A child no less than eight runs up and offers a squirming caterpillar as a welcome sign as we walk up the arcaded staircase at Viqar Manzil in Prakash Nagar, Begumpet. Struggling between ickiness and hilarity though, one can’t deny the beauty of the place which had Sir Viqar spellbound centuries ago.
Built in the Indo-European architectural style around 1900, Viqar Manzil is plagued by illegal encroachments today and the view of the Hussainsagar lies hidden by a large residential complex bang opposite the haveli. “Us zamane mein Falaknuma woh lambi binocular lagake dekhte the hum logan (In those days, we could see the Falaknuma Palace using the long binoculars from here). It’s all gone now…. it’s a constant fight with land-grabbers and the government which takes up our time,” says Nawab Mohd. Mohiuddin Khan, the fifth generation descendant of Nawab Vilayat Jung Wali-ud-Daula, Sir Viqar’s second son from his second wife.
In its prime, the family estate extended up to Prakashnagar, which has dwindled to 7,560 yards now! The haveli is home to nine families, with a whopping 73 members sharing 21 rooms.
Going up the staircase, through the verandah, you enter a small hall where the family has built an additional wall to make room for the extended families. Each family has its own kitchen and portions of the house so everyone has privacy. Till recently, Mohiuddin used to live in the mansion, but the death of his father and uncle in quick succession last year led to a lurch in the family equilibrium, prompting him to shift to Tolichowki.
“The portions on the right are mine,” says Khan, pointing to a hall that used to be the billiards room. All the rooms are sparsely furnished, old rifles hang on the walls beside framed family pictures of Khan’s father and his family. The place of honour is given to a photograph of Viqar Manzil captured by Khan himself some 24 years ago.
The black and white snapshot has a Mother Teresa statue in it, “kept there for shooting purposes”. Morley fans with plywood blades have long been packed away in a corner of the house.
Passing through a cluttered kitchen where the women are preparing the meal for the day, one comes to a large courtyard with a central fountain. Surrounding it is a foyer that leads to more rooms and the cellar that’s rarely used now.
His nephews, Mohammad Pasha and Saif, play in the courtyard which was recently cleaned for an art film shoot. “We used to let out the palace for film shootings. They painted the haveli in so many colours, it’s impossible to see the original shade anymore. The roof was damaged a lot due to the trolleys they would bring in. And there are no steps to go up on the roof anymore,” reveals Khan.
The children, of course, know each corner of the house having explored its every nook and cranny looking for hidden treasures. So it’s Mohammad Pasha who leads the way as he takes us into the dark cellar below. There is a haunted vibe about the cellar and remnants of the art film shoot can be seen with film posters plastered on the walls here and there. There is a dark room on the left which was used for developing photographs, Khan tells us.
A little ahead, adjacent to the small courtyard, he shows us the old toilets used in those days. “It was all very systematic, the water would flow through the taps linked to the 1,000-gallon tank above. Jab hum chote the, tab istemaal bhi kiya hum logon ne (we used the toilets as kids). A servant used to come and clean it,” says Khan, adding, “there is nothing to beat the joys of living here, no matter how cramped it is. But it does come at a cost and selling it is not an option.
We tried repairing the leakages but it’s a big investment. Some things have survived like the Italian tiles in the bathrooms. If we clean them, they will sparkle like new,” smiles Khan. Overall, the place has a decrepit look. The family gets the house cleaned once in three months, that too when they find someone willing to take up the onerous task.
Legally, Khan’s tried everything to stop further encroachment of the property, but it’s an uphill battle. “Since we still live here, we can’t really ask the government to help maintain the property. So we are in a limbo. Kuch dinon mein yeh saamne ki zameen bhi chali jayegi….”says Khan as he looks on wistfully at the once majestic palace.
Prime minister to the sixth Nizam, Sir Viqar-ul-Umra was so enamoured by the breathtaking view from the mansion built by his lieutenant Razack Ali; that he promptly bought the palace and the adjoining land. Funnily enough, he had been invited to attend the house warming ceremony of the mansion.