Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Losing out

“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.


footloose said...

i hear u, sheetal!

i so hear u.

Samanth said...

And I hear you too! I feel so much the same about Madras. It isn't even like I don't go to the pubs or the new shops or the multiplex cinemas -- I do, I do. But I'm torn because I'm already missing exactly the things you miss in Hyd. A unique beat and pace and rhythm to the city's life. I've seen Madras' rhythm change in just five years -- and I've seen facets of its character slowly begin to fade out of view.

And don't even get me started on the traffic!

i wonder why said...

I've been bemoaning this to everybody recently. Just before I was leaving they were busy cutting down the trees on the Film Nagar road, it felt Terrible. The rocks around my house are gone, the old houses disappearing, the akhlakh of Hyderabadis barely present amongst the brash glitter of the nouveau riche.

Shweta said...

3 hours back I said rather irately to an auto driver “arre subah-subah dimmag nakku khau bhai!” He just grinned good-humouredly and while he brought me home, we had a pleasant chat about driving through Hyderabad in the morning. He was only about twenty and I thought that if the next generation still has the likes of him, all can’t be lost.
I am taking heart from what that man said about the desham not being about the Matti but about the manushulu.
Now we only have to bundle out the 'foreigners' like the Delhi-trained security guards, and mindless pleasure seeking imported yuppies and we’ll be just dandy.

Sheetal said...

footloose: Did it hit you anew when you came back home this time?
Oh, and while we’re on a Hyd bashing trip, we never did get round to that photo document on ‘The Horrendous Gates and Buildings of Hyderabad’ :D

Samanth, you’ve been hand-wringing about Madras too, haven’t you? Weird feeling of displacement, seeing our spiritual homes being eroded.

Just thinking aloud here… on the heels of that thought comes (unnecessary) guilt. The displacement I feel is psychological, and I feel pampered when I think of the millions who have been literally displaced in India to make way for dams and other projects, forced to see their homes and lands being submerged, compensated with habitations in urban slums, and often not even that.
Oh, the two don’t compare – I realise there is always something worse, but I am feeling a little heavy hearted.

Nishu: We are hacking away rather merrily, aren’t we? Akhlaq toh is gone, baba – usku samajhte bhi nai logaan.

Toma: Hau, I do do think the auto wallahs are a very accurate measure.

Ludwig said...

#1 you're back! good!!

#2 re: Hyd, this is the story everywhere, nahin? my own slice of paradise has become unrecognizable in front of our eyes... it'll only get "worse", just wait till the whole world has one uniform look and feel, it's on its way. of course, by "world" i mean a certain kind of world (the mall world, for lack of another word to describe it).

the end is night.

some sorts of beasts are slouching towards Bethlehem.

once more, into the breach.

and so on...

Ludwig said...

the end, of course, is not night.

it is nigh.


footloose said...

hau re... my reactions over the years went from pride at the development to 'wait a minute, that's a bit much' to 'arre, yeh kya kar diye yaaro'.

khair, guess there's no rush to capture the ugliness. but maybe we should hurry up and frame some of the loveliness!

Sheetal said...

Would you quite call upon the rough beasts? Arre!
Has Vizag changed like that too? I haven’t the insider’s eye, but I must tell you how fond I am of your particular slice of paradise: hills in every direction, unexpected views of the sea… wah.

Footloose: Heard about this Charminar project? They’re going to drive all cables underground, so we can have an unhindered view katte.

iceop said...

aye. tis a little late in the day.. but i so know what you mean.

Anonymous said...

Since I know that you too are a birder -
One of the joys of regular birdwatching is the sense of intimacy that we develop with the physical space around us– starting from the lawn or the favourite tree in front of the house to the neighbourhood park and, finally, till the whole city and its adjoining areas seem like one’s own backyard!
In a way, I guess, its this intimacy that you speak about Sheetal....developed over years of being engaged - in myriad ways including not just birds; though for myself I know no better medium - with this 'environment' that sorrounds us.
I have never had the good fortune of staying in a city at a stretch for over 4-5 years but I can understand this intimacy, once developed either with the birds or other things, that one is loathe to give up when the time comes to move away...

Anonymous said...

I haven't been to Hyderabad in 6 years. Everyone who goes there says the same thing: "It's really changed". Glad to read your perspective. I feel that returning for a visit will be a heart wrenching experience.

Sheetal said...

Iceop: The angst seems more widespread and acute than I realised :(

KB; yes, we tend to bond with places we live in even in a general way, and so much more sharply if we happen to bird. I know every bough in my garden more intimately because of the warblers that flit there; and there are paths around where I live that I would never have trudged had I not been seeking an elusive woodpecker.

What you say here strikes a chord – I wonder what it would be like to have that ‘this is home’ ripple expand to cover the entire world… a sort of a vasudaiva kutumbikam. There are travellers who feel that way, I suppose, at home wherever they go, already attached to places they’ve never seen.

Anon: Oh, I hope not. Now that you’re prepared, perhaps it won’t be so bad after all. I hope we haven’t changed very much under the skin.

LoonFace said...

Argh!!!! This cant be happening to Hyderabad. I used to take pride in Hyderabad being so different from all the other places. Noooooooooooooooo