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This is My Charminar

26-02-2014

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I came to live in Hyderabad in 1992, a few months after I returned from the London School of Economics (LSE). Economic reforms have just been unveiled in India. Perhaps no other city adapted itself so fully and quickly to the liberalized and globalised phase of the Indian economy as did Hyderabad. Today you will find the icons of new economy dominating the landscape of the city. Interestingly, before that Hyderabad was quintessentially a command economy city like no other in India with a large number of public sector industries and government R&D establishments around its core. Before that it was a city that personified 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 bonding 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. I had a taste of Hyderabad at home even before I came to the city and actually touched it. 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 Charminar was mine in the way Eiffel Tower is not; Salarjung museum was mine in the way Louvre is not.

The imposing Charminar, Salarjung Museum – 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 looking State Central Library – they have never ceased to fascinate me. Every relative and family friend who came to Hyderabad did this circuit of sightseeing. 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 o’clock in the morning. There were hardly any motor vehicles on the roads. Cycle rickshaws, bicycles carried people around. We had double-decker buses. No child would ever agree to sit on the lower deck of those buses. When auto rickshaws 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 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 were 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 their business is 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 liberalization in the 1990s took the city to a different level altogether. The hectic pace of economic activity in the last 25 years has rendered the city unrecognizable for someone who had seen it in 1980s and 90s.

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 came to the city. 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 Adilabad or Kurnool much the same way as I came here 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 back-pack. 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 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.

 

(This is published in The Outlook issue of 3/3/2014 http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?289606 )

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