Mukarram Jah: The enigmatic prince who cracked jokes, loved little things

Once he was having his hair trimmed by barber Raja Ram at the Chiran Palace. After the job was done, he told the palace staff to pay Rs. 25,000 to the barber.

By J.S. Ifthekhar  Published on  18 Jan 2023 7:30 AM GMT
Mukarram Jah: The enigmatic prince who cracked jokes, loved little things

Hyderabad: Royalty evokes an enduring interest the world over. Bejeweled kings and queens, magnificent palaces, and royal repasts are all stuff of imagination. Be it the British royal family, the Wadiyar dynasty of Mysore, or the Nizam of Deccan – people are obsessed with them. Who wouldn’t like to be with the crowned heads? Or at least be privy to their little-known things?

With the passing away of Nawab Mir Barkat Ali Khan Walashan Mukarram Jah Bahadur, the spotlight is back on the titular 8th Nizam. There is an intense curiosity about the prince whose life remains shrouded in mystery. Many think Jah to be a strict no nonsense man. But behind that serious demeanor was a human being who had a funny side too.

Like everyone else, he loved the little things of life and cracked jokes. Once he was having his hair trimmed by barber Raja Ram at the Chiran Palace. After the job was done, he told the palace staff to pay Rs. 25,000 to the barber. This naturally raised the eyebrows of his assistant. “I have given my word to Raja Ram. Just pay him”, the prince said curtly.

Then looking at the expression of his assistant he explained how the barber expressed his need for Rs. 25,000 pausing with the razor on his jugular vein. “I couldn’t help but readily agree”, Jah remarked, breaking into uncontrolled laughter.

Shahid Husain Zuberi, who worked with Jah in different capacities for close to two decades, lifts the veil of mystery surrounding Jah in his book – Awraq-e-Maazi. He has packed in his book many little-known things about the prince and tries to present the real Jah – warts and all.

Pandit Nehru, according to him, had close ties with the 7th Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, and used to address him as “My dear friend” in his letters. He also took a liking to his grandson, Mukarram Jah, and made him stay at his Teen Murti Bhavan in Delhi. Jah had an intense desire to join the Indian army but Nehru had different ideas for the young prince. He wanted to make him an ambassador and later elevate him to the position of President of India. Nehru entrusted the job of grooming Jah to his daughter Indira Gandhi. But the nawab in him didn’t let Jah take orders from someone else. After a few months of stay with the Nehrus, he returned to Hyderabad, it is said.

Though he maintained a respectable distance from others, Jah was very friendly and informal with his staff and security personnel. The latter, however, behaved respectfully with the prince. Zuberi, who is a smoker, didn’t light up in the presence of Jah. When he felt the need, he would move away and smoke in seclusion. Once during a journey to Ooty, they were traveling in a car. While passing through the Mysore jungles, Jah would stop the car to smoke. He would also offer cigarettes to Zuberi.

But the latter would politely decline and bide his time for smoking. Seeing his hesitancy, Jah said the place was infested with elephants and gave him tips on how to escape an attack. Elephants moved slowly on downward slopes while they were fast on inclined terrain. What if he encounters them on level ground? “You don’t have to do anything. We will pray for you”, the prince remarked jocularly. Then he offered me a cigarette. And it was the first time I smoked before him”, says Zuberi.

The biggest problem, Zuberi says, is people's tendency to compare Jah with his grandfather. The latter was a king and he did not have to pay any estate duty, wealth tax, income tax, or municipal tax. But after his demise, Jah ended up with many liabilities and was asked to pay several taxes for properties inherited from him. Jah was caught up in the mire of taxes and he blindly trusted his staff who took him for a royal ride.

Despite all this, Jah could set up the Princess Durreshehwar and Prince Asra Hospitals apart from the Mukarram Jah Trust for Education and Learning. This led to many schools coming up in the old city.

Jah had a sharp memory and was also a quick repartee. After the death of the 7th Nizam, he was asked whether he proposed to raise a monument for his grandfather. Pat came the reply: “Go around Hyderabad and you will find so many of them”.

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