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Published on: 12/11/22 5:32 AM

Book review: Hyderabad by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

When push came to shove

In the second book of her Partition trilogy, author Manreet Sodhi Someshwar trains focus on the state that lay in India`s belly and was giving then Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel a severe stomach-ache.

The facts as they were, are known to all history buffs. Hyderabad was ruled (nominally, as a British official sardonically put it) by the whimsical and increasingly vacillating seventh Nizam, Nawab Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan Siddiqi, Asaf Jah VII, but controlled by the man who headed the Razakar paramilitary outfit, Kasim Razvi. Razvi was clear that Hyderabad should accede to Pakistan, and never mind the geographical difficulty in doing so, or the fact that Hindus made up 85% of the state`s citizens. And so, Hyderabad state rejected the Mountbatten Settlement , rejected  plan after plan put forward by Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, pushing the newly formed Indian government to the brink. Thus it was that  thirteen months after Partition had carved out the state of India, Indian army troops moved into Hyderabad to liberate it.

A close look

As Someshwar did in her first book Lahore, she eschews the wider picture to zero in on a structured one, each short and succinct chapter making one point,  which then merges into the wider canvas. And it works very well. This book lets us have several glimpses into the working days of the last Viceroy and now the first Governor General of independent India, Lord Mountbatten; the frustration of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as he sees a newly independent India riven by sectarian violence; an ailing Sardar Patel`s determination to steer Hyderabad, Junagadh and Kashmir into the Indian dominion. Barely nine months after the massacre in Punjab, the clouds of conflict stand amassed over the skies of Hyderabad.

There is a defining chapter where Lord Mountbatten, VP Menon, Gen Ismay, go full circle discussing the issue of the restive state,   and arrive nowhere close to a decision.

We see a brief nod to the Lahore book when Pamela Mountbatten meets Pammi, the girl who was tortured while fleeing Lahore; later, Pammi meets Beli Ram who played a significant role in the earlier book.

Characters like Kasim Razvi, a James Bond-like character named Sidney Cotton, the Nizam`s beauteous daughter-in-law Niloufer, her enigmatic assistant Uzma, Jaabili-Daniyal-Rajkumar, a band of Communist resistance fighters, the man in charge of the hopelessly unequipped Hyderabad army General Syed Ahmed El Edroos, the Nizam`s constitutional adviser the hapless Sir Walter Monckton, all of them come alive on the page for us to observe and of course, judge.

And then, the Nizam

The Nizam himself is no shadowy figure here; we see him for a man who would rather write poetry than take charge of a fractious state, the master of obfuscation, a skinflint who keeps his palaces and himself in a state of dreadful disrepair but offers the nascent Pakistan a loan of Rs 20 crore. We also learn that he had founded the Osmania University, the Osmania General Hospital, the new High Court, made primary school education both free and compulsory, and even banned  cow slaughter, respecting the sentiments of his Hindu subjects.

There are stylistic misfires in the book, with the British characters at times talking more like Americans (what`s with the KK everywhere, asks one character; woah, woah, exclaims another; ass is used in place of the British  arse; vacation replaces the British holiday; `from the get-go` appears rather than `from the word go`),   the continued use of the overfamiliar `Dickie` for Louis Mountbatten, and `Jawa` in all the Mountbatten chapters,  since that was apparently what the Mountbattens called Jawaharlal Nehru. But these remain little glitches  in the impressive larger canvas.

All the characters are given significant page-time. We read of a Prime Minister ready to sublimate everything for a united India. We read of a deputy Prime Minister who was ready to put aside his — many– misgivings to do his job in assisting the Prime Minister. We ascertain from these pages the very real and intense grief both Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel had over Gandhiji`s death. We read of a city roiling with zealous discontent.

Hyderabad is an interesting segment of more Partition history, more Partition politics. And yes, another great jacket, designed by Devangana Dash.

Hyderabad by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar. HarperCollins Books. Rs 499. 305 pages.

This appeared in the Sunday Herald of 11 December 2022.

Related Links:

Book review: Lahore by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

Book review: The Radiance of a Thousand Suns by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

Books: Q & A with Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

Book review: Girls and the City by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

accession of HyderabadHarperCollins BooksHyderabadJawaharlal Nehru Vallabhbhai PatelLord MountbattenManreet Sodhi SomeshwarNizam of HyderabadPartition politicsPM Nehru

Sheila Kumar • December 11, 2022

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