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Shobhana Bhattacharji

Edited by Omar Khalidi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 188, Rs. 450.00


Mahdi Hasan Khan (MHK) was among the outsiders Salar Jung I, Diwan of Hyderabad, brought in when he reformed the state administration. He belonged to Fathpur, now in Barabanki district, UP. From a prosperous Avadhi Shia family, he was educated at Canning College, Lucknow, trained to become a revenue officer and lawyer, and married Ellen Gertrude Donnelly, daughter of an Irishman living in Lucknow. He arrived in Hyderabad in 1883 with a letter of recommendation from Sayyid Ahmad Khan the day after Salar Jung died, was nevertheless appointed Chief Revenue and Judicial Officer for the area around Hyderabad, and rose rapidly to become Chief Justice, then Home Secretary. The title of Fath Nawaz Jang was conferred on him. In 1888, he was sent to London in connection with a case concerning the Hyderabad Mining Company. He kept a detailed diary of his year long travels. The journal was published in London for private circulation and later translated by his friend Aziz Mirza as Gulgasht-I Firang. When he was away, the Diwan’s opponents attacked those perceived to be his men. They began with MHK whose wife was accused of sleeping with British officers to further her husband’s career. To his credit, he did not divorce her, even though he was dismissed from service in 1893. He returned to Lucknow where he started legal practice in partnership with Sayyid Mahmud, Sayyid Ahmed Khan’s son. Born about 1852, MHK died in 1904 and was buried in Fathpur.   MHK travelled through Egypt, England, Scotland, France, Switzerland and Italy, but is best on London: “It is a mighty nation, and London is a mighty city.” One could travel for miles without getting out of it; its streets were clean and wide, and “In the centre there is often a lamp-post on which is hung a board with the inscription, ‘Keep to the left’” (p.4). He describes newspapers as if he were Darwin on the Beagle seeing strange insects for the first time. In his view, this odd creature, the newspaper is chiefly meant to pass the time. He cannot get over the thousands of people walking to and fro, in the trains, in omnibuses, in the parks, and for whose convenience wide pavements have been built. But sometimes, he says, the roads get so crowded, a pedestrian cannot cross them without the help of a policeman. Theatres, music halls, art galleries, and museums are to him evidence ...

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