The Untold Charminar is a fine 39 piece collection on Hyderabad that tries to capture the spirit of Hyderabad from various angles. History, geography, Kings, Queens, poets, businessmen, students, those who spent their childhood here, those who came after childhood. Those who just visited once, those who keep visiting, its food, its culture. Its streets and their names and just about anything that touched the city with a good sprinkling of poetry from and about the city.
As a new migrant to Hyderabad, I was keen to read something about Hyderabad. Something that introduces me to the city it is. And also may be a list of things that I must do or see before I move on to the next city. From that perspective, it was fun reading this book The Untold Charminar. To begin with, it starts by sharing the history and the anecdotes from history. Now if you are not very conversant with the region’s history, the history of Hyderabad is not straight and simple, you need to digest a lot of names and dynasties. But what comes across through the various phases of its history is that there was never one powerful King or Emperor or inseam in the region. There was always a very strong second and third line of leaders in every age.
Now you cannot talk about Hyderabad or Deccan without talking about its Diamond mines, its pearls, and gemstones. At more than one places you read about the truckloads of them. And how the Nizam used the biggest diamond in the world as a paperweight. It talks about the women and how they indulged themselves in the silks and finery and the Khara dupattas. There is talk about the poets from various generations. And the list includes women quite prominently right from the Mahlaqa Chanda to Sarojini Naidu. There is a discussion on this being the only region that was always multi-lingual with. And some people also claim that it is here that Urdu was born and nurtured. Though I think Delhi has a better claim on the birth of it at least.
Deccan as a region has always been a global place. With families spread over the globe through inter-marriages. And also because traders settled here for trade and business. Even today if you profile the Old Hyderabad, you would find it pretty global. But what you need to notice is how people just merge here and do not stand out. There is to be some level of acceptability in the city to absorb all kinds of people and their cultures.
It is not very usual for the city anthologies to feature the outsider’s view of the city, but Syeda has done that beautifully. I believe if the occasional and frequent visitors validate a city trait equally as much as it is claimed by the citywalas, you can definitely take that as the brand of the city. And for Hyderabad, this trait is that of ‘being laid back’ and having no sense of time. It is one city that is proud of being lazy and laid back. And I am personally thankful for this book The Untold Charminar that emphasized this point so much that I was more patient and tolerant when dealing with the delays. In fact just as I finished reading this book, the society security guy came and informed that there is a society meeting on Sunday at 10:00 AM.
Now I am a stickler for time and am usually early for my meetings. But having read this book went to this meeting at 10:30 and found that there was no one out there. I asked the caretaker when is the meeting and he said, “Amma, it is at 10:00 AM”. I showed him the watch and he said, “Ok, it is at 10:30 AM”. The watch showed 10:40 AM and both of us had a confused look on our faces. This was classic Hyderabad practically for me to experience. At various places the book tells you that people here do not talk about Kal, they always say Parsaun. And that could be any day after tomorrow and not necessarily day after tomorrow.
Food is another essential feature of any city, and Hyderabad has its proud Biryani to boast of along with Bagarey Baigan. And desserts like Khubani ka Meetha (which you still get only in the city and around) and Badam Kheer. Various authors talk about the food and recipes of the city. Now good food and laziness make a good concoction. Don’t they? It comes out not as a late night city where most people sleep by 10 PM or so, never contradicting the legendary laidbackness of the city.
Though some authors have touched upon the current state of the city, its position as the Biotech capital of the country and a claim to be the Silicon Valley as well without looking at Bangalore and its educational institutes. I think some more space could have bee given to the present day city. There is a write-up by ITC. But an article by a new age entrepreneur from the city would have made an interesting reading. Similarly, an article by a current expat living, working or studying in the city would have given some more global perspective on the city. There are some pieces that are interesting to read but could have been in any city like that of Nagesh Kukunoor. But then as a reader, we are always greedy and do not know the constraints of the editor.
I would recommend this book The Untold Charminar to anyone who wants to get a glimpse of Hyderabad through multiple lenses.
Buy this book – The Untold Charminar edited by Syeda Imam at Amazon India.