“So, do you like Hyderabad?” he asked.
I was chatting with a just-met acquaintance and the polite getting-to-know-you conversation brought up this one. The answer, of course, should have been a quick, unequivocal yes. I’ve lived all my life in Hyderabad, it’s the only city I can call home. I have always loved it, always come back to it with wide embracing arms. And still I hesitated a moment too long over yes.
Hyderabad is losing its essence. That indefinable thing that used to be found somewhere in the midst of its slow, unique beat, its friendly people, its good natured Dakhni humour. Going, going, gone. It is now a metropolis, and not a particularly nice one. Fast, busy, impatient. Glitzy, shallow.
Just the other day, someone likened IT to locusts that leave landscapes ravaged, mere skeletons of their former selves, a nod to how that industry transformed Bangalore, I suppose, and how it affects Hyderabad now. Perhaps that is unfair; maybe the rise and consolidation of IT only coincides with other developments that would have happened anyway.
Whatever the reason, you cannot go across town today without being severely traumatised. Punjagutta is a nightmare, and you can be stuck in traffic jams in Ameerpet at midnight. People no longer plan parties on Saturdays, and many people whose jobs don’t need daily commutes are planning to move out of the city.
In part of course, the problem is too many people packed into too little space. Hyderabad has a meagre 6% of its total area under its roads. The international standard is 20-30%. Delhi has 18%, Bangalore 12% and Mumbai and Chennai have 10% each; only Kolkata has as little. To compound the problem, we also have the highest traffic density in the country: 2,337 vehicles per kilometre of road, and more than 10,000 vehicles being added every month. Just to complete that picture: Mumbai has 448 vehicles, Kolkata 345 and Delhi 184 to that very same kilometre. Seriously scary, that’s what.
We change in character as well. We now no longer have kirana stores, and even the humblest shop must advertise itself, not with paint boards with character, but neon lights. The small shops are gone, the old homes, with filigreed balconies and small wooden windows, are torn down. If we had a unique culture, it has now dwindled to pockets, in the gallis of lesser localities, tucked out of sight in the city’s underbelly. There are malls everywhere; swanky new buildings with reflecting glass and useless really, because you couldn’t buy a safety pin anywhere on Begumpet Road.
Hyderabadis are looking on this rapid transformation with consternation and helplessness. We are losing something very, very precious and quite irreplaceable. Such a pity.