While going around the bustling shopping complex near Monda Market, one would be hard-pressed to imagine that this was a purpose-built prison at one point in time. With shop signs that say Janardhana Chary Goldsmith, Sonovision, and other assorted names for cloth stores, the illusion of an old-fashioned shopping mall is complete.
But a little detour of the horseshoe-shaped building changes the reality. Behind the frontage dotted with shop signs, interesting jali work, and stone carvings is a large room reached by a flight of stairs. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for the fact that it has tough iron grills and a hole in the roof.
The hole in the roof, though unsightly, takes us to a different period of time when the area would have been a deserted wilderness on one shore of the Hussainsagar Lake — a period when the area was an exclusive preserve of the East India Company and the writ of its commanders ran. Rowdy soldiers or captured prisoners would have been locked up in the prison.
According to folklore, the prison was built some 180 years ago and the rooms were used to lock up prisoners and the food thrown to them from the hole above. It was turned into a commercial complex after it was abandoned in 1938.
Now it is run by the Old Jail Tenants Association. “We whitewash it and take care of its clean up and we feed the pigeons,” says Srinivas Malthekar of the caretaker body as a huge flock of pigeons soar into the sky. He points out an intricate carving on the stone to prove the age of the building.
The only hall which is accessible to the public is used by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation mostly as a janitor’s room and is kept under lock and key.
There is a blue and white signage that was installed during the 200th anniversary of the founding of Secunderabad.
Among the shopkeepers, there is a relentless buzz about the building being pulled down for the construction of a bigger shopping complex teeming with parking spaces and cinema halls.
But currently, the building is the best example of reuse of old complexes. A little more effort and it can be transformed into an element of heritage tour where visitors can come, experience and understand how the landscape has changed over the past 200 years. The prison was part of the matrix that led to the creation of Secunderabad as we know it today. A little beyond the prison is the Ujjaini Mahankali Temple where Bonalu is celebrated. The temple too was built by a soldier. Place them in a context and the veneer of business is off and the tough martial undercurrent becomes evident. Our buildings and monuments tell stories. Only we have to sit down and listen or spend some time.