All of us are familiar with the image of a rather corpulent Nawab Wajid Ali Shah wearing an angarkha in which his left nipple is showing, creating an impression of decadence.
On a visit to the Company paintings exhibition in National Museum, New Delhi I found this image of a young Wajid Ali Shah.
Sharp, dapper, looking like the ruler who wrote an administrative manual called the Dastur-i-Wajidi, which he used in the early years of his reign.
Mirza Kaisar Zaman Wajid Ali Shah was born on 30th July 1822 in Lucknow to Malika Kishwar Aara Begum the Chief Consort of Nawab Amjad Ali Shah. He was tutored in classical subjects by Maulana Imdad Hussain along with training in horseman ship and sword play. He was drawn to music and was not only a connoisseur but a great patron of music. He was well accomplished in poetry and wrote under the takhallus of Akhtar. A number of books authored by him still exist
Once he ascended the throne he organised the military, put his administrative reforms in place and much to the alarm of the angrez Bahadur every morning at dawn he’d inspect military parades, fining late comers.
The campaign against him ( putting it very simply though it was a complex affair) started. The very things that endeared him to his people were used to prove he was a debauch who had only time for song and dance.
“The Heir Apparent’s character holds no promise of good,” it was noted. His “temper is capricious and fickle, his days and nights are passed in the female apartments and he appears to have resigned himself to debauchery, dissipation and low pursuits”.
In 1856 he was removed by General Outram
“Why have I deserved this? What (crime) have I committed?”
As Manu S Pillai wrote in a Mint column
“There was no clear answer, but one hint lies in the fact that the East India Company owed him large amounts in debt. Why bother repaying a loan when liquidating your moneylender was a more comfortable option?”
His descendant Kamran Meerza writes: “Wajid Ali Shah was also the literary King of his age. He had even set up petition box to get the public opinion and to hear their problems. He was for 5 yrs peshkar of his father Amjad Ali Shah bahadur and used to solve the problems of the administration. His openness to reveal his personal life to the public in the form of his poetry and writings was the excuse for his dethronement.”
Trying to decolonise Wajid Ali Shah