Anuradha Naik has a way with architecture, conservation and museums. As project coordinator of City Museum, Hyderabad, she traces the growth of a 4000-year-old civilisation

The afternoon sun beats down the long corridor, outlining the shadows of the window grill on the pathway. A group of visitors enters the galleries of City Museum after having visited the galleries of the adjacent H.E.H Nizam’s Museum at Purani Haveli Palace. A staffer guides the visitors, shares nuggets of history and explains how the new galleries were put up.

Anuradha Naik, the architect of City Museum, looks on with pride. “It’s always a pleasure for me to see how the staff explain all that we’ve done,” she says. A while ago, as Anuradha walked in, the staff greet her with respect and familiarity. Anuradha’s family has had a long association with the Nizams. To be precise, the association goes back to five generations.

Five years ago, when Anuradha returned from Britain, she was commissioned to renovate the museum galleries at Chowmohalla Palace. City Museum, which opened earlier this year, was her second project in Hyderabad and was commissioned by Prince Muffakham Jah for the Nizam’s Jubilee Pavilion Trust. Once the conservation architect took up the task of setting up City Museum, she had to plough through a mine of information. The more she dug, the more information she discovered. “The challenge was to share the history of a 4000-year-old civilisation within 2000sq ft,” she says.

The number 400 has magically clung to the history of Hyderabad. Anuradha argues, “Before 400 years ago, maybe this city wasn’t called Hyderabad. But people lived here. We went back as far as we could in our research.” Clay pots unearthed during an excavation at University of Hyderabad, Gachibowli, showed evidence of civilisation in this area 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. Pointing at the photographs of the excavation, she says, “This is the oldest megalithic site in India, dating back to 2000 B.C.”

For two years, Anuradha and her assistant lived and breathed Hyderabad’s history to make City Museum possible. Anuradha grew up in Hyderabad and after her schooling, pursued architecture in Britain. In 2005, she completed her post graduation in architecture from the Edinburgh College of Art. Hands-on experience through coveted projects followed. “I was in my mid-20s when I was climbing up the Palace of Westminster, and the Choir House within the Canterbury Cathedral Precincts for conservation work. I am lucky to have got such projects so early in my career,” she recalls.

She spent nearly a decade in Britain, punctuated by a year-long work experience in Ahmedabad. Working on conservation and heritage projects in UK is different from working in India. She says, “When abroad, your role as an architect is defined. Here you have to work from scratch. But I am glad I returned. It was fascinating to work on the galleries at Chowmohalla and then for City Museum, through which I learnt so much about Hyderabad.”

City Museum is called so for a reason. These galleries trace the growth of a civilisation, giving the layman a perspective of how Hyderabad evolved over centuries. “We didn’t want a museum that would be boring or dictatorial, giving out historical facts. We wanted to make it interesting and split up the galleries into different sections — transport, art and culture, crafts, textiles, science and technology, jewellery, medicine, cuisine, architecture and so on,” she says.

To do this, Anuradha and her assistant had to wade through books and manuscripts in private and public libraries, National Archives of India in New Delhi, Andhra Pradesh State Archives and the library in Cambridge University. “We had to go back and forth through the information, several times,” she says. Help came in from Professor Mansoor Alam and many noted historians.

One of the walls in the gallery is adorned with maps of the city from 13th to 19th centuries. The famous rocks of the city — Mushroom rock, Hamburger rock among others — existed in the 13th century. The earliest map shows the trade route from Masaulipatnam (Machilipatnam) to Aurangabad. The Golconda Fort was constructed along this route. Colonies came up in and around Golconda Fort. Charminar and the man-made Hussainsagar lake came up later. A chronological timeline that runs above these maps outlines the prominent monuments in different centuries.

This is only the first phase of the project, informs Anuradha. There is a plan to introduce pamphlets in English, Hindi, Urdu and Telugu. “As of now, a kiosk that explains the growth of the 50 Mohallas of Hyderabad has language options,” says Anuradha. Introduction of audio guides is under consideration.

Now, Anuradha has new challenges to look forward to. In a week’s time, she will begin work on the renovation of the textile gallery at Chowmohalla Palace before she works on the renovation of Domakonda Fort in Nizamabad.

By this time, another group of visitors enters. “We have tried to highlight interesting nuggets of information throughout these galleries. If each visitor goes back remembering even one or two of these titbits, our work is done. In college days, I did a thesis on just ‘looking at museums’. A museum becomes what it is because of the people who are part of it and those who visit it,” says Anuradha.

What to expect at City Museum

The museum presents a chronological history of the city and its civilisation, dating back to 2000 B.C or 4000 years.

An orientation video of 15-minute duration introduces you to different sections of the museum and gives a brief history of the city.

A series of maps traces the growth of the area. The heritage rocks of Hyderabad such as Mushroom Rock and Hamburger Rock date back to 13th century.

A chronological timeline shows when the prominent landmarks came up, the Golconda Fort being the oldest and recognisable of them, followed by Qutb Shahi Tombs, Purana Pul, Charminar and Mecca Masjid.

The Golconda Fort was constructed on the trade route that connected Aurangabad to Masaulipatnam (Machilipatnam).

A map of the 16th century shows construction and road routes within Golconda Fort. Hyderabad was later developed as a garden suburb to the fort. Hyderabad was made the capital during the rule of Asaf Jahis.

The museum has historical reference of trade between Hyderabad and Greece (among other nations) in pre-Qutb Shahi era.

The museum has replicas of Kohinoor Diamond and Hope Diamond apart from diamond-encrusted kahwa cups gifted to the Nizam.

A farman of the second Nizam, dated 1774, shows the rates at which grains are to be sold at Begum Bazaar.

Weights and measures of mid-19th century are also part of the display.

The science and technology section discusses the first testing of chloroform in Hyderabad.

Look out for coins of Bahamani era, history of cottage industry (Bidri, Kalamkari) and arms and ammunition.

An interactive kiosk discusses the origin and naming of 50 mohallas of Hyderabad.

The highlight of City Museum is the wardrobe of the Sixth Nizam, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan. Measuring 176 feet in length, the four wardrobes (one for men’s clothes, one for women, two for shoes and accessories) are said to be the longest in the world.

The Nizam, it is said, never repeated his clothes. A mannequin made with his measurements was used by tailors to design new garments.

(City Museum is located adjacent to the H.E.H. Nizam’s Museum at Purani Haveli Palace. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Fridays. Entry fee: Rs. 75 per adult and Rs. 15 per child.)