I came to live in Hyderabad in 1992, a few months after I returned from the London School of Economics (LSE). Economic reforms had just been unveiled in India. Perhaps no other city adapted itself so fully and quickly to the liberalised and globalised phase of the Indian economy as did Hyderabad. Today, you will find the icons of new economy dominating the city’s landscape. Interestingly, before that Hyderabad was quintessentially a command economy city with a large number of public sector industries and government R&D establishments around its core. Before that, it was a city that personified a feudal-aristocratic ambience with an unequal mix of high culture and gruesome backwardness. Hyderabad thus has the uncanny ability to reflect and own the essence and drift of the political economy of India. In many ways, it is a microcosm of our country.
My relationship with the city started in the early 1960s when I was a toddler. And my family’s bonds with it began even before it became the capital of the larger Telugu state, Andhra Pradesh. Two of my uncles married Hyderabadis and one of my aunts came to live in our native small coastal town. So I had a taste of Hyderabad at home even before I came to the city. My father’s responsibilities as a legislator and subsequently as a minister brought him to Hyderabad for long periods. That’s how my trips to Hyderabad began and became quite frequent. It was love at first sight with Hyderabad for me. I can’t say that even about Paris, the other city on the globe that I like so very much. Maybe because somewhere in my consciousness I knew that the Charminar was mine in a way the Eiffel Tower was not; Salarjung Museum was mine in the way the Louvre was not.
The imposing Charminar, Salarjung Museum (one can’t forget the clock that has a small toy man come out to strike the hour bells), the historic Golkonda Fort, the zoo, the Tank Bund, Gandipet lake, Naubat Pahad, Assembly building, the majestic state central library, they have never ceased to fascinate me. Every relative or family friend who came to Hyderabad did this sightseeing circuit. I seldom missed a chance to accompany them and see these places again and again.
Life in Hyderabad those days was very laid-back. Shops never opened before 11, there were hardly any motor vehicles on the roads. Cycle rickshaws and bicycles carried people around. We had double-decker buses (no child would ever agree to sit on their lower deck). When autorickshaws came, they were a novelty. Their starting fare was just 5 paise. They were a respectable compromise for the middle class, between cheap city buses and expensive kala-pila taxis. Even in the 1960s and 1970s Hyderabad was still transitioning from the charming old-world phursat to the time-keeping rooms of the public sector-dominated socialistic pattern of society.
Telugu cinema was still made in Madras, most newspapers still printed in Vijayawada. People came to Hyderabad from coastal, Rayalaseema and Telangana districts only to move their files in the state secretariat. They promptly went back home after business was done. Even MLAs had no permanent establishments in the city; not even those from the Telangana region. The advent of public sector industries changed things. They started pulling people into the city from every corner of the state, and even the country. As late as 1981, there was paddy cultivation in Punjagutta, a central place in the city. A concrete carbuncle of a busy commercial complex stands there today. The onset of liberalisation in the ’90s took the city to a different level altogether. The hectic pace of economic activity has rendered the city unrecognisable.
People came to Hyderabad from many parts of the country. But they came knowing that they were coming to a different part of the country. But when people came from coastal and Rayalaseema districts to Hyderabad, they came in with a different consciousness. They came in the same way as people from the Telangana districts. They too thought they were coming to their state’s capital.
I came to Hyderabad because it is my state’s capital. I would have gone to Visakhapatnam or Kurnool much the same way had any one of them been my capital. But today politics wants to tell me that this is not my city. Politicians tell me that I too can live here but as a stranger, as a visitor with a backpack. They want to liquidate my sense of belonging to this city. I have to wage a battle: a battle between my sense of belonging to the city and the politics that is threatening to deny that to me. I don’t mind feeling like a tourist in front of the Taj Mahal, in the midst of Trafalgar Square, on the Champs Elysee and admire them. But I don’t want to feel like a tourist in front of my Charminar. I am sure many people are waging a battle like me and feeling like me today. Since we have no politics, our battle is a silent one, fought in our own minds and hearts.
(Born in Narsapur in West Godavari district, political economist and policy consultant Parakala Prabhakar heads the market research firm RightFOLIO.)
Apropos Parakala Prabhakar’s This is My Charminar, Hyderabad has no natives: most of its residents are descendants of migrants from all over the country and beyond. The rulers of Hyderabad controlled most of Telugu-country, including the Telangana region. It was never the capital, as such, of Telangana. It’s no surprise that a Hyderabadi does not consider himself a Telanganaite. He or she could be a Marathi, a Kannadiga, a Telugu, a Gujarati, a Marwari and/or a Muslim of north Indian, Telugu, Iranian, Afghan, Arabic or African descent. Regionalism or sectarianism is alien to its ethos. But efforts are on to graft these petty sentiments on to this cosmopolitan city.
Anjaneya C. Reddy, Hyderabad
As a 79-year-old with associations to the twin cities since 1945, I have both been a student in Hyderabad (Mahboob College) and spent much of my working life there. I have seen the best and worst of the city. Though I now live in Bangalore post-retirement, I still retain my bonds with Hyderabad. It was refreshing to read about the city’s pleasant side.
N.S. Rajan, Bangalore
Did anyone note the tragic irony of Lagadapati Rajagopal using pepper-spray, a weapon part of a woman’s armoury, on the Speaker, a woman herself?
M.A. Raipet, Secunderabad
As a senior of 79, with associations connected with the 'twin cities' commmencing in 1945, a former student of Mahboob College, and one who has spent most of his working life there, I have seen the best and the worst of Hyderabad. I echo your sentiments about the city and though I have relocated to Bangalore after my retirement, my bonds with Hyderabad continue as I have many friends and memories there. I must say the way you have dwelt on the pleasant rather than the other side of Hyderabad is very refreshing and inspiring.
People came to Hyderabad from coastal, Rayalaseema and Telangana districts only to move their files in the state secretariat. They promptly went back home after business was done.
I too have similar experiences of accompanying my dad during once of those official trips..Its a beautiful experience indeed looking at the double deckers and over crowded market places.
@ Ashok Lal - Yes, Vizag would make a fine capital. We locals, however, are not interested in acquiring this dubious honour. Capitals mean, inter alia, the ingress of unwanted elements like VVIP's, red beacons, traffic disruptions, security restrictions and the lumpen who permeate the political landscape. Vizag is a middle class city comprising mainly the educated and law abiding middle classes. Life is peaceful and orderly. All that will change if it is made the capital.
As for alienation, nobody imposes it on oneself. It is about how others make you feel. Though Hyderabad has always been cosmopolitan in nature, aggressive political rheotic coupled with strident calls for deportation of settlers from Seemandhra has instilled fear and uncertainity in their minds. The situation is somewhat like Punjab in 1947 when some people found themselves on the wrong side of the border. The land on which you lived all your life as did several generations before you was suddenly foreign territory and you became an alien overnight.
In the present case, even though there is little regional acrimony among the people, political rhetoric has vitiated the atmosphere considerably and it will take a while for the dust to settle down and for things to get back to normal. Right now there is a pervasive sense of euphoria but I shudder to think of what might happen when the lay folk discover that their problems have not been solved magically in spite of having their own state. No prizes for guessing who will have to bear the brunt of this discontent. No, it will definitely not be the politicians who misled the people.
# 2. Have toddler memories of Visakhapatnam, which could make a fine capital for Seemandhara. Ten years is a long time to wait to acquire one.
Irrespective of which state Hyderabad is bestowed upon, there is absolutely no reason for someone, especially a Telugu speaking person, who has lived there all her life to now feel like a stranger in the city. The process of creation may have been contentious, the levers of governmental power will obviously shift into the hands of a different set of people, but for everyone else, it should be business as usual. That is the only way to keep barqat in this charming old city.
Excellently written. I live in Vizag, 700 kilometres away yet Hyderabad will always be a part of me. I can identify with Hyderabad the way I cannot identify with any other metropolis in India. It will be strange to be called an outsider when I next visit Hyderabad, an alienness which I was made acutely aware ofl only in New Delhi. Strange that when the entire world is becoming a global village, we are narrowing the boundaries of our own homes.
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