In my childhood and even up to my early teens I was a bit of day dreamer. I believed the character of Asterix did really exist. I also believed if an excavation can be made in France at the area pointed in the comic book, you may get the ruins of an ancient Gaulish village. I believed in Peter Pan and also believed there was a Never Never Land above clouds which someway is being missed by the airplane pilots! I was considered to be a kid having wildest of imagination even at the age of 14. So it was but natural for my parents to disbelieve me, if I said that I have spotted an enormous castle in the most unlikely place. However, the problem was that this time I did not dream it. I really saw a castle.
Although my hometown is Kolkata, my childhood was spent at Ranchi. In the year 1979, we were travelling by bus for the first time (and the last time) from Kolkata to Ranchi. We usually traveled by train, but at that time no tickets were available. In 1979, Ranchi was located in the state of Bihar. Now it is the Capital of Jharkhand – A state carved out of southern part of Bihar in 2000.
The journey was not comfortable, which was not surprising. At that time, there were no Volvo services around. I had some short spans of sleep during the journey. As we were about to reach Ranchi, I suddenly woke up from one such siesta. My seat was on the left side of the bus. I looked through the window; the first thing I saw was a castle! I noticed that it was huge with several turrets on the top. It was of brick colour and the only thing I could compare it to the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland. At that age, I haven’t seen any castle or fort in real life. But I have seen photographs of Disneyland Castle in my Uncle’s collection. This one had more turrets instead of spires as in Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. But it looked as much as grand like the one at Disneyland!
The visibility was for some seconds. I could see it through the gap between some trees which had surrounded it. My immediate reaction was to push up my Dad and say “Hey…did you see that Castle ?”. Not amused to be woken up, Dad said “What Castle ?” Quite excited with my new discovery I said “I saw a Castle … besides the road… between the trees…Huge one…Brick coloured.”
“So this time it is Castle” commented my Dad. “That’s a new one.” I said “Yes … a Castle as enormous like that of Sleeping Beauty’s.”
My brother joked on me “So you have moved from Peter Pan to Sleeping Beauty .. great.”
“Yes…about time too.” chipped in Dad “I was getting bored with Peter Pan”.
I could not convince them. The saddest part was that when I reached Ranchi and asked my school friends and other people in my locality – nobody could say anything about the existence of a castle in that area. The area where I had supposedly seen the castle was around 7 km from the city.It was an army cantonment area locally known as Dipatoli. The road we came through was Hazaribagh Road. It was not a common place for people to make casual visit. Even the handful who had traveled by that road denied seeing anything like a “castle”. I could not convince my dad or anybody to take me that area. From our residence at Ranchi it would have been total 13 km. I could not forget that I genuinely saw a castle and nobody believed me.
After 4 years, I completed my school education. I left Ranchi and came back to my ancestral home at Kolkata for my college education. At the time of leaving my second home town, one of my biggest regret was the non-discovery of my Castle.
I had visited Ranchi two three times after that, as my parents stayed there due to Dad’s employment. I never mentioned about the castle anymore to anyone. Then Dad was transferred to Durgapur, and my reasons to visit the city ceased to exist.
Within the passing phase of time, I completely forgot about my “Dream Castle”. I had visited Ranchi twice after that in 1995 and 2002. The first was a day trip and the second was for a busy photo shoot. On each occasion, I had no time to think about the Castle.
Enter an inquisitive personality
Last Month this year, I was chatting with an ex colleague and friend of mine over the phone. This was Subhadip Mukherjee who was a serious amateur photographer and an avid traveler.
– “Where are you now?” I asked him
– “At Ranchi” Subhadip replied
– “What ? What are you doing there ?”
– “ Doing What ? Having a nice time at my in-laws house.”
– “ Your in-laws house is at Ranchi?”
– “Sure. Didn’t I tell you, my wife is from Ranchi ?”
Suddenly my long dormant wish of finding my “Dream Castle” was awake again. I realized that all these 34 years, the wish had never died. It was merely subdued. It was not only the wish to find the desired structure, but to prove I was right. One good thing about Subhadip is he does not take things for granted and has an investigative and inquisitive mind. If he finds interest in something, he even fights logic for it.
I asked Subhadip if his relatives have heard of a castle in Hazaribagh road. I was pretty sure that by now the Dipatoli area must be urbanized and people must have noticed this structure, if it at all exists.
“A Castle at Ranchi ? As Grand as Sleeping Beauty’s in Disneyland? Wow.. Captain, this is exciting. I have visited Ranchi several times, never heard of it. Let me check it out.” said Subhadip.
He rang after one hour. “You must be talking of Ratu Palace. Right ?” – he said
“Wrong. Ratu Palace is a palace and not a castle. Plus it is on the other side of the city. When I say a castle… I mean a castle” – I replied with irritation.
“Another wild goose chase” – putting down the phone, I said to myself.I was just finishing my lunch when the phone rang again. This time it was again Subhadip.
“ Well ?” – I asked without excitement.
“ Captain, You were right!” Subhadip addresses me as Captain , God knows for what reason.
“ Why ? What…”
“ Yes. Your castle is there. I am standing in front of it. If you call it Sleeping Beauty’s Castle … it is one with a desi Indian style. That has spires; this has turrets all over it.” He said with excitement.
Now it was my turn to be excited. Over last 34 years people have said I believed a crazy dream. All of a sudden I find that it was true. It exists!
“ But there is bad news” said Subhadip
“ What? It is in ruins? That is obvious. But what is it ? And what a castle is doing in that odd area. It was quite abandoned area in my times. I checked that area in Google and it looked that lots of housing complexes have developed recently in that area.”
“ No it is not in ruins. But it is like a skeleton now. No doors or windows remains. All has disappeared long ago. And some portion of the building has been reformed. In very bad taste. The area is owned by a marble manufacturer named Motilal and he uses the building complex as his godown. The gate has five security guards. I got in with the help of my brother in law Nilesh and his friend Aerbin who is well known in the area. In fact Aerbin traced it out. If you are travelling from Ranchi To Hazaribagh, it is just before the housing complex Khelgaon.”
“Does anybody stays in the Castle ?”
“To start with Captain… it is not a Castle. It is known as Imam Kothi. It was built by one Ali Imam Saab long times ago. It is bit inside from the main road. Once there used to be lots of trees in the area. I guess you saw the castle because you saw it from an elevation… seat of a bus. All those you asked had driven by cars in this road… so obviously they could not see it…..”
He took a pause and added –
“Even now it is difficult to spot from the road unless you are looking for it. As for staying, I can see people staying inside it… some taking bath it the open. May be they are local immigrants. Guards did not allow us to get inside the building”
“Thanks a lot” I said “Get me some good snaps of the structure. Good job. I owe you a treat.”
“ Aye , Aye Captain” said Subhadip
The name Ali Imam stirred a bit in my mind. There was one Ali Imam from Bihar, as I faintly remembered. Wasn’t he someway related to Hyderabad? Why did he build a Castle…I mean a Castle like building in this area?
I started my research and by the time Subhadip mailed me the photographs of Imam Kothi, I had unearthed quite a bit of information about it. The building has been in the local newspapers since 2005.
It has lost much of its grandeur over the period of time. I could only find similarity of the enormousness of the castle with my vision of the villa as seen 34 years ago. At present it looked like a ghost of what it used to be. At night, it must be pretty scary to stay there.
Imam Kothi alias Anees Castle – The Castle in my Dreams
Imam Kothi was abandoned for long and many people considered it as haunted palace. At the time when I saw it definitely had some sort of maintenance. However, later when it was abandoned – the structure became a den of anti social elements. Also the expensive doors and windows were being stolen by the local hooligans. Then there was a murder reported too its premises. Finally the land was undertaken by a local marble trader named Motilal, who built up a gate and raised wall around it. This grand structure and its premises were converted into a Marble Godown! Worse there were modifications made too. People who stay there may be local people or families of caretaker/caretakers appointed by the Marble Merchants. The building was completed in 1932. Not even 100 years old and what a fate!
Coming to its history, the Castle was constructed by Sir Saiyid Ali Imam.Its actual name was Anees Castle. Sir Imam Ali was quite a famous man in his time. Born on February 1869 in the village of Neora near Patna, Ali Imam completed his law degree in England and was dedicated to his profession. He acquired a fame as a “case- winner” and was eventually appointed as Judge of Patna High Court in 1917.
Sir Saiyid Ali Imam also served as Prime minister of Hyderabad Deccan(1919-1922), a princely state of British India and was a law member in the Imperial legislative Council. British India conferred him the title of Sir.
Ali Imam belonged to a noble family. His brother Syed Hasan Imam served as the president of the Indian National Congress and was once a judge of Calcutta High Court. Their father lmdad Imam was a professor of history at Patna College.
The great-grandfather of Sir Ali Imam, Khan Bahadur Syed Imdad Ali, retired as a subordinate Judge of Patna, while his son, Khan Bahadur Shams- ul-ulama Syed Wahid-ud din was the first Indian to be made a District Magistrate and a District and Sessions Judge. One of the ancestors of Ali Imam was a private tutor to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
In 1911, Bihar was separated from Bengal. Sir Saiyid Ali Imam played an important role in formation of Bihar. Two years later in 1913 Sir Ali Imam took up the project to built up this huge castle like building. From whatever information I have gathered, it seems that he had dedicated this mansion to his third wife Anees Fatimah (nee Karim), whom he married after his second wife Mariam’s death.
Known as Lady Imam, Anees Fatimah was actually the daughter of one of Sir Ali Imam’s maternal uncle. It seems he was very much in love with Anees and had this awesome villa was named as “Anees Castle”. The design of Anees Castle was based on the style of castles of Scotland. Till date there is no residence or summer house of this grandeur in both Bihar and Jharkhand. It took around 20 years to complete the construction of this villa.
However, I think people stayed in the completed part of the castle as because English Officers seems to have visited this place.This three storied building is said to have 120 rooms. I cannot vouch on the accuracy of this information as Subhadip could not get a chance to venture inside the Castle. There is entrance from six sides to this villa. It is said imported marble was used for flooring of this mansion. The costing must have been around Rs 20 – Rs 30 Lakhs.
Sir Ali Imam is said to be very much devoted to his wife Anees Karim. Lady Imam was very lively and was reported to liven up any party she attended. The Castle was completed in 1932. Unfortunately Sir Ali Imam died the same year. He had earlier had made a mausoleum in the premises of Anees Castle and it was his wish that both he and his wife should be laid to peace there after their death.
Sir Ali Imam’s wish was fulfilled after his death. However Anees Karim lived longer. In fact she died just the year saw the castle – 1979. She was 78 at that time. She died at Patna and her last rites were performed there only. It seems Sir Saiyid Ali Imam had Taj Mahal in his mind when he built Anees Castle. He visualized a monument of love with two graves of loving husband and wife besides it.
Unfortunately Imam Kothi alias Anees Castle now lies as a store house of marble owned by the businessman Motilal who is least bothered about its history. Also the mausoleum has one grave where lies Sir Ali Imam. Unfortunately his vision of “till death do us part” remains unfulfilled too as the other grave is empty.
Efforts to reinstate Imam Kothi alias Anees Castle
It came in The Telegraph, Jamshedpur and Ranchi edition way back in December 16, 2005 that Sir Ali Imam Mausoleum, which has been neglected for years, will soon be renovated.
It also added that a memorandum has been signed between the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) and Birla Institute of Technology (BIT), Mesra, to develop the place into an art and culture centre.
The report mentioned that Sridev Singh, State convener of Intach, said that the plan includes conserving the place with the construction of an auditorium, a museum and a library. Mr. Singh had further added that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has offered its cooperation for the project, which will be developed on a 14-acre land in front of the mausoleum.
In this news it was also mentioned that Sridev Singh said – ‘We received a call from Askari Imam, the grandson of Sir Ali Imam, from Delhi. He requested us to conserve and develop the mausoleum. According to the plan, BIT will renovate the mausoleum while the Intach will construct a three-storied building consisting of a library, museum and an auditorium. The Centre often lends funds for the construction of libraries and museum. One of the floors may be given to some banks and the money generated from it can be used for constructing an auditorium. We will also approach the state government for funds.”
Two years later in April 20, 2007 , another news came out in The Telegraph (Jharkhand, Jamshedpur and Ranchi editions). It covered the news of Imam Kothi again. In that report it was mentioned that Dinesh Singh, who was then the state convener of Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage (INTACH) had said “We have decided to construct a heritage cultural complex near the Imam’s tomb (behind Imam Kothi). This is a Rs 1.25-crore project and we have tied up with BIT, Mesra, for it.”
This news followed with another news again in The Telegraph, Jharkhand edition, March 31 , 2008 that a cultural heritage centre is to be built in the space between the tomb and the fort at Imam Kothi. The centre would house a multipurpose hall with a capacity of 300. The total cost of the project is estimated at Rs 1.25 crore, which would be jointly borne by both the state and central government.
The report mentioned that the project is being jointly handled by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the department of architecture at BIT, Mesra. The ground floor would comprise a conference room, a library and a museum. The first floor would be used for commercial purposes while the second and third floors would consist of an auditorium, guesthouse (five rooms) and a suite.
However, as reported by my friend Subhadip nothing has been done . The photographs of Anees Castle taken by him which I have shared gives enough proof of the situation.
It is unknown to me whether INTACH is involved in the project or not. Whether they received funds is also unknown. In the website of INTACH, there is no mention of this project.
I have written a mail to INTACH on this matter, but I have yet to get a response from them.
But as for now the Grand Mansion of Sir Syed Ali Imam is in the hands of marble merchant Motilal and the status of the building is neither a monument of love or an architectural wonder, but a godown of marbles. It is actually an event for State level shame. However there has been umpteenth shameless events in that state and this only adds to that long list.
Though depressed at the situation of Imam Kothi, I am happy for one thing. My Dream Castle does exist.
35 years ago Dad was wrong and I was right!
SPECIAL THANKS :
A. Subhadip Mukherjee, Aerbin Surin, Nilesh Kongari, Smita Kongari for discovering my Dream Castle. Extra thanks to Subhadip for taking the photographs in details
B. Ayan Mullick for drawing yet another lovely sketch for my blog.
A. Eminent Mussulmans. Published by G. A. Nateson & CO, Madras , First Edition
(Reprint of this book is available published by several other publishers. Click here to check out.)
B. Mausoleum on Intach map by Joy Sengupta.
The Telegraph, Jamshedpur and Ranchi editions. December 16, 2005
C. Heritage lost in time-Hotel plans on IG plot by Arti Sahuliyar.
The Telegraph, Jharkhand, Jamshedpur and Ranchi editions. April 20, 2007
D. Centre tribute to Hyderabadi aristocrat by Arti Sahuliyar
The Telegraph, Jharkhand edition. March 31, 2008
E. A silent love story of Imam Kothi by Editorial Team Inextlive
(Hindi version : Ek Khamosh Mohabbat ki Dastan hai Imam Kothi)
Inextlive February 13, 2013