Jah's seven predecessors as Nizam were the rulers of Hyderabad, a kingdom in southern India. His grandfather, the seventh Nizam, was believed to be the world's richest manin 1949 the New York Times estimated his fortune at more than $2 billion. Over seven generations, the jewelry-mad Nizams had built up an unparalleled collection of gems: their pearls alone, the Times reported, would "pave Broadway from Times Square to Columbus Circle." But the Nizams' obsession with stuffing their dank chambers with priceless diamonds and then forgetting all about them seems, in retrospect, like a symptom of a deep-rooted anxiety about the dynasty's security. They were Muslim princes ruling, often brutally, over a mostly Hindu part of India, and their reign was always tenuous. It ended in 1948, when independent India seized Hyderabad.
In 1967, when a 33-year-old, British-educated Mukarram Jah became the eighth Nizam after his grandfather's death, he was no longer a real king, but he was still dizzyingly richthe master of numerous palaces, a fleet of Rolls-Royces and five trust funds. Muslims in Hyderabad revered Jah, whose maternal grandfather was the last Caliph of Islam in Turkey; the Indian government hoped he would become a diplomat. But the impetuous young man, still sulking over the end of his kingdom, was more interested in tinkering with cars. Then, in 1972, he discovered Australia. After his first glance of the outback, he is said to have exclaimed: "I love this place, miles and miles of open country, and not a bloody Indian in sight." He bought Murchison House Station, noting that it was "the size of a country"large enough to compensate for his lost kingdom. His pedigree would matter little there, but that seems to have been the attraction. "I want a nice quiet life and a chance to work with my hands and get them dirty," he told his friends.
Over the next 20 years, Jah got his handsor at least the hands of his Indian servants and hired Australian workersvery dirty. The rewards were not financial. He invested millions in heavy machinery of dubious utility, including an amphibious tank; but his sheep farm never turned a profit. He invested millions more buying a gold mine; but it produced little gold. With all the financial savvy of an eighth-generation royal, Jah once chartered a plane just to bring a can of hydraulic fluid to his farm. Although his business ventures flopped, Jah was enjoying himself immensely. He bought a mansion in Perth, and converted a minesweeper into a giant luxury yacht. When his Turkish wife left him, unwilling to live on a farm, Jah married an Australianwho would also leave himand began to dress like his Aussie neighbors, who called him "the Shah."
Back home, his neglected palaces were turning into ruins. He had left his business affairs in the hands of friends and advisors, but Zubrzycki suggests he was a poor judge of men. Large parts of his treasure vanished amid allegations that some associates were stealing from him. His legal troubles grew fantastically complicated. Each time he tried to sell his jewels, someone obstructed himeither the Indian government or one of the numerous relatives who apparently wanted a share of the booty. With many of his assets frozen in India's courts, Jah could no longer bail himself out of trouble as his Australian ventures failed. To pay off his debts, he sold his Perth mansion, but his troubles kept mounting. The crowning ignominy came in 1996 when, fearful that his creditors might get a warrant issued against him, Jah hurriedly caught a plane out of Australia. "The Shah" was exiled again, this time from his outback kingdom.
Zubrzycki writes that Jah, who is still alive, blames fate for his woes; and it isn't hard to feel sorry for this childlike, inquisitive man, lost in a whirlpool of historical change and legal tangles. Yet if Jah had used even a fraction of his money and status, he could have transformed the lives of millions of poor people in Hyderabad. At the least, he should have been able to make a farm in the outback turn a profit. Instead, after losing one of the greatest fortunes in history, the last Nizam retired to Turkey, where, we are told, he lives a modest and anonymous life, and spends his timequite appropriatelystudying Roman ruins.