A Look into the Past
Journey into pre-independence Hyderabad with its practices
Tucked away in southern India, the state of Hyderabad had flourished until the government of India took it over. Due to the size of his territory, the ruler or
was titled ‘His Exalted Highness’ by the British. Other princes were called “His Highness.” The
was fabulously rich. The State had its own railway and an army. The Osmania University became a center of excellence, where all disciplines were taught in Urdu.
In her autobiography, titled ‘ A Song of Hyderabad,’ Bilquis Jehan Khan captures some of the beauties of the bygone days, when spread its lilting music in the morning. People celebrated the two Eid festivals with much éclat and the
rode an elephant at the Muharram processions.
The author describes the customs of first Ramadan fast, and the elegant marriage ceremonies in ever so fascinating detail with pictures to enliven the narrative. Even the first menstruation was an occasion to celebrate. Her own received, among other things, a seven-gun salute from her maternal grandfather’s Arab guards.
The author was born in an aristocratic family with connections to the When she was forty days old, her grandparents took her over. Believing she was their daughter, she called them and respectively. was the
ADC. He also had a jagir and together the entire family lived in a palatial mansion, Nasir Manzil.
Things have changed drastically, since. Hyderabad is Andhra Pradesh now. The has been designated Shorn of his powers, he lives abroad. Nasir Manzil has been demolished. In its place a shopping arcade has come up, because, there is no now to support its owners.
Bilquis Jehan’s marriage with Nasiruddun changed her life. Her mother-in-law was Scottish. Nasir’s employment in Shell provided interaction with the British officers of the company. When he was posted to Pakistan, she migrated with him. Here, the salubrious ambience of the ber-liberal upper class society provided the required stimulus for Bilquis Jehan, raised in a conservative, purdah-observing milieu to morph into an outgoing socialite. There was no bismillah, therefore, for her daughter. Instead she was taught classical dancing.
With her spouse or alone, the author traveled widely, visiting the U.S., Europe and some South-East Asian countries. Her son and daughter are happily married, the latter to an American. Nasir has retired. And the couple now lives in their apart- ment in Karachi’s posh Clifton locality.
The book is anecdotes abound. Some are funny; such as a young girl climbing the school wall with the gardener’s ladder to meet her Romeo. Others are sordid, like the Nizam’s concubines smuggling their paramours into the palace and other women cuckolding their spouses. But there is no mention of any cultural activities at the Court where India’s best poets and artistes had