Saturday, February 1, 1997

A Formidable Noble

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad : 22

A Formidable Noble
by Narendra Luther

Mir Yawar Ali Khan, better known as Nawab Shahab Jung was the minister for police under the sixth Nizam, Mir Mehboob Ali Khan. He was a favourite of his and lived close to the Nizam's palace the `Purani Haveli'.

In the evening the Nawab's palace was lit by hundreds of candles and lamps which would turn night into day. There were two costly chandeliers in the drawing room, each with thirty-two lotuses engraved in gold and silver. They cast enormous light. The reason for such lavish lighting was that Shahab Jung did all his work at night. He received callers, gave interviews, instructed his offices and the managers of his estates only at night. The commissioner of police also briefed him and received his orders at that time.

With such a rush of all sorts of people - applicants, petitioners, respondents, lawyers, job-seekers - the atmosphere in the compound of his haveli resembled a fair. Petty vendors had opened stalls in the compound to cater to the needs of the people. But the thing for which Shahab Jung became a legend was the relay of liveried attendants from his office room to the private apartments to meet his needs. If for example, he asked for water, the order would travel from mouth - to - mouth loudly and in a sing-song manner to finally reach the pantry. The cook would fill a silver tumbler with water, put it on a silver tray and pass it on to the man next to him, announcing : "Water, Sir". This tray would then be relayed back with a loud declaration from each servant right upto the Nawab. The announcement was shrill enough to wake up the dozing lawyers.

After a while, Shahab Jung would ask for a paan. This time the demand would be relayed to the private apartments form where a lady would prepare the special paan and relay it back to the master. A demand for a cigar would be fulfilled similarly. This commotion continued throughout the night.

Early one morning, the Nizam happened to come up to his terrace to enjoy the cool breeze. Suddenly, he heard the shrill announcement: "Water, Sir" being repeated endlessly. The Nizam asked what this racket was all about. Nawab Shamsher Jung explained : "My Lord, Nawab Shahab Jung must have asked for water". The Nizam just smiled and kept quiet.

The next day, the Nizam summoned Shahab Jung. "Because of the din and pother in your mansion throughout the night, I can't sleep. Why don't you shift your residence ?", asked the ruler.

Shahab Jung got up and submitted with folded hands, "This slave has only one humble abode, Sire. If he leaves it, where will he take shelter ? My Lord, on the other hand, has scores of palaces. If this servant of his was in that situation, he would have instantly complied with the orders of His Highness." The Nizam caught the hint and kept quiet.

A Matter of Dignity :
Once a committee of the nobles of the state was slated for meeting under the Nizam. Unable to go, he asked his chief secretary, Moulvi Ahmed Hussain to deputize for him. The Moulvi informed all members of the committee about the Nizam's orders and proceeded to conduct the meeting.

Thereupon Nawab Shahab Jung got up and said it was inconceivable that a paid servant of the State should preside over a committee of nobles. Turning to the chief secretary , he said : "This committee comprises all the leading nobles of the State. You may be getting a salary of three thousand rupees but you are nevertheless an employee. You can't therefore preside over this meeting." The chief secretary protested that he was merely carrying out the orders of His Highness. Shahab Jung said he would answer the Nizam suitably but the chief secretary should withdraw.

The Nizam was incensed on hearing about the incident. He asked the delinquent Nawab in great anger : "What audacity? You did not care for my orders and sent away my representative !"

Bending low, the minister submitted , "My Lord, that committee consisted of all the nobles of Hyderabad. How could this slave allow the indignity of letting a paid employee sit amongst them ?"

The Nizam said, "The nobles are all my creatures. I can put my shoe on anyone's head."

The Nawab persisted, "This humble servant is fully aware of that. But My Sovereign, the only fit place for the blessed shoe is the head of Shahab Jung. Your Highness can't place it anywhere else."

The explanation pacified the Nizam. The Nawab returned home triumphant.

The Police Commissioner Fined

Once, for some infraction on the part of Akbar Jung, the Police Commissioner, the Minister imposed a fine of one rupee on him. The Nizam, on coming to know about it, asked Shahab Jung why he had done that when he knew that the Police Commissioner was his trusty and well-wisher. Shahab Jung said he would reconsider his orders. Coming back to the office, he ordered: " Half the fine remitted. Let him pay half-rupee." And the Commissioner had to comply.

The Fall of Shahab Jung :

Shahab Jung's preeminence did not survive the accession of Nizam VII. The story goes that some of the nobles showed reluctance to acknowledge the authority of Nizam VII. He mentioned about this to Shahab Jung. The latter said not to worry. "I will come to the court late tomorrow. Your Highness may rebuke me for that. That would serve as a deterrent to others." But when, the Nizam started mock-reprimanding him, he really lost his temper and used foul language. Nawab Shahab Jung felt so humiliated that he withdrew completely and never ever came out of his mansion. Having lived out his life in reclusion, he emerged from his mansion enclosed in a coffin and nobody could see his face !


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