The building now known as General Kothi was constructed in Nawab Saadat Ali Khan’s time (1798 to 1814). The first resident was Shas-ud-Daulah, the Nawab’s eldest son and the general of his army. It seems to have got its present name during the time of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (1847 to 1856). His chief of the army, Hashmat Ali, who lived in this building, liked to be known as a General, giving rise to this name, and its variant, Jarnail Kothi.
The General Kothi is now undergoing restoration and the museum at the Residency will be moved here once the work is completed. This is being called an example of a new idea called adaptive re-use of ancient monuments. When you think about it, the first example of this idea which comes to mind is the building right next door: the palace complex called the Chhattar Manzil which used to belong to the Nawab.
In the days immediately after independence, the complex was given over to the Central Drug Research Institute. In retrospect one wonders whether it is wise to re-purpose an important historical space, without providing an adequate budget for conservation. The CDRI gets its funding through the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, under the Ministry of Science and Technology. However, conservation funding is usually channeled through the Ministry of Culture. Looking at the delapidated state of the Chhattar Mazil today, one wonders whether its conservation has fallen foul of the usual turf lines between ministries: Culture does not own it, and Science and Technology budgets cannot be used for conservation.
The restoration work in the General Kothi brings up questions of its own. The inside looks beautiful. The surkhi colour of the walls looks authentic, the details on the arches are lovingly done. But the bricks stacked up for the work are modern. A building of this age may have been originally done in lakhauri brick. I walked around to the back and found an exposed part of the exterior which still has older plasterwork. In the parts where the plaster has fallen away, the bricks visible are modern. How can this building then be as old as the early 19th century? Was there an earlier restoration which I could not trace?
I’ll love to come back here when the work is complete and the museum of the 1857 war has moved here. I hope that by then there will also be a small exhibit on the history of this building which answers the questions I now have.