The Nawab’s Marathon
It is only fitting that the finisher’s medal for the Airtel Hyderabad Marathon is inscribed with a rendering of the Charminar.
The Charminar (Four Towers) is a magnificent structure made of granite, limestone, mortar and pulverized marble. Its four ornate minarets supported by four grand arches as inscribed on the marathon medal have become a symbol of Hyderabad. It was built in 1592 AD by Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the ruler of Hyderabad, to commemorate the elimination of a plague epidemic from the city. But what I love most about the Charminar besides its architectural beauty is the prayer which the Sultan offered while laying its foundation. He prayed, "Oh Allah, bestow unto this city peace and prosperity. Let millions of men of all castes, creeds and religions make it their abode, like fish in the water."
As I ran through the hard and undulating course of the Hyderabad marathon along with my wife Neepa and other fellow runners, the words of the Sultan resonated in my mind. Like the varied fish in the water, we were an assorted bunch of runners comprised of all castes, creeds and religions running in peace and prosperity. We were running in perfect weather on a cool and cloudy day and we were a happy bunch, except when we saw that each small downhill was immediately followed by another up-hill, and as I labored my way up and down the rolling road, I wanted to add to the Sultans prayer, “Oh Allah, let my journey through the streets of this city be fast and easy”
We were in Hyderabad because my dear friend Rajesh Vetcha of Hyderabad Runners had invited us to run the marathon. We had quickly accepted his invitation not only because we have fond memories of having visited the Charminar, the Salar Jung Museum, and the Golconda fort but also because it gave Neepa and me another opportunity to enjoy authentic Hyderabadi cuisine.
There is something unique about the taste of a Hyderabadi biryani. I think it beats the traditional pre-race and post-race pasta meal hands down. The fragrance of basmati rice, cooked with or without meat, in a curry of onions, yogurt, spices, lemon, saffron, cashew nuts, coriander and accompanied by Dahi Chutney and Mirchi ka salan is simply divine. I think a Hyderabadi biryani eaten the night before the race gives you a reasonable chance of knocking several seconds off your race pace.
As we ran through the modern city of Hyderabad, past an area known as the Cyber-City, I marveled at how times change. Just 11 km from the city lay the ancient fort of Golconda. The fort although in ruins now, still remains the potent symbol of what was once the wealthiest and most powerful princely state of all India. Every Indian knows the stories of how successive Nizam’s hid vast hoards of treasure inside the fort. Today however, a visitor to the Golconda fort will be shown how hundreds of years ago, the builders of Golconda designed the perfect acoustical system by which a hand clap sounded at the forts main gates, the grand portico, was heard at the top of the citadel, situated on a 300 foot high granite hill. Running past modern buildings with glass facades housing the most advanced software companies of the world seemed to me quite a contrast to those ancient days when signals were sent without the use of any electronic technology.
Running alongside Neepa I could not help but tell her the stories of Nizam’s of Hyderabad. For 7 generations starting from 1724, the Nizam’s created and ruled a state that was unique in the world.
As a young man, when I read Indian history, I had wanted to be as wealthy as the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad. Osman Ali Khan Asaf Jah VII, the 7th Nizam had been one of the world’s richest men. He used to keep the uncut 400 carat Jacob Diamond, the size of a ducks egg, as a paper weight. Forbes magazine put The Nizam on “All Time Wealthiest” list of 2008 with a net worth of 210.8 billion USD.
He had gold bricks valued at $250,000,000 (Times Feb 22, 1937) and rooms full of precious stones. It is said that his stock of pearls alone would fill an Olympic sized swimming pool, or pave Broadway from Times Square to Columbus circle. He owned the world’s largest coin –a dinner-plate-sized 12 kilogram gold mohur minted during the reign of Jahangir. He also controlled the great mines around Golconda and it was from these mines that the famous Great Mughal diamond was excavated as were the Koh-I-Noor, Hope and Regent diamonds. He also owned 14,250 square km of land.
Besides all this, he also had 15 wives.
Neepa didn’t seem too interested to hear all these stories however I wanted to share them simply because I wanted to keep my mind off the difficult terrain over which we were running. The ups and downs are a constant feature of this route and having not studied the route profile I could never really relax because I never knew what was coming next.
However, we both noticed that we were running perhaps one of the best organized races in India. There were enough aid stations well stocked with water, Gatorade, biscuits and bananas besides the aid stations were manned by incredibly friendly volunteers who were all regular runners. Even the cops were happily cheering the runners and for once they all seemed physically fit unlike the pot-bellied cops one is used to seeing in most Indian cities.
The marathon had started at the picturesque Hussainsagar lake front but it was the finish line at the Balayogi Stadium (also known as the Gachibowli stadium) which convinced me that this race will soon become the largest and fastest growing race in India. The finish line was as well organized as the Comrades Marathon finish line (and Comrades has had an 87 year head start). One experiences an incredible high when running into a world class stadium which has hosted the National Games, the Afro-Asian Games and the World Military Games.
The volunteer who handed over our finisher medals also reminded Neepa and me to go and pick up our after-race meal. He said this so politely that it seemed that we were his personal guests at his home.
This was truly a race of the runners, for the runners and by the runners.
As Neepa and I sat on the stadium steps, watching runners come into the finish, enjoying our fruit juice, sandwiches, cakes and cookies, I reflected on the life of the Nizam. The world’s richest man had never travelled outside of his country, he used to dress like a pauper and carefully count the number of cookies he served his guests. He used to knit his own socks and bargain with stall holders over the price of a soft drink. He used a walking stick which was so old and broken in so many places that it had to be held together with string.
The owner of the world’s greatest fortune was also perhaps the world’s greatest miser. Some would argue that he was an able administrator who was frugal, thrifty and loved by a large portion of his subjects, but the tragedy is that he ended up being simply remembered as a super-rich eccentric miser.
Did my cherished desire, from the days of my youth, to be as wealthy as the Nizam of Hyderabad make sense anymore?
Well, it wasn’t about the money anymore but there was just this question of having all those additional wives....
In 1794, the 3rd Nizam of Hyderabad was fighting against the Marathas lead by Nana Phadnavis.
The Nizam’s 1,10,000 strong army met the 1,30,000 Maratha soldiers in battle. At the end of the first day of fighting the Nizam’s army had gained ground but whatever advantage the Nizam had gained in the battle was short-lived.
The Nizam had brought to the battle field, his favorite wife, Bakshi Begum, and the rest of his oversized zenana.
According to John Zubrzycki, Bakshi Begum became so frightened by the booming of the cannons and the sight of dying men that she blackmailed the Nizam by threatening to ‘expose herself to public glare’ unless he took her and the rest of the zenana to shelter inside the fort. The Nizam decided to leave the battlefield.
In the confusion, a Maratha night patrol stumbled upon the Nizam and his entourage. The Nizam tried to escape but found himself trapped in the fort. The Nizam consequently lost the battle and was forced to sign a treaty. He had to give up several territories and give an indemnity of 30 million rupees and give up his prime-minister as hostage.
As we made our way back to the hotel after having enjoyed a wonderful run, I counted my blessings. I am a reasonably rich man, I travel all around the country and the world to run, I have two wonderful healthy kids and finally, I love my one and only wife who always leads me into all my battles.
I would not exchange this wonderful life for anything.