Hyderabad: A forgotten Deccan tale | The Financial Express

Hyderabad: A forgotten Deccan tale

The accession of Hyderabad, the last and largest princely state, to the Indian Union comes alive in a work of fiction

book review, book
India has a tonne of partition and independence literature. (Express archive photo)

Hyderabad: Book 2 of The Partition Trilogy

Manreet Sodhi Someshwar


Pp 328, ₹499

When one thinks of Hyderabad, the famed Charminar, its biryani, kebabs and haleem, and its rich linguistic and cultural traditions come to mind. However, the history of the erstwhile Hyderabad state, the largest princely state of British India that now stretches across Telangana and parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka, is a forgotten one.

Operation Polo undertaken by the Indian Army in September 1948 under the watchful gaze of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel secured the accession of the last princely state to India and a personal goal for the then home minister. Ironically, that accession was no accession but a military invasion.

“The military invasion was a domestic issue,” writes Manreet Sodhi Someshwar in Hyderabad, the second book in her Partition trilogy, Lahore and Kashmir being the other two.

That invasion (read as accession) was the end. Through 300 pages and characters both real and imaginary, the writer takes you through the events in the run-up to D-day. In a segue style, she switches from the anxieties, fears, and hopes of Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam of Hyderabad, and his balancing act between India and Pakistan, the concerns of Patel and Nehru, and the communal tensions that prevailed then. The writer does this successfully and with finesse and subtlety.

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However, the element that lightens up this historical fiction the most is the imaginary characters. Jaabili, the daughter of a bonded family who finds herself joining the communists; Uzma, given up by her poor family and sexually exploited, who finds the same route; Daniyal, Raj Kumar, and Ali Hassam, all common folks with their own understanding of independence, give a face to the countless common people who were never consulted when their future was being decided by those sitting in Delhi, Hyderabad and even Pakistan.

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Take these fictional characters out and Hyderabad reads like a well-researched historical account. The writer rightfully delves much into the communists’ role, who had then led an insurrection against the oppressive feudal system that existed under the Nizam’s rule.

The role of Razakars, the local militia led by Kasim Razvi and their ‘do-or-die’ jihad, the Hindu Mahasabha and Arya Samaj and their ‘shuddhi’ of Muslims skillfully paints the communal polarisation that prevailed in the country reeling under the scourge of a bloody partition.

Interestingly, Someshwar also paints a beautiful picture of the communal harmony that existed in the erstwhile princely state and the painstaking work put in by the Nizam. “Hyderabad’s extraordinary cleanliness had astonished him on his first visit, such a contrast to the cities of British India. As was the side-by-side existence of Muslim mosques and Hindu temples,” she writes.

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However, the Hindu-majority state with a Muslim head of the state could not uphold its communal harmony as forces within and around it stoked to tear its communal fabric apart. The result: “Hyderabad’s famed Ganga-Jumna tehzeeb isn’t what it used to be. Now, a Hindu palki passing a mosque is considered a provocation, as is a Muharram procession passing a temple—leading to scuffles and rioting. It’s insane,” the author writes.

It is insane, indeed, as petrifyingly, the line reverberates deeply with several contemporary events. That’s the thing about Hyderabad. The writer narrates such instances that are relevant today and paints a gory picture as if we are moving back in time.

Let’s get back to Hyderabad of September 1948. As the Indian security forces embarked on Operation Polo, the richest princely state fell within a week. That is supposed to be the end. However, the writer delves beyond that into the assault that followed.

“The accession of Hyderabad to India resulted in further violence, with Muslim men being killed and women and children not just reclaimed as Hindu but their bodies tattooed and marked by their new Hindu names, in an obvious act of punishment and reprisal, and a mirroring of what was happening to women on the other side of the border,” Someshwar writes in the postlude. Capturing what was lost in unifying the last piece of what completed the Indian union, the author writes: “What is undeniable is this: Hindu-Muslim harmony as a facet of Hyderabad was gone. As one Communist wistfully remarked: ‘We got what we wanted, but we lost what we had’.”

India has a tonne of partition and independence literature. The elements that make Hyderabad distinct are the amount of research involved, and the multiple plot lines where the writer switches from a chapter on Nizam to that on Patel and Nehru to that on common communists with sophisticated ease.

There is no hero here either, but characters navigating their way through what they mean by independence and nationhood. The short chapters, crisp language, and a deep dive into the Hyderabad culture, from Osmania biscuits, the university to its writers and poets, keeps one hooked.

In the end, even though the history of post-partition Hyderabad is well-known, the writer is successfully able to describe the various hues of struggles, anxieties and loss involved and keep one intrigued till the end. After Lahore and Hyderabad, one cannot wait to read the third and final part of Someshwar’s partition trilogy that will take us to the magnificent but trampled Kashmir.

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First published on: 08-01-2023 at 01:05 IST