Eight years ago, for a lost 21 year old, a hesitant, lukewarm romance began in the cold distance of an unknown city. I was far removed from the roaring of a life in Bombay that was waiting to be dealt with maturely. I came of age on the Hyderabad University Campus. From the first hidden drag of a cigarette on campus, university and in a larger sense, Hyderabad, became about knowing that it was okay — or that at least in time, it would be. It is where dogs were chased by calves while I picked my way carefully through the cow dung of my life. It is where I was invited to shove off from classrooms and a pokey office in the back of the English department was refuge from the maelstrom. It is where I was steadied by bangles, biryani, and best friends.
Most people laugh when I still speak of Hyderabad as home. This is mainly because every time I'm asked if I know the new places in Hyderabad, I shake my head. You see, I never have the time for new places. There are too many old haunts to pay my respects to. For one, there's Amfah Hotel in Mehdipatnam for its fragrant kalyani biryani. Of all the holes-in-the-wall in Hyderabad, this be the favourite. When Chachaji sees me come down the steps, there's no stopping the smile on either of our faces. The instructions are always simple - whatever I order, double the quantities of meat and salan! Then there's Famous Ice-cream at Mozamjahi Market. S and I have sat here afternoons, ordering one cup after another of the most delicious, non-creamy kharbhooza and chickoo ice-cream. The cup is always a double scoop and its price — the princely sum of 7 bucks!
But a rambling, pointless nostalgia is not why I am writing this. This is a function of an ability to let go. All things must change and in the eight years since I've called Hyderabad home, much has changed in the city's geography. And the altered face of this city seems to reflect the shift in my relationship with it. For years together, Hyderabad was primarily about people and the campus. Abruptly the city shifted. Or people shifted. Or time shifted. Or something shifted and I was suddenly a stranger. Where I would make up to six visits a year, I have made only two in the last three and I wouldn't have had the courage unless I could go to Road No 10. Or if there wasn't always a window ledge to perch on in a pokey little office at the back of the English Department — or a place at a table in Mehdipatnam.
This visit I have wondered if I delude myself by calling it home. The rickshaw wallahs aren't as friendly (or honest!) as they used to be and the malls are everywhere, replacing dilapidated petrol pumps and small little buildings, clogging up Road No 1. Coffee house chains have sprouted through old rambling bungalows on winding roads in Jubilee Hills. My favourite drive through the city — from the University, through Hi-Tech City, and then finally down to KBR Park — is now lost in a never ending maze of huge and ugly apartment blocks and office buildings.
But somehow, somewhere I've discovered that I love Hyderabad differently now because I have known what it is to be a stranger here. I've known the old city with cheeky young men driving me around in their rickshaws, showing me its ashurkhanas and khilwats. I've known what it is to stand on the other side of the desk at my alma mater, awestruck at the affection of my betters. I've known what it is to finally let go, picking a rather late way back to Bombay. Today, I have an independent paramour in the romance that wafts through every hot breeze and in the crisp winter night air.
Today, thankfully, Hyderabad is still home.