Enduring legacy

Delve into the history of the establishment of Osmania University and its library with CE
Library of Osmania University
Library of Osmania University

HYDERABAD: The popular photograph of young men wearing black sherwanis and Faiz caps, holding books in their hands and stepping down the stairs of the majestic Arts College of Osmania University is a conversation starter among heritage circles on the glorious education system of Hyderabad state. However, the sherwanis and Faiz topis are gone, and so is the medium of instruction in Urdu, the proposal for which was also lauded by Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore. All that is left is the magnificence of the buildings that continue to house thousands of students even after decades.

A type-written copy of the 1918 letter Tagore wrote to the then Prime Minister of the state, Sir Akbar Hyderi, is framed and hung in a small museum in the University library. “It is a problem for the solution of which we look to our Native States….your example will be of great help to those who cry in the wilderness despised by the prudent,” he wrote. This museum, called ‘Vision of Osmania’ houses some of the precious documented plans and models of the University campus, with the Nizam’s farman hung right at the entrance, both in paper and marble.

CE tagged along with INTACH and the Deccan Archive Foundation to explore the museum and the library.

Ernest Jasper, a Belgian architect, made the plans for the university campus in 1933. The designs were initially rejected by the Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan, citing the reason that it does not reflect Hyderabad. With a little help from the state architect Zainuddin Khan Yar Jung, construction started in 1934. It took another few years for the Arts College to be made, which was finally finished in 1941.

The library was built on the most elevated point in the area, allowing a beautiful view of the Botanical gardens surrounding it, the magnificent Arts College and other buildings. Inaugurated in 1963 by then President of India, Dr S Radhakrishnan, it was recently renamed Bharat Ratna Dr B R Ambedkar Memorial Library.

It contains some of the most elaborate works of translation that started in the 20th century, wherein books were translated from English to Urdu, pertaining to various disciplines in languages, arts and sciences. Some of these earliest translated works have been kept in the museum along with a description of the Translation and Compilation Bureau, which came into being immediately after the farman. It collaborated with various departments and during the process, over one lakh new technical terms were coined in Urdu to serve as equivalents of English terms.

As we enter the museum, the concrete replica of the Arts College takes centre, with walls decorated with pictures of the dignitaries associated with the establishment of the university. While the Arts College took Jasper’s designs and altered some elements, the library building never got to be what Jaspers had thought in his mind. Two pencil sketches with elaborate and intricate work reflect the infiniteness of his imagination.

However, Mohammed Fayazuddin Nizami finally got the honour of constructing the spacious building. “Buildings like the Salar Jung Museum, Ravindra Bharathi and Gandhi Bhawan are all credited to him. He was sent to Oxford to pursue his Masters in Architecture,” said Md Sibghatullah Khan from TDAF.

Mostly built in granite, the floor and even the pillars of the library are covered in terrazzo, which is cement with stone chips in it. One can utter comfort and scale in one sentence while observing this structure, thanks to the huge columns, high ceilings and long windows (that match the height of the walls in the reading room that make it well-lit and ventilated).

Right beneath the reading room, dingy halls avoid exposure of old books to direct sunlight and air.

Chief Librarian, Dr AS Chakravarthy explains how the university has digitised most of its texts: “The library boasts of a collection of 5,83,380 books. It has about 75,540 journals and over 14,000 theses and dissertations submitted by the students of Osmania University. We also have about 6,800 palm leaf manuscripts.”

With over 45,000 digitised documents, including books and manuscripts, Chakravarthy says the library has provided digital access to students and researchers through the website, which prevents old books from risk of being mishandled.

We explored the various sections of the library: Languages, Humanities, Sciences and other disciplines. While the books are arranged as per the Dewey Decimal system, says Chakravarthy, there is also the old cataloguing system outside the reading room. The Theses, CERL & UN Sections on the first floor were also visited during the walk, however, the lack of proper maintenance of these sections was visible.

P Anuradha Reddy, convenor of INTACH, pointed at two heritage awards the organisation had conferred on the Vision of Osmania and Arts College in 2006. “I am a product of the university as well, albeit the Women’s College. We used to come here for English classes. It was the first university that had a medium of instruction in Urdu with English as a compulsory subject. We were also witness to the agitations that happened during the initial Telangana movement. It is of utmost importance to recognise the contributions of the university, which came into being by the efforts of the last Nizam,” she said.

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The New Indian Express