History & Culture

Falaknuma Palace: Turning the pages of history

View of the library at the Taj Falaknuma, Asif with glimpses of the Nizam’s dominion, a few rare books, the well carved out chairs at the library Photo: Sanjay Borra  

There’s more than the 101-seater dining table at the Falaknuma Palace that is awe inspiring. The library done in rosewood and mahogany is a place that will force anyone to pause, if only to admire the fine original polish, the furniture and the walnut carved high roof. The last is supposedly an imitation of the one at Windsor Castle.

The library is almost the size of a large banquet hall and acts as the passage to other parts of the palace including the dining area. At any point of time, if one wants to experience ‘pin-drop silence’ it is right here.

Librarian who fit

Asif Husain with the rare book

Asif Husain with the rare book  

For years the palace had no librarian because they couldn’t find the right person to do justice to the treasure trove of books collected by the Nizam’s family over several decades. That is until they found Asif Husain Arastu who belongs to the family that owned the famous A A Husain book store in Abids. So when his friend and historian Anuradha Naik pointed out the palace’s requirement at the library, Husain was delighted.

On his very first day as the librarian at the magnificent Taj Falaknuma palace, Asif Husain found a reference book on ‘How to paint grass’ by Alfred East. This was enough for the book store-owner-turned librarian Husain to asses its valuable contents. “The preface of the book read: ‘painters have technical knowledge to paint, but lack to understand nature, hence they fail to create a masterpiece,” points out Husain, adding, “All I learned my life is about books and from books. The grand library at the palace is a cache of knowledge.”

Unmatched collection

Throwing light on the contents of the library that houses over 5976 personal books of the Nizam, he says that most of the books are in English but Persian and Urdu literature can also be found in abundance. Then there are vast collections of poetry books and books translated from Urdu. The oldest book appears to be the first edition of Account of the Life And Writings of William Roberts by Dugal Stewart, a book first published in 1801. A specially designed wooden rack holds the entire volume of the first edition of the original copies of The Encyclopedia Britannica.

The library has well preserved books on travel, pets, art, architecture and poetry. So varied were the reading habits of the Nizam that it also contains an original four-volume rare encyclopedia on the dog and a reference book on gardening and landscaping. The pages of these books have turned brown but the quality and print of the paper are far superior to what paper is used today.

Some of the books with original illustrations are a dream to go through. There are detailed illustrations on books like Arabian Nights, which was Mir Osam Ali Khan’s favourite, believed to be his bedtime reading companion. Another such book is the Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson with illustrations by Harry Clarke. “Harry Clarke was an Irish stained glass artist. The illustrations in the book are on colour plates tipped on Japanese vellum,” explains Husain.

When asked to value the contents of the library, Husain smiled and cited an example, “In the library I found the first edition of The Ruling Princess and Chiefs of India — a three volume book with photos in Woodbury style of print. The Nizam VI was the first to be mentioned in this book which was published in 1903. One such book with all three volumes was auctioned in Bonhams about a year ago for ₹8 lakhs. There are many such books in the library. So it isn’t easy to put a price on the entire collection. It’s invaluable.”

At a glance

* The Loss of the Titanic: A survivor’s account by Lawrence Beeseley. This book was published 12 weeks after the ship sank. The library has the original first edition copy.

* An album of the palace by Lala Deen Dayal. The prints of these photos have survived over time and are still in their original form as they were processed using the albumen technique.

* The library measures 83.17 sq mt

* The central reading table has arabesque designs with ‘VO’ monograms at the corners. Similar motifs are seen in the magnificent coffered ceiling above. It has a large collection of rare manuscripts and books from the Nizam’s repertoire.

* VO stand for Viqar Ul Umra who built the palace. The monogramme ‘VO’ of H.E. Sir Viqar ul Oomra Bahadur is seen on the furniture, walls and ceiling of the palace.

* The book store in Abids which is shut now was originally started by Asif Husain’s great-great- grandfather who was a surgeon. He was given the title ‘Arastu’ by Nizam VI.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 12:11:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/Falaknuma-Palace-Turning-the-pages-of-history/article17366606.ece

Next Story