A Look into the Past

Southasia - - Contents -

Jour­ney into pre-in­de­pen­dence Hy­der­abad with its prac­tices

and cul­ture.

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

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