If you’re slightly familiar with Bhopal, my case in point, you would know the languid, luxurious charm the city possesses. My solitary visit to Bhopal has been for a, yes, you guessed it, a family wedding in Arera colony, one of the oldest colonies, South in the lake city. Amidst the manicured gardens in the sprawling bungalow teeming with the wedding party in the ancestral house, there was the din of marriage and of course bonhomie. Not much later, time seemed to have stood still in that picturesque lake where we were whisked off to, on a cruise atop a barge’ish’ boat. Later that day the decadence and pleasure seekers head to the majestic Jehan Numa and much later to the Nur us Sabah palace- heritage building now preserved as hotels. We regale further in each other’s company and wine! Cut to the streets of the chowk bazaar resplendent in all ways, people and the brightly lit gota and paut (popular beadwork trinkets).
— swati (@RaiSwatiRai) September 28, 2017
Suffice to say that the brief sojourn almost a decade ago, had piqued my curiosity about this quaint town. M.P as it is, wasn’t a stranger -having spent some time in Gwalior and explored its Bada and Sarrafa enough, along with of course the Forts and the chattris. When the book Bhopal Connections, Vignettes of Royal Rule, Shaharyar Muhammed Khan, Roli Books landed on my review desk, I was thrilled to bits. Excited at the notion of being privy to a royal’s account of the royals. The author is the grandson of the last ruling Nawab of Bhopal, H.H. Hamidullah Khan- this added to the urgency to flip through this 152 pager.
The anecdotal and narrative technique of the writer glides us along the intrigues, scandals, joys, societal norms and the many surprises that the Bhopal house, houses, chapter after chapter. An insider’s info and first person account in the latter part, brings the reader as close as possible to rubbing shoulders with the royalty. Amidst the fondness of shikaar, the lure of indulgence, the cordial relations and later, the acquiesce to the British Raj’s ruling, there lies the humanising of the Royals. The largeness of their heart and mind in treating a captive with respect and honour and at others Machiavellian machinations for securing power- both sides get equal light. Most significantly, the equanimity in the Royal rule comes forth. With a large part of the ruling history presided over by the Nawab Begums of Bhopal- Qudsia Begum, Nawab Sikandar Begum, Begum Sultan Shah Jehan and Begum Kaikhusrau Jehan.
Bhopal’s history through the lives and times of its founder, Dost Muhammad Khan to the final accession of the state to M.P, in 1949 is relayed by the author in an anecdotal tone and tenor. An engaging beginning of each chapter has been clearly worked out to whet the reader’s interest- the technique hits the bull’s eye! No mean task to glide over decades of rule by individuals, to recount the turn of the tide and swoop over the changing times through the establishment of the Raj, the sepoy mutiny and to final acceding to the Indian state.
To a history buff, the writer places things in perspective but to say that it could be the Bible of Bhopal’s history, not that there has been any such claim, would be misplaced enthusiasm. The information in parts, appears repetitive and in others rushed. The language also in bits effortlessly eloquent in others circuitous. The relaying of incidents largely limits itself not in scope but in depth. It would make however, an interesting read for a history enthusiast, like it did for me and also would be suited for a young adult reading. And why not, this is the age that’s hardly reading, especially about the Past.
As a start point of knowing the history of this princely state, the book wasn’t a false start. But sure enough, wasn’t the finishing line too!
Bhopal Connections- Vignettes of Royal Rule
Shaharayar Muhammed Khan