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Saturday, 24 November 2012

HYDERABAD'S CRUMBLING MASTERPIECE



Portico and staircase

At first glance, there is little to suggest that the portico in  the picture shown above is not  part of a Palladian-style country house somewhere in the English countryside. Maybe the two palm trees might lead one to think otherwise, but even in England the occasional palm tree survives the country's often inclement climate. However, it is not in England, but in the heart of Hyderabad in the south of India. It was built to order for James Kirkpatrick (1764-1805), the British Resident at the Court of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Despite the European appearance of this magnificent building, its inspirer, Kirkpatrick, was far from being as conventional as the style of his Residence might suggest at first glance. Having converted to Islam, he married Khair-um-Nissa, the daughter of a senior official in the Nizam's court, and they had  two children. His extraordinary tale is related in great detail in White Mughals written by William Dalrymple.



In August 2012, my wife and I motored to Hyderabad from Bangalore. We spent four days in this fascinating city filled with fine examples of Islamic architecturebuilt over a number of centuries. One afternoon, after having visited the huge and eclectic Salar Jung Museum, my wife asked our driver (who hailed from Bangalore and knew nothing of Hyderabad's geography) to drive us there.

Neither I nor my wife had read Dalrymple's book, but the guidebook which we were using, The Footprint South India Handbook, mentioned that the book had been launched in the Residency (in about 2002), and that the building was worth seeing. We set off to look for it, knowing that it is located in the grounds of the Osmania University College For Women, whose grounds stretch down to the left bank of the River Musi. Our only map was that sketched out in the guidebook, and that proved to be unhelpful to say the least! Our driver spoke Telugu, the local language in Hyderabad, and so we asked him to find our way to the University by asking pedestrians and other road users the way. 

Many of Hyderabad's public institutions include the word 'Osmania' in thier name, and it was on this word that people whom we asked focussed. Thus, we found ourselves circling the Osmania Medical College, an Osmania Hospital, and many other places that were definitely not the Osmania University College for Women. We knew that we must be close, but our quest was elusive. I was ready to give up and return to the comfort of our quarters at the Secunderabad Club, but my wife was more persistent. She was not going to give up so easily  

After driving in ever decreasing circles often along two-way alleys only the width of only one vehicle, we finally homed in on the entrance to the University's compound. 

Ravaged lion

We drove through the gate and parked just inside the grounds. Moments later, an angry watchman came running up and asked us what we were doing entering the private College grounds. My wife told him in Hindustani that we had to meet with the Principal. The watchman pointed out the Administration Block and my wife disappeared inside. Meanwhile, we were allowed to drive further into the grounds, and I disembarked outside the grandiose portico of the former British Residency, its steps flanked by two carved lions in a poor state of preservation. I stood waiting in the hot sunshine. Groups of students, many of them wearing head scarves or hijab, passed, carrying folders and bundles of books under their arms.

A few minutes later, my wife arrived along with a young man from the office. He informed us that the Residency was in a poor state, and that it was unsafe to enter. Nevertheless, he unlocked it, and we entered.


Portico roof

A door at the rear of the building gave us access to the interior. We followed our guide to the magnificent main staircase, which we climbed.


Staircase ceiling

At the top, we entered a gallery that looked down on to the ballroom.


Staircase

We returned back down the staircase, trying to avoid touching its fragile, barely attached handrail and visted some of the rooms at the building's rear. Many of these were litterd with books and desks. They had been used as classrooms until recently.


Class room

Our guide took us back into the front part of the building and into the grand ballroom.


Ballroom

Now the home of pigeons and no doubt other pests, Kirkpatrick's crumbling Residence is in danger of imminent and sudden collapse. I am not sure how many heavy monsoon downpours this fragile architectural gem will be able to withstand.


Ancient mechanism

Listed as a Protected Building by the Archaeological Survey of India, and also by the UN, this building continues to disintegrate because of lack of funds as well as administrative squabbles such as those that hinder the preservation/restoration of other valuable historical sites in India. 

We feel privileged that we were able to view this building at such close quarters, but hope that we are not amongst the last to do so!






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