Around Lucknow, his face is as difficult to miss as tales about his alleged waywardness. But now, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the tenth and last nawab of erstwhile Oudh is getting an image makeover, courtesy Facebook.
Besides having a dedicated page, the Nawab also has a Facebook group with 66 members. His introduction in the latter reads: “Contrary to popular notions, Wajid Ali Shah was a man of the highest moral character. He did never (sic) taste alcohol, nor indulge in any other sinful activity. He is not known to have missed a single day's prayer.” The Nawab is lauded for having taken on female servants as wives, only for purposes of offering them financial security while abstaining from any intimate relations with them. It also points out that critics who count his wives would do well to also look at the 1,700 men of letters and 500 physicians and scientists employed by the Nawab. His dedication to art and culture and his role in the revival of kathak is also highlighted.
Further down, the page draws comparisons with men of note elsewhere, with similar images, but to whom history has been kinder. The list includes Ataturk Mustapha Kemal, the father of modern Turkey and British Prime Minister Lloyd George.
Tales of the Nawab’s fondness for wine and women have long drawn derision. But as argued by Kaukab Qadr Sajjad Ali Mirza (great grandson of the Nawab) in Iqleem: Sakun Kai Tajdar such stories were circulated by the British to justify the annexation of Oudh, for had the Nawab’s debauchery and consequent indifference to administrative affairs been the reason behind the takeover, a better solution could have been found by replacing the ruler.
Meerza Zaigham Uddin Haider, retired principal of Lucknow's Shia Degree College holds forth that the Nawabs, for all their human failings, were, “benevolent and munificent”.
Another Nawab in desperate need of an image correction, Nasir-ud-din Haidar (the second nawab of the province) has also found refuge in a Facebook page which lauds him for his strong belief in Astrology and Astronomy and for setting up an observatory “bedecked with exceptionally good astronomical instruments".
British observations on Nawab Nasir-ud-din Haidar have been routinely ugly with Governor General of British India from 1793 to 1798, John Shore describing him as “a profligate and a sod devoid of sense who thinks of nothing but his own licentious pleasures”. Similarly Sir Henry Lawrence, British chief Commissioner to the Oudh wrote of the Nawab being “. …Engaged in every species of debauchery and surrounded by wretches ... of the lowest description, his whole reign was one continued satire…”
Centuries after such loathing, Facebook might just offer the chance for a reasoned and balanced take on the Nawabs.
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