Hyderabad: The iconic Secunderabad Club in Hyderabad’s twin city, one of the oldest in the country, lost a major part of its main heritage building to a massive fire early Sunday. The city woke up to see the more than a century-old establishment in ashes, taking along with it precious chapters of history.
While no casualties were reported according to Hyderabad City Police Commissioner CV Anand, an internal message sent to club members by the management – accessed by ThePrint – said that the ‘Colonnade Bar’, billiards room, upstairs ballroom, main reception and staircase leading to the first floor were damaged by the blaze.
Anand said that the extent of the damage is yet to be ascertained. However, club members who spoke to ThePrint on condition of anonymity pegged it at around Rs 35-40 crore.
The cause of the fire is under investigation and loss of property is under assessment. The internal staircase of the building, which was made of wood, was completely destroyed, the Telangana state fire services department said in a statement Sunday.
Anand also pointed out that the premises suffered maximum damage because thousands of square feet of area affected by the fire was primarily built of wood.
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From hunting lodge to heritage club
Sprawled across a lush 22-acre campus in the city’s Cantonment area, the 144-year-old club was established by the British in 1878, according to the club website. Before it became a club, it served as a hunting lodge for Salar Jung I (Mir Turab Ali Khan), who served as prime minister of the erstwhile Hyderabad state during the Nizam era.
“It is said that Salar Jung used to visit the British Resident (a East India company representative who dealt with relations between the British and rulers of princely states) once a fortnight and this place was used as a pit stop. The journey was on a horse, so he used to relax here. He used to come to the club in his authentic attire during his ruling and change into European-style clothes before he would resume his journey to meet the Resident,” renowned columnist Mohan Guruswamy told ThePrint.
“The British then requested Salar Jung to make it into a proper club for their officers etc., as his visits were quite rare. So, this club is a very rare combination of the openness of the architecture during Salar Jung’s time and then the English makeover once a club was established. I don’t think I have seen anything like this anywhere in the country,” he added.
A member of the prestigious club for around 50 years, Guruswamy said he has been a regular visitor since childhood, as his father was a member as well.
During British rule, the Secunderabad Club was known as the ‘Secunderabad Public Rooms’. With the increasing presence of British officers in Hyderabad for administrative purposes, the Secunderabad Public Rooms were then turned into the ‘United Services Club’.
The establishment’s century-old main club house was given heritage status by the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority, according to the club’s website.
Lavish facilities, for members only
The members-only club has a wide range of lavish facilities including a swimming pool, air-conditioned bars, dining halls, banquet halls, a petrol pump, its own super market, a cricket field and vast lawns. It even has its own dedicated sailing annexe, something only a few clubs across the world can boast of.
It also has five-star accommodation that includes ‘heritage suites’. A colonnade patterned in the old British style, a spacious ballroom and an open-air theatre that regularly screens films are some of its other facilities, according to the club website.
Up until 1947, only British citizens were allowed to be club president, and only a handful of high-ranking Hyderabad nobility were offered membership.
Today, it has 8,000 existing and over 30,000 potential members. Existing members include military officers, bureaucrats, diplomats, police officers, erstwhile royalty, scientists and businessmen.
“Descendants of Salar Jung are automatically members of the club, even today,” Guruswamy said, adding that women were not given membership to the club till the early 2000s.
“The club reflected the transition of power – from the British to General Choudary, a commander of the Indian Armed Forces. It was a social club and the membership was a reward for achievements. Now it is more like a hereditary club. Membership gets passed on through generations,” he further said.
Anuradha Reddy, convenor of the Hyderabad chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), and member of the club, said she has been a regular visitor for the past 70 years, and spent a lot of her childhood years there.
“Sadness, tragedy. Whatever the reason may be, INTACH will stand by restoration and conservation of former glory,” she told ThePrint.
What was lost
One of the damaged properties, according to the club management, is the billiards room — home to the oldest snooker table in the club, dating back to 1892, and two more that were added subsequently. The 1892 snooker table had eight sturdy legs with a frame on top with six holes, according to the club website.
“It’s all reduced to ashes. The billiard room had snooker tables from the colonial era and we maintained its aesthetic with such care. All that’s destroyed. Century-old history and heritage is lost. Those tables are priceless and rare in today’s world,” Adnan Mahmood, a member since 1976 and a legal advisor to the club, told ThePrint.
Another colonial-era property that was gutted was the ‘Colonnade Bar’, which had a collection of regimental plates, antique animal head trophies etc, according to club members.
Women were not allowed into this bar, even as dependents, till around the early 2000s, Guruswamy told ThePrint. Owing to its history from the British era, it was mostly considered as a place for men to relax and have drinks, said a club member who did not wish to be named.
The ball room, which boasts of colonial architecture in wood, was also damaged in the fire, the management said.
What was saved
The heritage club’s 100-year-old trees are intact. A 100-year-old wooden table that was restored and is used by the club’s 1885 printing press to print menus and stationary, an iron that was brought from England a century ago, a pendulum clock that was made in 1892, century-old billiard balls (the blue ball discoloured to green, the white one to yellow, according to the club website) escaped the fire.
A library, with a British-era wooden trellis and atrium work, that is home to rare and precious books including 32 volumes of ‘Birds of Asia’, is also safe.
Heritage committee should be pulled up: Opposition
Marri Adithya Reddy, an opposition leader in Telangana and son of senior Congress leader Marri Shashidhar Reddy, blamed the committees constituted by the state government for preserving and restoring heritage.
“The committees should be pulled up. What’s the use of declaring heritage, showing it on Twitter, but not following any protocols to check safety and heritage protection protocols?” Reddy told ThePrint.
Arvind Kumar, special chief secretary (urban development), said that the fire department had been asked to check if the structure followed precautionary protocol.
“It’s very unfortunate. It’s managed by Secunderabad Club. Have asked DG Fire services to ascertain the following 1. Were there appropriate fire protection measure installed? 2. Was there a fire NOC from appropriate authority? 3. Was the safety audit in place? (sic)” he tweeted Sunday.
It's v unfortunate. It's managed by Secunderabad Club.
Have asked DG Fire services to ascertain the following
1. Were there appropriate fire protection measure installed?
2. Was there a fire NOC from appropriate authority?
3. Was safety audit in place?@KTRTRS@GHMCOnline https://t.co/vmSWjC03LH
— Arvind Kumar (@arvindkumar_ias) January 16, 2022
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
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