Deleting the Historic 'Osmania General Hospital'
HYDERABAD: From the Purana Pul, the soaring dome of Osmania General Hospital towers over the much more remarkable Hyderabad High Court building.
But once you near it, it is a shock.
What looked like a magnificent dome shows cracks, there are banyan trees growing out of the crevices, lower down, the facade leading to the portico has cracks and water lines running across it. The plaster is flaking off.
Well, we have been told all that. But what’s the truth?
Inside, as you step in, the stench of Indian hospitals that’s a cocktail of blood, phenyl, urine and human sweat hits you. Patients and visitors walk the pan spittle lined corridors and the elevator covering their nose with handkerchiefs as if they are walking near a garbage dump or a graveyard. Raise your head then you will have that wow moment. High above, soaring to nearly 70 feet, the dome’s inside with stained glass star patterns is a sight. As sunlight filters through it in the afternoon, even patients and their relatives stop by to raise their heads to catch the sight.
Perhaps for the last time.
The airy wide corridors, with soaring ceilings are a contrast to the buildings that pass for private hospitals in Hyderabad. But a walk to the toilet can make you throw up.
“Toilet ki yellali ante narkam (thinking about going to toilet is hell),” says Narsaiah after spitting out a wad of beetle juice near the lift. He has has come from Kothegudam for his relative. Behind the building with flanking wings, families of patients carry on their lives as if this was their home. There are people cooking, washing, drying clothes and talking as cats and dogs scamper about. They have even set up clothes lines to dry their laundry.
When was it last painted? “Don’t remember,” says a nurse near the Hospital Superintendent’s office. Like a beggar who inherits a palatial mansion and doesn’t know how to take care of his house, the building appears completely gutted.
The plans to demolish and replace it with another concrete replica along with four other skyscrapers looks logical enough for the patients and the doctors who have to function and use the premises.
But what about the city as we know it? Can Hyderabad afford to erase a landmark like the Osmania General Hospital?
The OGH was concieved after the big flood of September 28, 1908. Roped in by the City Improvement Board was well-known architect Vincent Jerome Esch, (FRIBA), whose experience ranged from overseeing and executing the construction of Victoria Memorial in Kolkata.
For Hyderabad, he conceptualised what he called ‘Pure Mogul style’, but was a blend with variation of domes from the exuberant Qutb Shahi, mixed with Rajasthani elements of windows and the smooth lines of Mughal architecture. We called it Indo-Saracenic Style. And the buildings came up in quick succession: Hyderabad High Court, finished in stone with lapis lazuli blue tiles on top (now it has been painted red), the City High School (now a college), and the Railway Station at Kachiguda. The Hyderabad Public Works Department absorbed Esch’s style elements and we had the Asafia Library (now called the State Library), Jagirdar School (we call it Hyderabad Public School) and Town Hall (now we call it Telangana Assembly). The buildings are remarkable for the uniformity of style at the same time with variations showing the purpose for which they were built.
The buildings show the transition of the city from an elitist Nizami culture to a city with modern aspirations. A city where royal snootiness was giving way to a more democratised set up. When these clutch of buildings were completed in 1921, for the first time, the palatial structures which looked like palaces were open for ordinary Hyderabadis. The buildings became organic to the skyline of Hyderabad, integrating its life source Musi, blending in the earlier Chowmahalla Palace, the inspired Afzalgunj Masjid, and the colonnaded Residency Building which inspired a number of Nizam’s courtiers including Paigah nobles like Khurshid Jah and Viqar ul Umra. The transition was smooth and Hyderabad had something that Vincent Esch called:
“All these great developments led up to the natural development of a Hyderabad School of Architecture and many beautiful works have been designed and built by Hyderabadi architects, notably… the Town Hall… the degnified Museum nearby and the Asafia State Library.”
In 1942, Vincent Esch wrote:
“Let us keep Indian Indian, and let her architecture flourish as it did years ago”
The plan of skyscrapers will sure have the old man spinning in his grave.
Once the Osmania General Hospital is torn down, the fate of the centuries old tamarind tree will also be in question. The tree has a nailed placard announcing: “This tree saved 150 people during the great flood of Moosi in 1908”. Interestingly, the garden front of the OGH was a 16 acre garden. Imagine a glass and concrete structure that would soar to 30 storeys in the air. Looking down on the High Court, the Salar Jung Museum and the Charminar. It would be wow moment for someone else, but for Hyderabadis, the Musi river front nor will the city be the same again.
Can Hyderabad save its Osmania General Hospital? How?
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