Indian History Part 67 The Nizam Shahis of Ahmadnagar Section VI: The Beginning of the End

Singapore, 1 October 2018

Husain Nizam Shah II was enthroned on the death or murder of his father. Whether the old king was murdered is not clear and would therefore depend on the narrative that one believes in. On becoming king, Husain bestowed favours and rewards on anyone who approached him, irrespective of the services rendered by the person appealing to the king. This was an attempt at ensuring that he was ‘universally’ accepted by the nobles and people as the legitimate king, especially since the reality of the death of his father was still being debated. On the third day of the new king’s official reign, Ibrahim Adil Shah attempted to invade Ahmadnagar, taking advantage of the confusion of the succession. However, the Bijapur army quickly withdrew on Husain himself taking to the field to give battle.

A Different Story

There is also a different narrative to the Adil Shahi king’s arrival in the territory of Ahmadnagar.

Ibrahim Adil Shah, it is purported, was marching to Ahmadnagar to assist Husain to claim the throne and in removing the old and incapacitated Murtaza from the scene. When the Bijapur king and his forces reached Pathardi, he came to know that Husain had already assumed the throne. Ibrahim immediately send congratulatory messages and proposed that he continue to Ahmadnagar in order to visit Husain Nizam Shah II and his wife Khadeija, who was the Adil Shahi’s sister. However, before Husain’s reply to the messages were received in the Bijapur camp, Ibrahim Adil Shah got the information that Murtaza could possibly have been murdered by Husain.

In a righteous rage, Ibrahim now wrote an indignant, bitter and reproachful letter to Husain, condemning him for committing patricide and clearly stating that the murder was a heinous and wrong act. Ibrahim went on to state that he personally would have removed Murtaza to Bijapur and if necessary even blinded him, but thereafter would have looked after the old Nizam Shahi king in his capital. He asserted that he could not condone murder and therefore was returning to his kingdom without visiting Ahmadnagar. The Bijapur king and his army returned to their kingdom.

The authenticity of this narrative cannot be verified. Considering the avaricious nature that Ibrahim Adil Shah had so far displayed, it is more likely that he had started to move towards Ahmadnagar with some ulterior motive and to create more confusion during the succession struggle, but on Husain having assumed the throne, considered it prudent to withdraw. He could have taken the ‘murder’ of Murtaza as an excuse to withdraw without losing face amongst his nobles. Even this assessment is speculation, but a distinct possibility.

Husain Nizam Shah II started his reign by appointing Mirza Khan, a Phirangi noble, as the Peshwa and the commander-in-chief of the army. Husain then removed himself from the rigours of ruling and devoted his time to personal enjoyment. He did not have any appreciation of the position that he had forcibly assumed and had no time for the extreme cares that accompanied the life of a dutiful king.

Husain Nizam Shah II

With the king conspicuously absent from the day-to-day functioning of the court and the ruling of the state being left to the Peshwa, it did not take long for the traditional rivalry between the Phirangi and Deccani factions of nobles to intensify and come to the fore. It is also reported that there was some amount of in-fighting within the Deccani faction itself. The Deccanis attempted to slander Mirza Khan and poison the king’s ear against him, but the youthful but astute Husain saw through the ploy and neutralised the evolving palace coup. Mirza Khan was a good administrator and unbiased, considering the norms of the times, in his dealings. In an attempt to put an end to the debilitating in-fighting in the court, Mirza Khan persuaded the king to appoint three nobles to carry out the duties of the Peshwa. The three nobles were all beholden to Mirza Khan and therefore he remained the power and controlling influence behind them—the real and effective ruler.

In a troubled and unsettled kingdom, challenges do not always have to be generated by external forces; an incompetent and self-indulgent king can also create enough troubles by himself. Husain had two intimate friends who were commoners, Ankas Khan and Ambar Khan, perhaps friends from his childhood days. In a misplaced act of magnanimity, the king promoted both these commoners, to the status of ‘amirs’, nobles, which was resented by the Phirangi faction of the nobles. They guarded their status zealously and obviously did not want to be equated with the lower class. In addition to this appointment, Husain regularly associated himself with courtesans and dancing girls of low-status, openly indulging in acts of debauchery. The king’s behaviour was not liked by either the nobles or the commoners. Despite his initial attempts at being accepted, Husain Nizam Shah was not a popular king in Ahmadnagar.

After being promoted to the ranks of the nobles, Ankas Khan, the more ambitious of the two friends of the king, started to vie for power with Mirza Khan who was the real power behind the throne. The power struggle became acute with both plotting the downfall of the other and attempting to influence Husain to accomplish this feat. Mirza Khan was obviously more adept at such palace intrigue and also had much greater resources to fall back on. By this time the Phirangi faction of nobles, upset with the behaviour of the king who seemed to favour the Deccanis, had already started planning to get rid of Husain. As a preliminary step they had felt the necessity to find an immediate successor, so that the planned coup could succeed. In order to ensure legitimacy, the successor had to be from the royal family. Accordingly two princes were chosen as possible replacements. Through a series of calculated steps, Mirza Khan managed to lure Husain into the inner fort unaccompanied by his usual contingent of guards and imprisoned him.

On imprisoning Husain, Mirza Khan initiated the already planned steps to bring the selected princes to Ahmadnagar, so that one of them could assume the throne. There were two surviving princes imprisoned in Lohogarh—both sons of Burhan Khan who was the brother of the murdered Murtaza Nizam Shah—cousins of Husain Nizam Shah. Burhan Khan was at this time resident in Akbar’s court in Agra and had been titled Sahib Qiran by the Mughal king. The two princes were secreted into Ahmadnagar fort. Although both the princes were the sons of Burhan Khan, the elder one, Ibrahim, was born to a lady of African origin and was therefore dark-skinned. The younger prince, Ismail, was fair since his mother was a fair Konkan lady and was the preferred substitute for Husain. [The Indian pre-occupation with the colour of the skin, with fair being looked upon as handsome/beautiful can be seen to pre-date the arrival of the Europeans in numbers into the sub-continent. Perhaps this fetish went back to the days when the Central Asian hordes had started to invade the north-west of the geographic entity now known as India. Irrespective of the origin of this warped sense of beauty, fair skin-colour has always been—and continues to be—equated to beauty in the sub-continent, especially in the case of ladies.]

With Husain imprisoned, preparations for the crowning of the 12 year-old Ismail, were hurriedly made. Since he had been captured almost on his own and thereafter kept in solitary confinement, nobody knew the whereabouts of Husain or even what had happened to him. Correctly surmising that some evil plan was being hatched by the Phirangis, the Deccan faction came together under the leadership of one Jamal Khan, who had so far been a junior and obscure military commander far removed from the centres of power. Fairly rapidly a large force assembled around the fort. Even though he had not been independent command before, Jamal Khan was quick to understand the need to ensure loyalty and promised promotions and wealth all round to the assembled force, thereby building the cohesion of the ad-hoc army.

Confident of his command over the Deccani faction, Jamal Khan send a message to Mirza Khan, now in the fort, demanding that King Husain Nizam Shah be set free. Mirza Khan was contemptuous of the upstart leader of the Deccanis and treated the message accordingly; he replied that Jamal Khan could be admitted to the fort on his own to pay his respect to the King, Ismail Nizam Shah. On receiving this answer to his demand, Jamal Khan decided to act and the bubbling civil war came into open strife. The fort was stormed.

The Aftermath

Mirza Khan now realised the seriousness of the situation and did a haphazard parade of Ismail, the young prince, under the king’s canopy to prove that he had been ordained king. However, the Deccanis did not accept this show of royalty and continued to demand the release of Husain. In desperation, Mirza had Husain murdered and his severed head thrown down into the milling Deccani army inside the fort. There is a mention that Husain had already been blinded earlier, although this information is not borne out by any authentic report. The confirmation of the murder of Husain saddened the Deccani army, but they recovered sufficiently very quickly and attacked the fort with renewed energy.

The battle for control of the fort raged for more than a day, with the Deccanis gaining the advantage. Even though some of the Phirangi nobles tried to hide, but were sought out and gradually most of the Phirangi leadership were killed in the melee. The core group of Phirangi nobles formed around Mirza Khan and fought valiantly making it possible for a small inner circle group led by Mirza Khan to fight their way out of the fort and escape. Mutaza’s sister Chand Bibi, the dowager queen of Bijapur for some time, had been visiting Ahmadnagar at this stage, but also managed to escape and make her way back to Bijapur. The fact that a small group of intrepid nobles were able to fight their way out of the fort, which had been breached and while they were surrounded, indicates the haphazard manner of the Deccani attack on the fort. It is obvious that there was no central plan or leadership to the storming of the fort. The rebellion was an impromptu affair, which is further emphasised by the fact that till the start of the rebellion, nothing is known of the antecedents of Jamal Khan, the nominal leader of the Deccanis.

The fleeing Mirza Khan and his small entourage reached Junnar, where they were captured and Mirza Khan executed. In Ahmadnagar, young Ismail was brought back to the throne and Jamal Khan ordered a general massacre of Phirangis. The order was followed by a great carnage of looting, burning, pillage, rape and wanton murder. The Phirangi faction of nobles were almost fully destroyed; and all their jagirs confiscated and redistributed amongst the Deccanis.

At this stage Farhad Khan, the governor of Chitapur and the de facto leader of the Habshis – the African nobles – who were aligned with the Deccanis, intervened to save the small group of Phirangis who had not yet been massacred. The Habshis were a small but powerful group within the nobles. Farhad now decreed that there would be no more slaughter, which was immediately obeyed, and he went on to play the role of the ‘protector’ of the now hapless Phirangis. However, this power and influence would prove transitory for Farhad Khan; Jamal Khan had other ideas. Jamal was ambitious, which was obvious, and suggested that he and Farhad become joint-Peshwas for the kingdom. However, Farhad rejected the proposal and recommended that Qasim Beg be appointed to the position.

This rejection of the offer to jointly rule the kingdom proved to be Farhad’s undoing. Jamal Khan imprisoned Farhad and through hefty bribes and promise of higher positions managed to turn Farhad’s army against their master—in effect buying their loyalty. Then Jamal paraded the young king through the streets of the capital, very clearly demonstrating to the people that the king was under his protection. He had Farhad Khan removed to the fort at Rajuri (Rahuri, in some accounts). Jamal Khan further entrenched his position through a matrimonial alliance with the family of a prominent noble Khudavand Khan. He also promoted many Deccani and Habshi officers to the status of nobles, or amirs, thereby ingratiating himself to both the groups.

The Phirangi Rebellion

Although Berar had ceased to be an independent kingdom, it had continued to function as an autonomous province within the Nizam Shahi kingdom. Berar was governed by a ‘Phirangi’ noble, Muhammad Khan, who readily gave refuge and shelter to the Phirangi nobles who had escaped the Ahmadnagar massacre. Bahri Khan was one the prominent nobles of this group under whose guidance the escapees managed to gradually build up a large force. On becoming sufficiently powerful, they decided to secede Berar from Ahmadnagar control and become independent. They set Salabat Khan, a Phirangi noble who had been incarcerated by the Nizam Shahi kings, free and unanimously declared him the ruler of Berar. The Berar forces now marched to Ahmadnagar. More Phirangis, who had either been in hiding or were scattered around the countryside in fear, started to join this rebel army of Berar.

Having established himself as the Peshwa through devious means and bribery, Jamal Khan felt that he could not fully trust the royal army. Even so, he marched with the Nizam Shahi forces to Shivgaon, taking Ismail with him to ensure that the young king remained in the Jamal camp. Thereafter, Jamal Khan resorted to bribery to break the cohesion of the rebel army. These actions should not surprise the modern reader because such actions and the following display of disloyalty by the nobles and other officers was common place in medieval Deccan. In today’s modern jargon, their actions could be dismissed as being ‘par for the course’.

Being a past master in the art of bribery and corruption, Jamal Khan send secret letters to the amirs, nobles, in Salabat Khan’s army promising them a royal pardon as well as promotions and great wealth if they deserted the Berar army and joined the Ahmadnagar royal army. Jamal Khan also ensured that the Phirangi nobles knew that the king was in camp with him. In other words he was indicating to them that he was the de facto ruler, since the king was still a minor. Salabat Khan marched forward and reached Paithan but a number of his nobles deserted him and a few others were captured by Jamal’s forces. Salabat now started to suspect the loyalty of his forces and thought it inadvisable to proceed with the proposed war on Ahmadnagar. Accordingly, in a prudent move, he withdrew towards Berar. Even during this retreat, his forces continued to bleed away through desertions to the Nizam Shahi forces that were in hot pursuit of the rebels. Salabat and a small core group of his forces managed to evade the Ahmadnagar forces and reached the border of Burhanpur, where the ruler Ali Khan provided refuge to the worn-out forces.

During the period that the regent and the boy-king were away from the capital, the ever-ambitious Ibrahim Adil Shah decided to take advantage of the situation and invaded Ahmadnagar. True to form, Jamal bought off Ibrahim by paying a huge sum of money as ‘tribute’, instead of confronting the invading force with his own army. The Adil Shah also insisted on his sister and the widow of Murtaza, Khadeija Sultana, being send back to Bijapur as part of the peace deal.

Even though he was reluctant to enter into battle, Jamal Khan now initiated actions that dealt a death blow to the Phirangi noble faction. He was completely disillusioned by the behaviour of the Phirangi nobles and banished the entire lot from Ahmadnagar through royal decree. He rounded up all members of the Phirangi faction of nobles, including those who were in hiding. The more important nobles of the group were forced to go on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina; some were send to Bijapur; and some to the port at Chaul. All of them were stripped of their status and jagirs, and reduced to common people so that they could not collect forces to rise in revolt again. Jamal Khan was now entrenched as the Peshwa-Regent and the de facto ruler since Ismail Nizam Shah was still a minor. He was sublimely unaware of the on-coming war of succession.

The War of Succession – Burhan Nizam Shah II   

Ismail’s father and the brother of Murtaza, Burhan Khan, was at this time in the service of the Mughal king Akbar who had appointed him the governor of Bangesh. Akbar had always kept a watchful eye on the unfolding events in the Deccan and had continued to harbour ambitions of annexing the Deccan Shahi kingdoms sometime in the future. He now urged Burhan to proceed to the Deccan and lay claim to the Nizam Shahi throne. Akbar promised Burhan a Mughal army to accomplish this feat and in return extracted a promise from Burhan to cede Berar to the Mughals after he had been enthroned in Ahmadnagar. Burhan was also to formally accept Mughal overlordship, which had so far been declined by the three major Deccan Shahi rulers. In this manner Akbar hoped to gain a strong foothold in the northern Deccan as a prelude to further southward incursions.

There are two narratives regarding the origins of the army that accompanied Burhan Khan on his southward march to the Deccan. One states that he was accompanied by the Mughal forces given by Akbar, which is highly probable. The second states that Burhan was shrewd enough to realise that the nobles and the people of the Deccan would not take kindly to the arrival of Mughal forces into their kingdom, because of which he might not be able to gain popular support. Therefore, he gracefully refused the offer from the Mughal king and proceeded at the head of a small force of his own retainers towards Ahmadnagar. While this narrative sounds good and gives Burhan an undeserved reputation for astute decision-making, later events prove that Mughal forces accompanied him, at least during the early phase of the campaign. In either case, he left the court in Agra for the Deccan with the tacit approval of the Mughal king.

Having reached the border of Ahmadnagar, Burhan assumed the title Burhan Nizam Shah and send a message to Jamal Khan to present himself at the temporary court, since he was now the rightful ruler of the kingdom. For the first time, Jamal decided to give battle to protect his interests and asked a trusted Deccani general to proceed to the border at Berar. He also approached Raja Ali Khan, ruling in Burhanpur, for assistance; and also tried to get Salabat Khan to his side with the promise of a royal pardon, personal safety and great wealth. Salabat Khan readily joined Jamal Khan’s forces, but was killed during a minor skirmish even before any serious battle could take place.

Burhan entered Berar through Gondwara in the Satpura ranges. He was opposed by Jahangir Khan, a Habshi noble whose jagirs lay at the border and was now under attack. Jahangir managed to withstand the attack by sheer obstinate strength of arms and continued to skirmish with great effect. During one of these skirmishes, a stray bullet killed the Mughal commander of the forces accompanying Burhan. The Mughal forces, which formed the majority of Burhan’s forces, fled the battlefield. This was a setback. It took a number of months before Burhan could reorganise his forces and resume the march towards Ahmadnagar.

The rest of Burhan’s campaign is a tale of alliances and betrayals, of advances and withdrawals, of avarice and generosity. Jamal attempted to dupe Burhan into coming to Ahmadnagar with minimal escorts, but Burhan refused the invitation. He started to make preparations for an onslaught on Ahmadnagar itself after establishing camp at Khandwa. Burhan also send messages to the other Shahi kings and all the minor kings and chiefs of the Deccan to come to his aid in the fight against Jamal Khan in his quest to claim his rightful hereditary position as the Nizam Shahi king. Ibrahim Adil Shah II was advised by his calculating prime minister, Dilavar Khan a Habshi noble of great influence, to join Burhan. A strong Bijapur force was send to Burhan’s camp, which had now been joined by Raja Ali Khan of Burhanpur. Dilavar Khan now played an important role in deciding the fate of the Nizam Shahi throne. He had great influence amongst the Habshi nobles across the entire Deccan and on his urging, these nobles flocked to join Burhan.

Burhan entered Berar and the Habshi nobles there submitted to the ‘new’ king, at the behest of Dilavar Khan. This was a heavy blow to Jamal Khan since he had relied heavily on the loyalty of the Berar Habshi nobles. Jamal Khan now marched against the Bijapur army that was under the command of Dilavar Khan himself. The Habshi nobles continued to join Burhan’s camp, but Jamal continued to prepare for a battle against the Adil Shahi forces. The Bijapur forces were over-confident and through sheer carelessness made a number of tactical blunders. Jamal Khan capitalised on these mistakes and defeated the Bijapur army in battle. So great was the defeat that Dilavar Khan barely managed to escape with his life. On his forces being defeated, Ibrahim Adil Shah retreated to his fort at Naldurg.

A great deal of manoeuvring and small-scale skirmishes continued while both armies prepared for the final struggle. Jamal Khan was flush with his victory against the Bijapur forces and perhaps a bit over-confident regarding his own capability as a commander as well as the fighting ability of his forces. He force-marched towards Burhan’s camp and reached Rohankhed in the neighbourhood of the Ghats. On 7 May 1591, a decisive battle was fought between the two armies in which Burhan emerged victorious and claimed the throne of Ahmadnagar. Ibrahim Adil Shah send a letter of congratulations and returned to Bijapur. Following the defeat of the Bijapur forces earlier, Dilavar Khan was out of favour with the Adil Shahi king and was forced to seek refuge with Burhan Nizam Shah. He was accepted into the Nizam Shahi court since he had been instrumental in swaying the Habshi nobles towards Burhan. The commitment of the Habshi nobles in support of Burhan was a critical factor in his emerging victorious in the succession struggle.

After claiming the throne of Ahmadnagar, Burhan Nizam Shah committed an uncalculated error of judgement that influenced the further history of the Nizam Shahi kingdom. He had promised Akbar, the Mughal king, that he would cede the entire territory of Berar on becoming the Nizam Shahi ruler and also that he would formally acknowledge the suzerainty of the Mughal. On coming to the throne he did not keep his promise. This act of perceived disloyalty added to Akbar’s impetus to invade the Deccan and annex the ‘rebel’ kingdom.

The Portuguese Interlude

Murtaza had fought the Portuguese early in his reign and been defeated because of the duplicity of some of his nobles. Burhan wanted to avenge his brother’s defeat and also restore the prestige of the Nizam Shahi dynasty by righting this failure and enhance it by driving the foreigners out of the sub-continent. He decided to mount a ‘holy war’ against the infidels and mis-believers. While Burhan was looking for a reasonable excuse to attack the Portuguese, an opportunity fell into his lap. An Ahmadnagar trading ship returning from Mecca, sank off the coast of Bassein, which was a Portuguese port. The ship had been laden with treasure and merchandise, which the Portuguese salvaged. Even after repeated demands from Ahmadnagar, the Portuguese did not return the salvaged treasure to the Nizam Shahi king. This opened the door to initiate military action and war.

Burhan did not take the on-coming conflict with the foreigners lightly. He made detailed preparations for the campaign—he had a fort constructed at Karla hill and emplaced cannons on it; and an important port of the Portuguese at Revdanda was boxed in completely. While these preparations were being undertaken, Ahmadnagar was under pressure from the Bijapur Adil Shahis who were encroaching across their common border. Further, there were also rumours of a Mughal advance towards Berar led by Prince Murad, Akbar’s son. Burhan had however characterised the attacks on foreign Christians as a holy war and therefore of greater importance than the internal squabbles of the Deccan kingdoms. He believed that the other Muslim countries would refrain from attacking Ahmadnagar while it was involved in this holy task.

After extensive preparations, the Nizam Shahi army attacked the port of Chaul. The date of this attack vary in the Deccan chronicles and those of the Portuguese. The Deccan records date this battle for Chaul as 4 May 1593, whereas the Portuguese show the date as April 1592. It is highly probable that the Portuguese took the date when the fortification at Karla Hill started as the date of the beginning of the campaign. During this campaign, the first that Burhan undertook as the king, he clearly demonstrated the inherent bias that he had in favour of the Phirangi nobles of the Deccan. This bias may have been inculcated while he was in the Agra court serving as a governor in the service of the Mughal Emperor. The initial commander of the Nizam Shahi forces undertaking the campaign was a Deccani noble who was killed in a night attack by the Portuguese forces. It is reliably reported that Burhan secretly rejoiced at the death of his commander, since he could now appoint a Phirangi noble to the position.

Burhan’s Death

Burhan’s belief that no political or geo-strategic strife would encompass his kingdom, externally or domestically, while he was engaged in a holy war was unfounded. Even as the campaign against the Portuguese was unfolding, there was the beginning of a rebellion in Ahmadnagar. In the Deccan, it was intrigue as usual. The expedition to capture Chaul came to a disgraceful end. The Portuguese stormed the fort at Karla with assistance from some disloyal nobles who surreptitiously left the fort gates open. There was a great slaughter of the Muslims, who were mainly Deccanis. Burhan’s open apathy towards the Deccani Muslims is given as the primary reason for the open disloyalty of some of the nobles. There is a believable report that even as the kingdom was being defeated in battle at Karla, the king was rejoicing at the thought that the Ahmadnagar forces that were being slaughtered were mostly Deccani Muslims, which in a twisted manner he considered a ‘victory’ for himself.

The attitude displayed by their king finally made the Deccani nobles decide to remove him and reinstate the boy-king, his son, Ismail on the throne. However, the plot was discovered and Burhan had the offending nobles flayed alive. The bias, bordering on acute hatred, that was displayed by Burhan is inexplicable—especially since his court was overwhelmingly Deccani and it was the direct support of these Deccani nobles that had brought him to power and helped in removing Jamal Khan, himself a Deccani military commander. Even after the ruthless manner in which the plotters were treated, Ahmadnagar continued to be in the grip of rebellion throughout Burhan’s reign. He died of illness in 1594 after ruling for a few insignificant years. Before his death, his sister Chand Bibi was once again resident in Ahmadnagar, having returned from Bijapur to live with her brother.

Burhan Nizam Shah could be considered to have maintained the semblance of central rule in Ahmadnagar. He was succeeded by his son Ibrahim Nizam Shah, an impulsive and complex personality. On accession to the throne he insulted the ambassadors of Bijapur in the court and evicted them, exiling them back to Bijapur. This caused another war with Bijapur. The reckless and callow Ibrahim himself took to the field to lead the Ahmadnagar forces. His inexperience showed almost immediately, when he made few tactical mistakes in the battlefield, was separated from the main body of his forces with only a small troop of bodyguards, and promptly attacked and killed by the Bijapur forces.

Confusion spread throughout the Ahmadnagar army, which fled and the country descended into complete anarchy. Seeing the country in dire straits, the imperious, honourable and duty-bound Chand Bibi took charge.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2018]
All Rights Reserved
No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author. You may quote extracts from the website or forward the link to the website with attribution to http://www.sanukay.wordpress.com/. For any other mode of sharing, please contact the author @ (sanukay@hotmail.com)

 

 

 

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About Sanu kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS)

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