Ala Hazrat in retrospect

Remembering Mir Osman Ali Khan on his 51st death anniversary

By Yunus Lasania

When I started seeking out people who interacted with or knew Mir Osman Ali Khan beyond formalities, the prospects looked bleak. Most of the people who lived as adults in both the erstwhile state of Hyderabad and later Hyderabad as a capital city, were no more. But after entering 90-year-old Ahmed Abdul Aziz’s house, I realised I struck gold.

History isn’t just old monuments, culture or food, but is also about people and their memories. Mr. Aziz is a living, breathing treasure for those of us who want to know more about Hyderabad’s past. He is perhaps the last few of a small tribe of those who worked in the Sarf-e-Khas, the seventh Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan’s private security, post 1948.

I noticed a picture of Mr. Aziz in uniform; it was from when he was briefly in the Hyderabad State army as a trainee. He was standing along with several others such as himself in a group photo taken in the 1940s. Beside it was a picture of his uncle Din Yar Jung, a former civil servant who also served as the Director General of Police in the (erstwhile) Hyderabad state.

After the dominion was annexed to India in 1948 following Operation Polo (on 17th September), Mr. Aziz joined the Sarf-e-Khas and remained in it till Osman Ali Khan’s death in 1967. February 24 this year marked 51 years of the former monarch’s death. After 1948 and his death, a lot of things have changed in Hyderabad.

Mir Osman Ali Khan

I wanted to know what kind of a person Osman Ali Khan was, about his personality, how he lived, what he ate, etc. and to see if there was something beyond what we know through books.

Entering the elderly gentleman’s house in Aziz Bagh on a Sunday afternoon, I could feel that the structure was not another concrete creation, it belonged to a different time.

The high-rise ceiling, courtyard and the wooden staircase adjacent to the front room were not in a neglected state, unlike most old buildings in Hyderabad. The house was constructed in 1890, Mr. Aziz told me.

Old pictures of Osman Ali Khan attending functions, among others adorned the walls. As we sat down to talk, I introduced myself and told him the purpose of my visit. Mr. Aziz was overjoyed. “I am so happy that you are writing this,” he told me. The elderly gentleman even delayed his lunch as he lost track of time talking to me about ‘Ala Hazrat’, as Osman Ali Khan was addressed.

Yunus Y. Lasania (right) with Ahmed Abdul Aziz

After the 1948 police action, Mr. Aziz was inducted into the Golconda palace forces, which was earlier the Golconda regiment in state’s army. Osman Ali Khan had hired several people from the Hyderabad state’s disbanded army to just get the former soldiers out of unemployment, he recalled.

“Many families were also facing a financial crunch. So the Nizam used to buy items at auctions to help families who were in need of money. He had also adopted children to help their families simply out of generosity,” said Mr. Aziz, going back into his memory.The late Nizam never looked back as to what had happened in after 1948 and died a content man apparently.

A shrewd man, Osman Ali Khan was also just, and never hesitated to correct a wrong, Mr. Aziz felt. He told me about how a palace guard was once fired on the allegation of theft by the Nizam after something went missing.“But Ala Hazrat later found that item and immediately asked his Peshi to re-hire the guard with a salary hike of Rs.5,” he remembered.

After speaking to him at length, my interview with Mr. Aziz finally ended. As we were talking to the door, he picked up a framed note written in Urdu in the front room and showed it to me. It was a thank-you note written by Osman Ali Khan himself to Din Yar Jung, acknowledging the latter’s services.

Bidding me goodbye, Mr. Aziz reminded me that I was welcome to visit him whenever I wished to, and stood outside his house with his walker till I left. Turning his back and leaving before me was against Hyderabadi Tehzeeb, said Mr. Aziz.


Through Syed Abid Hussain’s eyes

I was introduced to Mr. Aziz by Syed Abid Hussain (74), whose family is related to Dulhan Pasha, one of the Nizam’s wives who bore him two sons Azam Jah, Moazzam Jah and a daughter named Shehzadi Pasha. Mr. Hussain had a more personal relationship with Osman Ali Khan and was the one who took me to Mr. Aziz’s house.

“I don’t know to where to begin Yunus! I used to meet the Nizam so often. He was very close to our family and even wanted to get me married!” laughed Mr. Hussain, who is also the nephew of Hassan Ali Mirza, the Nawab of Masulipatnam. Before I could ask for old photographs, he showed me a film taken at his cousin’s wedding which Osman Ali Khan himself had attended as an old man.

Dressed in a blue-ish Pathani suit, we both sat down to talk. Asking Mr. Hussain about Osman Ali Khan’s life had opened the floodgates of his emotions which had been closed for so long. He was truly in awe of the last Nizam, and remembered everything like it was yesterday.

“The Nizam donated lots of money as charity during his lifetime. Even though he was the world’s richest man, he would be dressed in simple clothes. After 1948, Osman Ali Khan was most sitting in the verandah of Nizri Bagh (King Kothi palace) throughout the day,” recalled Mr. Hussain.

He broke into several smiles throughout the interview, especially while remembering the Nizam attending the Bibi-ka-Alam processions throughout his lifetime.

Having passed by the Aza Khana Zehra (also built by Osman Ali Khan, completed construction in 1941) at Dar-ul-Shifa several times, I never knew that the house opposite belonged to Mr. Hussain. With huge walls, it was impossible to see anything inside.

After a long interview, then discussion, Mr. Hussain took me to the Aza Khana Zehra. Outside its huge doors are pictures of Osman Ali Khan laying the foundation stone, and also a picture in 1941, when it was finally functional. It was named after the former monarch’s mother Zehra Begum, in her memory.

As we walked inside, Mr. Hussain showed me where the dais used to be positioned when Osman Ali Khan was alive. He then showed me some of the frames which had poems written by the former Nizam hung on the walls. That was the end of our meeting after which he took me to meet Mr. Aziz.

Both Mr. Aziz and Mr. Hussain said that little changed in Osman Ali Khan’s behaviour or personality post Operation Polo. “Most of his time would be spent glossing over matters of his private estate, apart from making private visits,” said the latter. The former monarch apparently also made unannounced visits.

“When he would come unannounced, my brothers and I had to quickly wear our Sherwanis and Turkish caps. Only then could we greet Osman Ali Khan,” laughed Mr. Hussain. Osman Ali Khan didn’t have a big appetite, especially for someone who had a huge kitchen at his disposal.

Osman Ali Khan’s mornings would begin with coffee (some say tea) and smokes, which continued throughout the day, both of them told me..

The ‘mess-khana’, close to the King Kothi palace, was where his food came from. Another peculiar thing Mr. Hussain told me was that his mother would make dal and send it to the Nizam once a year on the latter’s request.

In public memory, Osman Ali Khan was one of the world’s richest men (who was featured on Time Magazine’s cover for that in 1937), was a miser. Both the old-timers disagreed. On this particular aspect, Shahid Hussain (70), formerl chairman of the H. E. H. Nizam’s Private Estate and a trustee of the H. E. H. Nizam’s Trust, also echoed their sentiments.

I met Mr. Shahid too at his residence. While he never met Osman Ali Khan, he has been associated all his life with prince Mukarram Jah Bahadur, one of the former’s grandsons who was ceremonially crowned as the eight Nizam. Mr. Shahid has held various positions in the H.E.H Nizam’s Trust, including that of the H.E.H. Nizam’s Private Estate’s chairman.

Having the chance to see official communication letters in the Nizam’s office, Mr. Shahid recalled seeing a letter from Osman Ali Khan to his Peshi Secretary wherein the former had decided not to sanction the additional Rs.3 needed to buy a new blanket, which cost Rs.7. This was much before partition, he added.

However, recalled Mr. Shahid, Osman Ali Khan had sanctioned Rs.3 lakhs instead of the Rs.75,000, which was asked either by the Jama Masjid in Delhi or the Badshahi mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, to repair one-fourth of the flooring. “So how can he be a miser?” he questioned.

The King Kothi palace today lies in ruins. Not only is it off-limits to the public, it does not even register as a place to see for outsiders (or even Hyderabadis for that matter). But one cannot miss seeing the palace’s gate, which is a stone’s throw away from the King Kothi junction, opposite Hi-line restaurant.

Osman Ali Khan lived and ruled from Nazri bagh, one of the three portions comprising the King Kothi palace. Nazri Bagh was where he lived, while the other two portions were Osman Mansion and Purdah Gate. Today one of the three portions does not exist, as it was demolished, another houses a government hospital and the third lays unused and locked.

Just before the King Kothi junction is a small lane leading to Masjid-e-Judy, where Osman Ali Khan rests in peace, beside his mother Zehra Begum. I met Nawab Fazal Jah Bahadur (71) in his office which is beside the mosque. One of of Leela Begum’s (another of the Nizam’s wives) children, he is believed to be the last surviving son of Osman Ali Khan.

Entering Fazal Jah’s office led to some confusion. A group of men were sitting in a room on the left and having tea and biscuits. None of them looked anything like someone who was named Nawab Fazal Jah Bahadur. A few people working there made me feel like an intruder with their questioning my presence.

But I went up to the group of men in the room and introduced myself and my purpose of visit. “I am Fazal Jah. You are a little late,” said the man who was sitting with his back turned towards me on a chair. He asked me to wait till he was done and then took me into a room on the opposite side, his personal office.

As Fazal Jah got up and walked towards me, I got a good look at him; he looked nothing like royalty. Except his height, there was nothing else impressive about his demeanour. Instead of a Sherwani clad man, he was as ordinary as anyone else in the room. Dressed in a casual half-sleeved shirt and pants, he looked nothing like a man whose named had the word Nawab in it.

Bur Fazal Jah’s office was filled with memories. The walls inside had several old pictures of himself and Osman Ali Khan, which were taken on different occasions. “All the newspapers published this picture,” he said, pointing to a picture wherein former Vice-President (and former President also) of India Zakir Hussain is seen standing his father, on occasion of Fazal Jah’s wedding day.

By then, as I could see in the picture, the Nizam by then had become frail, a diminutive figure. I was expecting to hear something very personal from him, but I surprisingly learnt from Fazal Jah that interactions with his father were mostly formal in nature. Every day, he had to appear before Osman Ali Khan to offer ‘Salams’.

“He would ask me how I was and that’s it. If I was unwell or had some problem, he would ask someone to tend to us,” said the Nizam’s son. Fazal Jah is also on the committee that takes care of the mosque along with some others. Unlike some of his family members who are famous and have palaces to themselves, he lives in a modest apartment at Himayathnagar.

(Update: Fazal Jah passed away last week. I had met him last year on occassion of Osman Ali Khan’s 50th death anniversary last year.)

My interviews with all four of them were all long and exhaustive, for there was that much to talk about Osman Ali Khan. Anyone who has read books written about the former monarch will know that he is loved and reviled by some. He was surrounded by a number of men with different opinions, due to which he took the decisions he did. And the rest as we know it, is history.

Several beautiful buildings in Hyderabad, which are landmark institutions, like the Osmania university, Osmania Gandhi hospital, the High Court, the Arts College (in OU), etc. today were built during his reign. Books on Osman Ali Khan will tell us what transpired back then, but it won’t hurt us to remember him and give credit where it’s due.

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This was written last year on occassion of the Nizam’s 50th death anniversary, but was not published.

Check out my piece on the last Nizam for The Hindu.