This morning, national news channels were ablaze with footage of the fire that engulfed the Secunderabad Club. During the night, a fire caused by a short circuit destroyed most of the main building of the Club.
Mid-morning, a series of apocalyptic images flooded my phone. Against the backdrop of reddened skies, towering flames and flashing lights, a pair of firefighters valiantly pointed a hose at the fire. In another, a century-old tree remained rooted in its spot as smoke billowed from the skeletal remains. With the onset of dawn, the devastation was complete. The Colonnade, the billiard room and the administrative office were now reduced to ashes. Latest reports suggest that the library and mixed living room, with hand-painted murals depicting scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, did not succumb to tragedy. Fortunately, no human injuries or fatalities resulted from this incident.
Although the Secunderabad Club is one of the oldest and most distinguished clubs in India, its origins are humble. Salar Jung I, visionary Prime Minister of Hyderabad in the 19th century, used the building as his personal hunting lodge. According to the club’s website, he offered the premises to the then British resident for his evening recreation. Located in the heart of the Secunderabad cantonment area, the Club became the focal point of social activity for the British Army. Legend has it that young Winston Churchill left an unpaid bill at the Club when he was stationed at Secunderabad as a sub.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Club entered its golden age. It was the time of glittering balls, lobster dinners and waiters in starched white. Shy, chaperoned debutantes batted their eyelashes at dashing army officers. Oldies remember Deccan Airways planes swooping down and showering them with toys on Christmas Day.
The fire had not just cost a building, but a slice of Hyderabad’s history. General Syed Ahmed El Edroos, commander of the Nizam’s army, was the first non-British president of the Club. After the union of the state with India in 1948, the victorious General Chaudhuri took up the mantle. Over the decades, much has changed in the city’s political and social landscape. The Secunderabad Club offered the city’s inhabitants a sort of continuum, a place where the old and the new met. I associate some of my earliest childhood memories with the Club. When I was two years old, I was floating in his pool in a plastic tube. In the 80’s and early 90’s it was the coolest and maybe the only teen hangout in town.
We flocked to the Club’s outdoor movie screenings and lined up at the chaat and tandoor counters.
Turning sixteen meant a license to attend the dances and use the adult library.
Thirty years later, passing in front of the cannons posted on either side of the Club’s gates has always given me the impression of coming home. The Club dated us all and should have survived us. It was the link between past, present and future. When the order of events is reversed, it is always a cause for distress.
Buildings can be rebuilt. I have been told that the Club is full of funds. I hope those in charge will preserve the colonial aesthetic of the Club.
Life has a habit of throwing unexpected challenges at us. I never imagined writing a eulogy for a place. Throughout the day, I wondered if the stone and wood that made up the Club screamed in pain as the searing flames scorched their molecules. If so, then by virtue of convenience, we are all guilty of gross negligence.
Zeenath Khan, a Hyderabadi by birth, is a writer residing in Mumbai