Hyderabad: A biography!

Author Abhilash Khandekar
Books on urbanisation are in plenty in India. Many Indian authors have emulated their Western counterparts in providing biographical sketches of old and new cities alike. I have had occasion to go through a number of them and found them to be of great interest. The story of Hyderabad, an ancient city, is an absorbing book from the historical point of view. But its not a book that should be read only by historians, but by many others!

As one of the advocates of the plan to build a new city outside a fort, Mir Momin looked forward to a God-send opportunity to indulge in his real passion for town-planning. His ambition was to create a city better than Isfahan -- the most beautiful city in Iran -- which he had seen as a child. It was thus the soaring imagination of the Sultan and the vaulting ambition of his Prime Minister that was responsible for creation of a city, which we today know as the capital city of the recently created state of Telanagana.
Mir Momin plunged whole-heartedly into the project of building a new city. He invited some of the architects and master builders whom he had known and heard of in Iran to come to help help him execute the project. Kamal-ud-din Shirazi and Sheharyar Jahan were persuaded to come. And even before their arrival, the preliminary work of clearing the site had been started and rough sketches drawn up. A permanent camp of draftsmen and planners was set up near Chichlam. Construction started soon after laying the foundation stone. The Sultan came in a richly caparisoned elephant. Mir Momin spread before him large sheets of paper the topographical plan of the area. "Show me how the city will be laid out looking at the sketch, he exclaimed : 'Ha! Four Minarets. I hear there is one Minar in Delhi -- very very tall.'
'My Lord will have four minarets at the four corners of this magnificent building'. It will be a perfect square with three storeys. On the roof will be a mosque facing the Mecca'.
The more you read about urban planning and ideas of pre modern technology days, the more you start respecting the planners and visionaries of the bygone era. The above brief details of the city-in-making have been purposefully mentioned here to share with the readers the keenness of Royal rulers for urban planning and creating utilities for people so many centuries ago. 
The above references are about building the historic city of South India that was founded in 1591 -- some 425 years ago -- as Bhagnagar, which later acquired the name of the present day's important city -- !
The book being talked about is a beautiful piece of history writing, literary prose and urban anecdotes which chronicles colourful and unbroken history of Hyderabad which is also referred to in the modern times as Cyberabad, thanks to its strong positioning as an IT industry's major hub in India under then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, now the CM of Andhra Pradesh.
The author of 'Hyderabad' has dealt with his topic more from historical and political sides giving much greater details about developments since year 1591, including of the characters such as the 14-year old village girl Bhagmati who was immensely loved by the prince who later became Sultan of Golconda and then created a city as a gift to his beautiful fiancée. The details of this entire love affair apart, the author has quite intelligently woven the story of evolution of the city, the Sultan's governance style and the prevailing societal conditions some four centuries ago.
Hyderabad sits nestled amongst one of the oldest rock systems of the world. These gneissic granite rocks are 2500 millions years old. Climatic changes have for aeons, through the physical and chemical action, worked them into weird shapes. Golla Konda later on became Golconda, a fort still remains the main identity and tourist attraction of Hyderabad. The fort was built during Kakatiya rule (AD 1000-1321) with capital at Warangal.
Like Chennai and Benguluru, Hyderabad too was part of Madras presidency. That the old Madras Presidency state of Andhra Pradesh has now been bifurcated and two states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have been created a few years ago after fierce agitations, blood bath and arson, the importance of the twin-city of Hyderabad-Secundarabad has not diminished a bit.
Mohammad Quli, the Sultan of Golconda and founder of the new city Bhagnagar, was a great visionary. He made his prime minister Mir Momin build not only many palaces for him and his wife Bhagmati (after whose name Bhagnagar was built), but also sprawling gardens, hospital and imperial palace of justice. He made a beautiful palace for his wife and named it Hyder Mahal, a title he bestowed upon her. A Persian writer Mohammad Qasim first wrote about Hyderabad, which was part of Bhagnagar. "As the air of Golconda had become impure and unhealthy" Quli built a magnificent city at a distance of eight miles with wide and clean roads and rows of trees planted, is what the author writes to underline the importance of pollution even in those days.
Sultan Quli ruled the area from 1518-1543 and later seven of his descendants carried on the dynasty until 1672-99 when Abdul Hasan, (known by the name Tana Shah) having done a treaty earlier with Maratha King Shivaji in 1677, was deposed by Aurangzeb after a series of wars between Golconda army and the Mughals. While Shivaji reached Bhagnagar in 1677, Aurangzeb reached Golconda in January 1687 in an effort to get the state surrendered. There is a long history of Mughal dynasty, Maratha king's fights with them, role of Golconda sultanate and so on written in the book with neatly divided chapters which are highly readable for a general reader too. About five years after Aurangzeb's death in 1707 when Farrukh Siyar ascended the Mughal throne, Qamruddin was given the title of Nizam-ul-Mulk Fateh Jung ( Nizam, for short) and governorship of the Deccan. Asaf Jahi dynasty's Nizams ruled from 1720 to 1948--in all 10 Nizams! Salar Jung in whose name stands a beautiful museum in Hyderabad today which is also the biggest tourist attraction due to its varied and rich collection, was the prime minister of the Nizam.
In modern days, many people are aware of the and Nizamshahi in that part of today's Telangana-Maharashtra's geographical areas. In entire Marathwada region of Maharashtra, the local Marathi people celebrate their liberation from the Razakari system. Kasim Razvi president of MIM and leader of Razakars wanted Hyderabad to become an independent Islamic state, just like the plans of Bhopal and Junagarh Nawabas which were frustrated by some deft handling by the then Home Minister Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel.
The book while tracing various facets of the historical city, also tells you about the city's floods, the spread of malaria and its control by Ronald Ross (he got Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1902 for his discovery) who was posted in Secunderabad, then about an old bridge made in 1578 which is still in use ( do the readers expect structures built by today's engineers in the government department to survive over four centuries?), some interesting stories of Governor Generals posted under Madras Presidency, French and Britishers' love for the city, then about photography being started in the city, thanks to the patronage of the rulers and so on. India's pioneering photographer Deen Dayal who was first appointed by Maharajah Holkar of Indore, later joined Hyderabad Nizam where he was not only appointed the State photographer, he was also given the title of Raja in 1895. Photography was invented in 1838 and within a decade it arrived in India. Deen Dayal, (1846-1905), toured India but set up his studio after Indore, at Secunderabad and employed 50 people then. 
The city and erstwhile state has seen many historical happenings, wars, Muslim and English rules and evolving of the city into a boisterous capital and then a global IT hub. While Telengana's creation happened as recent as in June 2014, the two distinct regions existed much before. The merger of the then Hyderabad State into Andhra Pradesh which was created in 1956 with a seasoned politician and freedom fighter Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy as its first CM. Much later a film star suddenly rose on the political horizon of Andhra Pradesh by founding Telgu Desham Party and became chief minister for three terms --- NT Ramarao. His follower was Chandra Babu Naidu, the second time CM of AP, now a smaller state.
The book also gives recent history and political activities but provides a rare insight into the former Royal state and how Southern Muslim rulers were different from those who ruled Delhi and also attacked Hyderabad. The little history of with a slight mention of Delhi's Qutub Minar makes very interesting reading and provides an insight into the psyche of the Hyderabad's visionary creator.
Anyone interested in urban politics and geography with liberal peppering of history, should read this book.
Title of the book: Hyderabad, A biography
Author: Narendra Luther
Publishers: OUP
Pages: 434
Price Rs 475/- ( Paperback)
[ The author is a senior journalist and writes on urban affairs. He can be contacted at Abhikhandekar1 and at his mail [email protected] ]

[ Picture : Entrance bridge to the city of Hyderabad, from the
Curzon Collection: 'Views of HH the Nizam's Dominions, Hyderabad,
Deccan, 1892'. This view was taken by Lala Deen Dayal in the 1880s ]
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