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Quirks and oddities of past monarchs

Aug 12, 2023 08:54 PM IST

Fascinating anecdotes of the foibles and scandals of Pakistan's erstwhile royals

It was Diwan Jarmani Dass’s Maharaja that started my fascination with the foibles, peccadillos, pranks, eccentricities and scandals of our erstwhile royals. I was a teenager when I first read the book and couldn’t put it down. The stories, if true, are barely believable. For instance, one of the Maharajas of Patiala would parade through his capital, baring his erect phallus as proof of his majesty. On hot summer nights, his maharanis and concubines would cavort in the palace pool, floating on large blocks of ice. It made me wonder whether the royals who joined Pakistan were similar or different.

PREMIUM
“The Khan explained his position in eloquent Urdu … Jinnah with equal elegance and eloquence in English … Jinnah was as confident he had persuaded the Khan as the Khan was confident that he had persuaded Jinnah" (Representative Image- HT ARCHIVE)

A half century later, John Zubrzycki’s Dethroned has answered my question. There’s no difference whatsoever. So let me this morning regale you with some of their follies.

Hindustan Times - your fastest source for breaking news! Read now.

Sadiq Muhammed Khan IV was the Nawab of Bahawalpur. He traced his descent to the Prophet Muhammad. Zubrzycki writes he belonged “to the breeches and boots and flannels for cricket school of ruler and prided himself on his European tastes”. He certainly took it to an extreme.

“In 1882, the fabulously rich Nawab with a penchant for white women (three of his wives were European) anonymously ordered from the Parisian firm La Maison Christofle a wooden bed decorated with 290 kilograms of sterling silver. At each corner of the bed was a life-size bronze figure of a naked woman, with natural hair, moveable eyes and arms, holding fans and horse tails. The four nudes represented the women of France, Spain, Italy and Greece. The bed’s ingenious mechanics allowed him to set the figures in motion so that they fanned him while winking flirtatiously during a thirty-minute cycle of music from Gounod’s Faust generated by a music box built into the bed.”

Khairpur, in Sind, had two rulers who attracted Zubrzycki’s attention. Mir Ali Nawaz Khan, because of his “extreme obesity”. The American journalist Webb Miller “chanced upon him at the Cecil Hotel in Simla in 1930. His paunch was bespattered with soup spilled on its way from the plate to his distant mouth.”

His son, Faiz Muhammad Khan, was either schizophrenic or just nuts. “His state of mind was thrown into doubt when he accidentally shot his nine-month-old son. The bullet penetrated the infant’s stomach and right lung and exited through the back of his right shoulder.”

Incredibly, the boy survived and lived to succeed his father.

Tucked into the North West of Pakistan is Dir. Nawab Shah Jahan was its ruler in 1947. Zubrzycki calls it “a backwater”. It had “more kennels for the Nawab’s hounds than hospital beds. He refused to build schools, believing that too much education would see the end of his rule.”

Kalat was Pakistan’s problem state. Its story is not dissimilar to that of our Hyderabad and Kashmir. I’ll leave you to ferret the details out of Google or Wikipedia but I’ll relate what happened when the Nawab of Kalat met the Governor-General of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to negotiate his state’s accession.

Like Kashmir, Kalat established some form of independence immediately after August 1947. Amazingly, “Kalat was allowed to post an ambassador in Karachi and hoist the Baluchi national flag — a red Sword of Jihad on a green background.” Douglas Fell, an Indian Civil Service officer, was appointed Kalat’s foreign minister. In his memoirs, he recounts a meeting between the Nawab and Jinnah. It didn’t go well. The explanation made me roar with laughter.

“The Khan explained his position in eloquent Urdu … Jinnah with equal elegance and eloquence in English … Jinnah was as confident he had persuaded the Khan as the Khan was confident that he had persuaded Jinnah, and the only thing the (Pakistani) foreign secretary agreed upon was neither had understood a word the other had said.”

The foreign secretary was Mohammed Ikramullah, the elder brother of our former vice-president and Chief Justice, Mohammad Hidayatullah. He’s also the father of Princess Sarvath of Jordan. The only Pakistani to have become genuinely royal and a dear friend of mine.

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story. The views expressed are personal

It was Diwan Jarmani Dass’s Maharaja that started my fascination with the foibles, peccadillos, pranks, eccentricities and scandals of our erstwhile royals. I was a teenager when I first read the book and couldn’t put it down. The stories, if true, are barely believable. For instance, one of the Maharajas of Patiala would parade through his capital, baring his erect phallus as proof of his majesty. On hot summer nights, his maharanis and concubines would cavort in the palace pool, floating on large blocks of ice. It made me wonder whether the royals who joined Pakistan were similar or different.

PREMIUM
“The Khan explained his position in eloquent Urdu … Jinnah with equal elegance and eloquence in English … Jinnah was as confident he had persuaded the Khan as the Khan was confident that he had persuaded Jinnah" (Representative Image- HT ARCHIVE)

A half century later, John Zubrzycki’s Dethroned has answered my question. There’s no difference whatsoever. So let me this morning regale you with some of their follies.

Hindustan Times - your fastest source for breaking news! Read now.

Sadiq Muhammed Khan IV was the Nawab of Bahawalpur. He traced his descent to the Prophet Muhammad. Zubrzycki writes he belonged “to the breeches and boots and flannels for cricket school of ruler and prided himself on his European tastes”. He certainly took it to an extreme.

“In 1882, the fabulously rich Nawab with a penchant for white women (three of his wives were European) anonymously ordered from the Parisian firm La Maison Christofle a wooden bed decorated with 290 kilograms of sterling silver. At each corner of the bed was a life-size bronze figure of a naked woman, with natural hair, moveable eyes and arms, holding fans and horse tails. The four nudes represented the women of France, Spain, Italy and Greece. The bed’s ingenious mechanics allowed him to set the figures in motion so that they fanned him while winking flirtatiously during a thirty-minute cycle of music from Gounod’s Faust generated by a music box built into the bed.”

Khairpur, in Sind, had two rulers who attracted Zubrzycki’s attention. Mir Ali Nawaz Khan, because of his “extreme obesity”. The American journalist Webb Miller “chanced upon him at the Cecil Hotel in Simla in 1930. His paunch was bespattered with soup spilled on its way from the plate to his distant mouth.”

His son, Faiz Muhammad Khan, was either schizophrenic or just nuts. “His state of mind was thrown into doubt when he accidentally shot his nine-month-old son. The bullet penetrated the infant’s stomach and right lung and exited through the back of his right shoulder.”

Incredibly, the boy survived and lived to succeed his father.

Tucked into the North West of Pakistan is Dir. Nawab Shah Jahan was its ruler in 1947. Zubrzycki calls it “a backwater”. It had “more kennels for the Nawab’s hounds than hospital beds. He refused to build schools, believing that too much education would see the end of his rule.”

Kalat was Pakistan’s problem state. Its story is not dissimilar to that of our Hyderabad and Kashmir. I’ll leave you to ferret the details out of Google or Wikipedia but I’ll relate what happened when the Nawab of Kalat met the Governor-General of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to negotiate his state’s accession.

Like Kashmir, Kalat established some form of independence immediately after August 1947. Amazingly, “Kalat was allowed to post an ambassador in Karachi and hoist the Baluchi national flag — a red Sword of Jihad on a green background.” Douglas Fell, an Indian Civil Service officer, was appointed Kalat’s foreign minister. In his memoirs, he recounts a meeting between the Nawab and Jinnah. It didn’t go well. The explanation made me roar with laughter.

“The Khan explained his position in eloquent Urdu … Jinnah with equal elegance and eloquence in English … Jinnah was as confident he had persuaded the Khan as the Khan was confident that he had persuaded Jinnah, and the only thing the (Pakistani) foreign secretary agreed upon was neither had understood a word the other had said.”

The foreign secretary was Mohammed Ikramullah, the elder brother of our former vice-president and Chief Justice, Mohammad Hidayatullah. He’s also the father of Princess Sarvath of Jordan. The only Pakistani to have become genuinely royal and a dear friend of mine.

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story. The views expressed are personal

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