Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Train Reading - the last Nizam

I continue to enjoy Ramana's Musings. Like me, he is addicted to Books. Like me, he often has several on the go at once.

I am not sure when my own addiction first set in. Certainly it was quite early. When I first started to read, I am not sure that I was a very good reader. My recollection is, although memory is an imperfect beast, that I was actually a slow starter. However, certainly from early in third class, my reading took off.

There have been periods in my life when my reading largely contracted to the purely professional on one side, certain limited types of fiction on the other. More recently, it has broadened again, even if with a strong focus on history.

We all read for different reasons and in different ways. My own reading style varies greatly: very focused with an emphasis on speed in the purely professional; sometimes slow and reflective when reading to learn or where I am enjoying the nature of the writing; then fast and sometimes even staccato when I charge through a novel whose plot has caught me.

One test with me is whether or not I want to re-read a book. My wife says to me sometimes, 'surely you are not reading that again? Don't you have something new?' Well, maybe, but there are books that are old friends, that sometimes provide solace for a wounded soul in a crowded world.

On the new side, I have just finished John Zubrzycki's  The Last Nizam (Pan, Sydney, 2007). Subtitled "An Indian Prince in the Australian Outback", this is the story of the Nizams of of the Indian princely state of Hyderabad with a special focus on Mukarram Jah, the last Nizam of Hyderabad. Jah, the English-educated grandson of the last Caliph of Islam on his mother's side, the son of the richest man in the world on the other, presided over the effective dissolution of the family fortunes. Part of these sank without much trace into the sands of the West Australian deserts.

It's an odd book, or at least I found it so. This is not a criticism of the writing, more of the subject. If China had its bureaucracy, India had its princes. This may sound a strange thing to say; India is famous for its bureaucracy; but in China, power rested on the combination of the concept of Empire and the Emperor with merit based bureaucrats; in India, power was more feudal, more personal. This lead to an ever changing patchwork quilt of relations. To a degree, modern India is a British creation.

To do proper credit to the story, I need to go back through it and tease out the back story. While I have a reasonable knowledge of Indian history and geography, I do not actually know enough to properly fill in the gaps. Once I have done that, I will be in a better position to tell the whole tale.  

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