Posted in Men who made Madras, Personalities

The Last Grand Nawab: Wallajah

By S.V. Kaushik

December 2106: India played the 5th Test against England at Chepauk Cricket Stadium. Over a 1300 balls were bowled from the Wallajah End before England was crushed. Ever wondered why the Wallajah End is called Wallajah? Your response would probably be “That’s because, that’s where the Wallajah Road is, Silly!” Yeah, so why is the Wallajah Road called Wallajah? Ah, THAT requires a serious answer. Wallajah Road is so called because that road leads to the Chepauk Palace of the Nawab Wallajah. And who was this Wallajah? To find out, let us travel back in time when the English were far more powerful than they were in the Chepauk stadium last winter.

The Nawab’s full name was: Amir ul Hind, Walla Jah, ‘Umdat ul-Mulk, Asaf ud-Daula, Nawab Muhammad ‘Ali Anwar ud-din Khan Bahadur, Zafar Jang, Sipah-Salar, Sahib us-Saif wal-qalam Mudabbir-i-Umur-i-‘Alam Farzand-i-‘Aziz-az Jan, Biradarbi Jan-barabar [Nawab Jannat Aramgah], Subadar of the Carnatic. When they decided to honour him, there wasn’t enough street for a name so long as that, so they just called it Wallajah Road! Walla Jah, we are told, means “supremely dignified gentleman”.

Wallajah

Indeed, Nawab Wallajah was not only dignified but also a fascinating gentleman. Although he was the legal heir of the 7th Nawab of Arcot (Anwaruddin Khan), he started his career as the 9th Nawab. No, this was not because he chose to work his way up from the bottom. Before he could lay his claim to the throne as the 8th Nawab, Chanda Sahib (a relative) usurped it.  So Chanda Sahib became the de facto 8th Nawab. For 3 years (1749-52) Wallajah battled tooth and nail to dislodge the pretender; and the British supported him (in fact, they supplied all the teeth & nails!). At the end of the war, Wallajah emerged very victorious and Chanda Sahib ended being very dead. Thus Wallajah rose to become the 8th Nawab, after eliminating the contentious pretender (or was it the pretentious contender?).

He shifted his capital from Arcot to Madras, because that’s where his dear friends, the British, lived. How could he forget them? He lovingly built the beautiful Chepauk Palace, very close to the British Fort St. George. (It is said that he wanted to live inside the British Fort St. George, but the English were nervous about the security risk. But they did make a Wallajah-Gate on the Cooum-side of the Fort so that Wallajah could enter freely and hobnob with the British bigwigs).

Life was not easy yet. He fought wars against the Mysore Kings and the Tanjore Mahrattas. The British were his allies; naturally, they were the sole suppliers of all teeth and nails — on credit! Wallajah ended up owing outrageous sums of money for the hardware and outsourced manpower!

Yet, Wallajah did not let petty accounting interfere in his business of noblesse oblige. He contributed to public causes like there was no tomorrow. He built shelters in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, sent Haj pilgrims on his private ships, contributed to mosques and even commissioned the famous Madrasa-E-Azam (Islamic school). His munificence was not restricted to Muslims either. He donated heavily to Srirangam and Triplicane Parthasarathy Temples. He donated land to the Mylapore Kapali Temple for building a Tank. (In the annual Float Festival of that Tank, his descendants still receive the first honour). He also donated land to Christian institutions like Bishop Heber school and St Joseph College in Trichy. Indeed, in charity, he was truly secular— long before  the SECULAR tag became politically fashionable! By now, Wallajah was very, very broke. SECULAR charity needed SECULAR funding. So, he borrowed from all communities: the British, the Armenians and other Indians. SECULAR economics!

By the Treaty of Paris 1763, he was recognised as a King, independent of the Moghul Emperor (it was good to have international certification even in those days).  But it did nothing to change  local Economics. His ultra-deficit financing model would have made even the US Government cringe, but Wallajah was ever full of courtesy and grace. Once an Armenian lender, Shawmier Sultan, came to enforce his dues. Wallajah charmed him into tearing up his promissory note (“My Lord, my claim is but just a little dust on your shoes”). Wallajah responded in kind by gifting the Noomblee village to Shawmier! In victory he showed kindness. When he defeated the Tanjore Mahrattas, his soldiers raided the Tanjore Treasury. To their disappointment they found that everything had been spent in the war— only the personal jewellery of the Queen Mother remained! Wallajah ordered his soldiers to return it to the Queen Mother and treat her like Royalty should be!

Wallajah lived like a King, gave like a King, and died like a King. But he left behind huge debts that made his descendants vulnerable. The British exploited this and took over his kingdom by means fair and foul. They could not completely forget his friendship, however: they allowed his successors to sport the honorary title of ‘Prince of Arcot’ and receive a tax-free pension from the government. That has not changed till date!

His memory lives in names like Wallajah Mosque, Wallajapet, Wallajabad, Wallajah Gate and Wallajah Road. And even a kid will tell you, every other over in the Chepauk Cricket Stadium has to be bowled from the Wallajah end!