Mukarram Jah, eighth Nizam of Hyderabad, loved WA

Mukarram Jah, eighth Nizam of Hyderabad, loved WA

Jah’s grandfather, the seventh and, in a real sense, the last, Nizam, Osman Ali Khan, was a fascinating figure. Despite decades of opium addiction and a sexual appetite of biblical proportions (people hid their daughters while he passed on his visits to his mother’s grave), he was a deft politician who supported Britain through both wars and a thereby withdrawing some recognition and concessions. .

A Sun Herald story on Jah Bahadur.Credit:Fairfax

Before World War II, the seventh Nizam was said to be the richest man in the world. The New York Times said that ‘its pearls alone would fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool’. He used the magnificent 185 carat Jacob diamond as a paperweight. And yet he wore a 50-shilling suit and haggled with stall keepers over the price of soft drinks.

A Muslim, he kept the peace with his overwhelmingly Hindu subjects – until partition and accession stripped him of his power. In 1956, even Hyderabad ceased to exist as a state. It became Andhra Pradesh.

On his death in 1967, the old Nizam left behind four wives, 40 concubines, 33 children and a staff of 10,000. There were 300 cases of champagne from the 1930s, all undrinkable; out of 60 cars only four could be driven. There were rooms full of pearls, emeralds and diamonds.

Prince Jah and Manolya Onur, a former Miss Turkey, in Western Australia in 1990. Credit: Fairfax

Young Jah, the new Nizam, brought in his own guards, but looting began almost immediately and continued for decades. On 6 April 1967, a Mughal-style darbar was held to install him. It would be the last of its kind in India. At the end of the ceremony, the Oldsmobile that was to carry the royal couple broke down. Amidst the solemn ritual, the exotic splendor and a crowd of tens of thousands shouting “long live the Nizam”, all Jah could think about was how to fix the imported V8.

Price Mukarram Jah who had a penchant for fixing everything mechanically.Credit:Unknown

Five years later, the old Nizam’s teeming beneficiaries are still contesting the 54 trusts he left behind. In 1970, Indira Gandhi stripped the 279 remaining princes of their privy purses and titles.

Overwhelmed by his fate, Jah flew to Western Australia and fell in love with its openness and space. The landscape reminded him of the Deccan. He bought Murchison House Station, 160 kilometers from Geraldton, and at 200,000 hectares it was bigger than most nine-gun princely states. “Abu Bakar [the first caliph] was a shepherd, so I see no reason why I shouldn’t be one,” he once told a reporter. He would wear an Akubra hat, a dusty blue boiler suit and RM Williams work boots.

Ezra was shocked by the informality and isolation and returned to London after nine days. The locals treated and greeted him as would be expected. He was not met with the deepest bow and greeting “Your Exalted Highness,” but “How are you, Jah?” He loved the West Australians for this.

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Some even called him Charlie. But then, royalty was not such a rarity in that part of the world. Prince Len and Princess Shirley lived near the Hutt River Province. For several decades they managed to make a fairly prosperous principality out of their possessions while Jah was squandering or being robbed of his.

Jah claimed to have personally graded 3,000 kilometers of roads and fence lines, relying on drivers to run his business affairs, as he did in India. Projects were abandoned midstream, managers were frequently replaced. He would drive across Australia and then charter a Lear jet to get home.

In 1979, Jah married Helen Simmons, a former flight attendant from Perth, where he bought Havelock House. She filled it with antiques from his palaces, brought from Hyderabad to West Perth. Simmons converted to Islam and changed her name to Ayesha. In 1987, she contracted AIDS after an affair, and died a few months later.

He would marry, marry, and marry again: in 1992, Manolya Onur, a Miss Turkey 1976; a fourth marriage to Jameela Boularous, a former Miss Morocco; and finally in 1994, the Turkish princess Ayesha Orchedi.

By 1992, Murchison was littered with derelict scrapers, tractors and cars. A rescue package was put together after the company that owns Murchison went into liquidation. Jah was then forced to sell Havelock House and his yacht.

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By 1996, feeling cursed, Jah left Murchison and his machinery and fled to his mother’s homeland – and a modest two-bedroom apartment at Antalya, on Turkey’s south coast. It was here that the distinguished Australian journalist John Zubrzycki found Jah and from that encounter his biography, The Last Nizam (2006), the first full-length look at an extraordinary life of loss, a contemporary account in its historical context. Somehow one appreciates the loss more by knowing how it was all won.

While Jah lived peacefully across the Mediterranean, he partially reconciled with Ezra and gave her authority to act for him in Hyderabad in an attempt to stop the looting and neglect and save some of his inheritance for their children. She would oversee the renovation and leasing of the Falaknuma Palace to the Taj group of hotels and a remarkable transformation of Chowmahalla Palace into a museum.

Jah spent his last years in Istanbul with a caregiver. He is survived by his heir, Azmet, and a daughter, Shehkyar, by Esra; Azam, his son by Helen (another son predeceased him); and a daughter, Niloufer, by his fourth wife Manolya Onur.

Azmet becomes the ninth – but titular – Nizam.

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