Hyderabad Hazir Hai by Vanaja Banagiri
Hyderabad is my current subject of study. As I can go out and feel what the authors tell me about this aristocratic city where time has no meaning. This book Hyderabad Hazir Hai was there on my ‘to be read’ list. So when I met the author at Hyderabad Literary Festival, she very gracefully gave me a copy of the book along with her other book, which I will review later sometime. Incidentally, I am also writing a long 4000-word article on Hyderabad for a print magazine. So this book was also perfectly timed in my life.
This is an anthology of writings by the Hyderabadis about Hyderabad, about 18 of them. Most common thread across the writings is the nostalgia for the bygone days of the Nizam era. The rich aristocratic life that most authors or their earlier generations led. And how the city lost it all so fast within few years of becoming a part of India. Is the city stuck in the time wrap? Or the selection of authors makes it look so. Well, the true blue Hyderabadis would rather live in the Nizam Era. In mansions called Deodis and eat the rich food that is so uniquely Nawabi. How much do they represent the whole city of Hyderabad today is a question though.
As an eternal Nomad myself, I know that after I have spent a year or so in a place, it becomes home to me. I belong to the place while I am there. So it is definitely true for the recent migrants who have come to adopt the city as their new home. The old would choose to ignore them as they are not Asal Hyderabadis. And the new would choose to ignore the old as the fabric of the city has changed. Some things of course still remain very peculiar to the city like the Dakhani language, which you can hear in every nook and corner of the city.
The editor has tried to cover many aspects of the city through the established voices of the city. There are old frail yet powerful voices from the romantic past. There are aspects of the city like its cuisine, its weddings, its palaces, and deodis, it’s immortalized courtesans, its Dewans who left a rich legacy. It’s Nizams who were the richest in the world (though I am still to figure out the source of their richness). It’s Tehzeeb and Saleeka, its communities that became a part of the city and its new Czars. A very good collection covering many dimensions. I know it is never possible to write a complete book on cities with such heterogeneity.
The piece I found the best is ‘Once upon a time’ by Vijay Marur, where he tells you about the habit of exaggeration and approximation in a Hyderabadi DNA through four hilarious stories. You would never know how true they are. Rani Singh’s piece on ‘The Deodis of Charminar’ is well written. And tells you not only about the physical aspects of a Deodi but also its cultural aspect. Narendra Luther’s piece on Courtesans, Palaces & Monuments is nice, especially the first part, as it is unique that the strong female element is so much a part of the foundation of this city. Pieces on Salar Jung and Mehboob Pasha come with a lot of personal connect and emotion.
The piece on Dakhani and cuisine leaves you wanting for more. I would have wanted to know what are the key elements of Dakhani language, its literature and how it has managed to sustain itself in the current scenario. The piece on weddings has nothing new to offer, nothing very Hyderabadi. It could have been anywhere in the country. Pieces on Apollo hospitals and Real Estate are written like company brochures or press releases. Hyderabad connection is missing here, and writing is very impersonal. Having said that, we do know that not everyone has the same gift of writing. I missed the common man’s voice in the book. As most authors come from the upper echelons of the society. I do not know if the common man also wanted to live in the Nizami era or he prefers the new democratic setup.
Other pieces are nice. I loved the preface, as it was written with a lot of lyrical quality, almost inviting you to come to Hyderabad and enjoy it’s Mehmaan Nawazi or hospitality. It sets a beautiful tone for the rest of the book. Hyderabad Hazir Hai would have been a classic book, had the rest of the book maintained the same level of emotion and love. My biggest takeaway is Mahesh Sanghi’s Alphonso Kulfi, F9 & Almond House… Next on my list to explore…
Read Hyderabad Hazir Hai to know Hyderabad, as it was and how the people who saw that era remember it.