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!

J.S. Ifthekhar

J.S. Ifthekhar is a senior journalist with nearly four decades of experience. Ifthekhar cut his teeth in journalism at the Indian Express before he moved to The Hindu. He was also associated with the Siasat Daily, Telangana Today, Deccan Chronicle, Onlooker magazine, Newstrack, Detective Digest and a few news agencies. He has written on different subjects and aspects of Hyderabadi life. However, his passion remains literature in general and Urdu poetry in particular. He is equally concerned with culture, heritage, civic affairs and problems confronting the man in the street. As a journalist he has taken up cudgels on behalf of the underprivileged and many of his stories in The Hindu saw the government promptly taking corrective measures. Ifthekhar has authored two books - Hyderabad - The Nawabi City on The Move and Haj - The Spirit Behind it. He has also translated two books from Urdu to English. Currently he is working on his third book - Poets and Writers of Deccan. Loves to write and writes to live. Can't imagine doing anything else.

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