Saving the Queen


Most of Vizag’s older residents lived in what we called “One Town” because the pin code for that area was simply “1”. While most parts of the old town were densely packed it also had several gracious old buildings like the recruiting office and officer’s accommodation that stood under the shade of massive banyan trees. The trees spread like an aerial city with sturdy roots supporting stout branches for hundreds of feet in all directions.

Soldierpeta
As the area was home to British soldiers it was also called “Soldierpeta”. In the 1960s and 70s when the port expanded its operations, coal and iron ore dust spread like a cancer over that part of town. Nice big structures were razed to the ground and slum like quarters sprang up everywhere. No one bothered about aesthetics and elegance; someone just pointed at the ground and simply said “build here” and that was it. Consequently from being the pulsating heart of Vizag it went to a scar that no one bothered to heal.

The character of Old Town
For those of us who have not been to the old town of Vizag it may come as a surprise that a large community still live in the lanes and by lanes of our historic old town. There are still buildings and places that are steeped in history. In fact, even today, our old town has more character and history as the rest of Vizag put together. That is why it is unfathomable why our local administration and we the people who are so proud of our city ignore our history and let it all go to seed.

Steeped in history
Vizag is steeped in pre-history, ancient and more recent history. To the north is the Erra Matti Dibbalu – the red sand dunes that have stood undisturbed for eons and only recently is threatened by the demands of the expanding city. Along the coast and inland too we are surrounded by ancient Buddhist monuments that were covered by earth for two thousand years and are emerging recently to the delight of historians and archaeologists. While we have several old temples in and around Vizag; there are also a few heritage rich buildings in our city that are reminders of our recent colonial history.

Heritage buildings
We are lucky to have old schools, colleges, churches, cemeteries and public buildings all over our town.  The old cemeteries of Vizag speak to us through grave stones from hundreds of years in the past. Cemeteries like the Regimental lines cemetery (1802-1860) at Jagadamba Junction and the Old European cemetery (1699-1833) cloistered among the densely built areas in Old Town. Buildings like the Town Hall (1904), the Free Masons Hall (1912), Reading Room (1917), Kurupam Market of 1914 (now destroyed in November 2013 by GVMC and the Endowments department, in an insane act reminiscent of the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan). In the heart of Old Town are the Queen Victoria statue pavilion (1904), St. Johns church (1846), Queen Mary’s School (1750) and St. Aloysius school (1847). Even older is the Masjid and Dargah in Kota Veedhi area which could date back to the 12th century.

 Save our queen
This article is about saving a queen. While all old structures are an inspiration for heritage and history lovers, the Queen Mary’s School in Old Town stands out as a very special building.
This building has served Vizag for more than 250 years. Sometime in 1873, this structure housed the Collector’s Office before the office moved to its present location. Prior to 1873 it served as an arsenal to store guns and ammunition during the tenure of the East India Company. During its history the building also served as the Harbour Office and for some time as a Medical School. Interestingly in 1913 the school housed young widows who had dropped out of school, they were brought back to school and given a handsome stipend of Rs. 15 a month to continue their studies, a very forward thinking social objective for that time. Since 1952 the building housed the Queen Mary’s School which now has more than 1,100 girl students.

Queen Mary’s
The school is at the Southern end of Vizag which was then the heart of the town. APSRTC busses treat this as a terminus. They turn around in front of the school pause briefly before making their rounds again. From outside one can see the damaged tiled roof. Parts of it are protected by bitumen sheets but there are several tiles missing. The building was white washed a long time ago and is now disheveled and dull. A couple of cannons probably kept behind from the East India Company armory are embedded into the ground on either side of the gate. A makeshift shop selling snacks caters to the students just outside the gate. Looking up you see the Visakhapatnam Port Trust’s rumbling conveyor belt passing over the building ground. This belt is a reminder of how pollution can destroy a city.

In imminent danger
It is a two storied L shaped building made of bricks, lime mortar and wood. The ceiling of the ground floor which is the flooring of the 1st floor is a Madras Terrace a way to make slabs with wooden beams and flat thin clay bricks. The first floor tiled roof is supported by King post wooden trusses, struts, rafters and purlins.  Though the wood has withstood the passage of time, some purlins and rafters have now given way. As recently as five years ago the first floor was in partial use but now it is abandoned. The classes, principal’s office, staff rooms, library with rare books are all in the ground floor. Due to the reduction of available floor space the children’s classes are cramped. During rains the entire abandoned upper floor is flooded and water flows through the damaged flooring into the ground floor. It is remarkable that the sturdy old brick and lime walls have survived to this day but after Hudhud and the recent rains in the plaster on the upper floor walls have fallen off and the flooring of the 1st floor has been damaged extensively.

Who will save the queen?
Generally a venerable old building with a hoary past such as this would be respected and maintained by the city. But no one wants to fund the repairs passing the buck from one to the other. The city finds crores of rupees for beach beautification and gala meetings for politicians but they do not put aside a measly Rs. 50 lakhs to repair a building that is the symbol of Vizag’s heritage. Even from a safety point of view the building needs urgent repairs. A few months ago we heard that the Vizag Port Trust had agreed to give a grant of Rs. 10L to repair the roof. But six months from then nothing has been done.

Finding the money

There is confusion and sloth in the matter of who will repair the building, the R&B department? GVMC? The department of education?  We have an education minister who is highly visible in Vizag but obviously the school has missed his attention. Every day we see corrupt officials getting caught with crores of bribe money, we wonder why a small portion of this seized money cannot go into rejuvenating the Queen Mary’s school and other heritage buildings in Vizag. It would be poetic justice.  Can’t we skip one political meeting and pass on that money to the school for repairs? Vizag’s heritage buildings appear to be abandoned by all; we the public should rise up and ask our administration to give us back our heritage. 



Comments

Unknown said…
Namaste Im a vizag resjdent too, glad someone else is just like me worrying about saving thw historical things in our city, i would like to explore the places and buildings, im just waiting for a one decent friend who have honest heart and respect towards the history, kindly reply me what you think,
hatangadi said…
Thank you Sandhya Rani, yes there are many of us who care for our heritage and our city. Please let us be in touch. My email id is sohan.hatangadi@gmail.com
Pranay vivek said…
Here I'm Vivek I support that who r working in thing project I want to learn about this city actually I'm an antique lover it meant constructions arts vehicle s every thing I'll help u
Here is my I'd pranayvivek.thondangi@gmail.com
9441598045

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