of the three, takes up the story from Shyama, her hands and body shaking as she talks. “I was menstruating then. I was bleeding all over. I was naked in front of the men in the village. They paraded us around the village and beat us and finally left us outside the temple,” she says. “Somehow, we managed to drag ourselves to a hospital far away. Village elders did not allow us to file a police report. We went to the police station on the pretext of going to hospital,” she says. The prime of her life was spent in isolation. 

Today, Bisahin is in her 50s.She is confident and has shown courage to earn livelihood by working in a farm, but she is not sure if the practice of harassing a woman after labelling her a witch will ever come to an end. She is fighting back, and seeks to set an example by reclaiming her life. Bane of tribal areas Accusations of witchcraft are not uncommon in tribal areas. If things go wrong in a village or family – an illness or death, crop failure, an accident – uneducated villagers can be easily persuaded to blame some vulnerable member of the community. Teerath says they were lucky that they were not killed. Sometimes the accusation even results in a death sentence. Last year, police registered 200 cases of witch-hunting; most of them in tribal areas. 

Unfortunately, back then when Teerath, Shyama and Bisahin faced their ordeal, police usually did not get involved in such cases. Bisahin Bai’s mother passed away shortly after her daughter suffered the harassment, she couldn’t bear the humiliation. Bisahin’s brother says he has lost all hope of securing justice for his sister, and regrets not being able to help her. 

Ray of hope And yet there is some hope. All the three victims would have never dared to come out in open and start living a normal life if an ophthalmologist wouldn’t have come from Raipur to help them out. Dr Dinesh Mishra is fighting against black magic and superstition. He helped Bisahin pursue the criminal case and also encouraged her to come out of her inhibitions and contest panchayat polls from her village. Though she lost the polls held in January this year, it gave her the much-needed confidence to rebuild her life. 

“Humiliation for these women doesn’t end with lodging an FIR, they are kicked out of family and village, forced to spend life in isolation. In most cases, the women die waiting for justice,” Dr Mishra says, adding that he is now campaigning to move such cases to fast-track courts so that the victims get justice soon. Chhattisgarh introduced the Witchcraft Atrocities (Prevention) Act in 2005. 

However, this and other laws are found to be not sufficient in countering the surge in witch-hunting crimes. Dr Mishra’s organisation, Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, has been fighting for the cause since 1995. “We are not getting any financial or administrative support but this is not stopping us from running our mission,” he says. The campaign and more awareness among villagers, he believes, will bring an end to this inhuman practice going on in the state and other parts of the country since ages. Dr Mishra says most cases of witch-hunting he comes across are prompted by illnesses and diseases. “If people are educated about the causes of their diseases, they will stop believing that their neighbour is responsible for it. I try showing them viruses and bacteria through the microscope and tell them this is the real cause of their diseases,” he says. 

Why witch hunting? Rashmi Mishra, a journalist in Raipur, who has reported on Tonhi incidents extensively, says, “When an instigator mobilises a whole community, collecting evidence or getting witnesses becomes a problem. Police need to be trained to handle such situations.” Radhika Saxena, who teaches sociology at the Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur, and specialises in family, marriage, rural sociology, explains, “The trigger could be a death or a series of unfortunate incidents, but we have also seen that witch hunts are also triggered by motivated and vested interest. 

“These are communities and areas [where] there is much impoverishment, so there is a constant sort of stress. And it doesn’t take long for the community to start gossiping and then also coming together and getting support against the ‘witch’. And the witch hunt then becomes a representation for stress relief. You go, you eradicate the woman or you beat her, or you make her confess – and the stress is relieved a little bit.” According to a Raipur district court lawyer, hundreds of cases from remote villages go unreported while the conviction rate has been too low at 40 percent since the introduction of the witchcraft atrocities prevention law in 2005, with most cases awaiting final hearing. In the last few months, 

Chhattisgarh has witnessed more than two dozen cases of atrocities against women, leading to the death of eight victims. According to the state commission for women, Raipur district topped the list with 10 cases last year while Balrampur, Rajnandgaon, Raigarh, Janjgir – Champa and Koriya were other affected districts. State women and child development minister Ramsheela Sahu categorically states that women are getting more protection in the BJP regime, and the government is strict in implementing law and order. But he fails to explain why the government has not been able to eradicate the Tonhi cult. 

A senior police officer in Raipur said that there are several reasons, such as gender inequality and property disputes, behind the labelling of women as witches. Branding a woman as a witch is “a common ploy to grab land, settle scores or even to punish her for turning down sexual advances”. “It is difficult for the harassed woman to reach out for help and she is forced to either abandon her home and family, commit suicide or is brutally murdered. Poor, lower-caste women are easy targets for branding as a witch. Women who are widowed, infertile, have ‘ugly’ features or are old, unprotected, poor or socially ostracised are easy targets,” the official said. According to Women News Network (WNN), which reports on gender issues, women who become powerful and thus threaten the male leadership can also become the target of witch hunting. 

December 1, 2014

Farmer suicides: killing fields of Telangana

Debt burden, scanty rainfall and power woes force farmers to end their lives in the new state.

Wednesday, July 2 was the last day of Peraboyina Sampath’s life. That day, in the evening, he walked into his dusty field, gulped down some pesticide and waited for all his miseries to get over. The 32-year-old farmer worked in the near-barren farm at Seetharamapuram village under Parakala Mandal in Warangal district of the new state of Telangana. He was under a lot of pressure to pay back the debt of more than Rs2 lakh he owed to banks and money lenders. He had told his wife he would kill himself if the crop failed this time too. Next day, his wife found his body. Now she has to take care of their son and daughter – with no means of income. Her only hope is some ex-gratia relief from the state government. Months later, on November 10, a high-voltage drama was on in the state assembly. The opposition was armed with accusations and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) government was dodging the bullets of words.

But 170 km away from the state capital Hyderabad, in a village panchayat of Cheriyal under Warangal district, Kanduri Illama could not stop her tears, watching on television the assembly discussion on farmer suicides. On August 11, this year, her husband hanged himself to death near an open well in their farm. Narrating how her husband Mallaiah, 45, committed suicide, a wailing Illama said her world came crashing down that day, and she did not know how she would raise her three daughters. Mallaiah had grown cotton and maize on four acres, but half the land failed to yield anything. He had been borrowing money from local money lenders over the past few years. This year they all had great hopes of good rains and good harvest. But all their hopes and efforts went in vain, Illama said. Their eldest daughter, Rajitha, was married early this year but was sent back after her in-laws’ dowry demands could not be met. Bhavani, 18, is a BCom student, and the youngest daughter is in Class 9. Bhavani said two acres of the land belonged to her father as a joint property and it was not registered in his name. So he could not avail loan against it from a bank. He was forced to turn to small-time money lenders for help. His total debt was '4 lakh, and interest on it was piling up. Now, Illama and her daughters are forced to do petty work in the neighbourhood to survive. Two of the daughters have to earn their daily bread instead of going to college or school. The same story of a failed crop, huge debt, and the ending of one’s life is replicated across the state. In Angadipeta village of Chandur Mandal in Nalagonda district – 160 km from Illama’s village, moneylenders’ threats pushed Maragoni Venkataiah, 45, to take his life by hanging himself from a tree on his farm. He left behind his wife, two teenage daughters and a son without any livelihood.  In Damara Cherla mandal, Malothu Ravi consumed pesticide when his wife was away to bring their two school-going sons home. Ravi had invested Rs 2.50 lakh but the crop failed.

On the same day, Vangari Anjaiah of Maripadi village in Gundala mandal was also found hanging from the ceiling at his home. In Chadari village of Raupet mandal, Rajaiah, a 42-year-old maize farmer, ended his life by consuming pesticide. B Narasimha Rao, joint director, agriculture, said the farmers of Rajupet and Alair mandals had taken up maize cultivation in about 2,000 hectares, but most of the crop had withered away due to scanty rainfall. Despite the recent rains, the district recorded 50 percent deficient rainfall during the southwest monsoon, leaving the farming community in the lurch. The two most affected districts of Telangana – Warangal and Nalgonda – witnessed an alarmingly high number of suicides during this Kharif season. 

The primary reason for their plight is crop failure due to poor rains coupled with a nonexistent irrigation system and debt burden. Farmers take loans to meet healthcare, education and marriage expenses at high interest from private lenders, hoping to pay it all back after one bumper crop. But monsoon failures and the absence of any crop insurance scheme make suicide the only exit route. Another factor in this unfolding tragedy is the system of tenant farming, which is widespread in Telangana. Farmers typically own one or two acres of land, but take more land on rent from landlords. Krishnaiah, a tenant farmer in Karimnagar, had no agriculture land. He used to lease farmland in his native village. This time too he took four acres of land on lease but his crop failed because adequate power was not available. In the process, he incurred debt to the tune of '2.5 lakh. Unable to pay back after the crop failure, he consumed pesticide and committed suicide on September 23. “A majority of the victims are tenant farmers who pay very high interest rates to lease land, often paying up to '10,000 per acre per season. When their crop fails, they are left in debt. With private financiers hounding them, they take their own lives,” said RTI activist B Kondala Reddy who is associated with Rythu Swarjya Vedika, and Caring Citizens Collective, an NGO. Agriculture department officials said cotton and chilli farmers have been hit hard, because of unseasonal showers and lack of sufficient rainfall. They said the rainfall in Warangal was 31 percent below normal this year. As a result, the groundwater levels in the district went down to 8.06 metres this September, compared to 5.07 metres last September. The situation is the same in Adilabad with 29 percent rainfall deficit and Nalgonda with 38 percent less rainfall. In Medak district, there was only 44 percent rainfall, putting thousands of paddy, cotton and sugarcane farmers in distress. Officials said since agriculture in Telangana is predominantly dependent on bore-wells, depleted groundwater levels coupled with power cuts have hit farmers hard. Death by numbers While the government pegs the total number of farmer suicides at 79, the grassroots organisation Rythu Swarajya Vedika and the opposition Congress’s farmer wing Kisan Congress put the figure at 350. M Kodanda Reddy, chairman of Telangana Kisan Congress, called the government estimates “bogus”. Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president Ponnala Lakshmaiah said, “Police records say 318 farmers committed suicide in Telangana in the past four months. On the day of Diwali alone, 14 farmers ended their lives but the CM is feigning ignorance about it.” Agriculture minister P Srinivas Reddy blamed the previous Congress government for the plight of farmers. “The previous government did not create proper irrigation facilities nor has it bothered about the welfare of farmers. The farm loan waiver of the TRS government will aid the farmers immensely,” he said, when asked about the alleged suicides. P Srihari Rao, a social activist who has filed a public interest litigation in the Hyderabad high court seeking help for the distressed families of farmers who have committed suicide, says, “The government should treat this as more than a national disaster. It should declare an agricultural emergency in Telangana. Unless public and private loans are waived and some confidence-building measures are taken, suicides will continue.” Soon after assuming charge the TRS government under chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao announced a scheme to waive crop loans and gold loans up to '1 lakh for farmers. The government said waiving the loans of 3.9 million farmers would put a burden of '17,000 crore on the state coffers but it was ready to take it on, as it was an election promise. However, this applies only to bank loans, and brings no relief to the farmers facing heat from private money lenders. Also, farmers continue to suffer from power crisis, which needs to be resolved to let them breathe easy.

July 25, 2014

Father recollects son's death

SIXTY TWO kilometres from Telangana state capital in a small village in Medak district on Wednesday morning Jatkula Yadgiri was doing his routine job. Seeing off his three children to school before leaving for work. Little did he know that it was the last time he was seeing them. His three children Sirisha (8), Divya (6) and Charan (3) were in the ill-fated school bus which met with an accident when a train  heading to Secunderabad from Nanded rammed into it killing fourteen school children. All of them were primary students.
Yadgiri recalled," how he had a chat with his eldest daughter last night.accident., Yadagiri recalled," how he had a chat with his eldest daughter last night. We just got a call from the hospital informing us about our son’s death,” he said as he burst out into tears. He had got a call from Sirisha’s headmaster who complained of her not finishing her homework but was performing well in school. “She assured me that she would give her best henceforth,” he said weeping uncontrollably. “She asked me not to worry and judge her only by her grades,” he added. Yadgiri is a lower-middle agricultural labour. “Despite my low income, I sent my children to a private school as they were my most precious assets,” he said. While Sirisha wanted to become a teacher, Divya a doctor, his son Charan dreamed of becoming a policeman. “I often wondered how I would be able to provide so much for them. I had taken loans from many people to ensure good education for them. There were times when people barged into my house demanding money but it never perturbed me as the only thing I ever had in mind were my kids,” the bereaved father said. He recalled how Charan was delighted when he had brought Khajoor (dates) instead of the usual bananas. Yadgiri, however, had anticipated the mishap. “My children often complained about the rash driving of the driver. Even I had gone to their school and lodged a complaint many times and requested the management to do something about the crossing. At least now I hope they do something about it,” he regretted. While Yadagiri and his wife are at their house mourning over the bodies of their two dead children, their eldest daughter Sirisha has been brought by some relatives to the Yashoda hospital in Secunderabad for treatment. She is in a deep shock and does not know that her younger brother and sister are no more in this world. Her only concern is to get well and return home and play with her siblings, according to Satyalaxmi, a relative, who is looking after her in the absence of her parents. “We are having a tough time convincing her that her brother and sister are safe. We told her that they both are outside the hospital and that very soon she can meet them. She believed what we said. But I don’t know how to handle the situation once she knows the truth. “I don’t know how many years it will take for the family to recover from this shock of this tragedy,” she said with tears in her eyes. Harish, a four-year- old LKG student lost one leg in that train accident. He is safe and now being treated. His uncle Srikanth was seen trying hard to console his family members at the hospital. When asked about the condition of Harish, he said: “I can never see my nephew walking again. He lost his one leg, and the lower part of his body was damaged.

January 9, 2012

The Last Nizam- Part 2

In 1972 Mukkaram Jah saw some disquieting writing on the wall- the abolition of privy purses to princes and maharajas – he decided to look to other countries and lifestyles for his future.
Researching into some journals of 1980s and rare interviews to Hugh Schmitt. One can get into the mind of the last Nizam of Hyderabad on why he selected Australia as his next destination.
Why the down under - “I wanted to retain my individuality, and knowing and respecting Australians as a nation of individuals, I decided to come here. But I chose Perth quite by accident, “ Mukkaram Jah told an Australian newspaper 12 years after he landed in Perth.
After he was told about Government of India's stand on the rulers – Mukkaram sitting around with a personal assistant at his Chiraan palace in Hyderabad was discussing his next move. Suddenly he remembered he had two friends in Perth. Both doctors whom he met at Cambridge. Next week he was on a flight to Perth.
Jet landed at Perth at 2 am – and Nizam suddenly wanted to go ahead to Sydney rather than visiting Perth. His assistant made him stay in Perth. He was booked into the Transit Inn about 3 am on Sunday morning and at 12:30 pm he walked into Pier Street.
Easy going life with clean and uncrowded city – was the punch to Nizam to stay here. That's how his long association with Western Australia began.
People in the region respected him and he made it sure that they addressed him Jah rather than Prince Jah.
Mukkaram loved the sea – not the sea between Fremantle and Rottest, but the open sea.” “I once sailed my yacht Kalbarrie from Fremantle to Port Moresby, which is more than a trans-Atlantic crossing,”he said.
He was dismayed when the Federal customs department ordered his 300 tonne converted US minesweeper Kalbarrie to leave Success Harbour in 1982 because it did not conform with Department of Transport Regulations.
In Western Australia he is known as a sheep farmer who liked to tinker with heavy machinery and ride motorcycles cross-country on his 200,000 ha station called Murchison House, which is near Kalbarri.
He always was in the offence whenever someone spoke about his grandfather reputation as a mean man who smoked discarded cigarette butts, despite an annual income of more than $500 million. He responded strongly - “Seventh Nizam was not mean. He might have been frugal in his own way but what is frugality,” he would question.
Mukkaram never directly spoke to his grandfather. “ I never spoke to him directly,” he recalled – I was in his presence, but spoke to him through a chamberlain. “My grandfather would ask to the assistant: Ask my grandson how he is doing at school,' and he would ask me the same question.
“I would respond with something like: 'My honoured grandfather. I did well in my term exams.”
Born in France of a Turkish mother, he made it clear that he is more Turkish than Indian – and he looks to it.
He avoids media. Because he doesn't want any publicity. He knows that he is the Nizam of Hyderabad and that's all matter.
“I am enjoying my second marriage to Ayesha much more than the first.”
NEXT: On his wives and controversies.

September 26, 2011

The Last Nizam – Part 1

I always wanted to write on Nizams of Hyderabad. The inside story. Not the ones - told and heard many a times. In next following days – I will write stories on the last Nizam – Mukarram Jah which many didn't know. The first part is an introduction and start up to my series.

I always wondered by the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mukarram Jah abandoned the opulence and intrigues of his Hyderabad palace to drive bulldozers on a dusty sheep station in the Western Australian outback.

Mukarram was an offspring of the union of the two greatest Muslim dynasties of their time. Through his Indian grandmother, he was a descendant of Prophet Mohammed; through his Turkish mother, a descendant of the last Caliph of Turkey.

The first Nizam Mir Qamar Ud Udin Khan was a preacher who wanted to serve under Shahjahan. However, by the time he came back from Haj – Aurangzeb took over the rule and sent him to represent Mughals and fight against the Qutub Sahi rulers.

The Asif Jahi dynasty had been founded in bloodshed and intrigue in the 17th century under the Mughal emperors and in 1724 became an independent state. Since then the city and the state of Hyderabad had been synonymous with culture, opulence and intrigue.

At 35, Mukarram inherited the title from his grandfather, after he disinherited his son for being a "moral pervert" with "sadistic" tastes. Azam Jah.

By the time, Mukarram was made the Nizam – India was independent and princely rule was over. But Osman Ali Khan had a deal with the Government of India to recognise his grandson as the last official Nizam.

Nizam's official title, as it was proclaimed by the president of India in 1967, was "His Exalted Highness, the Rustam of the Age, the Aristotle of the Times, Wal Mamuluk, Asaf Jah VIII, the Conqueror of Dominions, the Regulator of the Realm, Nawab Mir Barakat Ali Khan Bahadur, the Victor in Battles, the Leader of Armies, the Nizam of Hyderabad and Berar."  It may have been meaningless, as the princely states had ceased to exist, but the Maharajahs were allowed to retain their titles until 1971.

I was told by close associates of Mukarram and those who knew the Nizam closely that was more of a foreigner in Hyderabad as most of his time was spent aboard including his studies.

At the urging of his beautiful, cultivated mother, and against his grandfather's wishes, Mukarram was sent to Doon School, then to Harrow, Cambridge and Sandhurst in England. His mother despaired of his obsession with machinery.

Mukarram Jah, the new Nizam, brought in his own guards to safeguard his inheritance, but the looting began almost immediately and continued for decades. On April 6, 1967, a Mughal-style durbar was held to install him. At the end of the ceremony, the Olds-mobile that was to carry the royal couple broke down. Amid the solemn ritual, the exotic splendour and a crowd of tens of thousands all Mukarram could think of was how he would fix the imported V8.

Five years later, the seventh Nizam's teeming beneficiaries were still contesting the 54 trusts he left behind. In 1971, Indira Gandhi had stripped the 279 remaining princes of their privy purses and titles. Overwhelmed by his lot, Mukarram flew to Western Australia and bought Murchison House Station, 160km from Geraldton and Havelock House (a Federation mansion) in Perth.

A 2,00,000-hectare outback station in Western Australia was purchased in 1972. He immediately fell in love with his purchase, with its openness and space as it was as far removed from the incestuous atmosphere of Hyderabad, where his own father was taking him to court. "Abu Bakar (the first Caliph of Turkey who was his ancestor) was a shepherd, so I see no reason why I shouldn't be one," he once told a reporter. He would wear an Akubra hat, dusty blue boiler suit and R.M. Williams work boots. His Turkish wife, Esra, appalled by the informality and isolation, returned to London in nine days. The locals treated and greeted him not with deep bows and salutations of "Your Exalted Highness" but with How yer doin', Mukarram or Jah? Some even called him Charlie. Mukarram claimed to have personally graded 300km of roads and fence lines at Murchison House Station.

While he lived in Australia, the plunder of his properties and possessions in India was reaching epidemic proportions. Most of the valuables he left behind in India were sold off by the mid-1970s by his managers, cronies and family members. Projects on his Australian property were abandoned midstream, managers were regularly replaced. Mukarram would drive across Australia and then charter a Lear jet to get home. Murchison was strewn with abandoned graders, tractors and cars. On April 1, 1996, a liquidator was appointed for the property. Mukarram felt cursed and left Murchison that year to flee to his mother's homeland and a modest two-bedroom flat on the coast of Turkey.

His second marriage ended in tragedy. His Australian wife developed a relationship with a bisexual, divorced Mukarram and then died of AIDS in 1989. His younger son from this relationship died of a drug overdose in 2004. Mukarram got married 5 times and has now separated from his current Turkish wife.

In 1967, Mukarram inherited the largest fortune in the world but now lives a life of simplicity and anonymity in Turkey.

NEXT: Exclusive Interview of Mukarram given to Australian newspaper days after he landed in Australia. An insight on why Australia. And also an answer to my question why he left opulence and intrigues of his Hyderabad palace to drive bulldozers on a dusty sheep station in the Western Australian outback.