Begum Munirunnisa's life and times in Errum Manzil
The future of Errum Manzil (spelt variously across many publications), at the time of writing is still unclear. Yet, it has generated enough interest across media platforms, both offline and online, which have converted the issue into a larger one than what was anticipated.
With its rich legacy left behind by the Asaf Jahi dynasty, the vintage buildings and structures of Hyderabad have surely been studied with keen interest by conservationists and architects over the years. Going a step further, the erstwhile residents of the city whose families had their lives intertwined with that of the Nizam rule have even penned books on that era, one of them being 'The Days of the Beloved' written by Harriet Ronken Lynton and Mohini Rajan, both of whom have a strong bonding with the city. Published by Orient BlackSwan, it was originally released in 1974 and has since then seen two editions, till it was re-issued in 2013.
History has it that the Errum Manzil palace was constructed by Fakhr ul Mulk in 1870, an edifice with 600 rooms. The book talks elaborately about the life inside this massive structure, spread over two chapters, with one of them exclusively devoted to Begum Munirunnisa, who controlled the affairs of her royal home.
Quoting from the book: 'The Umra e Uzzam (a high ranking noble family) married among themselves and most of them were interrelated. Both Fakhr ul Mulk and his wife were of Umra e Uzzam. First cousin of the Salar Jungs, the Begum brought to Iram Munzil the pride and dignity of her birth and traditions, which were similar to those of Fakhr ul Mulk's family. Except for her beauty, which would have set her apart in any age, Begum Fakhr ul Mulk was representative of the way of life of the most privileged women in Mahbub Ali Pasha's Hyderabad, a society in which privilege had been developed into a fine art.'
Spreading their minute observations over 20 pages (out of a total of 279), the attention to detail about the goings-on in the noble household is fascinating. Ritualistic and fastidious, when it comes to maintaining traditions, the book elaborates on the elaborate process involved in normal tasks like face washing. 'Water was brought in large covered basins called sailabchis, made of silver, with wide rims to prevent spilling and filigree covers to reduce splashing. Face washing required the assistance of four servants: one to hold the sailabchi, another to pour water from a silver jug, a third to hold the silver soap dish, and a fourth to stand ready with the towel'.
There are more details about the way the Begum commandeered the works within the palace to the extent of deciding how to eat at the dining floor. The clear adherence to a laid-down hierarchy which was jointly managed by the noble couple, described as an endearing one points out to the strict access control and monitoring of movements within the palace and outside. A clear example of how class and race had a domineering impact on the nobles, who were the ones whom the ruling Nizams trusted and considered on par for the better part of their 200-odd year reign of the Deccan plateau and beyond.