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Saturday, November 11, 2000

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A grand heritage, a grand gesture

By Anita Joshua

NEW DELHI, NOV. 10. It is payback time now for Delhi's old Xaverians. Having discovered the historical worth of the grand old building within the sprawling premises of St. Xavier's School here on Raj Nivas Marg, the Delhi Old Xaverians Association (DOXA) has decided to stir memories of days gone by to mobilise resources for conserving the structure that enshrines ``the beginnings of the hotel industry in India''.

Overshadowed by concrete monstrosities that have mushroomed all around Raj Nivas Marg and Nicholson Garden and the modern school building of St. Xavier's itself stand two double-storey structures that were originally part of the Cecil Hotel complex. Built way back in 1875, Cecil arguably is one of the first hotels that came up in the country. Acquired by the Society of Jesus in 1959 to set up St. Xavier's School, the complex was recognised as a ``Heritage Building'' in 1997 by the Delhi Urban Heritage Foundation of Delhi Development Authority. While declaring the complex a heritage building, the Foundation also commended the school authorities for preserving the structure and thereby contributing to urban heritage.

But the commendation weighs heavily on the school authorities as it increases their responsibility towards upkeep of the heritage property -- a task they find uphill given the maintenance costs. Though the structure looks in good shape from a distance, closer scrutiny reveals cracks and seepages crying for attention.

And with the school authorities themselves busy modernising the facilities and upgrading the infrastructure, DOXA has decided to step in and draw the attention of old Xaverians to the heritage they took for granted during their schooling days. ``Nostalgia is what we hope to cash in on at the DOXA Annual Dinner this Saturday,'' says the Association secretary, Mr. Eugene Salema.

To jog memory in the hope of moving Xaverians enough to dig deeper into their pockets, ``vanishing heritage'' has been made the theme of the annual event. Old photographs and memorabilia have been dug out to bring people face-to-face with what was and what it is now.

Though crowded in by modern structures, the original Cecil complex lends the school a vintage air. Every nook and corner of the two buildings takes the visitor back to the aristocratic lifestyle of the gora-sahibs and memsahibs.

Part of the original complex -- which, legend has it, was out of bounds for the desis -- might have fallen victim to the demands of time, but mostly the authorities have succeeded in the battle against this eternal leveller. Not only have the wooden floors, built-in planters and windowpanes been preserved, even the bathroom fittings still bear the ``Royal Doulton, Made in England'' mark despite being in use for a century now.

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