HYDERABAD: As a person brought up in Hyderabad, my loyalties are always with my city. I love Hyderabad with all its beauty and its ugliness.
When I travel around the world, whenever I see the well-preserved, beautiful monuments my mind immediately goes back to my country, which is replete with many such equally beautiful, but often neglected memorials. Our rich history and the ancient cultural legacy that we inherited pose a recurrent question. Why are we so blind to our magnificent heritage? Why don’t we value and preserve our past? Why do many of our precious monuments lie in disrepair, uncared for and totally neglected?
A trip to the Paigah Tombs in Hyderabad recently left me with mixed emotions- I was gratified beyond measure by the ethereal beauty of the place; a sense of pride filled me at the exquisite craftsmanship of our artisans, and I was sad at the present shabbiness of the once celebrated tombs of the Paigahs.
I reached Old City around 8 am to be able to capture the Paigah Tombs in the soft morning light.
Set amidst a labyrinth of haphazard concrete houses built around the once vast property, the site is now reduced to less than two acres, tucked into a narrow, congested locality. Ironically, the departed nobles now share the neighbourhood with commoners.
It took me more than an hour to gain entry into the tombs as the gate was locked and the shouts of many passers-by on my behalf failed to wake up the caretaker and his clan. I was advised to try my luck at the other gate. Accompanied by a boy of ten (holding his cricket ball) to guide me, I walked through a maze of the narrowest lanes that I have ever trodden on.
It was a brief peek into a different society, which I never had a chance to observe from close quarters. Here, goats and mother hens with their clucking brood live in harmony with large families cramped into tiny dwellings. But, a pruned lemon tree here and a fully flowered mango tree there, peeping from over the high walls, provide a pleasant relief: they are the silent companions to people behind the curtained compounds. We reached the small gate, close to the living quarters of the caretaker -- his grandchildren welcomed me with gleeful smiles.
Inside the compound, it is a different scene altogether. A fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture, the tombs present a beautiful blend of Deccani and Rajasthani styles.
The intricately designed marble interiors are exceedingly captivating; the finely carved wooden and marble jaali works are stunning. Designed differently, each tomb is unique with its distinctive style, carving and artwork. Featuring elaborate canopies and highly ornate marble fences, they are striking with the typical semi-circular Rajasthani arches.
But sadly, most of the structures are covered with a black coating, probably a result of fungus, pollution and poor maintenance. At many places, the lime and mortar plastering is falling apart and the delicately carved marble screens are broken. The black patches that eclipse the magnificent pieces of art seeped into my pictures. The camera captures all the beauty, but with the accompanying flaws - you can’t hide anything from it!
The 200-year-old monument represents the final resting places of several generations of the Paigah Nobles. Paigahs who married daughters of the Nizams were the highest-ranking nobles in the princely state of Hyderabad, after the family of Nizams. Theirs was the only noble family besides the Nizams, who were permitted to own a private army.
As I was clicking pictures, Rahmatullah (the caretaker) shared his morning repast with his little granddaughter, sitting under the pretty arches. His daughter, who was sweeping the huge corridors offered to click my pictures on my mobile.
As the matriarch presided, his progeny was engaged in cleaning, carrying water etc. He pointed out the exceptionally elegant stucco work; the unique and interesting pineapple and ostrich egg motifs; the amazing tessellations and the inlay work in marble. Being familiar with the place, he would suggest where to get the best shots.
We connected over a pink rose bush in front of a tomb (the desi variety with a lovely fragrance) and jointly deplored over the pretty but unscented bouquet roses. The huge mango tree flowered to the fullest, promising a bountiful crop this summer. The chiku tree was heavy with fruits. Birds were chirping ever so softly, trying not to disturb the gentry in their eternal sleep. It was a picture of serenity, an ideal ambience for the resting souls.
Meanwhile, Raunaq Yar Khan, a prominent Hyderabadi aristocrat and a descendant of the both Asaf Jahis and the Paigahs, dropped in to pay obeisance to his ancestors. Reflecting on the beautiful mausoleum complex he said, “I used to visit these tombs from the age of five, on 'Lalat-Ul-Qadar', the day when Muslims believe the spirits are allowed to meet their living family who offers flowers and prayers at the graves.
As I am growing older, my concern to safeguard this monument is mounting. I am appalled at the apathy of the responsible agencies towards a highly admired structure like this. Using my connections in the government, political and corporate sectors, I have decided to do my bit towards conservation to preserve our history, art, architecture, and culture.”
He moved on, to pay respects to the dear departed while Rahmatullah followed behind, with a bunch of freshly plucked pink roses, their fragrance carried around by the gentle morning breeze. I sat gazing at the water in the hauz as it reflected a perfect image of the mosque above. I turned around and looked at the tombs that reflect the glorious past of Hyderabad.
The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; blogs at www.vijayaprataptravelandbeyond