Hyderabad: It was a royal command that couldn’t be ignored. Coming from a maverick ruler it had to be complied with – at all costs. That explains the mortal hurry John Burton found himself in on the cold winter evening of December 24, 1950.
Burton, the royal tailor, just had an audience with the 7th Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan. He was ordered to get ready 60 overcoats and as many pants and shirts in less than six hours for the Nizam and his team to attend the midnight mass at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral at Gunfoundry in Hyderabad. A seemingly impossible task. But nobody dared defy the shahi hukum.
A tailor par excellence, Burton had made a name tailoring for the royal family and nobles. Besides the Nizams, some of his important clients included the King of Spain, the Prince of Wales, princess, maharajas, not to speak of Bollywood stars like Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar and Shashi Kapoor. Scottish by birth, Burton worked as a cutter with the renowned Henry Poole Company of Saville Row, London, before coming to Hyderabad in 1890. He worked for six years with Albert Abid Evans after whom the Abid road is named. Later Burton was appointed as an exclusive tailor to the Nizam.
As a royal outfitter, he had to ensure that schedules were kept, deadlines met and excellence achieved, notwithstanding the eccentric demands and short notices. Surly the tough get going as the going gets tough. Without losing any time, Burton summoned his team and set to work. His shop at Sardar Patel road was a beehive of activity with scores of tailors frantically cutting away the expensive cloth. Pieces of pants and shirts lay in different stages of stitching. Burton, pipe in hand, could be seen pushing his team to meet the deadline.
Finally, at the stroke of midnight, Osman Ali Khan along with a retinue of 60 courtiers – all dressed in spanking new black suits – stepped into the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The man who called Hindus and Muslims his two eyes, had a soft corner for Christians as well. The clock on the Cathedral tower, the European oil painting of the Blessed Mother and Christ as a child and the chandeliers were gifted by him on February 17, 1953. The Nizam even penned a Christmas poem in Persian. Its English translation by Sir Nizamath Jung goes like this:
What was Jesus’ mission, Osman?
Ask them whom He came to guide
Gave His life for their redemption
For His flock, he gladly died!