The Victoria Memorial Home and Industrial School at Saroornagar celebrates its centenary year
Photo: K. Ramesh Babu
JANUARY HAS a special place for an extensive palace unusually turned orphanage, tucked away in Saroornagar, not long ago an eastern suburb and now a bustling extension of the city. It was on January 1, 1903, that the "Victoria Memorial Orphanage" or more popular as "Yateem Khana-e-Victoria" came into existence, after a munificent but a convenient gesture by the sixth Nizam, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, of donating this palatial mansion for a social cause.
Fifty years later, the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru visited the place on January 19, 1953. Moved by the plight of the children left uncared and thoroughly impressed by the facilities, he showed his social sensitivity by suggesting against usage of words like "orphanage" for this or any other similar institution. The managing committee promptly renamed it to a more acceptable "Victoria Memorial Home", adding "Industrial School" later, to impart vocational education.
The Home has completed a glorious centenary again in January last year, an event largely left unsung and unnoticed in city, much like the way the mansion remained deserted in its formative years and the manner about 900 inmates are still shunned by the society.
"Funds shortage", a convenient reason cited by the IT-driven Government which otherwise spends like there is no tomorrow, ensured that there are no centenary celebrations. After all who cares and who has the time for these hapless children of the lesser God.
"We are trying to organise the celebrations this year. It is a Government institution and it is never too late", E. Laxmaiah, principal of the school says rather sheepishly.
And there is neither Nizam nor a Nehru now. The latter's observations in the visitors book, enlarged, framed and displayed prominently in the principal's room, speak of how he was "impressed and delighted by the place".
"In particular I was interested in the children who had recently come from Osmanabad". He wrote emphatically of how he disliked an institution being called orphanage. "The method of approach and atmosphere there (in an orphanage) are not to my liking. I found this place was different and children were looked after in a normal, healthy way and not made to feel that they were `orphans'...".
Fifty winters after those noteworthy remarks, the Home, - the biggest of its kind in Andhra Pradesh now and earlier in the entire erstwhile Hyderabad State comprising parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra, continues to do good work, educating and providing free boarding and lodging facility for 900 unfortunate boys and girls. A home for the homeless children and those denied parental care.
Built in 1903 by the sixth Nizam, the building housing the Home, "Mahal-e- Saroornagar", as it was referred to by some, was originally meant to serve as a palace for `His Exalted Highness', in the suburbs of the city. Like many of the palaces this one too had its own fable. When the elaborate palace was still under construction, the Nizam visited the place and soon fell sick. Considering it as an ill omen the Nizam abandoned the idea of staying in the palace. A palatial palace, it remained unfinished, unfurnished and deserted for some time, which only the Nizam could have afforded to do.
Around the same time Queen Victoria, the "first Empress of India", passed away. The then British Resident, Sir David Bar requested the Nizam to set up an institute, which could appropriately perpetuate the Queen's memory. A close ally of the British, the Nizam could not have turned it down. A `farman' was issued for completion of the building on a war-footing basis and it's christening as "Victoria Memorial Orphanage".
The palace close to the wholesale fruit market at Gaddiannaram looks expansive with high ceiling, huge halls and rooms and is preserved for its architectural and historical value, listed as Grade II building. Not long ago a prominent landmark visible from the Hyderabad-Vijayawada highway, it is now hidden behind a row of buildings and a thick green belt, raised by the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority on 20 of the 70-acre sprawling open area it possesses.
Architecturally the rectangular building is in City Improvement Board style, much like the river front structures of Osmania General Hospital and High Court, full of arches and bigger and smaller domes placed in middle and corners projecting into the sky.
The building is rectangular in shape, all of 420-feet in length, 285-feet in width and 32-feet in height. A large hall now partitioned and used for principal's room, office, library and games room, leads you to a rectangular courtyard and on to six big rooms now divided for accommodating classes from I to X. The boys and girls dormitories are on the left and right flanks of the long corridor, a feature of the building. Doors are lofty, windows have sunshades and large ventilations provided at the top of the high walls ensure adequate light in the halls and rooms. There is a mosque close to the building.
Though used for quite a contrasting purpose, the century-old palace building still looks grand and intact. The surroundings continue to be calm and it is not uncommon to hear chirping of birds even in the afternoon, despite a large market and a busy commercial complex nearby. Once inside, groups of children in blue uniform can be found either engrossed in studies, playing games or working on computers.
"I would like to study hard and become a teacher", says Manemma, who was left here by her relatives after she lost her parents. The palace has become a home for many, like her and a place for realising dreams for others. Ghousia of VIII standard is preparing to participate in National Athletics at Kolkatta and Susheela of IX standard has just returned from a State-Level Kabbadi Championship.
And in the academics, 85 per cent of the candidates passed in SSC last year. A rare example indeed of the luxury of the palace coming in handy for shaping the career of many an underprivileged child.
K. VENKATESHWARLU For feedback: email@example.com.
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