Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:
I’m sure many of you would have seen Shashi Tharoor’s video that was in circulation on social media where he is seen verbally bludgeoning a person who asked a cheeky question regarding the contribution of the British to India. For those who haven’t watched it yet, here’s the video…
So it’s pretty obvious that India was home to some of the richest people on earth at one point of time. This answer is for all those who think India has always been a gigantic set of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and think that India has poor since forever. Every time I hear India being referred to as a ‘developing country’, it pains me somewhere deep down inside.
I had heard enough about the poor and downtrodden. And it did nothing but make me feel all the more dejected. In an attempt to overcome this, I used to read up about the rich and richer people of the past. I had (and have) no interest in the life and times of the current rich. No. But the past… that is one glorious past we had.
Here’s looking at one of the personalities that I have been personally fascinated with…
Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII
He was the last Nizam of Hyderabad who reigned from 1911 to 1948. To feature on the cover of Time magazine in 1937 as THE RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD is no mean feat.
An article on thereads about him thus…
By most accounts, “His Exalted Highness” the Nizam of Hyderabad was a benevolent ruler who promoted education, science and development. He spent about one-tenth of his Principality’s budget on education, and even made primary education compulsory and free for the poor. In his 37-year rule, Hyderabad witnessed the introduction of electricity, railways, roads, and other development projects.
The man used a 185-carat Jacob diamond as his paperweight! Beat that!!!
Look at what Wikipedia says about him…
The Nizam possessed such enormous wealth that he was portrayed on the cover of TIME magazine on 22 February 1937, described as the world’s richest man. He used the Jacob Diamond, a 185-carat diamond that is part of the Nizam’s jewellery, a precious collection running into several thousand crores of rupees today, as a paperweight. During his days as Nizam, he was reputed to be the richest man in the world, having a fortune estimated at US$2 billion in the early 1940s ($34.2 billion today) or 2 per cent of the US economy then. At that time the treasury of the newly independent Union government of India reported annual revenue of US$1 billion only. The Nizam is widely believed to have remained as the richest man in South Asia until his death in 1967, though his fortunes fell to US$1 billion by then as more than 97% of his wealth, including jewellery belonging to his family including his daughter’s and grand daughters, was taken away by the newly formed Indian Government. The Indian government still exhibits the jewellery as Nizam’s jewellery Exhibition (now in Hyderabad).
There are 173 jewels, which include emeralds weighing nearly 2,000 carats (0.40 kg), and pearls exceeding 40 thousand chows. The collection includes gemstones, turban ornaments, necklaces and pendants, belts and buckles, earrings, armbands, bangles and bracelets, anklets, cufflinks and buttons, watch chains, and rings, toe rings, and nose rings.
Gift to Queen Elizabeth
In 1947, the Nizam made a gift of diamond jewels, including a tiara and necklace, to Queen Elizabeth on the occasion of her marriage. The brooches and necklace from this gift are still worn by the Queen and is known as Nizam of Hyderabad necklace.
For the record, I am a very patriotic Indian. But I hate to think about what the Indian government did to monarchs like him. Taking away 97% of a person’s family wealth in the name of building a nation is downright cruel…whatever the reasons may be. Period.
The family of the Nizam of Hyderabad were just one of the many royals who were reduced to the status of paupers post the creation of ‘India’. In any ancient town, one just has to know where to look if they wanted to view the erstwhile grandeur of the now dilapidated palaces and their broken driveways. One has to only look at some of India’s palaces today… and imagine the kind of lifestyle people would have led in them…
Many enterprising royals took the decision to convert their family homes into resorts, museums or hotels so that they would not live to see them fall into ruins. With their wealth taken away from them, it was nearly impossible to maintain such huge palaces. My own family home was handed over to a community welfare organization sometime in the late 1950s.
It still stands today in all its erstwhile grandeur and serves as the administrative wing of one of the biggest and oldest schools of my hometown.
The entire school with its grounds and parking lots, etc. is housed within the walled compound of the mansion. Each time I pass by the gate, I stare at the house wistfully. I’m sad that it no longer belongs to us, but I’m also happy at the same time that at least it still stands in all its majesty.