Thursday, May 25, 2006
HYDRATING IN HYDERABAD
RENATO REDENTOR CONSTANTINO
May 25, 2006
A few minutes after the plane landed on the airport runway, the pilot announced the obligatory just-landed twaddle. "Welcome to Manila, it's a bit muggy outside at 32 degrees but I'm sure you'll find the welcome warm and pleasant ... Cabin crew, doors may be opened." I almost jumped out of my seat and cheered. Oh boy, cold weather at last.
I was in Hyderabad for two weeks. A vast, populous city in Andhra Pradesh, which is the fifth largest state of India, Hyderabad is known for its great cuisine, the bustle of its hi-tech industry, its history -- and its heat. Like the rest of the world, the coldest period in Hyderabad is early morning -- but with a slight twist. While I was there, city temperatures sometimes plunged to a chilly low of 32 degrees centigrade and it was dry and often bereft of any breeze.
When the sun's at its highest in Hyderabad and you're inside a room armed only with a powerful ceiling fan, it can feel like living inside a blow dryer. Walking outside is a different matter. It's like sitting in the middle of the day on the back seat of a car in an open-air parking lot in Manila; the engine's dead, the doors are closed and the windows are rolled up and the ground is shimmering from the heat. There is only asphalt, no trees, and there is nothing above you except the baking sun. Add ten degrees to that and you get Hyderabad in May, the city's hottest month. A daily fare of masala curry and chutney adds three degrees more.
The heat is all embracing in Hyderabad and you squint and do what you can to reduce the effect of the mercury attempting to leap out of the city's thermometers. Here, you hydrate or you wilt and perish.
Garishly hot is the city's normal climate and, perhaps, as with many other things in this world, global warming will make it worse. Elsewhere, in north India, while I was moving around in the city, a deadly heat wave had begun to prey mostly on the poor. Homeless families expired, including children, and those with homes stayed mostly indoors.
Yet you get used to the heat after a while and the welter of invectives that would likely bounce around your mind the first few times you try short strolls under the sun gradually disappears. It's still a fascinating place.
It helped that I was in the company of good friends such as Srini, Samir and Soumybrata, each of whom alleviated the effect of high temperatures with their infectious humor and Old Monk rum-wisdom. Our staple drink, apart from rum, was the yoghurt drink lassi, which lines the stomach, Samir insists, in preparation for India's acclaimed Kingfisher Strong Beer, a far better and sweeter brew than the brand's more popular Premium label. Constantly exhausted, scheming and creating present and future trouble, we laughed at everything and everyone, at the heat, and mostly at ourselves.
Hyderabad is famed for its biryanis, a fragrant dish made up of either mutton, chicken or just vegetables mixed with basmati rice, ginger and garlic paste, lime juice, green chili paste and a multitude of aromatic spices such as saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, mint leaves and ghee. In Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabadi biryani is the irresistible, constant lure. Biryani eateries abound in the city and most of them are reputedly good. A sure pick, one I've tried, is the popular and cool Paradise Restaurant in the district of Secunderabad, which serves glorious biryanis and great Hyderabadi desserts.
The city's a place of stark contradictions. There is the social contrast spawned by the rapidly growing biotech and information technology industries. Endless exterior slums encircle Hyderabad, a city where "there are more rag pickers than software engineers," where scores of urban dwellers, "expelled from more centrally located slums [that were] torn down to make room for the research parks of the new middle class" have been "consigned to pick over the scraps of the high-tech economy.
On the other hand, there is the romance and ruin of olden times, such as the story explaining the city's origins and decline. The young Muslim crown prince of Golconda, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shahi, was said to have built the city of Hyderabad out love for the Hindu courtesan Bhagmati. Built in 1143, Golconda was made the capital in 1512 by Sultan Quli, the founder of the Qutb Shahi kingdom. It finally fell to the Mughal Emperor Aurengzeb's 1687 siege.
The majestic fortress complex of Golconda is one of Hyderabad's most compelling attractions. It is surrounded by mesmerizing crenellated ramparts and filled with the remains of mosques, pavilions, great halls and stables. From a short distance, it invokes the drama of the magisterial Roman Forum; ascending its uneven stone steps is a tale in itself. Representing the remains of a bygone era, Golconda, which derives its name from the Telugu words "golla konda" -- a shepherd's hill -- was once the home of the fabled Kohinoor diamond, said to be the world's most precious and which now, unsurprisingly, decorates the British crown.
There was dissonance on the night of my departure. I have always preferred cold, rainy places, but beyond its pervasive heat I knew Hyderabad contained more charms than what I had encountered. At the very least I knew I would miss the sight of minarets and the enduring beauty of the Muslim call to prayer regularly echoing throughout the city's mosques -- sights and sounds that made me think of magical Istanbul and soulful Jolo. I had also just begun to get to know friends such as Nayna and Namrata, happy girls who kept exchanging their shoes, as well as the introspective fellows Ananda, Imran, Bidhan and Salil.
But there will be another time. I just know it. #
Comments welcome at redcosmo(at)gmail(dot)com.
All photos copyright of Renato Redentor Constantino. Check out Red's travel pics in his India Photo-Essay by clicking on this link...
NOTES TO HYDRATING IN HYDERABAD:
1. The writer was in Hyderabad from 26 April to 7 May 2006. To find out what the author was up to in India and why he left the city in a jolly state, click on this link.
2. By the time this piece was sent to the paper's editors, the heat wave had killed 43. "Rain in north, heat wave veers south, 3 killed in UP," OutlookIndia.com, 16 May 2006.
3. Humanity's Ground Zero: A Tomdispatch Interview with Mike Davis, Tomdispatch.com, 9 May 2006.
4. Noopur Kumar, Hyderabad: Portrait of a City (Noopur Kumar, 2005). It is a beautiful book and its pictures are captivating. Look for it when you get the chance. One of my regrets is that I was unable to visit a single bookshop in Hyderabad. I was able to borrow a copy of Kumar's book from the concierge of Hotel Sai Prakash (where you can find the mystical, magical Rich N' Famous bar, the oasis of the brave...)
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