Sat | Dec 3, 2016

In India: Glory of Mughals stands in ruins

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM
The Residency interior with marble and mirrors indicating its former beauty
Stairway in Residency with statue of Mahatma Gandhi which was donated by Mohan Art Studio
Sacred to the memory of George Rumbold Esq who died on the 17th day of June 1820 infinitly beloved aged 26 years
Portrait of the last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, founder of the Osmania University College for Women.
Monument in British cemetery with brick columns exposed
East India Company's lion and unicorn coat of arms over the portico of The Residency, now at the University College for women
Residency chandelier in ruins
Neglected British cemetery with tombs, some of them date back to 1816
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Mumbai was marvelous, Hyderabad fascinating, Bengaluru incredibly modern and Pune ... well before I share the wonders of India, I want this off my mind. The only disappointment in our entire two weeks happened in Hyderabad.

A scandalous love story once contributed to the Third Nizam, Mir Ali Khan, giving the British resident at his court, a magnificent Palladium mansion.

Col James Achilles Kirkpatrick heard from a colleague's wife who had visited the zenana - or women's quarters - about the beauty of Khair un-Nissa; the 14-year-old granddaughter of the Nizam's paymaster to the British was enchanted with the dashing representative of the East India Company. After prolonged negotiations in 1800, they married quietly. But only after Kirkpatrick converted to Islam, essential to her aristocratic family agreeing to the union. Their son was born months later and a daughter followed.

Queen Elizabeth I gave the East India Company a monopoly on English trade with Asia in 1600. The Company established trading posts in the ports of Bombay, (now Mumbai), Madras (Chennai) and Calcutta (Kolkata), primarily for cotton, salt, tea, salt petre and textile trade, and later that of opium. Before India became a British colony in 1858, the East India Company increased its wealth and power, aligning itself with Indian royal states, and having their own armies, diplomats, and especially from 1770 through 1830, resident men.

They didn't necessarily have families with them, and some found Mughal cultural traditions attractive though this was frowned upon during the latter decades of the Raj.

The Sunni Mughals from north India had conquered the southern city of Hyderabad in 1687, but as their control waned, the Nizams, while giving deference to the Mughals, who essentially ruled from the 1780s, aligned themselves with the British. With England and France at war, Napoleon in Egypt, and fears that French influence in the lucrative Indian trade would increase, it was a feather in Kirkpatrick's cap that he had negotiated a treaty with the Nizam giving Britain a greater alliance with the Hyderabadis. Indeed, in 1800, the Nizam designated Kirkpatrick as a son after his union with Khair un-Nissa.

So between 1803 and 1805, The Residency was designed by Kirkpatrick with an Indian craftsman and built by Lt. Samuel Russell of the Madras Engineers in a Georgian Palladian style with six 40 foot Corinthian columns, two lion statues at the front, and inside a grand dual staircase, a huge durbar or royal gathering hall, marble, mirrors and chandeliers from Brighton Pavilion in England according to some sources, others attribute them to William IV's palace.

 

Fifth-wealthiest man ever

 

The last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, ruled a state that was the size of Italy and was named as the fifth-wealthiest man ever by Forbes in 2008, his worth over the equivalent of US$210 billion at the time of his death in 1967. His refusal to join India at independence caused Indian troops to take over his government in 1948. But he had founded Osmania University 30 years earlier, and Osmania University College for Women was established on the grounds of The Residency in 1924.

Students from 1964 remember that every part of the building was accessible and beautiful. Today, the interior lies in absolute ruin, an appalling waste of what could be a source of revenue for the University and a major tourist attraction for Hyderabad. According to news accounts, the degradation set in only since 1985. How the seventh oldest university in India, a state-owned institution, allowed this to happen is most unfortunate.

The World Monument Fund (WMF) listed The Residency as an endangered structure in 2002 and a US$100,000 grant was given by American Express. A court directive made The Residency a protected monument under the auspices of the Archaeological Survey of India. The Times of India announced on July 16, 2013 that India's National Culture Fund (NCF) agreed to help restore The Residency with the Department of Archaeology and Museums (DAM) and Osmania University.

Work was expected to be completed in three years. Eighteen months later, when I visited the site which now requires a day's notice to gain access, little could be seen of any restoration being undertaken. Only the remains of an exhibition mounted to celebrate the College's 70th anniversary demonstrated an initiative towards restoration. My guide said representatives of the WMF and the British Council were coming to The Residency on February 3, 2015 and the principal was earlier quoted as saying that they are seeking corporate donors to assist.

Is anyone listening? If only funds had been found for maintenance, the destruction of this heritage site could have been avoided. It reminded me of the Marble Palace in Kolkata where heirs were locked into a trust that prevented treasures from being sold, but no money remained for maintenance, creating a glimpse of ruined glory.

Another disappointment awaited me. My guidebook said a British cemetery existed on the College grounds. I love cemeteries with tombstones, providing a tangible sense of history, to touch or view the very symbols and words left to remember strangers departed centuries before. Egypt's pyramids are the most famous. Highgate's Victorian cemetery in London another. Within Jamaica, Seaford Town cemetery from 19th Century German settlers is well maintained, and Hunt's Bay Jewish Cemetery in Kingston, with tombstones from 1672, is now protected through the efforts of Ainsley Henriques and others.

 

Cemetery in ruins

 

The British cemetery at the College is in ruins, totally neglected, a shocking display on the part of an educational institution to allow any religious and historic site to become derelict, overgrown, with garbage heaped nearby. What kind of message does that send to students? The guide said someone from a British department had visited three years ago and never returned. But whether it is the responsibility of the British or the College, how sad that the land isn't bushed and respect for history taught.

Only later did I realise that this was the venue described in William Dalrymple's bestseller White Mughals: Love & Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India, published in 2002. Apparently, the power of the printed word has aroused interest in preserving this period of Hyderabad's fascinating history just at a time when the sound and light show at Golconda Fort, near the famous diamond mines, and the restoration of Chowmahalla and Falaknuma Palaces are attracting India's burgeoning tourism movement beyond the north, from Delhi and Rajasthan to historic Hyderabad.