Ustad To Two Nizams
by Narendra Luther
Dagh was the first to become the `ustad' of Nizam VI. His story has been narrated earlier. Dagh died in 1905, but none was appointed to fill his vacancy. Hafiz Jaleel Hassan `Jaleel' Manikpuri came to the city in 1900, and like Dagh had to wait for a long time before fortune smiled on him. The story of his appointment in 1909 is interesting.
Maharaja Kishen Pershad, the Prime Minister of Hyderabad, had organized a mushaira on the occasion of the jubilee of Nizam VI in 1905. The Nizam, Mir Mehboob Ali Khan himself attended it. All the leading poets attended it.
Since it was a special jubilee mushaira, only qasida, that is odes of praise in honour of the Nizam, were to be recited. The length of each poem was restricted to 12 couplets. A tall candle in a gold stand with the personal emblem of Kishen Pershad was brought by a liveried attendant and kept in the centre. Overhead hung a giant chandelier. The walls of the hall had life-size mirrors in gilded frames. The host said a few words of welcome to his ruler, congratulated him on his silver jubilee and wished him many more. After that the master of ceremonies gave a brief introduction of all the poets. As each poet was introduced, he got up and made seven salaams to the royal guest. Then, the proceedings began.
Normally, a mushaira is a loud affair and there is no dearth of praise even from rival poets by way of professional courtesy. But somehow this session was going flat. There was no special applause; no shouts for encore. After a while the Nizam who sat impassively reclining against a bolster, whispered something to the host. Kishen Pershad, in an attempt to enliven the proceedings, broke the order of roll-call and invited the new-comer Jaleel to recite his poem. He was an instant success. The Nizam who was almost dozing off with boredom sat up and uttered an exclamation of praise "Wah. Well done." Everyone else followed him vociferously.
Jaleel could not cope with shouts of praise and he had to stop mid-way at every line to acknowledge the cheers by salaaming with his right hand and in response to shouts for reiteration, he had to repeat his lines - some, many times. When the sitting was over at 4 a.m., and the poets started leaving, Jaleel was asked to stay back. The Nizam wanted to hear the poem again. He liked it very much.
After about a year, at a ceremony in his palace for the start of teaching of the holy Quran to a prince, Mehboob had composed a poem but wasn't satisfied with it. He was stuck on some word. He asked Jaleel for help. Many drafts were made. Only the fourth attempt satisfied him.
A few days later Jaleel was appointed royal tutor on a salary of five hundred rupees a month. He was also appointed a royal companion and given the title of `Fasahat Jung'.
When Mehboob passed away in 1911 and Mir Osman Ali Khan succeeded him, Jaleel's appointment was renewed. So he became the new ruler's tutor and companion as well.
As the official poet, Jaleel was required to attend the court daily and had to compose at least one poem every day and some times more on different occasions of all sorts. The Nizam used to send his compositions to Jaleel's house through a special messenger in a sealed cover. They had to be returned corrected the same day. The bearer would wait on till they were corrected. Some days a dozen poems would come one after the other. The ustad had to be available from around 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. because the special courier could come any time.
The Nizam used to write with a pencil, on scraps of paper and on both sides. Sometimes he wrote on the flap of a cigarette packet if that was the only thing handy at that time. Apart from the needed corrections which had to be made in very respectful terms, the ustad's opinion had also to be given on each couplet and all possible praise showered on those which needed no amendment. Remarks like "Excellent, Congratulations." "Superb. What an idea!" "One in a million; My humble praise", etc. were made in the margin or below a given word or phrase. In addition, a general assessment had to be given on the poem as a whole and it had better be positive. While the poem was written in pencil, the amendments were made in red ink. They were published in the front page of local Urdu papers - corrections and all.
The ustad could not give instructions to anybody else except Kishen Pershad.
In the royal sittings, only the Nizam's poetry was recited and the ustad was expected to make instant corrections, if necessary. Jaleel had also to help Nizam compose chronogram in verse wherever the occasion demanded. Sometimes he would give a line and the ustad had then to compose one or more poems on the basis of the meter and rhyme of the given line.
The job of the ustad was therefore not easy and required perhaps more than the mastery of prosody, a degree of astuteness to survive. But Jaleel did well and served successfully two Nizams from 1909 till his death in 1946. In due course his salary was increased from five hundred to one thousand rupees a month. By a strange accounting procedure, the salary was paid from the State exchequer but routed through the personal estate office of the Nizam -- the Sarf-e-khas. Once, as a measure of economy, the salaries of all Sarf-e-khas employees were reduced by half. Jaleel too suffered the cut. Then, some auditor pointed out that the cut would not apply to Jaleel because he was being paid by the State. The Sarf-e-khas was only a disbursing agency and all the while it was receiving the full amount from the State exchequer. The cut was restored but the arrears were not paid to him. The Nizam told Jaleel not to worry; the arrears some one lakh rupees - were intact; they were with him as his trust, and would be paid to him whenever he needed them. Jaleel never got the amount.
One of his famous couplet is :
Baat saaqi ki naa taali jaayegi,
Ki hai taubaa tod daali jaayegi
(The cup-bearer's offer won't be disregarded My resolve not to drink, shall be violated)
One of Jaleel's sons, Ali Ahmed `Jaleeli' is a respected poet of Hyderabad and has done a doctorate on his father's life and work.
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