One of my teachers was Nawab Habib Jung. Nawabsaab had horses and his son Mohammad (we called him MP) and I were good friends and we used to ride together. They lived in Begumpet, where Nawab Habib Jung had built his own house in the grounds of his father Nawab Wali-ud-Dowla’s house called Vilayat Manzil (today the Country Club). Nawab Habib Jung’s house was my all-time favorite for its architecture. It had a large central courtyard open to the sky with a lawn in it, in which there was a swimming pool at one end and a low marble platform with inlay work at the other. Nawabsaab used to pray on this platform under the open sky. All around the courtyard were the bedrooms, the dining room, and the drawing room; all opening onto a wide veranda that ran right around the courtyard. Most of the time we would sit on the veranda and look at the swimming pool and chat because it was so airy and lovely. In the basement was a huge formal drawing room and Nawabsaab’s office. Nawabsaab was the one who wrote my first reference letter when I applied for a job in the tea gardens. I remember the words exactly, ‘He is keenly interested in saddle seat equitation, has an excellent seat, and shows respect where respect is due.’ He typed it himself on his formal letter head with the Paigah crest, on his portable typewriter. I always feel very honored that he did this for me.
Outside the house there was an old well and several huge old trees. At one corner were the stables. MP and I would usually ride near the house in an open area overlooking the Husain Sagar lake. One day I went to see the film ‘The Horseman’ with Omar Sharif as the hero. I was enthralled by the film principally because of the scenes of Buz Kashi and the many sequences of riding on Akhal-Teke horses. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhal-Teke)
The breed standard of the Akhal-Teke reads: ‘The Akhal-Teke has a fine head with a straight or slightly convex profile, and long ears. It also has almond-shaped eyes. The mane and tail are usually sparse. The long back is lightly muscled, and is coupled to a flat croup and long, upright neck. The Akhal-Teke possesses sloping shoulders and thin skin. These horses have strong, tough, but fine limbs. They have a rather slim body and ribcage (like an equine version of the greyhound), with a deep chest. The conformation is typical of horses bred for endurance over distance. The Akhal-Tekes are lively and alert, with a reputation for bonding to only one person. The breed is tough and resilient, having adapted to the harshness of Turkmenistan lands, where horses must live without much food or water. This has also made the horses good for sport. The breed has great endurance, as shown in 1935 when a group of Turkamen riders rode the 2500 miles from Ashgabat to Moscow in 84 days, including a three-day crossing of 235 miles of desert without water.’
In one scene in the film they showed a riding competition where the riders would pick up a small piece of cloth from the ground with a dagger while riding at a full gallop. The day after, my friend Anoop (Vicky) Randhawa (used to be an instructor pilot with Jet Airways), MP, and I rode Nawab Habib Jung’s horses to the schooling area. I was thrilled with the display of horsemanship that I had seen in the movie and when we went to ride, I decided to try the maneuver of picking up the napkin from the ground at full gallop. The problem with this intention, which I discovered too late, was that the Akhal-Teke is 14.3 – 15.5 hands tall, whereas the Thoroughbred that I was riding was a full 17 hands. Also, its gait was a hard, pounding run that was very harsh and jolting. MP put the large napkin in the middle of the field and pulled it up a little in the middle to make a slight tent-like shape. I then wheeled my horse, trotted to the end of the field, and the turned around and came straight down at a full gallop. As the horse neared the napkin, I went down over the right shoulder and reached down with my right arm for the napkin. I picked it up alright but realized by then that I was too far down over the side and the pounding gait of the horse was further throwing me lower and lower. And sure enough, in another two or three strides, I fell. I landed on my arm and shoulder and there was a terrible shooting pain. I tried to scramble up and found that my right arm was twisted at an unlikely angle and my shoulder had dislocated. MP and Vicky, came running. I told MP to go and catch the horse, as I didn’t fancy facing his father without his horse. I told Vicky to put his fist in my armpit and pull the arm with a jerk. That put the ball back in the socket. The arm was horribly painful but at least it was back in place. We returned the horses to the stables and then I went home.
When I reached home, I told my mother what happened, expecting her to say, “Allah mera bachcha!”, or something like that and hug and kiss me. Instead she said, “Girtay hain shah sawar hi maidan-e-jang mein. (It is only knights who fall in battle). Go to the hospital and show it to Pappa and get some medicine for the pain.” My Mom was a very matter of fact lady.
I went to the hospital and my dad looked at the shoulder, which was swollen and red and painful like hell. He said, “This will be painful for about a week. You will never be able to do an overarm movement because there will always be the danger of it coming out again. So be careful always. The ligaments have been permanently stretched. You could have surgery, but I don’t recommend it. Take a paracetamol and do hot fomentation. Okay. Nurse, next patient please.” My father was also a matter of fact man.
As I was leaving my Dad’s compounder, Qayyum Saab came up to me. He used to wear very strong Atr (perfume) and you could smell him long after he had passed. Qayyum Saab said to me, “Baba, agar aap chahay tho main aap ku Shalibanda ley jataon, Jarrah kay paas. Ek patti mein aap achchay ho jatay. Magar Saab ku nahin bolna nahin tho meri naukri jaati.” (If you want I can take you to the bone setter in Shalibanda and he will tie a bandage which will cure you. But please don’t tell your father or I will lose my job). He wouldn’t have lost his job of course but my father didn’t believe in any native medicine and he would have been chewed out for his pains.
I promised to keep my lips sealed and off we went, Qayyum Saab and I, by bus to Charminar and then rickshaw to Shalibanda. The Jarrah applied copious amounts of creamy, sweet smelling ointment, the ingredients of which only he knew and then tied a bandage. It was like magic. My atrociously painful shoulder stopped paining immediately. And by next morning the pain had gone.
Chiran Palace which today is KBR Park, was the private property of the Nizam and was surrounded by an 8-feet high masonry wall with a huge black wooden gate in the center. There were soldiers from the erstwhile Arab Irregulars (Chaoush) from Barkas, lackadaisically guarding the gate. The paved road ended at the Green Masjid. After that it was an unpaved dirt road, all the way to the gate and beyond it, inside to the Palace. There was no road around Chiran Palace and it was all rock and scrub bush, including a lot of Opuntia cactus, Sitaphal, Neem, Lantana and Datura. There were no buildings or habitation all the way down to what is Sanjeevareddy Nagar on one side and Towli Chowki on the other. The area was alive with Peacocks, Partridge and Quail, and Chowsinga (Four-horned) antelopes, Wild Boar, Jackals and naturally, leopard (which we call Panther). Sometimes I would walk to Chiran Palace from Sanatnagar where I lived, taking a right at Sanjeevareddy Nagar and then walking through these open lands, climbing the hill all the way to the top. I would always have my yellow Labradors, Ben and Poppins, one or both, as my companions both for company and safety. Once we reached the top, I would allow them to run around for a bit and then I would climb up on my favorite rock which overlooked the Palace wall on one side and gazed across the country to the ramparts of Golconda Fort on the other. I always took my dogs up on the rock with me as to leave them below was to invite any leopard in the area for a meal. Dog is item #1 on a leopard’s menu and Labs are simply too friendly even to put up a fight.
One of my most poignant memories is sitting on top of this rock as the sun was going down, with Ben lying beside me, looking at Bala Hisar, the topmost building on Golconda Fort. I thought to myself, “If this rock had a voice, it would say to me, ‘Hey kid! One day there was a king in that palace (Bala Hisar) who thought he owned the world. Today he has been gone a long time, while you are sitting on top of me thinking that the world runs because of you. But all men die and only rocks are eternal.” The reality is that I am still here, writing this, while that poor rock was blasted and reduced to rubble to go into the foundation of one of the houses that have come up all around Chiran Palace, like mushrooms after rain. One day, like the king in Bala Hisar, I will also die, and the real truth will be established, which is Rahay Naam Allahﷻ Ka (Only Allahﷻ’s name will remain). History is witness to so many who thought that they were powerful and eternal. That is the real irony.
One day, the day after Diwali which was a holiday, MP and I decided to take our horses and go camping. I was riding a black stallion and MP was riding a chestnut gelding. My horse was rather highly strung and as is the way with many stallions, constantly testing his will against mine. We rode from Begumpet all the way to the Green Masjid (Masjid-e-Hussaini) on Road # 3 Banjara Hills intending to go on to the gate of Chiran Palace and then ride along the wall and descend the hill to what we used to call ‘Secret lake’. Seeing it surrounded by buildings today it is clear that it is no longer a secret. This lake connects with the lake on Road # 1 near Taj Banjara hotel which used to be called the Banjara Hotel and was the first hotel on Banjara Hills and the first 5 – star hotel in Hyderabad. As MP and I rode past the masjid and stepped onto the unpaved dirt road, a small boy threw a firecracker under the hoofs of my horse. The firecracker literally exploded under the belly of my horse and he bolted. I let him run because he was scared and to try to stop him would have been fruitless. He galloped full tilt all the way to the gate and then stopped, foaming and blowing. MP caught up and we continued our ride.
As we rounded the wall and were crossing a flat granite rock on which my horse’s shoes rang like bells, a brace of partridge exploded in flight right under his nose. It was clearly not my day. My horse was already in a skittish mood with the firecracker incident. When the partridges did their act, he neighed and reared then slipped and fell on his side. I fell with him with my leg under him. By the grace of AllahY, I was wearing knee high boots with a very thick and stiff sole designed just for such accidents. The sole protected my foot from being crushed and my helmet kept my head from cracking on the rock. I kicked my feet free of the stirrups and rolled clear of the horse as he scrambled up, keeping a hold on the reins because if he had run away there, catching him would have been nearly impossible and would have put paid to our camping trip.
Once the dust settled, I realized that neither of us was any the worse for wear and we decided to go on. We reached the lake a few minutes later. The lake had a dam at one end with a small building at one end of it. The valley floor spread out all around the lake with some Acacia and Tamarind trees dotting it. We unsaddled and hobbled the horses and put on their halters with long ropes so that they could roll in the grass and graze but would not be able to run away. Then we made our camp. It was a brilliant starlit night with a three-quarter moon and not a human in sight. This was pure wilderness, peaceful and quiet with the occasional ‘chirr’ of the nightjar or the flight of an owl on silent wings floating overhead in search of the unwary mouse. We ate our sandwiches and drank the water from the lake and lived to tell the tale. The water was clean enough to drink. On a side note, today when I talk to people about parenting, I think of my parents and the parents of our friends, who didn’t think twice about allowing two teenagers to take their horses and go off camping all night in the bush. I would go off for weeks to the farm of my friend, Mr. V. Rama Reddy in Sethpalli, in the middle of the Adilabad jungles, with no communication to my parents from the minute I left home to the minute I returned, but they never prevented me from doing it. That is what built our character. We were not mollycoddled or over parented by anxious mothers and paranoid fathers. Of course, the world was also a different place.
My father was right of course about the overarm movement. I forgot about that at a crucial time. In the Anamallais, when I was Manager of Lower Sheikalmudi Estate, I made a ‘beach’ on the bank of an oxbow that the Sholayar River made at the bottom of our cardamom area. There was a large pool in the bend of the river and then the water flowed away down to the Parambikulam Dam. The pool was about six or seven feet deep. We, my wife and I, my dear friend Berty (Cuthbert Suares) from across the border in Tata Tea’s Malakiparai Estate, another dear friend, Sandy (Sundeep Singh) from another Tata Tea estate called Uralikkal along with whoever else of our planter friends were around, used to gather there on Sunday and spend the day swimming. At lunch time, Bastian, my butler would send down sandwiches and coffee. Selvaraj, the Supervisor for the cardamom area (I reclaimed scrub land and planted it with cardamom) would bring us fresh honey from the honeycombs in the area. I had set up beehives to help in pollination. They paid for their accommodation by giving us cardamom flavored honey. We ate it straight from the comb.
One day, Berty, Samina and I were down there. Berty and I were swimming. I was racing Berty and in my excitement forgot about my arm and tried a powerful crawl. Only one stroke and my arm was out. I sank. I thought I was done for. But my feet touched the bottom while the waves were gently lapping at my nostrils. Berty saw that something was amiss and raced back to me and dragged me into shallower water. Then he asked me, “Dey Dorai tell me what to do.” I told him my remedy. Put your fist in the armpit and jerk the arm outwards. He did and it was back in place. This time the pain was not so bad. The value of friends who know how to act in emergencies is immeasurable. Berty didn’t just start something. He asked me what to do. That is the best thing to do because the person who has the problem, usually knows what works. If you try your own remedy, it may cause more harm than good.