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.

August 25, 2011


Take a look at any news source today and you’ll see the name of Libya’s de facto leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi. Look a little closer and you’ll see a multitude of spellings for the notorious politician’s surname such as Gaddafi, Kadafi and Qaddafi. Why does a name that has been making headlines for decades have so many varied spellings?
Transliteration is the reason – the transcription of a word, or in this case a name, into corresponding letters of another alphabet. The Arabic script is oftentimes unvocalized – in other words the vowels are rarely written out and must be furnished by a reader familiar with the language. As with Chinese and Hindi, the Arabic script contains a copious amount of diacritics – dots and accents added to a letter to change the sound. In addition, there seems to be an absence of any sort of authority for transliterating Arabic names.
The Arabic language is one of the most widely spoken Semitic languages in the world and the pronunciation of words varies with different across regions. Even among Arabic speakers, Arabic of North Africa is often incomprehensible to an Arabic speaker from the Gulf Region.
A famous roadblock for any Arabic to English translator is the Arabic “q”.” Depending on the region, pronunciation varies so much that the first letter of “Gaddafi” can be replaced with a “q”, “k” or “gh” sound. This helps to explain the numerous interpretations for “Gaddafi.”
The variation of spelling may depend on what news source you choose to gather your information from. The Times of India, Hindustan Times and other news papers in India along with the Associated Press and CNN favor “Gadhafi”, The New York Times spells it “el-Qaddafi” and the Los Angeles Times uses “Kadafi.” Interestingly, Al Jazeera, which uses “Gaddafi”, does not use the “el” article in the name while the New York Times does.
It is the original Arabic spelling that causes problems for those of us who use the Latin alphabet. The first letter of Gaddafi's name is Qaf in Arabic, which is, phonetically speaking, a voiceless, uvular plosive. It's like a K, but instead of the tongue making contact with the soft palate it is further back and touches the uvula. This explains why several Arabic words are spelt different ways - either Q or K - in English, eg Koran/Q'uran, burka/burqa. There are different dialects of Arabic, and in the Libyan dialect this letter often sounds like a G, hence the English spelling. The next letter is ḏāl or dhal, which is a voiced dental fricative, like the 'th' sound in the word 'these'. In Libya, this letter is often pronounced more like a D or Z.
According to the Associated Press Gaddafi pronounces his name Gath-thafi. As for the way he spells his name, back in the 1980s when he would print his name in English at the end of letters to the West he wrote El-Gadhafi. The Associated Press still uses the spelling Gadhafi, but without the El.

January 10, 2011

A day at LBSNAA

COMPLETELY awestruck and mesmerised by the serene beauty of Mussoorie. Last November I was invited to deliver a lecture on ground realities faced by bureaucrats when they come across media in rural areas of the country.

An hour long session at Lal Bahadur Shashtri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) taught me many things – especially how important it is for media to get into introspection to give a clear image of its non-bias and non-corrupt professionalism.

More than 270 odd probationers from IAS, IPS, foreign and forest services were armed with questions that were dipped and darkened in the inkpot of negative reports. The probationers of 81st foundation course looked more promising and ready to take the challenge – attitude. It looks the new batch of bureaucrats the country is going to have is promising.

In the past, I have had extensively worked covering bureaucracy – but very few people left impression. One of the them was Gaurav Dwivedi who happens to be senior Deputy Director at LBSNAA. It was his idea of including a media session for the probationers in the foundation course. That is how I happened to be a part of the session.

Mr Dwivedi is a Chhattisgarh cadre IAS officer – who had worked as Collector in three districts of Chhattisgarh before opting for central job.

Probationers might think that it is just a regular part of the session with media – but the reason behind Mr Dwivedi including it in the foundation course has its significance. Many a times due to lack of knowing the scenario and mishandling of media – the bureaucrats end up biting the dust.

Usually the young bureaucrats mess up things quite often when it comes to media handling during early days of postings.

Most of the time wherever I was invited to deliver a lecture to the audience were mostly media persons or students. But talking to 'would be' bureaucrats was a different ball game.

They told me  most of them would sleep in the class or read books – and I would be left talking to myself or the walls or some probationers who would be kind enough to pay attention.

First few minutes was boring, and I could sense it. I remembered Mark Twain's quote for the journey -

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream.

That's what I told them to give a patient hearing, and you will not regret on listening to me. I believe they heard me well.

After the session was over – I was happy that I was walking away not only with the souvenirs from LBSNAA but also a lesson on public speaking and how to keep the audience exceeding in hundreds. There are different facets of expression. It is an art of expressing a point, a suggestion or also a medium of gentle persuasion. The motive is to give something to the discerning audience so that they can imbibe the skills in the speech.

In the end, my respect towards politicians grew more – because of their ability to keep the audience at bay with their mesmerising speeches.