This story takes us back to 1962. The watch-makers of Hyderabad were faced with a quandary -a major one at that- one which began with an invitation to repair the 150-year grand old British clock of the famed Charminar monument set on the east bank of the Musi river in the erstwhile Nawabi city of the south.
Often referred to as the ‘Arc de Triomphe’ of the East, the Charminar –which was built by Quli Qutub Shah in 1591- derives its name from the four minarets (towers) gracing its four corners.
Each of its four arches displays a clock which was added to its structure in 1889.
So coming back to the issue at hand, the problem arose as none of the spare parts were available, as apparently all of them were stolen from the monument which was easily accessible to one and all.
Not surprisingly, even the best of the Hyderabadi watch-makers would not dare to even take a go at the repair-work for lack of spare parts that were so difficult to procure from elsewhere.
"Most of them were willing to try their hand at fixing a couple of them and not all four. That’s when my father Rasool Khan came forward and took up the challenge. Since then he is the custodian of all repair and maintenance work related to all the four clocks of Charminar," says 66-year-old Sikander Khan with a note of pride in his voice.
Sikander who has been in this profession for the last 53 years adds: “My grandfather Wahid Khan started the 'Wahid Watch Company' in 1942 and I am the third generation to take forward the family business. My son too had learnt the trade but since his interest lay in software engineering, he is now settled in the US."
Sikander Khan at Wahid watch Co
This 150-year-old British clock which now adorns the Charminar was brought to Hyderabad from London during the reign of the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad -Mir Mehbood Ali Khan.
After the rule of the Nizams ended in 1947, all the four clocks stopped ticking as there were none to take care of its daily maintenance.
"The spare parts of the British clock which were stolen had been made of bronze. These were stolen due to sheer negligence by the authorities. My father then crafted each of the missing spares by hand with an assurance of a three-year guarantee, but these are yet to give way,” shares Sikander with a twinkle in his eyes.
The regular patrons of his shop vouch for its lasting service. 45-year-old Mohsin Ahmed Amshan a resident of the old city had this to say to The News Minute: ''I am a regular customer at Wahid Watches. This is one of the most popular watch/clock shops in Laad Bazar. They had taken on the responsibility of the Charminar Clock years ago and are till date executing the same with precision.”
Sikander however is a tad worried about the fast decline in sale of watches and clocks on the whole: "Around 50 years ago, when people didn't have the wherewithal to afford clocks at home, clock towers were the ones they depended on to keep a tab on time. But with the advent of smartphones, people have now stopped using even wrist-watches. This is a huge blow to our business. No doubt within the next ten years, all watch/clock shops will completely vanish."
Sikander Khan with one of the old alarm clock at Wahid Watch Co
The 'Wahid Watch Co' also boasts of repairing the clock at the Salar Jung Museum. His excitement for all to behold, Sikander elaborates: “There were around 352 spare parts for the Salar Jung clock and it was really difficult to remember where each part went. So I called a videographer to take shots of each part to help me identify and fix all the 352 parts, leaving no scope for error. I was given a five-day deadline to fix it. And I succeeded.”
In recognition of this family’s professional expertise, the eighth Nizam of Hyderabad Mukram Jahan Bahadur had even gone to the extent of bestowing a certificate to Sikander Khan's father which stated: “Rasool Khan is my personal and best watchmaker.”
Royal praise indeed!
"I do hope this legacy goes on. At least till I’m here, we’ll manage. All my children are settled abroad, so I don’t think they’d be interested in taking up the family business. And what with mobile phones and all, will people even know of these time-keeping machines?" rues Khan.
“The day is not far when people will prefer use-and-throw watches. Professional watch-makers like us will then only be remembered through this antique Charminar clock which we nurtured through all these years,” Sikander signs off.