The Nizam’s Falaknuma Palace and Feudalism in Modern Times

November 10, 2013 at 11:23 am

I was stunned by the jaw dropping beauty of this palace.  It was the home of the Muslim  Nizam hereditary line that ruled this region of India for 6 generations.  The dining room table seats 100 and the locals say that it is the longest dining room table in the world.  It is made out of one piece of wood.  They also tell me that the Nizam was the wealthiest man in the world up until the Independence of India in ’48.   Looking at his palace,  I have no doubt that he was certainly among the world’s wealthiest.


These guys were basically feudal lords who collected rents from the peasant farmers.  The book A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth is set during this period of the partition and describes the lords and their lifestyles.  The lords were called Zamindars and are portrayed as having ” no sense of honor except to gratify the promises of pleasure they have made to themselves.”    They had no need to work.  Hard to imagine that such feudal situations lasted well into the 20th Century.  The British shared in the revenue stream  of rent as well.


When the English granted independence to India,  Nehru had his hands full trying to keep India consolidated as one country.  Even today, Indian pundits talk about the lack of a national identity.   The common story of India is based on their drive for independence.  I think that I read that there are over 2000 languages spoken here.  In 1948, there were a number of Zamindars  that Nehru had to appease.  He of course lost East (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan and the Nizam also said that he wanted no part of India.   This area has a heavy Muslim population similar to Pakistan at that time.   Nehru was not anxious to assert force but when a convent of nuns was raped he lost his patience for the Nizam and basically sent the Indian Army with tanks to Hyderabad to convince him to join India.  The show of force was sufficient.


3 or 4 years after Independence, the Indian parliament passed an act to give the feudal lands to the peasants while compensating the Raj’s and Nizam with some cash, but most of the compensation was  in perpetuity bonds.  I wonder if the Nizam’s family is still collecting the interest?  I did read this week where his heirs are fighting over his estate.  In particular, one of his grandchildren is challenging the administration of the trust by the son who would have been next in line for the throne.  The last Nizam had 600 heirs.  600!  I was told that the Nizam had 4 wives and 200 women in his harem.


When I walked around the beautiful palace looking at its beauty and enjoying the killer view of the city since it sits on top of a ridge looking over the plateau below, I could not help thinking how he benefitted economically from living off the sweat of his peasants’ brows.  You would think it would definitely create some cognitive dissonance living in such luxury in the midst of such poverty.  Yet I myself drive by the corrugated steel shanties here every day with more curiosity than qualms.  My driver was telling me that the construction workers who live with their families in these corrugated steel shacks make $5-$8 a day.  A typical shanty looks like a one room house that is about 8×12.   The construction company sells them the corrugated steel, provides water, and power.   A classic company town.  Reminds me a bit of Grapes of Wrath.  The water comes in tankers that are about an eighth of the size of one of our gas tankers that you would see at an American filling station.  The water tanker fills big vats that are probably about 12×12.  The workers and their families come with buckets to drink and pour over themselves.   Despite that, some of the shanties  have satellite dishes attached.  Lots of kids running around playing.  Happy as any youngster anywhere.