World’s richest man, the Nizam of Hyderabad came into the news when the Dominion of India recently called on him to make up his mind without delay whether to bring his State into the Dominion or keep it independent.
He probably finds it hard to decide. The Dominion of India is predominantly Hindu, and more than 15,000,000 of the Nizam’s 20,000,000 subjects are Hindus but the Nizam is a Moslem. In India, Hindu Princes, known as Maharajas, and Moslem Princes known as Nawabs have the additional title “His Highness” but the Nizam shares his title with no other ruler.
Ever since the Indian Mutiny of 1857, when Hyderabad stood by Britain, Hyderabad’s ruler has held by tradition the title “Faithful Ally” of the British Government. In 1918, King George V made this traditional title His Exalted Highness. This was the Nizam’s reward for a World War 1 manifesto in which he appealed to the Moslems of India to support Britain even though Turkey, a Moslem Power, was on the German side.
The Nizam’s real name is Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur. That’s a short name in India. The Maharaja of Patiala, for instance is known as Lieutenant-General His Highness Farzand-i-Khas-i-Daudat-i-Inglishia Shri Maharajadhiraj Mohinder Bahadur.
The Nizam claims descent from the Caliph Abu Bakr, Mohammed’s successor as the spiritual and temporal head of Islam. A more recent ancestor, Nizam Ul Mulk Asaf Jah, founded Hyderabad during the Mogul Empire’s disintegration 200 years ago. In 1931 the Nizam gained added distinction in the Islamic world when his heir, Prince Azam Jah and his second son married the daughter and niece respectively of the ex-Caliph of Islam, ex-Sultan Abdul Mejid of Turkey.
His Exalted Highness is a slight, shy, frugal cultured man who rules a State the size of Victoria on the windswept tablelands of the Deccan, in southern India. He has power of life and death over his subjects. His rule is a benevolent despotism. He has his own army, customs service, university (with 10 colleges), stamps, railways, and an airline. His paper currency ls the only one circulating in India besides the British rupee notes. He claims none ever goes hungry in Hyderabad.
He generally needs a haircut, his long moustache is perpetually shaggy. He wears European suits on special occasions, but more often homespun clothes, old leather shoes, a well-worn fez, and carries a walking stick mended with an Iron ring.
He is the seventh Nizam, but nothing like his father, who was almost a Hollywood version of what an Indian Prince should be. The old boy rode around on gold draped elephants and in Rolls Royces, went tiger-shooting with an enormous retinue, wore his jewels. Those jewels he could not wear he sewed into bags and used them as door stops in his palaces. He was also a great tosspot and after a wild night liked to throw coins in the air and shoot at them with a revolver.
For many years he had many wives but no sons. Then he fell for a Hindu dancing girl who eventually produced Osman, the present Nizam. The old boy recognised the baby as his son and heir, but later, when a legal wife produced two sons, he began to hate his first-born son.
Osman grew up disliking his father and adoring his mother. When his father died he put his mother in a palace and visited her daily. He nearly went mad when she died, and every afternoon since has visited her now empty palace and her tomb. On the death of his father, the present Nizam began to economise . He closed the famous Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad City, the State capital, and moved into the suburbs, and for years has lived in a small house among a collection of small houses in a green compound surrounded by a high wall. He shares a verandah with his pet goat.
For decades now he has led a quiet, completely unostentatious existence. He is no miser, but his tastes and needs are so simple that he spends practically nothing on himself. The State pays almost all his expenses. Local merchants supply him free with clothes, toilet articles, cigarettes. The royal elephants have not been used since his coronation durbar in 1911. When he goes out he generally uses a prehistoric Ford, though he owns a Humber.
He regards display, parades, trappings as distasteful. He dislikes the cinema and won’t read novels. He has never been in aeroplane and doesn’t intend to get into one. Like all his ancestors he has never been outside India. No one knows how much His Exalted Highness is worth. It’s even said he doesn’t know exactly himself. Estimates put his annual in-come at more than £5,000,000, his fold at between £30,000,000 and£50,000,000, and his jewellery at between £250,000,000 and £300,000,000. His total personal expenditure averages £1/4/4 a week.
His civil list, paid by State funds, is £500,000. His income from Crown lands – the Nizam’s private estate covers one tenth of Hyderabad’s 83,000 square miles and is inhabited by 1,500,000 people – is worth about £2,500,000. In addition, gifts to the Nizam’s are worth millions a year. When the Nizam receives one of his subjects, that subject must present him with a gold coin worth £10 plus four silver rupees worth 7/6.
Some of his nobles regard the presentation of one gold coin at a time as degrading. They some times bring as many as 30 or 40 to an audience. Four times a year he entertains thousands of guests at lavish banquets, and each guest personally hands to the Nizam a gold coin and four rupees.
The Nizam is said to have saved about £170,000,000 during his 36 years’ reign. His jewels, which he seldom looks at, would pay a National Debt. One story says he could lay a pavement of pearls from Oxford Circus to Charing Cross, a distance of half a mlle.
YEARS back the Nizam gave orders for his pearls to be taken from their sacks, washed in a special solution which would preserve their lustre, and graded. Servants took 3 days to spread the pearls on the flat roofs of the dozen buildings in his compound but after the pearls had been treated he decided it would take too long to grade them and countermanded his order. His jewel collection Includes the Jacobs diamond – used by his father as a paper weight-a set of three egg-size diamonds, and a magnificent set of emeralds worth millions.
An expert who once repaired some of the Nizam’s Jewellery saw only part of the collection. He estimated that part to be worth about £50,000,000.The Nizam has no treasure house, no strong room. He keeps most of his wealth in two main buildings within his suburban compound. Gold, in coins, bars and keg shaped blocks, overflows from rooms into a garage. There’s so much of it that the Nizam forgets where he puts it. Once, behind some old tapestries, he was surprised to find boxes filled with gold coin.
Another time a truck brought a load of gold bar. There was no place to store it, so the Nizam ordered a sentry to be posted. That was 20 years ago. Today the rotting truck is still in the same place, covered with weeds, and a small tree has grown up through the chassis. The gold is still there and a sentry still watches it.
In one corner of the compound is a cart filled with sacks of silver rupees. The sacks are rotting and some tarnished coins have fallen on the ground. The Nizam could see the cart from his verandah, but he never looks at it. His Exalted Highness may sound like an almost certifiable eccentric, but at 61, he is an extremely intelligent alert, astute old character.He works harder than any of his subjects. He knows everything there is to know, even the latest scandal, in Hyderabad.
He gets up at dawn, drinks a cup of coffee, works until 9 a.m. Then he has breakfast of tea and biscuits and watches his pet goat being fed. During the morning he sits on his verandah steps and conducts affairs of State. His ministers,secretaries, and visitors stand in a respectful semicircle.Late in the afternoon, after more work, he visits his – mother’s palace and tomb. Police stop all traffic. His subjects stand silent as he passes in his old Ford.
He often works late at night after a simple supper. That work includes State business, writing a column, free for a Hyderabad City newspaper, reading Persian classics and the Koran, and writing poetry.The Nizam is a lonely, but not sad man. He loves conversation and laughter, and enjoys the gossip of his ministers and courtiers .He even collects jokes and stories about himself.
Once an American corresponddent asked him the exact number of his children (he is reputed to have a harem of 200). His Exalted Highness smiled and said: “The census returns are not up to date, but I would be glad to provide you with this week’s figures.”