Narendra Luther is an old hand on
I really liked the look of the book, with a Hussain painting of Charminar on the cover. It looked academic enough, compared to his last book and I quickly tucked it away in the bag and came home. But once I started browsing through the pages, it was a bit of a disappointment – compared to the expectations I had. This was not a new book as I had perceived it to be, but a revised and updated version of the older book by Luther – Hyderabad: Memoirs of a City published by Orient Longman. The reason I got misled into buying the new book was that this was published from OUP and was much thicker. Before I get into my reading of the current version of the book, I think it is apt to reproduce a review I had written for the last book that was published in Contemporary South Asia. Here it goes:
: Memoirs of a City Hyderabad
London: Sangam, 1995 and : Orient Longman. Hyderabad
How does one write the story of a city? Narendra Luther’s answer is to step into the shoes of the city itself and narrate an `autobiographical’ account of how
came to be conceived, delivered and nurtured. Perhaps it was inevitable that Luther adopt this form, despite the risk of sounding artificial; if he had adapted a more usual narrative style, he would have been open to the scrutiny associated with academic works. Hyderabad
In dramatizing historical events and taking poetic licence, Luther has not compromised the chronology and purpose of the book, which is divided into three parts. The first relates to
Hyderabadas `delivered’ by the Qutb Shahis, the second describes a city `nurtured’ by the Asaf Jahis, and the third, which the author calls the `Last Phase’, related to 20th century . Hyderabad
Luther is very meticulous and does not leave out any detail. For instance, part of the city’s folklore relates how a piece of dry bread, kulcha, became a part of the Asafia flag. The author not only refers to this, but explains why the story is not true. While his argument is as unconvincing as the popular belief—after all it is one folkloric tale against another—one appreciates Luther not leaving out this, and other, trivial matters.
The book also contains a comprehensive account of how the city was planned by its founder, Quli Qutb Shah. Quli wanted to build a city which would be a `replica of heaven on earth’ (p. 17). This is later translated into a `fountain with four channels’ (p. 21), representing the garden of
, or `two trees, one called Sidr and the other Talha’ (p. 21). Unfortunately, these have no counterparts on Earth and so the planners settled for coconut and betel nut trees! Eden
While one sees merit in Luther’s adoption of a `memoirs’ format, the effect is sometimes comical. The city writes the preface:
This is my autobiography, as recorded by my favourite son, Narendra, because I can’t write myself…. When I told him my story, he persuaded me to allow him to tell it to others too. I could not refuse him because I trust him. (pp. xi-xii)
How long can a person go on with such a personalized narration in a book which is more than 400 pages in length? Nonetheless, the book’s mix of archival research, folklore and hearsay is eminently readable, and much more intimate than several other works which came out to mark the quatercentenary celebrations of
Well the current book is dated 2006 and the copyrights page does not talk about the earlier version of the book. I am sure this is an issue of ethics of the publisher and a publishing house like OUP is expected to do better. It is only in the author’s preface that a reference to the earlier edition of the book is drawn. Luther claims that the stock had long been exhausted, but the Orient Longman website offers the book for sale. So there is something amiss here. Anyways, with my fascination for
The style of the book is oscillating between fiction and history. Like a book of historical fiction, the characters talk to each other, the author describes what is happening in their mind and there is a special style for the language. While the current edition has moved away from the city narrating its own story, and Luther claims that this is a more “academic” version of the book it does not quite fit in the bill. Incidentally around this time I also saw a movie on Hyderabad Bhaggmati: The Queen of Fortunes, based on the story of Quli Qutub Shah the founder of
Nevertheless the book gives a good glimpse into the processes of planning of the building of a city. I am not sure how many cities do have a history of being “planned” cities, but it is clear that
The history of
What is fascinating is that the population of
Interestingly during more than four hundred years of existence of the city and state, it does not seem to have a really bloody history. Conflicts if any were smaller and life was laid back. The Asaf Jahis were quite content being representatives of the Mughal emperor in the first phase and later being an ally of the British. Luther says “The Nizam, in theory [was] still the deputy of the Mughal Emperor.” Even when the Governor General insists that the state should strike its own coins, the Nizam is reluctant. Infact the seventh Nizam earned a dubious title of “The Most Faithful Ally of the
While it is indeed difficult to capture a four hundred history in all its detail and glory in as many pages, there are certain parts that really disappoint. The section on the sixth Nizam Mahboob Ali does not put him in very good light, while another book exclusively dedicated to the times of Mahboob Ali “The Days of the Beloved” by Lynton and Rajan – again based on oral and anecdotal history paints the picture of glory. Possibly the truth lies somewhere inbetween. But being a later book one would have expected Luther to at least take up issues with the past book. Similarly the life of the seventh Nizam which was the subject of a scholarly book by Bawa is also dealt with inadequately [though it occupies a fair amount of space].
The Seventh Nizam was an interesting bundle of contradictions. While Luther takes great pains to describe the rather bleak side of Osman Ali – on how he did not want to meet the prime minister at 4 pm because he would have to serve tea, the state craft of Osman also shown in poor light, he does not devote much to the public institutions [women’s college, observatory, arts college, translation bureau, medical college and the university] that were built during his reign, while maintaining a personal life in penury. Given that there is abundant literature, it would have been good to see Luther’s analysis on this. Similarly, following the police action [Operation Polo] and the trifurcation of the erstwhile Hyderabad state into three parts that went into Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra – there was tremendous turmoil in the muslim society of the then Hyderabad state which is brilliantly captured by authors such as Ratna Naidu and Omar Khalidi and we do not find Luther engaging with this school of thought at all. In fact Luther is quite dismissive of the arguments laid out by authors in a book edited by Khalidi saying that the statistics provided there are exaggerated.
Of course the evidence that
Actually what represents the spirit of
Janaki Pershad got up and began to make for the door with all the dignity at his command. The ADC said sharply, “Not you Mr,’ he said brusquely. ‘I want Mr. Rai Janaki Pershad.’
“I am Rai Janaki Pershad” said the Acting Head of Information Department in an offended tone.
“Oh!” Captain Pyare Lal observed. “Then why are you dressed like a Muslim?”
“This is the way we dress here” replied Janaki Pershad coolly.
There was no contradiction between the religion followed and the religion. This is what makes
Luther being an ardent Hyderabadi had written the book meticulously. But he could have written it with passion which other scholars on
And of course now about the movie Bhaggmati. I saw this not only for my love for
The director himself [Ashok Kaul] makes an appearance as a professor of history and could certainly take a lesson or two in acting from his other characters. Tabu as usual is graceful, but a total waste in the movie. The only reason why she would have agreed to act in this movie [like in Minaxi – A Tale of Three Cities directed by Hussain] was possibly because this was set in
I do not think I would have read this book all over again if not for the fact that I myself am deeply interested in the History of Hyderabad. And as for the movie – would I have seen it if it were based in