Thursday, January 1, 1998

A Valet, a Shop, a Bazar

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad: 35

A Valet, a Shop, a Bazar
By Narendra Luther

It is not only the rulers who make history. Sometime their humble servants also become legends.

One such person was Albert Abid. He was a Jew and a valet of Mir Mehboob Ali Khan, the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad (b: 1866, d: 1911). In course of time, he became quite rich and so he set up a shop where the present Palace Talkies and the Bank of Baroda are located. He called it ‘Abid & Company’. It was a big building in the Roman style. The central portion of the gallery which was semi-circular was supported by 29 twin-pillars. A number of steps led to the main building. It was the first shop – and for a long time – the only one in that area and so the place came to be known as Abid Shop. This shop was lit up in 1887 at the time of the jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria’s reign. Gradually some more shops came to be built around it and in course of time the area from Chirag Ali Lane to the trijunction came to be known as Abid Road.

In course of time it became the most fashionable shopping mall of the city. It also came to be known variously as ‘Abid Shop’ or simply ‘Abids’. It is a road running from Gun Foundry to the Nehru Statue intersection. After the building of the Residency in early 19th century, it came to be considered part of the new emerging city. Some distance from the Gun Foundry is ‘St. George’s Church’ built in 1867. The Grammar school is also there.

Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam was the first to shift his residence from the old city close to the Abid area. His residence was called ‘King Kothi’. He used to visit his mother who stayed in the Purani Haveli every afternoon. He used to go via the Abid Road, take the road to Gowliguda and then proceed to the old city. That area was under the Residency which had its own police. The Residency police used to stop all traffic when the Resident’s car was passing. Once, when the Nizam was making his visit, his car was stopped by the Residency police. He got upset by this and in order not to cross the Resident’s territory, had a new road constructed. It went straight from Abid road to Afzalgunj. It is now called Jawaharlal Nehru Road. The Ramakrishna Theatre, Bachelors’ Quarters and many other buildings stand on this road today.

In course of time Abid Road became full of new fancy shops. People from distant parts of the city used to come for shopping there.

The road, which leads from Abid Road to the Nampally Railway Station called Nampally Road, had also the residence of Sarojini Naidu. It was called the ‘Golden Threshold’. Later on it was taken over by a restaurateur and run as the ‘Neo Mysore Cafe’. When the University of Hyderabad was established in 1980, this restaurant was taken over by the Government and after some restoration work the 'Golden Threshold' became the city office of the University of Hyderabad. It now houses the school of Performing Arts, Fine Arts and Communication of the University named after Sarojini Naidu.

After the integration of Hyderabad with India, a statue of Pandit Nehru was put up at the crossroad opposite the original Abid shop. It was made into a traffic island full of greenery around the statue. But due to increase in the traffic the island was removed and now only the statue remains. By the side of the statue there used to be the main post office of the old Hyderabad State. A new building was constructed in 1983 to house the General Post Office of the city. By the side of that the Municipal Corporation constructed a multi-storey parking lot. At the St. George’s Church and the Grammar School, the road bifurcates - one going to the ‘King Kothi’ – residence of the last Nizam. On the way is the Taj Hotel. At one time it used to be the tallest building in the area and one could have a special meal for Rs.2. Now the same meal costs over Rs.20 and the building is dwarfed by many other buildings close to it. The other road goes towards Fateh Maidan in Basheerbagh and from thereon to Secunderabad. On the Abid Road there also used to be an old-type restaurant called ‘Three Aces’ which has since been demolished.

Now Abids has undergone so much change and the traffic has become so congested that first it was declared one-way road and one had to pay for parking. Recently parking has been entirely prohibited and all vehicles are required to be parked in the Municipal parking lot.

Lately, a number of new shopping areas, even more glamorous than Abids have sprung up in various part of the city. But still the hangover of the old days remains and it has an attraction of its own. Abid Road is also been modernized and some of the old shops have been renovated or demolished and new shops have come into their places. However, the Abid shop, Abid Road or simply Abids remains one of the landmarks of the city and perhaps next to Charminar it has become a symbol of the ‘new’ city which is also now becoming old.

Abids also is a pointer to the changes overtaking the city and underlines the fact that nothing remains modern forever. Times changes and along with that fashions and areas which were once new and most fashionable gradually become old and decrepit. Abid Road now stands at that threshold and in two years will enter the second century of its existence. Like Connaught Place of Delhi, a number of people avoid going there and do their shopping in numerous other smaller markets and malls all over the city. But inspite of all that Abids still remains the ultimate shopping bazar of the city.

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