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Stuff of legends

BOOK REVIEW A history of Hyderabad though legends and anecdotes!

Hyderabad-legendotes-coverLegendotes of Hyderabad
Narendra Luther
Niyogi Books
Rs 995
Pp 258

It’s an unusual approach to recording history, especially when it’s for a book. But then the debate over the place of oral history has been gathering momentum, and this book should go a long way in those making a case for its greater use.

Narendra Luther, a former civil servant who has long written on Hyderabad, takes the approach of supplementing history with “crucial facts and causes of historical developments that lie scattered about in the lanes and by-lanes of history”.

Falaknuma Palace was presented to the sixth Nizam as a nazar in 1897 by the Paigah noble, Sir Vicar-ul-Umra!
Falaknuma Palace was presented to the sixth Nizam as a nazar in 1897 by the Paigah noble, Sir Vicar-ul-Umra!

Legendotes of Hyderabad brings alive a resplendent past of the city, including the Qutb Shahi and Asaf Jahi dynasties, which ruled the city for most of its four centuries of existence. There are legends galore – right from the founding tale. Mohammad, son of Sultan Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah is said to have fallen in love an accomplished singer and dancer called Bhagmati, after whom he named the new city founded near Golkonda, Bhagnagar, which was an earlier name of Hyderabad.

The interiors of Chowmohalla Palace
The interiors of Chowmohalla Palace

There are many tales from the Asaf Jahi period, which started when Aurangzeb conquest of Golkonda in 1687. Hyderabad even then apparently left the Mughal emperor impressed with its grandeur. Aurangzeb appointed his son Azam as governor, who when he petitioned his father for an increase in his allowance, was asked to shift to one of the Qutb Shahi palaces. Azam wrote back saying he wouldn’t even be able to afford their lighting expenses!

You may take many of the legends with a pinch of salt, such as one of the seven kulchas, which predicted the Asaf Jahi dynasty would last for seven generations because the first ruler was lost in the forest during shikar, and a hermit gave him food urging him to eat as many kulchas as he could! The succeeding nizams of Hyderabad also left their mark on the city as its glory and pre-eminence in the region grew. Of course there are ridiculous excesses too, such as the largest wardrobe for the sixth nizam, Mehboob Ali Khan. He refused to wear the same clothes twice, so an entire wing of a palace – 240 feet became a giant wardrobe with 124 almirahs to accommodate them. A hand operated lift was used to reach the upper levels!

The British residency started in Hyderabad in 1779, and colourful residents such as James Kirkpatrick left their mark on the city. Among the more valuable contributions is the discovery of the process of malaria transmission in 1897 by Ronald Ross!

There are a few chapters of the post independence period as well. NT Rama Rao’s style of administration makes for interesting reading! There are many archival pictures from eras gone by, and they are fascinating in the details they reveal. Arguments will remain as to whether this is a work of history, but many of the anecdotes and legends are sure to bring a smile to reader!

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