It is easily Hyderabad’s biggest treasure. A sprawling 10ft x 10ft map of the walled city of Hyderabad dating from 1772. Nearly 250 years later, the map is slowly disappearing in one quiet corner of the city at Panjagutta. On the first floor of the Idara-e-Adabiyat Urdu in a damp airless room, without lights, is the big map stretched across a wall. Holding it together are four wooden slats, and a glass pane forms the only protection from the elements. It isn’t much of a protection as the dampness seeps inside.
“We have a financial problem. Taking care of the map is beyond our budget. Our best protection is the glass sheet,” says Rafiuddin Quadri who takes care of the institution started by his father Mohiuddin Qadri Zore. “We have scholars, government officials coming in and seeing the map, promising steps to conserve it but nothing happens. It is a cloth map with the lines drawn with vegetable dyes. The colour flaks off when it is touched. The cloth has become brittle,” says Mr. Quadri.
The map is not the only treasure. The room leads on to an atrium where countless artefacts ranging from Mughal-era swords to Asaf Jahi era paintings to Abdullah Qutb Shah’s multi-lingual farmans are mounted on walls or displayed on dusty glass boxes.
How the map landed up at the Idara is a fascinating story of serendipity and connections. Mohiuddin Quadri Zore was the foremost authority in Urdu scholarship after completing his PhD from London University in 1930. He started an association of young men to bring a literary revolution in the city. “Someone tipped off Akbar Hyderi, the Prime Minister of the Nizam who suspected a conspiracy of young men against the Nizam. Quizzed by Hyderi, my father laughed and told him about the literary work they were carrying on,” informs Mr. Quadri.
The goodwill took a concrete shape in the Idara-e-Adabiyat Urdu building on a parcel of land belonging to Mohiuddin Qadri’s wife. The building was designed by architect Fayazuddin and was completed in 1961.
The map, as well as a number of artefacts, was donated by Inayat Jung, a descendant of Mir Musa Khan known as Rukn Ud Dowla, the Prime Minister of Nizam II. The map was key to the decision to move the Asaf Jahi capital from Aurangabad to Hyderabad.
“The institution was in good shape when we used to conduct Urdu exams and the people who qualified used to get recruited as policemen and soldiers in the army. But after 2000 it was de-recognised, and now that source of income has dried up,” says Mr. Quadri.
The Hyderabad map predates the effort by Scottish soldier Colonel Colin Mackenzie of the East India Company, who created maps for the Nizam’s Dominions in 1780s. The maps were so useful for the East India Company during the Anglo-Mysore wars that he was made the Surveyor-General of India. A role which is largely forgotten as Mackenzie is remembered more for the manuscripts and oral histories he collected.