Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Last Nizam : Book review

John Zubrzycki, an Australian journalist, has good knowledge of India, her history and the myriad ways in which she works. It is therefore no surprise that he comes up with a convincing, gripping and insightful account of a man and a dynasty that's not written about very much.

The book charts the saga of the fabulously wealthy Nizams of Hyderabad, and initially outlines Indian history from the end of the Mughal period. These sections could appear a bit dry to some, and they delve into the dynamics of the relationship of the British administration of the time with the many princely states. Nonetheless, these pages succeed in involving the reader and in providing a sound base for what is to follow. Things get particularly interesting when the book begins to detail the life and times of the seventh and penultimate Nizam (also the richest man in the world at the time, whose collection of jewels alone could fill a couple of Olympic sized swimming pools), a somewhat eccentric and endearing creature, whose tales of thrift were legendary. He nominated Mukkaram Jah, his grandson as the next (and as it turned out, last) Nizam, bypassing his extravagant and distracted sons. Mukkaram Jah himself is a bit of a recluse, who now lives in anonymity in Turkey, and is the ultimate tragi-comic hero. Jawaharlal Nehru wanted the genteel, well heeled Oxbridge product in government, but he refused. He spent his initial years attempting to unravel his inheritance, which was perhaps at the time the largest going around, worth many hundreds of millions of dollars. It proved too much of a task for him and he succumbed to the hundreds of court cases from numerous relatives who wanted shares in his grandfather's property. Mukkaram then moved to Australia for many years, attempting to remodel himself into a gentleman farmer, purchasing a massive ranch. But a good manager and businessman he was not and the ranch proved financially unviable, running up huge losses and ultimately shutting down in the 90s.

The book, littered with many fascinating and curious characters, serves as reminder that great wealth can sometimes serve up great pain. Much of the Nizam's massive fortune has been squandered by his grandson, lost or sold by corrupt and opportunistic relatives or smuggled out of the country by covetous family retainers. The last Nizam, for all his education, remained an elitist who couldn't be bothered to get his hands dirty himself, and always relied on the advise of others, a sure recipe for disaster. "I know I am the Nizam of Hyderabad", he once told The West Australian, "and that's all that matters". He still has great pride in his roots and in this ancestry. Now alone and reclusive, that's all he seems to have left. The book is also a peek into the grandiose, graceful and glorious world of the once powerful Nizams, and its a world that's escaped mainstream historical attention. 'The Last Nizam' goes some distance in attempting to correct this injustice.


1 comment:

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