Mirza Ismail, who was born to Persian parents, wrought a civic revolution in Jaipur during his brief spell as Maharaja in the 1940s.
At the age of 43, Mirza Ismail became to the Maharaja of Mysore (from 1926 to 1941); he was then crowned as Nizam of Hyderabad and later the Maharaja of Jaipur. These rulers, like the Mughal badshahs, respected and honoured their engineers and townscapists. Mirza Ismail was to them what Ali Mardan Khan, the brilliant engineer who laid out the plans for the Lahore and Delhi canals, had been to Shah Jahan.
If M. Visvesvaraya, as Diwan of Mysore (1912–19), made Bangalore (now Bengaluru) an industrial city, then Mirza Ismail made it a beautiful one, with the Lalbagh and the streets lit by chandelier lamp posts. An interesting story about him goes that he did not simply glance around to check if things were in good condition – he would lift the corner of a carpet to see if the floor had been swept. Mysore still proudly flaunts the label of ‘The Garden City of India’.
His brief spell in Jaipur wrought a civic revolution. An article in the New York Times in 1942 remarked that Jaipur had been a picture of neglect, but after two years of Mirza Ismail’s sojourn, it was “more thoroughly transformed and improved than New York after Robert Moses got through with it.’ (Robert Moses, a contemporary of Mirza Ismail, was himself compared to Baron Haussmann, who transformed Paris in the 1860s). “Reconstruction, new parks, new buildings, restorations and improvements of all kinds are now going on at an amazing pace for India. The city swarms with workers as busy as bees,” Ismail wrote in his book.
He continued, “Money is meant to be spent reproductively, not to be hoarded. If I had not constructed the new offices and new bungalows and made many other improvements in Jaipur, it would probably not have been chosen under the new dispensation as the capital of Rajasthan.”