Hyderabad (Rahnuma) Dr. Fatima Shahnaz is the daughter of the late Nawab Mir Moazam Husain, who was born at Erram Manzil Palace and lived there. He was the favorite grandson of Mir Sarfaraz Husain, Safdar Jung Bahadur Musheer Ud Daula Fakhrul Mulk.
Dr. Shahnaz draws parallels between the dazzling life at Erram Manzil palace when it was built by Nawab Fakhrul Mulk in the 1870s, and the evolution of the estate from the Asaf Jahi period to the Post-Independence phase when Hyderabad came under the republican era of the Indian Union, which integrated Hyderabad into the Union in 1947. Members of Nawab Fakhrul Mulk’s family agreed to sell the palace to the Government in the 1940s, after the Nawab’s death, on condition that the building be preserved and maintained in the Government’s custody. However, in over seventy years since the estate was passed to the Government, it has been left in a shoddy condition of dereliction. All vestiges of its former majestic architecture, a unique display of the Indo-baroque, Indian, Western colonial and Islamic influences, have been cynically neglected.
As she described the vision of Nawab Fakhrul Mulk, who held several Portfolios as Minister of Law, Interior, Police and other offices, she said that the Nawab’s genius was the urban development and modernization of Hyderabad, and to transform it into a model state in India. Nawab Fakhrul Mulk was a game-changer whose modern vision made him break out of the Old City where the aristocratic palaces existed, and construct his palace in the wilderness on the city outskirts. But the perspective of this location is brilliant, with a spectacular view of Hussein Sagar Lake, and as a junction connecting all directions of the city: from Panjagutta the roads lead to Begumpet and Secunderabad, the new section of Hyderabad the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, built to house the British soldiers in the contingents of his army. The direct perspective from Erram Manzil leads to Erragadda, where the Nawab built another jewel of a palace, Erram Numa; and also the mausoleum where he, his Begum and family are buried. Dr. Shahnaz’s parents, Mir Moazam Husain and Begum Meherunissa are also buried there.
From Erragadda the road continues to Ameerpet, another vital route to what is now the Bombay Highway, since Hyderabad (the old Deccan) was intricately connected to Maharashtra. Panjagatta also connects to Banjara Hills, and jubilee Hills, where the former Chief Minister, Chandra Babu Naidu built High Tech City at a time when Hyderabad became an IT and telecom hub in India.
Nawab Fakhrul Mulk’s urban expansion was matched by his innovations in education, as he also built engineering institutes and schools around the city. Hyderabad’s standard of education at the time was possibly the highest in India. The Nawab’s two passions were building, and shikar. But his generosity was magnanimous as well: he gifted another palace, his home, Assad Bagh, to the Nizam and the building became the Nizam College with the adjacent Madrasa Aliya school.
However, despite such acts of social development and philanthropy to make Hyderabad one of the stellar cities in India, a magnet for British Viceroys and VIPs who stayed at Erram Manzil as Fakhrul Mulk’s guest, this palace has been allowed to crumble – and along with it all memories of what Hyderabad, and its unique Ganga-Jamuni all-inclusive culture symbolized. In Hyderabad’s liberal spirit every religion, caste and race were allowed to flourish. The period was one of modernization and innovation under the Asaf Jahi Nizams, and the joint families of the Prime Minister Salar Jung, to whom Nawab Fakhrul Mulk was related.
Dr. Shahnaz quotes her father, Mir Moazam Husain’s words in the 1980s in an interview with the British writer, William Dalrymple, who was straight out of Cambridge University, and for whom Mir Moazam was possibly his first mentor on Indian history. Mir Moazam reminisced on his memories of palace life: “The Nizam and his nobles and their palaces with their zenanas and the entire what-have-you that went with the Hyderabad state … Take the palace I grew up in. It was by no means the biggest but it had a staff of 927 people, including three doctors. There was even a regiment of African women who were there just to guard the zenana.”
He describes his grandfather, Fakhrul Mulk: “He was a remarkable man, a great servant of the state, but he was also – how shall I put it – a larger-than-life character”.
He describes the transformation of Hyderabad: “But you see, everything changed after the independence. After the Indian army invaded and toppled the Nizam in 1948, that whole world collapsed. I left for Paris to work with UNESCO and barely recognized Hyderabad when I returned twenty years later. Almost all the great houses had gone. The aristocracy lost their status and their income after the fall of the Nizam, so they sold everything – land, houses. They knew nothing about business, selling their heritage was the only way to make ends meet.”
He continued to describe the state of the palaces in disbelief: “Now, there’s virtually nothing left: just dusty high raise buildings everywhere. Outside Salar Jung’s palace for instance was a garden easily comparable to the Jardin des Tuileries. I’ll never forget its shady walks and ancient trees, its soft green lawns and parterres bursting with flowers. There was an octagonal fountain so large you could row about it in a skiff. Now it’s a filthy lorry park. So much was lost, unnecessarily, through sheer ignorance.”
Dr. Shahnaz’s own perspective is in contrast to that of an Old World she never knew as she had to survive and be self-made as a modern women in the competitive Western world. Her shock and dismay at the gross abandonment and neglect of Hyderabad’s many heritage buildings, with 162 also said to be on the demolition list of the Chief Minister of Telangana, made her more aware of what Erram Manzil symbols today, and its significance in the history of Hyderabad.
It is not just a unique architectural landmark, but was built as a monument for posterity by Nawab Fakhrul Mulk, so people would visit Hyderabad for its grandeur, glories, history and culture: its ‘adab and tehzeeb’ that characterizes all the peoples of the Deccan. It was a symbol of Hyderabad’s multiculturalism and unity, a place where invention, modernity, new ideas and technological and industrial innovations were welcomed.
That heritage of Hyderabad, she said, had to be treasured and preserve, with all its historic monuments, temples, mosques and shrines revered by rich and poor, including the legacy of the tribals, the adivasis and Gondas, menaced with being dislocated from their hereditary lands. She spoke out as a human rights activist as well as a conservationist of the rich and diverse cultures and history of Hyderabad.
She thanked the central Government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP Party for intervening with the Governor to protect Erram Manzil and Hyderabad’s ancient heritage; she felt that the Prime Minister and his Party had made history by supporting the cause of the defenseless, and for helping to save Hyderabad’s ancient heritage. She also thanked the Congress Party and other Parties who supported this cause. She was deeply moved by the role of the media that has consistently informed the public of the Court sessions in this case; she said the Indian media has fulfilled its true role as the fourth estate of democracy. She also expressed deep gratitude to the equitable views in the different hearings in the High Court that are sub judice and ongoing, and said her faith and trust in the Indian judiciary has been reinforced during this tragic ordeal that has taken place ever since the Chief Minister of Telangana laid the foundation stone in the back courtyard of Erram Manzil palace.
She also gave very detailed insights into Erram Manzil, the personality of Nawab Fakhrul Mulk and his deep commitment to serving the peoples of Hyderabad and the Deccan.
– Dr. Fatima Shahnaz is an international advocate of human rights, a Professor (Emeritus) of Political Science; an author and journalist. She obtained her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from the Sorbonne University, Paris, France.