In Summary
  • Nawab’s promiscuity which helped me to concoct a funny story and give a phoney reason for me to become a doctor.
  • The first time I ‘experimented’ with it was in 1968 at my Rotary Club lunch meeting at the ‘New Stanley Hotel’ in Nairobi.
  • I was asked to give ‘My Job’ talk as a new Rotarian, inducted the previous year.

One feature of British India was the existence of the maharajas and Nawabs, the latter being the Muslim version of the former, the maharaja being a more popular and frequently used term.

The colonial rulers in fact promoted the role of Maharajas in their pursuit of their principle of ‘Divide & Rule’. Until the British left India, the subcontinent was a patchwork of more than 500 Princely states and the Princes ruled one third of the country and just over one quarter of the population of India.

The autonomy granted to these native states by the colonial government depended on the size of the state, the treaty negotiated by the British and the princely state and above all by the tenacity with which their forefathers had negotiated the terms of the treaty.

Thus the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Maharaja of Mysore, Baroda and Kashmir had a much greater say in the running of their own state. They were indeed monarchs of all they surveyed but there were also small states which were like specks on the regal firmament. Junagadh, to which I belonged by virtue of being born in Bantwa was one of them.

RULERS

‘They were gods to their people,’ wrote Ann Marrow, the British authoress, referring to the Princes. ‘They were bewitching, wanton, cruel, generous, lovable, ascetic, charming and hedonistic. They claimed descent from the sun, from the moon and the Aryan tribes dating back centuries before Christ.’ She added.

This is what Nehru the first prime-minister of India had to say referring to their eccentricities in his characteristic manner. ‘I like to believe that this is all true because it lends some romance and enchantment to the drab rule in India’.

In my view, they belonged to a strange breed. They were known to weigh themselves in silver, gold and diamonds to celebrate the length of their reign. Their hobbies included shooting tigers and elephants and their palatial drawing rooms were embellished with trophies they had bagged.

It must be said to their credit that they contributed greatly to Indian arts and culture, to sports and charities. Indeed, they were some of the most colourful personalities of the subcontinent. They were frequently seen on racecourses, on cricket fields, tennis courts and polo grounds.

They also built architectural monuments in the form of palaces, temples and mosques. Soon after the protective British rule ended in 1947, Vallabhbhai Patel, the deputy prime-minister of newly independent India abolished the princely states with a stroke of his powerful pen.

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