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The Nocturnal Court: The Life of a Prince of Hyderabad

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Translated from the Urdu diary of the poet-courtier Sidq Jaisi, this is a first-hand account of life in the court of the last Nizam of Hyderabad. It recounts the splendor and decay of court life in the early twentieth century.


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Translated from the Urdu diary of the poet-courtier Sidq Jaisi, this is a first-hand account of life in the court of the last Nizam of Hyderabad. It recounts the splendor and decay of court life in the early twentieth century.

33 review for The Nocturnal Court: The Life of a Prince of Hyderabad

  1. 5 out of 5

    Shri

    This book is a serendipitous offshoot of research for the author’s other book “Memoirs of a City”, or so he claims. Serendipity or not, this is a wonderful book. Narendra Luther does history aficionados a favour by translating Sidq Jaisi’s memoir of his life and times in Hyderabad written in Urdu into English. Sidq Jaisi’s reminiscences lie at the intersection of history and literature and offer a glimpse of the high-culture of the Nizams during their twilight years. Luther draws parallels betwe This book is a serendipitous offshoot of research for the author’s other book “Memoirs of a City”, or so he claims. Serendipity or not, this is a wonderful book. Narendra Luther does history aficionados a favour by translating Sidq Jaisi’s memoir of his life and times in Hyderabad written in Urdu into English. Sidq Jaisi’s reminiscences lie at the intersection of history and literature and offer a glimpse of the high-culture of the Nizams during their twilight years. Luther draws parallels between the decadence of the Lucknow court in Wajid Ali Shah’s era and Prince Muazzam Jah’s revelries in his Hill Fort residence in a delightful introduction to the translated work (Pages. xix - lx). He remarks that there is no other account of the Hyderabad court and therein lies the book’s significance (p. xxii). Sidq Jaisi’s seemingly personal memoirs throw light on the ideas of work, time and what it meant to be a gentleman in Hyderabad in the 1930s. For instance the ‘mushairas’ or sittings in the Prince’s court were where one had the luxury to “waste” time. Work was not gentlemanly and leisure was the sport to be indulged in. Time was squandered and the ultimate barometer of style and sophistication was to not hurry but to work things out at leisure (P.7). Half way through the book, I felt absolutely helpless and despondent as I read about the sheltered lifestyle of Prince Muazzam Jah, completely impervious to the forces of change overwriting the destinies of aristocratic and feudal orders in the twenty years before India’s independence in 1947. In the introductory chapter Narendra Luther discusses the tensions between the son (Prince Muazzam Jah) and the father (Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan). As one reads Sidq’s memoir one can’t help but feel the difference of temperaments between an extravagantly rich Mir Osman Ali Khan indifferent to this wealth, abstemious in his personal life but grandly generous in his public contributions and Prince Muazzam Jah, wallowing in decadence buttressed by his coterie of obsequious sycophants. The differences between the father and son extended to politics too. Apparently, Prince Muazzam Jah wrote to his father insisting on the merger of Hyderabad with India (P. li). Sidq Jaisi remarks: “The book is a mirror in which the ruler and his ministers, the nobles and the notables are reflected in their true colours. Nobody is unduly praised, but neither is anyone spared” (P. lxi). True to his words, Jaisi portrays the typical courtier at the Prince’s court, through the characters Ummak Jung and Dhimmauk Jung: Obsequious sycophants buttressing the artificial cocoon of the Prince’s existence while the country kept pace with grand historical changes. Despite Jaisi’s praise for the refinement of the Prince (P.13), I could not reconcile this ‘refinement’ with the heights of sycophancy of the courtiers and the Prince’s (deliberate?) ignorance. Jaisi describes his two initial nights in the Prince’s nocturnal court in the year 1936. He observes: “The principal function of a courtier was to ensure that the Prince never felt bored or become melancholy. It was not an easy job (P.23).” He adds, “Honorary courtiership implied that no financial benefit was expected from the Prince (P.34).” They had the additional responsibility to shadow the Prince in all his waking hours. Jaisi in his essential humorous style remarks: “I prayed to God to save me from such proximity (to the Prince) (P.17).” Despite the veneer of sophistication and opulence, Hyderabad was hollowing out at its core. The degeneracy was a reflection of the society at that time, rankled by feudalism and illiteracy. Employment at the royal court was a definite means of income. Sidq Jaisi portrays this in touching words: “The worth of his (Prince Muazzam Jah’s) courtiers was judged by their ability to indulge in obscenities. He used to abuse others and exulted in being abused in turn. The sort of things uttered in his court are too disgraceful to be mentioned. The tragedy of the degenerate nobility of the Deccan was encapsulated in the fact that the goons who shared his company and his cup were spinning around in cars while men of letters like Fani and Yagna Changezi were living in misery (P.32).” If the Prince’s court was such a den of debauchery and decadency why did men of letters such as Fani and Jaisi want to be admitted into it? Jaisi’s memoir reads like a treatise on human frailities. He remarks, everyone in the Prince’s court were seduced by the richness and the company of the nobility. They wanted to be part of this high society. But they forgot that this “Society requires wealth and ease of circumstances and he (they) did not have them (P.5).” This book is a must read for all who love Hyderabad. For those who critique the virtues of the present democracy, this book serves as a caveat that behind the splendour of the nostalgic past lie shadows of excess and misery. One has to learn from the past and let it go but cannot revisit it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Shujaath

  3. 5 out of 5

    Divakar

  4. 4 out of 5

    Divakar Kaza

  5. 4 out of 5

    Asim Iftekhar

  6. 4 out of 5

    Musafirs

  7. 5 out of 5

    Val Anderson

  8. 5 out of 5

    Asif

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mehmood Amjad

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mihr Chand

  11. 5 out of 5

    Debarati Dasgupta

  12. 4 out of 5

    ctwayfarer

  13. 5 out of 5

    Farooq Ahmed

  14. 5 out of 5

    Suresh Chinnu

  15. 4 out of 5

    Muhammad Imran

  16. 4 out of 5

    Masood Ahmed

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amarnath

  18. 5 out of 5

    Subhadra Cherukuri

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sajjad

  20. 4 out of 5

    Satish

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nagavardhan Rayala

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nadeem Mahomed

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sudipta

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ilza Fathima

  25. 5 out of 5

    Azam

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ankana

  27. 5 out of 5

    Najmuddin Sadiq

  28. 5 out of 5

    Yaseen Ahmed

  29. 4 out of 5

    Danna

  30. 5 out of 5

    Simran Sharma

  31. 5 out of 5

    Abhinav Miryala

  32. 4 out of 5

    Nehasinghz

  33. 4 out of 5

    Suhash

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