Hyderabad - Published in the Kalnirnay International Edition

Hyderabad – Musings on the City by the Musi River

Eleven years ago, I stepped out into the early morning mist of Hyderabad for the first time, a naturalized dyed-in the-wool Mumbaikar, supercilious and patronizing. Four years later when I had to leave, I did so with a very heavy heart. And even today, seven years down the line, there is still a very fierce yearning to go back to what had become “home” in a short span of four years, dethroning Mumbai that was home for twenty-six years before that.
That is Hyderabad for you, a quaint little city that welcomes you very quietly, endears its way into your heart and grows on you without your realizing it till you have to leave.
A four hundred year old city with a population of about 4.2 million, Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, is a city steeped in history and lore. There are two versions about the origins of Hyderabad. According to one version, Hyderabad came into existence around 1512 when Quli Qutb Shah built the famous Charminar as a thanksgiving to the Almighty for preventing his entire kingdom from being wiped out by a severe attack of plague and cholera. Very soon thereafter, inhospitable conditions forced him to abandon the Golconda fort from where he was operating till then and shift to the area around the Charminar along the banks of the Musi River. The settlement that came up there came to be known as Hyderabad. Another version holds the view that the city came up around the bridge built by Mohammed Quli Qutb across the Musi River so as not to endanger the life of his son who used to swim across to meet his beloved Baghmati even when the river was in spate. Whatever the version, Hyderabad owes its existence to the Qutub Shahi dynasty. In 1697, Aurangzeb captured Hyderabad from the Qutb Shahi dynasty. Subsequent Mughal rulers appointed Nizam-ul-Mulk as the Subedar of the Deccan as it was known then and conferred upon him the title of Asaf Jah. After that the Asaf Jahi dynasty ruled Hyderabad till it became part of the Indian Union and even today it is difficult to think of Hyderabad without thinking of the Nizams.
Inspite of successive democratically governments, the influence on Hyderabad, till very recently has been unmistakably that of the Nizam Shahi. The face that Hyderabad presented to the world was largely that of the Nizams and their lifestyles, especially which of the last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali who was once regarded the richest man in the world. Here was a man whose life made interesting copy. A small diminutive man, he sought and hoarded the beautiful things of life. A man whose wardrobe extended the length and breadth of two floors, a man who had the best of what the world produced in terms of clothes, jewels, accessories but remained till the end a parsimonious, spartan miser, eccentric and full of quirks. A man who was rumoured to stop the electric train that carried food around his dining table just before it reached the guest he did not like. On a broader scale, the world knew Hyderabad for the sophistication of manners (“tahzeeb”), the hospitality and the cuisine, all of which again were patronized by and flourished under the Nizam Shahi.
Even the major tourist attractions of Hyderabad revolve around the Nizam. And Hyderabad, make no mistake, is a tourist’s delight. There are palaces, bazaars, lakes and museums in and around the Charminar in the old city. While the Charminar or the Arc de Triomphe of the East is in itself a formidable attraction. The “Laad” bazaar around it is a veritable treasure house of bangles, cosmetics and jewellery; a place where the zenanna (the ladies) can indulge (“laad”) to the utmost. The Begum bazaar and the Sultan bazaar offer a greater variety of the same genre. The Chow Mahalla, the Falaknuma Palace and the tombs of Qutb Shah, Taramati and Raymond takes the tourists down the centuries.
And how could one forget the Salar Jung Museum. Salar Jung III, Mir Yousaf Ali Khan, the Prime Minister to the Nizam, was a consummate dilettante who collected objects d’art with zeal unmatched, so much so that his collections grew in size to fill an entire museum. It was with this end in mind that the Salar Jung Museum was set up in Diwan Deodi, his ancestral Palace after his demise. The Museum, declared an Institution of National Importance by an Act of Parliament, is one of the few Indian museums to boast of a collection of Far Eastern art from China, Japan, Tibet and Nepal, apart from individual rarities like the inscribed jade bookstand of Altamush or the fruit knife used by Noorjahan to name just a few. There are very few who have experienced the entire depth of this Museum and to the aesthete or the connoisseur, even a whole day at the Museum would seem insufficient.
There are other specialities that Hyderabad has to offer, like the world famous Hyderabad pearls. Pearls from all over the world come to Hyderabad because the artisans here down the generations have perfected the art of piercing and stringing them without damaging them. There is the bidri work where strands of silver and golden wire are hammered into engraved grooves on black plates. And of course, there is the inimitable, world famous Hyderabad cuisine, with its “biryani”, “mirch ka salan” and “khubbani ka meetha. To the true Hyderabadi, cooking is not a chore, it is a fine art.
Hyderabad also is home to many research institutes and educational and training organizations. The Administative Staff College of India (ASCI), the Institute of Charted Financial Analysts of India (ICFAI), the Sardar Patel National Police Academy, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), the Centre for English and Foreign Languages are just a few. More recently, Hyderabad acquired a unique honour when the major corporate luminaries in the country chose it as the venue of the Indian School of Business. Slated to be India’s most prestigious business school with an affiliation with the Kellog Graduate School and the Wharton School, the Indian School of Business is set to attract the talent of the highest caliber in management education.
Hyderabad is definitely opening up and it would not be wrong to say that this process had been kick started by the present Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. With the aim of making Hyderabad a global presence, he is said to have re-written almost overnight the infrastructural map of the city to attract foreign investment and propel its economy into the IT and biotech era. Hyderabad pulled off a double bill with Bill Clinton and Bill Gates choosing to visit it over other cities. A whopping 71% of the H1-B visas today, to the US constitute Hyderabadis. Hyderabad has been nominated the cleanest India city by the Cities Alliance Programme (CAP) and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS). It is also the most wired Indian city today with the highest tele-density of 14.66 Global and Indian retail giants are investing huge amounts in shopping malls and lifestyle avenues.
Clearly, Hyderabad is poised at the takeoff stage. But there are a lot of questions. Statistics already point to a tapering off of the IT revolution in the city. There are many IT professionals on the bench and back home. Will the city therefore have the purchasing power to justify the massive investments made by the governments and corporate? What happens to this juggernaut if an unforeseen and even predicted upsurge takes place on the political front? Is this administration a new broom that is sweeping clean or will it be able to make fundamental and structural changes in its functioning that will endure over the years? How long will this newly founded mutual admiration society between the powers that be and the private sector survive? And finally how responsive will the people of Hyderabad be when the initial novelty has worn off?
There are a lot of serious questions and only time will tell. But till then or even otherwise, there will some things about Hyderabad that will always endure. Like the typically Hyderabadi lingo which is a curious amalgam of Hindi, Urdu and Telugu, where it is never “Nahin” but always “Nakko”, where it is not “Kya Chahiye” but “Kya Hona” and “Kidar Ko Jana”. And the inveterate Hyderabadi who will sit back and say “Nakko Sochana Ji, Jo Hona, So Hona”.

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