Vantage location, hoary past
The Errum Manzil, built in Indo-European Baroque style by Nawab Safdar Jung Musheer-ud-daula Fakhrul Mulk, is a fine example of how palaces can be re-adapted to present-day use. It was witness to royal banquets and festivals
HOW ABOUT building a "mansion in paradise?" Ordinary mortals can only afford to dream of it and if one dares to take a shot, he is sure to be ridiculed for building castles in the air. But a Hyderabadi Nawab sporting a handlebar moustache dared to dream and came a whisker close to achieving one, about 119 years ago.
"Errum Manzil", (Persian for "mansion in paradise") the name given to the expansive palace, off the Khairatabad-Punjagutta road, by its builder Nawab Safdar Jung Musheer-ud-Daula Fakhrul Mulk, may appear a bit pompous in sync with the times. But standing on the ground, try catching a glimpse of the imposing structure, it looks closer to one.
Rising majestically from a hillock from where one can savour a commanding view of the rapidly growing urban sprawl, the palace stands out for its Indo-European Baroque style of architecture. A style known for employing a mix of features shunned by puritans. That such a style was adopted thousands of kilometres away from the place of its birth speaks volumes of the contemporary taste of the nobility of Hyderabad.
In the days of yore, the two-storeyed palace, a listed heritage building, spread over 1,13,793 square feet was full of stucco and ornamental works, had huge state, drawing and banquet halls, over 150 rooms and was furnished lavishly with Louis XVI furniture. All this is reflected in the original cost, which according to the Roads and Buildings department's estimate, worked out to a whopping Rs. 33,41,000. A princely sum in the late 19th Century.
The palace extended up to the Administrative Staff College of India on one side, the Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences on the other, and almost till Taj Residency on yet another side that included a lake. This apart, the complex had a nine-hole golf course, a polo ground, a stable for about 200 horses and a dairy farm of 100 buffaloes and cows. Now the reason for its name "Errum Manzil" is clear. "My grandfather had a passion for building palatial mansions and had an inborn talent for architecture. With the help of his walking stick he would draw an outline of the design he had in mind and expected the engineers and the masons to give shape to it. That was how Errum Manzil was built," reminisces 90-year-old Moazzam Hussain, who was born and brought up in the palace. "He had this friendly rivalry with his contemporary, Vicar-ul Umra, the Paigah noble who built the beautiful Falaknuma and Errum Manzil was to be a perfect foil."
Quite alert for his age, Hussain has fond memories of the way the aristocracy beginning from the Nizam himself, his Prime Minister, Maharaja Kishen Pershad and the British Residents graced the palace and the royal banquets hosted by his grandfather. "Not only that, all big festivals of Hindus and Christians, apart from our own were celebrated with gusto. And one aspect I still remember was our telephone number 5."
The palace's strong European leanings is not surprising. In Hyderabad's history, Nawab Fakhrul Mulk is described as a "great admirer of the British for their character, manners and customs and the first nobleman in Hyderabad to adopt Western ways in domestic matters."
The sixth Nizam, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, treated him as a friend and took him to all major "durbars" and conferences outside Hyderabad State. He was a member of the Council of Regency when the Sixth Nizam was a minor besides being a Minister of the Police and Judicial Department.
By virtue of its vantage location and elaborate front yard, the palace was visible from a distance, decades ago. Not anymore with all sorts of structures and huge signboards occupying the entrance to the pathway leading to the palace. It was in the possession of the Nawab's descendants till late 1940s, when it was taken over by the Government and used for storing records. Later it was transferred to the Public Works Department and now the Roads and Buildings and Irrigation/ Command Area Development departments share it.
With all their key offices beginning with the Engineers-in-chief and Chief Engineers located here, the building is the nerve centre of the two departments, accommodating over 2000 employees.
A lot of internal modifications were carried out, without of course tinkering with the structure. In fact the palace looks like a crystal maze, with curved stairways, winding corridors and spacious halls partitioned leaving narrow criss-crossing passages running through one section to another. Yet it could easily be described as a fine example of how palaces could be re-adapted to present day use, key to maintenance and conservation of heritage buildings. "We feel proud and happy working in a building having a hoary past. It is so cool in summer," says G. V. Nageswara Sastry, Chief Engineer (Roads and Buildings).
"When I joined the department, 30 years ago, the area was sparsely populated and as I cycled my way up the hillock, huffing and puffing, I could even spot the buggies stationed on either side of the building from a distance. But all that is gone now. Many of the neem trees too have been cut down," recalls M. Anantha Reddy, State Architect, who occupies a corner room overlooking the landscape.
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