Monday, March 26, 2007

Wailing wall

A picture in the Deccan Chronicle this morning.
A wall with photos of Indian cricketers on it, now hideously disfigured with lipstick, bindis and whatever else the decorators have thought will indicate emasculation. A crowd gathered in front of this wall with shoes and slippers, beating it in deliberate public denunciation.

Sometimes, my countrymen shame me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

dimaag ka dahi*

bheja fry with taalimpu and all. i want to run away.

ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal jahan koi na ho
apna, paraya, meherbaan, na meherbaan koi na ho

jaakar kahin kho jaaun mai
neend aaye aur so jaaun mai
neend aaye aur so jaaun mai…
duniya mujhe dhoonde magar mera pata koi na ho
*this very useful addition to vocab courtesy Ravi Kissen, Bhojpuri star

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Walk the Rock

Raison d’être
When people are told that Hyderabad has a ‘Society to Save Rocks’, one of the usual reactions is disbelief. Of all the things that need saving in this world, why on earth would we need a society to save rocks? We are barely able to keep enough to save ourselves, people tend to ask, why must we waste energy on saving rocks?

There are many answers, and they come in shades both simple and complicated. If the sheer beauty of the rocky Deccan landscape moves you, then that is one. If the evolution of the planet earth interests you, then you will be convinced utterly by geology: the story of their birth, and their existence. If you revere ancient things, a shelf life of over 2500 million years must command your attention and your respect. If you’ll be convinced by ecological arguments, you must know of how rocks represent not just themselves but ecosystems, with their unique flora, fauna and micro-organisms depending on them for survival. Put those together and you come up against one – if you’ll excuse the pun – rock-solid argument: rocks, particularly rocks like these, must be saved because they are irreplaceable. Because you cannot grow them, and once lost they are lost forever.

The back story

Hyderabad, in fact the entire Deccan Plateau, is littered with stunning rock formations. The city still has a few within its limits but as you leave the kilometres behind, these rocky outcrops become more abundant and lie in every direction from Hyderabad. Moula Ali, Shameerpet, Gachibowli, Jubilee Hills all boast some unique shapes. There are tall proud structures, some notable for their elegance, and others for their arrangement, as if some giant had casually piled them up in play.

The remarkable Obelisk in Jubilee Hills is a dignified rock. On the other hand, Mushroom Rock in Gachibowli is a perennial favourite with picnickers. This domed rock is in fact two layers of rock separated by natural pillars, with enough room between them for a tallish man. Then there is the very graceful Hamburger arrangement in Gachibowli – rounded flat boulders placed neatly in a tapering column – which leads to absurd fancies of a child in nature’s playschool. There is another, the Pathar Dil Rock, also sometimes called the Pav Bhaji rock, which is a set of four rocks, curiously arranged in a bunch, not unlike the pav bread that gives it one of its names. Not surprisingly, the rocks frequently seem to invite locals to prayer. The Plateau is dotted with temples and mosques formed at the heart of such formations, such as for instance, the famous Maula Ali dargah.

How did these bizarre shapes come to exist? About 4.6 billion years ago, when the earth was newly formed and its outer crust very thin, molten magma pushed up to the surface and hardened under the crust into domes and sheets of granite. Gradually, as the top layers of the crust eroded, they revealed the hard granites underneath. The crystalline granites have been weathered by millions of years to what they are today. Horizontal and vertical cracks developed and a phenomenon that geologists call ‘onion peel weathering’ was responsible for the typical rounding. The results are breathtaking.

Sadly, man-made pressures have taken their toll on the land. Quarrying is incessant, both to use the granite as building material as well as to clear space for human occupation. Rapidly the Deccani landscape is being cleared of its most distinctive physical feature.

Making a difference
The Society to Save Rocks has been working to preserve rocky landscapes since 1992, and it has met with a remarkable degree of success: it has succeeded in bringing up rock-preservation as a priority; by persistently pressurising the authorities, it has brought nine formations under protection and has proposed a further list of 20 sites that will benefit from being categorised as heritage sites. The Society won the INTACH Heritage Award for 2003, but most importantly it has brought the campaign to save rocks in the public eye and kept it there. The people of the twin cities have become sensitised to their heritage and today when people look over their sites and plan their homes, they no longer call for dynamite to clear away the stones. Instead they call their architects and painstakingly chalk out how to incorporate rocks into their homes. Consequently it is not uncommon to see Hyderabadi houses with a boulder separating the living room from the reading nook.

On the rocks
What keeps the Society truly buzzing are their Rock Walks. On the third Sunday of every month, a few hours before sundown, groups of people set off enthusiastically to look at these magnificent boulders. The modus operandi is simple: the company gathers at a pre-determined point, and eventually sets off in a little cavalcade. As the group reaches the chosen rock site for the day, the members unfurl themselves from the vehicles and amble on between the rocks and of course, if the site permits it, on them. Children particularly delight in rocks, scrambling over with merry ease while adults follow with grunts. The photographers and the sketchers tend to spread out, walking away to find the best vantage points or the most interesting lighting. The rest of the group chatters, meeting old friends and making new ones as they soak in the raw, elemental beauty of the rockscapes. Interesting shapes are pointed out, crevices are examined for lizards and insects, photographs are taken and after an hour, sometimes two, the walk is done. Biscuits are munched and tea is passed around if someone has been kind enough to think of it. And so, with the rocks silhouetted magnificently against the dying sun, ends another tribute to these silent sentinels to the passage of time.

Ms Frauke Quader,
Secretary, Society to Save Rocks
Tel: 91-40-23552923
*All pictures here courtesy Society to Save Rocks


Sunday, 18 March is going to be a busy day for nature lovers in Hyderabad. The Birding Society is going to the zoo again (in the morning) and the Society to Save Rocks is having an outing to Maula Ali Dargah that afternoon. Some enthusiastic people are intending to do both. God be wi' ye, and carry plenty of water.

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.