The Story Hall
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The Story Hall

Hyderabad Cyberabad

As a child, in our Muslim neighbourhood, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the richest man on earth, the true owner of the Kohinoor, was some kind of hero to all the Muslims who lived in our neighbourhood. We knew nothing of the man, but he was one of us, as were King Farouk, Ibn Saoud, King Mohammed the Fifth, Jinnah, the Mufti of Jerusalem, and they therefore occupied a place of honour in our iconography! When later on one became more aware of certain harsh realities, we discovered that heroes had feet of clay — or in some

Once the richest man on earth

cases, just claws, period. It was too late to cleanse one’s opinion of childhood icons entirely.

When I read William Dalrymple’s White Mughals, the fantasies I had relished about Hyderabad and Golconda resurfaced, and the second visit to India which I had always hoped to make, some day, had of necessity to include Hyderabad. Further, Hyderabad has now acquired the reputation of being hot on the trail of Bangalore, and was about to wrestle the title of India’s Silicon

Cyber Tower of Hyderabad

Valley from it. It is one of the most important supplier of pharmaceuticals to the rest of India. Besides Hyderabadi Biryani was reputed to be the best in the world. And had not Dalrymple recommended Salim who plied his trade outside the Makkah Masjid near the Char Minar as the best Biryani cook in India? Like everywhere here, Hyderabad is a land of contrast. Hi-tech plays see-saw with underdevelopment.

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Whether one forms a good opinion of a place or not often depends on the people you come into contact with, and often these are the people at the hotel where you stay.

Unfortunately the people at the Raj were not just distant and unfriendly, but they seemed to relish the idea of being unhelpful. You could pay for your stay with a credit card but could not, for example buy an airline ticket with one. They claimed never to have come across a Traveller’s Cheque, did not know what it was! Food was only available in one’s room, and the people who brought it would linger until you gave them a tip. The overstaffed personnel seemed to like hanging just outside my door for their interminable panchhayat! In hi-tech Cyberabad, it was impossible to watch a television program completely as there were regular and frequent black-outs. A bill I was asked to sign confused me, and when I ask for an explanation, the waiter tells me it is for tomorrow’s chai and mineral water. Tomorrow’s? Yes sir, he says with a straight face, tomorrow. Fortunately it dawns upon me that the word kal means both yesterday and tomorrow in Urdu…

A young Finn who was on the Sunderbans cruise was going to be in Hyderabad, and we had arranged to meet, and she came with Jyoti and “one of her boyfriends” Jairaj, and together we went on a sightseeing tour. We were suitably impressed by the Char Minar , built to commemorate the end of a

The Char Minar (Four Minarets)

particularly vicious plague, and the Makkah Masjid just next to it. The sun had just set and the atmosphere was straight from The Arabian Nights. One has the impression that everything was available here, from pearls, gold and diamonds to potassium cyanide! We ended up in Golconda Fort and enjoyed the echoes and the esoteric telephony!

Next day I was able to take more of the vitality of the city on board, the Cyber City was quite impressive, with the famous Cyber Tower occupying pride of place. The mix of modernity and Mughal architecture was quaint but attractive. Although there is a Necklace Road linking the twin cities of Secunderabad and Hyderabad, the jewel in the crown must be the The Husain Sagar, a man-made lake, built in the mid-sixteenth century by Hazrat Husain Shah, using water deviated from the Musi, for irrigation and water supply purposes.

The locals, Hindu as well as Muslims are very proud of the impressive statue of Buddha in the middle of the lake. The garden bordering the lake is vast

Buddha in the lake

and impressive, and provides an important oasis to the hardworking Hyderabadis, making Biryani, creating software and pharmaceuticals- or overcharging visitors; it is the most attractive garden that I have ever seen, with ponds and spouts, the most colourful and exotic flowers on earth. And it is spot clean. In that respect India is a bundle of contradictions. Supermarkets are no longer allowed to give out plastic bags. There are many Plastic Free zones around. In the Sunderbans, getting rid of any plastic material entails a fine of Rs 325,000. Chai is sold in small purpose made earthenware cups which are then recycled by throwing them into open spaces. Dust unto dust…

The traffic in Hyderabad was just as bad as in Delhi, probably a testament to its high rate of development. It was in the city that I saw the most redundant item that I would see in the whole of my trip. It must surely rank with the Signpost with the caption DO NOT THROW STONES AT THIS NOTICE! A zebra crossing! No one seemed to have the faintest idea about its use.

In this Cyber City I also saw evidence that India is only twenty years or so behind Britain in development. I saw Public Toilets with notices: GENTS URINALS- FREE, and next to them: LADIES TOILETS: Rs 2.

Hyderabad is the capital of Andhra Pradesh, and houses the biggest film studio in the world, where even the Mumbai companies sometimes come to make their films. One of the most famous sons of the city was the famous N.T.Rama Rao, film actor who became Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh during the reign of Indira Gandhi. He had spent a career playing Lord Krishna and Rama and other avatars of Vishnu, and people ended up by conflating him with his Tollywood incarnations, and voted for him almost unanimously. With a God as leader, what could go wrong? Sadly his stewardship of the province was not entirely successful, and Indira deposed him in the middle of his term. But he fought back and regained power, and after his death, he has become a much revered figure, overturning a decision to name the International Airport of Hyderabad, from Rajiv Gandhi International to N.T.Rama Rao International.

The running of the airport seemed to me to be quite shambolic. Nowhere was there any notice about Departures, only Arrivals! Announcements were made in Telegu and Urdu, and when in English, I found it incomprehensible, owing to the crackling and resonance, and the unfamiliar accent. There was no official around who could have given me information. It was also the only airport I have come across where the Departure Gates were on 2 floors. There were no indications anywhere showing where my flight was leaving from. I misunderstood one announcement and thought I had heard that I wanted a gate on the second floor, but after a while realised that I had misunderstood. I made my way down and fortunately met a Shri Lankan couple who were also going to Delhi, and I told them that I was going to follow them.

They laughed, no, they said, it’s we who are going to follow you, because we have no idea where the gate is going to be. Somehow we got on the plane.


I could not leave India without tasting the famous Hyderabadi Biryani, and, taking my cue from Dalrymple, I went to the Makkah Masjid to look for Salim. There were lots of Biryani wallahs around, but when I asked for Salim, they interrupted each other, and if I understood right, someone said that Salim had gone to Bangalore, another said he had died, or was ill. A smiling old man with a willowy beard said he was called Hamidullah and that he had taught Salim all he knew, and someone offered me a stool. I sat and ordered Hamidullah’s fare. It was greasy and overcooked and reminded me of the biryani our neighbours served for the wedding of their daughter, and which has remained a by-word for mediocrity in our family!




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San Cassimally

San Cassimally

Prizewinning playwright. Mathematician. Teacher. Professional Siesta addict.

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