Sindhi Hindu family’s heritage home in Hyderabad rescued from time

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Foreign guests used to stay at Mukhi House because there were no other houses with toilets at that time. This photograph is dated 1945 for the Winter All India Women’s Conference. PHOTO COURTESY: SURESH K. BHAVNANI

Foreign guests used to stay at Mukhi House because there were no other houses with toilets at that time. This photograph is dated 1945 for the Winter All India Women’s Conference. PHOTO COURTESY: SURESH K. BHAVNANI

After half a century, the government plans to reopen the site as a museum. PHOTO: FILE Indru Watumull and her husband Gulab Watumull leafing through photographs of Mukhi House in Hawai’i this summer. PHOTO: MAHIM MAHER/EXPRESS Foreign guests used to stay at Mukhi House because there were no other houses with toilets at that time. This photograph is dated 1945 for the Winter All India Women’s Conference. PHOTO COURTESY: SURESH K. BHAVNANI The interior of Mukhi House today. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS This photograph was taken when future prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, and his wife, visited Mukhi House. It is dated 1931. PHOTO COURTESY: SURESH K. BHAVNANI The photograph has two handwritten dates: 1921 and 1923. It appears to have been taken shortly after it was built. PHOTO COURTESY: SURESH K. BHAVNANI The exterior of Mukhi House in Hyderabad, Sindh, as it stands today. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS.
HAWAI’I / HYDERABAD: 

This story starts in Hawai’i and ends in Hyderabad, spans half a century, includes a death threat and arson, 27 heirs, Rs28 million and a happy ending. (Jawaharlal Nehru makes an appearance too, although in passing.)

This December, if all goes according to plan, 79-year-old Indru Watumull will travel from her home in Hawai’i to see her family home in Hyderabad, Mukhi House, whose building has been 95% restored after five decades of abandonment. “Every time I hear[d] of something happening in Pakistan [over the years], I’d wonder what’s happened to Mukhi House,” she told The Express Tribune at her home this summer.

Mukhi House was built in 1920 by prominent Hyderabad figure Mukhi Jethanand (see box). “Mukhi wanted a real palace,” explains Kaleemullah Lashari of the antiquities department and the one-man army who has been working for five years to restore it. Indeed, one of the Mukhi family daughters, Dharam, who has incredibly sharp memories of the place even at 95 years of age, refers to it as ‘Mukhi Palace’ and not ‘house’ as the plaque says outside.

Unfortunately, Lashari’s searches of municipal archives and interviews with the family did not yield an architect’s name. But this much is clear: The house had all the trappings of a palace. It was built in the Renaissance style, but has strong influences from art deco in the form of murals, art nouveau via the stained glass windows and the Classical in the shape of its columns. And it looks magnificent.

All Lashari had were 16 photographs to painstakingly recreate its interior. The house had been through rough treatment that coincided with the exodus of Hindus after Partition. When Mukhi Jethanand died in 1927, he left the house to his widow and two sons. In 1957, however, the family left as they were given reason to believe that they would be attacked. “One of the fellows who was interested in their agricultural land in Matiari [was behind this],” explains Lashari. The haris were used to spread the rumour that their lives were in danger.

The abandoned house was occupied by revenue and evacuee officers who set up shop there. At one point, thugs from a political party set fire to it thrice in a bid to take it over. Paramilitary Rangers were deputed to protect the site but this didn’t work out well either. “They started abusing the building,” recounts Lashari. “They would rip out a window frame and use the wood for fires during the cold.”

After the Rangers, the house was given over to the Khadija Girls High School. It was at this point that Lashari intervened. The school was relocated, prompting a slew of lawsuits. But after laying the groundwork for two years, the physical restoration began in 2009 and is largely complete today.

Lashari roped in trainees from the Benazir Bhutto Youth Support Programme who learnt about heritage and preservation in the process. They washed away many layers of paint slowly and gently to reveal traces of the murals and frescos. They recreated the designs by tracing them and then a master artisan completed the job. On Sunday, Lashari received a two-year extension on the project, whose second phase includes acquiring material, documents, artifacts and gadgets to create the Museum of Recent Past. He has just sent off an invitation letter to Indru Watumull to come to Pakistan and is excited to meet her for the first time after having been in touch over email. “[Her memories] will be very vital evidence in recreating the atmosphere [for us],” he told The Express Tribune on Monday.

Mukhi Jethanand’s 27 heirs, who include his brother Mukhi Gobindaram’s children, such as Indru, have given permission for the house to be opened as a museum to the public on the condition that if the government tries to take it over and use it for any other purpose, they will take it back.

When Indru Watumull returns in a month or so, she will be flooded with memories from when she was 13 years old. When it used to rain they’d return from school (St Bonaventure’s in her case) and have fun on the marble floors on the open verandas. “They became slippery and you’d slip and slide!” She will find the floors just the same today. The verandah too where they would sleep on rolled-out mattresses when it was too hot. She will be able to walk their length and remember how poppadams were laid out to dry there. As a child her job was to change their sides after an hour.

Perhaps her memories of the parties with butlers, huge pots of biryani and a year’s supply of rosewater will help Lashari add material to the museum. She even recalls how Nehru once visited, as a faded photograph proves. And then, there were the beautiful Muslim women who would come in their burqas for the parties, but once they took them off in the women’s section, would emerge bejeweled and breathtaking. Perhaps she will leave behind memories for many more future generations to carry forward.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2012. 

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Sahara
    Nov 27, 2012 - 10:31AM

    What a cultured family. Such culture can save pakistan.

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  • Baby ka Husband
    Nov 27, 2012 - 10:59AM

    Amazing story and well intentioned renovation of a historic home. I wish the owners a happy return and wish they would return to live here as well. Well done Lashari.

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  • M
    Nov 27, 2012 - 11:43AM

    Ah, so beautiful! Made me all teary eyed.

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  • Cynical
    Nov 27, 2012 - 11:47AM

    A story well told.

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  • Khalid Pathan
    Nov 27, 2012 - 11:55AM

    A very good gesture for which Mr. Lashri deserves commendation. All such buildings must be restored for the younger generation to see for themselves the grandeur of Sindhi culture of the past.

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  • Anonymous
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:02PM

    Picture links not working, would love to see them!Recommend

  • Noor Lodi
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:07PM

    All i can say is WOW. Amazing work and congratulations.

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  • Mandeep Vaid
    Nov 27, 2012 - 1:44PM

    Pakistan which has a history of 65 years has no significant culture besides agri-culture, some mosques or the tomb of their Jinnah. This country gradually resembles with their holy land Saudi Arabia where besides Kaaba exists nothing which is pre islamic!

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  • PARDESI
    Nov 27, 2012 - 1:48PM

    This story reminds me of my wife’s village. Its in Azad Kashmir and use to have a beautiful Gurduwara. The villagers looked after it for a long while afte the 1947 partition as their Sikh friends and they themselves used to have social gatherings in their. The place was suddenly handed over to the police, Gurduwara was not respected the viallagers just saw its destruction by the people supposed to protect the law. It was then handed over to girls school and now is boarded up. Sikhs came back and asked the Azad Kashmir Govt to return it to them but it was declined. The local big wigs are now encrouching on the land belonging to the Gurdwara.

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  • Faheem Rizvi
    Nov 27, 2012 - 5:09PM

    Great to see people in Pakistan taking pride in their heritage and making use of limited resources to restore old buildings. Also delighted to read that the Benazir Income Support Program, no matter how notorious it is claimed on the front of Corruption, has its positives, and people ARE in-fact benefiting from the funds.

    Great Work Mr. Kaleemullah Lashari, you are the true son of Pakistan!

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  • at the indian
    Nov 27, 2012 - 5:47PM

    @ mandeep vaid

    and you state this as a fact, have you been to every district in pakistan, or have you ever been here A*E

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  • at the indian
    Nov 27, 2012 - 5:49PM

    @ Madeep vaid
    have you ever been to Pakistan, or all the districts of Pakistan…did you conduct a survey ?? :S

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  • PARDESI
    Nov 27, 2012 - 6:37PM

    @mandeep Vaid. Mandeep what you are saying is very true but to be honest Muslim houses and Mosques have been destroyed or encrouched on in India. Classical example is Eastern Punjab. So both sides are bad at respecting each other’s property. And I am sure you could have presented your case in much more positive manner. Shame on us that we have not only lost culture but manners as well.

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  • PARDESI
    Nov 27, 2012 - 6:50PM

    @ mandeep atleast Pakistani community has recognized its heritage and requested a forgotten child to come home and take the property a respect which I do not see any Indian has reciprocated. So I would say we are a step ahead of yourselves but way behind in morality and common courtesy.

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  • Aziz Mehranvi
    Nov 27, 2012 - 8:12PM

    Amzzing

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  • sindhi
    Dec 1, 2012 - 11:33AM

    Partition made great loss of sindhi nation,who did build magnificent buildings in Karachi and Hyderabad their peaceful heirs were compelled to leave sindh due to partition. Lashari a sindhi son of soil.Recommend

  • Dec 2, 2012 - 2:27AM

    All over the world we have sensible people and then those who carpet bomb Dresden or North Vietnam.

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  • M. Buchele
    Dec 5, 2012 - 9:23PM

    Fascinating how the history of a country can be written in the walls of an old structure like this. Great story!

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  • politically incorrect
    Dec 6, 2012 - 6:41PM

    @PARDESI

    @mandeep Vaid. Mandeep what you are saying is very true but to be honest Muslim houses and Mosques have been destroyed or encrouched on in India. Classical example is Eastern Punjab.

    I doubt if Eastern Punjab can be considered as a classic example. It has got a history that is unique by itself when seen through the mayhem it witnessed during the partition.
    Most Muslims from eastern punjab left for Pakistan and they were replaced by the displaced Hindus from Pakistan. It caused a disproportionate demographic change not experienced in any other province of undivided India.
    In terms of land area Eastern Punjab covers a mere 2.3% having a population of only 1.5% of India as a whole.
    I would like to know,
    a) The no of Temples in Pakistan as on 14th August,1947 and the same as on today and
    b) The no of Mosques in India on the same dates.
    A comparison of increase/decrease (as the case may be) should be a good measure of the relative tolerance of religious minorities in both countries.
    In context you might find the following link useful.

    http://dawn.com/2012/12/02/many-sacred-buildings-lost-to-mafias-hindus-sikhs-in-kp-without-cremation-sites/

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