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BOOK BUILDING

Floods proved a blessing in disguise

D. MURALI

"When a large part of the old medieval city was destroyed, it was decided to appoint an expert to suggest measures to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy," writes Narendra Luther in "Hyderabad: A Biography"


As summer progresses, our memories of the recent floods will gradually vaporise. . The disaster had its lessons, though, be they on water conservation or town planning. Just as what happened about a century ago...

"The floods of 1908 proved a blessing in disguise. When a large part of the old medieval city was destroyed, it was decided to appoint an expert to suggest measures to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy," writes Narendra Luther in "Hyderabad: A Biography," from Oxford (www.oup.com) .

Google sheds light

What happened in 1908? Post this query to Google, and you land in a page titled 'Musi River, India' on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). Itwas known as Muchukunda river long ago, and is a.k.a. 'the river of Moses' with a tributary Esi, named after Isa (Jesus), one learns. "A narrow and harmless stream flowing through the city, but it was famous for causing destruction and loss of life when it floods," such as what happened in 1908.

A page on Hyderabad on http://uqconnect.net, the site of the University of Queensland, Australia, informs "On Tuesday 28th September 1908 Hyderabad witnessed disastrous floods of the river Musi, flowing through the city." Closer home, the site www.aptimes.com gives more info: "In one day, 17 inches of rainfall was recorded and the water level at Afzalgunj was about 11 feet high and in some other places it was even higher."

And www.aponline.gov.in narrates "The modern era of the development of the twin cities began soon after the last flood of the river Musi in AD 1908 which had shattered the life of the people living in Hyderabad. This necessitated planned development of the city in a phased manner."

Who was the expert, appointed post-disaster? Sir M. Viswesvarayya of Mysore, the great engineer-statesman, as the book on hand recounts. He submitted his report on October 1, 1909, with recommendations on preventing a recurrence of floods and also improving civic amenities.

'A spurt of planned growth' happened under Nizam VII. A City Improve Trust was constituted in 1912. "The wide Pathargatti Bazar, from the south bank of the Musi to Charminar, with shops on the ground and flats on the first floor was the first to be laid. It remains one of the widest bazaars in the country even today," writes Luther. Next was the construction of the Osman Sagar Reservoir, and Himayat Sagar. "These lakes prevented the flooding of the river Musi, but also served as reservoirs for drinking water for the city."

The State High Court was 'built in red and white stone in the Saracenic style' and is 'a fine specimen of architecture'. The designer was Shankar Lal, a Rajasthani architect. Opposite to the court was built the Osmania Hospital. Do you know that Osmania University was the first 'with an Indian language as the medium of instruction'? Or that Hyderabad was the first state in India to set up a public sector unit - the Road Transport Department?

Master plan

Visveswarayya submitted another report in 1930, running to 25 pages. It presaged the Master Plan of Hyderabad, promulgated finally in 1977, as Luther informs. "It suggested the modern city concepts of outer and inner ring roads, zoning, slum clearance, sewerage and drainage schemes, construction of markets and the like." Cost? Rs 44.7 million.

In 1930, the State Museum came up in a palace constructed in 1864, in the Public Garden. It seems the Nizam had built it for one of his daughters. "It was called 'Doll's House'. However, due to a superstition, she did not occupy the palace." A speciality of the museum, as Luther writes, is that it is the only museum in the country with facsimiles of the Ajanta paintings. "Its manuscript section includes a copy of the Quran bearing the seal of Emperor Shah Jahan."

Wikipedia's page on Hyderabad narrates that Musi river's claim to fame is its significance in the birth of the city of Hyderabad. How so? "The fifth ruler of Golconda, Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah, fell in love with a local dancer named Bhagmati. She lived in a cottage in the village of Chichlam, situated on the southern bank of Musi."

When yet a prince, he used to meet her, braving the floodwaters of Musi. They married, and the prince ascended the throne. "When the fort of Golconda became insufficient and there was shortage of water and other resources, the emperor decided to shift his capital to the village of Chichlam, and thus Hyderabad was born." Year 1591.

Three centuries later, after revitalisation under Nizam VII, the city became beautiful. "Urdu poets and men of letters who were attracted to it from all over the country called it Uroos-ul-balad - a bride amongst cities. The Nizam and his subjects were rightly proud of the new-look city..." Wish we could say that of our city too.

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