Sir Mirza Ismail, whose ancestors came to Mysuru from Iran, served as the dewan of Mysore state under Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar the IV and was known as one of the best administrators of the country. He served as the prime minister of Jaipur and Hyderabad princely states, and made a mark there before retiring in his sprawling mansion in Ali Asker Road, which was named after his grandfather.
Public memories are short and the outstanding man of his time who rendered creditable service to Mysore State for 15 years is a forgotten man in his own city, Bengaluru. But, the people of Pink City still remember him as the builder of the modern Jaipur. He is credited with building a new city outside the ancient walled city, which was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh in 1774.
It became one of the most planned cities in the world, but Sir Mirza built the modern Jaipur with all the amenities of modern dwelling and hospitals, university, schools, and a medical college.
The people of Jaipur today celebrate the 75th year of the naming of the famous Sir Mirza Ismail Road, which is a tribute to his good work. This road is just outside the walled city, and on both sides of the road stands the fashionable market interspersed by a large square where Sir Mirza Ismail erected a tower with five lights on it. People started calling this square Paanch Batti (Five lights).
When Sir Mirza Ismail built this road, that also connected the old walled city to the Jaipur railway station, he wrote a letter to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh and proposed that the road be called His Highness Sawai Man Singh Highway. But to Sir Mirza’s surprise, he received a letter from the maharaja that signified his pleasure in these words:
“I would like to name a road after you if you will agree, as I feel Jaipur owes so much to you already for all the improvements you are making, and although your name will be associated in other connections in time to come, the town improvement is already widely known and associated with you. I should like to call the road after your name.” This was a grand gesture on the part of the maharaja who recognised the good work of Sir Mirza.
“We salute Sir Mirza Ismail for his contribution that made Mirza Ismail Road so important. This road and the buildings were the vision of the prime minister and it was a good mix of traditional and modern architecture. We the shopkeepers of Sir Mirza Ismail Road will celebrate the 75th year of its naming in a grand style,” said Rajiv Arora, owner of a jewellery shop and a former chairman of Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation.
The rapidity of the city’s improvement and the civic services put in place by Sir Mirza brought him accolades, but the British political department in Delhi saw it as an extravagance.
Those were the days of World War II and the British were facing a cash crunch. The viceroy himself wrote against Sir Mirza blaming him for extravagance. However, with the blessings of the maharaja, Sir Mirza executed his plans.
During the tenure of Sir Mirza Ismail as the prime minister, unemployment became a thing of the past. Workers who earned three annas daily got high wages of six to eight annas. Reconstruction, new parks, new buildings, restorations — were undertaken at an amazing pace in Jaipur.
“It was Sir Mirza who laid the foundation of tourism in Jaipur and made it a strong tourism destination through an international publicity campaign,” remembers Triloki Das Khandelwal, an 86-year-old resident of Jaipur who owns the grand mansion Nawab Sahib Ki Haveli.
The Pink City, 73 years ago, had the honour of hosting the first ever literature jamboree with the literary PEN conference in October 1945. Sir Mirza Ismail was responsible for it, which was attended by Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr S Radhakrishnan, Khushwant Singh, and even poet E M Forster. This literature conference was unique in many ways as specialists of various Indian languages spoke about their literature.
Khandelwal also credits Sir Mirza Ismail for introducing English in the administration of the erstwhile Jaipur state, for the industrialisation of Jaipur, and for bringing Marwari industrialists to the city to set up manufacturing units.
He brought educationists from Mysuru to set up the university and the medical college, and brought the American Jesuit Society to build St Xavier’s School.
In 1947, when Rajasthan University was finally set up, Sir Mirza was honoured with a doctorate. He had to face the wrath of nobles and zamindars when he brought reforms in the state administration.
However, in his four-year tenure, he added Rs 3 crore to the state’s revenue.