Sunrita Sen in New Delhi
When an exhibition of the Nizam's jewels opens in the Delhi next week, the common man would for the first time get a glimpse of the treasure trove, till now meant only for the princes.
A 185-carat diamond, 22 perfect Colombian emerald drops, a seven-strand pearl necklace, rings, armbands, gem-encrusted turbans and belts are all part of the Asaf Jahi collection.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would open the exhibition of the sparkling jewels at the National Museum on August 29.
The collection was built over two centuries by the Nizams, who ruled Hyderabad from 1712 till 1948, when the government of newly independent India forced the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, Osman Ali Pasha, to accede to the Indian Union.
International auctioneer Sotheby's valued the 173-piece collection at $162 million in 1991.
The same year Christie's of London offered to buy it for $135 million.
Some of the world's richest men, including the Aga Khan and Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos, were known to have eyed the collection.
But the Nizam's Trust, which has been in charge of the family's assets since Osman Ali's death in 1967, wanted this part of Hyderabad's history to remain in the country.
The trust approached the Indian government, which after prolonged negotiations acquired it for Rs 2.18 billion (about $47 million) in 1995.
Since then, it has been gathering dust in the vaults of the Reserve Bank of India in Bombay.
That is, until a month ago, when it arrived in Delhi on a special air force flight, with high security cover.
For the government, getting the collection at $47 million was a steal.
But the Supreme Court decided the price, and it took into account the taxes the Nizam's family owed to the State.
It was not as if the last Nizam of Hyderabad did not leave behind riches enough to take care of taxes. But he also left behind thousands of claimants to his wealth.
Mukkaram Jah, grandson and heir to the last Nizam, now lives in Turkey with his fifth wife, and is said to be near bankrupt. Four expensive divorce settlements, according to family friends, ate into his inheritance as well.
The last Nizam Osman Ali, however, used to follow a rather austere lifestyle. He wore the same tattered fez for 35 years and ate off a tin plate on a mat on the floor of his bedroom.
Yet, when the Indian government ran into a cash crunch soon after independence in 1947, his loan of gold sovereigns occupied two wagons of a special train to Bombay.
Earlier, during World War One, he made a generous contribution of 25 million pounds to the British exchequer, for which he was rewarded with the title of 'Exalted Highness' -- the only such title given to any of India's erstwhile maharajas by the colonial rulers.
Osman Ali, the legend goes, wrapped the 185-carat Jacob diamond, one of his most prized possessions, in newspaper and used it as a paperweight.
Found in a South African mine, the diamond was acquired in 1891 by Osman Ali's father, Mahbub Ali, from a Jewish trader, AM Jacob.
According to R R S Chauhan, assistant director (exhibitions) at the museum, the show also includes an alexandrite ring that Mughal emperor Aurangzeb presented to one of his most competent generals, Mir Kamruddin Khan, and a saatlara haar (a necklace with seven strings of perfect pearls).
"The beauty of the collection was known only to a privileged few. Now it would be there for all to see," Chauhan said with some satisfaction.
Indo-Asian News Service
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