Good Reading : April 2017
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING APRIL 2017 46 Sydney-based journalist John Zubrzycki seems to have a penchant for charting the downfall of India’s most affluent men. His 2007 book, The Last Nizam: An Indian prince in the Australian outback, followed the real-life story of Mukarram Jah, an Indian royal who was ruined in the arid scrubland of Western Australia. His latest book follows a similar riches-to-rags trajectory, but it’s centred on a very different historical figure: the infamous gem merchant Alexander Malcolm Jacob. ‘I’m attracted to larger-than-life characters, and both Mukarram Jah and Alexander Jacob had those elements of tragedy in them,’ John said. ‘They were both the architects of their own undoing, but also victims of forces beyond their control.’ Mukarram Jah inherited the throne of the Indian state of Hyderabad in 1967, and for a time he was the r ichest man in India, with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. But in 1972 during a visit to Perth, he became enamoured with the West Australian landscape – so he purchased half a million acres of arid land and tried his luck as a sheep farmer. He failed miserably. As he grappled with flyblown flocks and the hostile conditions of the outback, over 800 threats of legal action were directed against him back in India. And so, after abandoning his exalted life in India, the Australian outback reduced one of the richest men in the world to a meek existence in a two-bedroom flat. Compared to the relatively well-publicised life of Mukarram Jah, Alexander Malcolm Jacob, the focus of John’s new book, is one of history’s more elusive characters. Despite years of research, John didn’t come across an image of the famed gem merchant until well after the biography on the man had been published. ‘It was only when the Australian edition was being prepared that an Italian gentleman contacted me saying that he had an image of Jacob,’ says John. ‘It was photograph on a napkin holder that Jacob gave to his best clients. It was found 30 years ago in a Simla antique shop. UP CLOSE 3 Journalist JOHN ZUBRZYCKI tells gr about Alexander Malcolm Jacob, the shady figure he uncovered to write The Mysterious Mr Jacob: Diamond merchant, magician and spy, who attempted to sell one of the world’s largest diamonds to Indian royalty with disastrous consequences.