Image and Narrative contributed by Aayushi Gupta, Hyderabad
IMP Research Intern : Aayushi Gupta, Jindal School of Art & Architecture
The photograph taken sometime in the 1940s is the oldest picture I can associate with my lineage. The person sitting second from the right in this photograph in the dark Achkan (knee length jacket) is my great grandfather – Seth Nanuram. It was apparently photographed by the studio founded by acclaimed photographer Lala Deen Dayal. It is the official group portrait of the royal panel of jewellers to the last Nizam, Nawab Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan, of Hyderabad. The men are dressed in their dress code for the Nizam’s court – Achkan (long jacket), Topi (head gear) and Bagloos (the belt, that was also used to store valuables like cash or gemstones.)
My ancestors originally belonged to a village named Chidiya, in Mahendergarh District (formerly in Punjab state, now in Harayana). In the 1800s, left with no means to survive because of a recurring drought, my ancestors left their village in search of better opportunities. After traversing through the country, and more fertile fields further down, my ancestors decided to settle down in the Deccan – at the Sao Karwaan, close to the fortress of Golconda, in the emerging city of Hyderabad.
In the Deccan, many of my forefathers began working as clerks and went on to become bankers and financiers. My great great great grandfather Khushiram (Seth Nanuram’s grandfather) was a partner in his family’s financing business in Hyderabad in the early 1900s known as Kaluram Khushiram with clients in the Nizam’s government and noble families. His son carried the firm forward with the name Badriprashad Chunnilal and by the 1930s, when my great grandfather Seth Nanuram took the ropes in his hand, it went on to become Badriprashad Nanuram. And a decade old financial crisis in the Nizam’s rule was about to turn his life around.
Until the early 1900s, the British government had granted the princely state of Hyderabad the right to mint its own coins. But four years into World War I, in 1918, the seventh Nizam HEH Mir Osman Ali Khan’s government under whom the state of Hyderabad had prospered, failed to meet the money market’s obligations and slipped into an astonishing financial crisis and deep debt. On advice from the British, the Nizam introduced Rupees 100, 10, and 1 (in 1919) as paper currency to compensate for the severe shortage of silver for coins. Unfortunately for him, the citizens of the state rejected the Rupee 1 note because compared to silver in weight, paper had no intrinsic value. Moreover, the note was printed in black, an inauspicious colour. The Nizam’s government had no choice but to withdraw the Rupee 1 from circulation in 1920 – announcing the subcontinent’s first demonetisation.
The Nizam, as we all know, was well known for his passion for jewels and gemstones. As the richest man in the world, his tryst with jewellery had led to creating the largest royal jewellery collection in the world. However, his government had no choice but to mortgage a large number of jewels from the royal collection and from noble families, to financing firms (such as my great great grandfather’s). The firms then sold the jewels at a high profit to other traders who sold them to European and American elites and aristocrats. Jewellery from the princely state of Hyderabad rose in demand and this is the point where my great grandfather recognised an opportunity and began honing the trade of precious gemstones, and craft of exquisite jewellery. Seth Nanuram, the fourth generation of my family migrants, went on to master the jewellery trade and integrated the long association of his financing firm with an additional role – to join the Royal Panel of Jewellers of Hyderabad.
Anecdotal stories in the family say that trays brimming with jewellery and gemstones would be presented to the Nizam, and only by the royal panel of jewellers that included my great grandfather. If any jeweller outside of court wished for their pieces to be considered, they had to send it through one of the jewellers on the panel. My great grandfather went on to curate, commission and craft various pieces of jewels with precious gems. Since manufacturing jewellery items within the state was not usual, most of the pieces were sourced from around the subcontinent and the globe.
Although it isn’t known which specific pieces in the official collection of Nizam’s Jewellery Hyderabad were curated by my great grandfather – Many known notables are sitting in collections around the world.
In his personal life, my great grandfather Seth Nanuram slowly and steadily amassed wealth, respect and status. He began by building a modest house close to Charminar, developing a farm estate on the outskirts, and became one of the first people in the migrant baniya community to own a car. He was an ardent devotee of Shyam Baba (Lord Barbarika) and was also a student of palmistry.
While my great grandfather was part of a closely knit orthodox trader community, he went against all odds to marry his first wife who was educated in French, English, Persian and Sanskrit. After two years of marital bliss in which they had two daughters, she passed away. In the interest of caring for his two daughters, and the ‘need’ for a male heir, my great grandfather remarried a young girl from his ancestral village in Mahendragarh- Kaushalya Bai.
However the estate that he had built suffered- heir less – for eight years of their marriage. In the ninth year, a Sanyasi (saint) appeared at the doorstep of my great grandparents and blessed them with four children for four puris (deep fried flatbread) that he ate. It reminded me of the 18th century tales of the then Governor of Deccan, Mir Qamr-ud-din who went to a sufi mystic for blessings, and was asked by the mystic to eat as many Kulchas (stuffed bread) as he could. Post seven Kulchas, the mystic made two prophecies – one, that Mir Qamr-ud-din would become a king, and two, that his descendants would rule for seven generations. The prophecies came true. Mir Qamar-ud-din Khan Siddiqi Bayafandi became the first Nizam of Hyderabad, and his seventh descendant, the seventh Nizam, Nawab Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan surrendered to the Indian union.
Seth Nanuram’s wish was also fulfilled and between 1946 and 48 he had two sons during India’s transition into a republic and Hyderabad’s annexation. By the time of the birth of his fourth child, the empire had crumbled and the Nizam was a mere nominal head. The royalty lost its power and its state. Now, a new wave of consumerism didn’t limit the access of precious jewellery only to the royalty, and began entering retail spaces – with the first such venture undertaken by the Totaram Jewellers in Hyderabad.
Sometime in the 1950s, while driving to his farm estate, Seth Nanuram met with an accident that led to a major abdominal injury, and he was confined to bed for a long time. According to my great grandmother (his second wife), his visits to the Nizam would unfasten the surgical stitches, because like all the aides of the Nizam, he had to wear the belt as a part of the dress code, and bow before the ruler. With his deteriorating health, and various extended family conflicts, Seth Nanuramji finally breathed his last in 1957. My great grandmother would recount how dramatically the diya (clay & oil candle) was put out by the wind right before he passed away. Just like in the movies.
My grandfather, Hanumanth Kumar Gupta (the third child of the couple), was barely seven when he lost his father – his only memory of his father was his belt tied around waist. For a person with great foresight and palmistry skills, it is ironic that Seth Nanuram didn’t see his own end and nor did he plan the finances for his children. The family suddenly underwent a complete shift in fortunes. Since Kaushalya bai was illiterate and the eldest son was only 12, they were placed under a guardian appointed by the extended family. The guardian however engaged in illegal activities forging signatures, syphoning money and almost selling the farm estate. Riddled with adversities, Kaushalya bai managed to save money until her sons came of age, and her eldest son Brijmohan restablished the business with the support of his brothers.
Sometimes I wonder why my great grandfather didn’t think of his family’s future financially. But then I think that perhaps being a spiritual and philosophical man, it was a deliberate attempt. He did appoint his friend, a pujari maharaj to advise and care for the family and pujari Maharaj then spent all his days in Seth Nanuramji’s house until his own death in the late 1970s.
While my great grandfather’s legacy is still alive, I have seen my family’s frustrations in continuing the heritage of exquisite precise craft. The mercurial fashion trends and corporate giants in the Jewellery industry threaten centuries old craftworks. Yet my grandfather – Hanumanth Kumar Gupta, born in 1950, and now 71, and my father Amit Gupta, forge on ahead with the legacy of Seth Nanuram, his service to the HEH and his exquisite taste in jewellery by creating masterpieces that are cited as magnificent heirlooms. The bequest of perfect aesthetic is still alive through their retail store Tirumala Jewellers, in Hyderabad.
The addition of this Photo-Narrative to the archive has been made possible due to the generous consideration towards Research Internships by two persons from USA, who have chosen to remain anonymous.
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