Hyderabadi tales

VANAJA BANAGIRI

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EVOLUTION has found a new destination – Hyderabad. Or should that be revolution? Any which way you look at it, whatever term you wish to use to describe the winds of change that have swept the city, one thing is certain: Hyderabad has arrived. And how!

Gone are the days of nawabi attitudes and laid-back lifestyles. Everything is on a fast track. From economic development to attitudinal change, Hyderabad has undergone a tremendous metamorphosis. Steering the growth are the city’s young. With their restlessness to be a part of the hip and happening, and energy levels to match, they have redefined all things hitherto known as Hyderabadi.

Shopping, clubbing or weddings – every single opportunity is an event to be celebrated. Larger than life. A 20 something doesn’t bat an eyelid before she picks up Jimmy Choo shoes or a Prada bag. And the big fat middle-aged Hyderabadi has turned into a six-pack exhibitionist strutting his stuff. Male manicures are a daily norm and tequila shots nightly rituals. While the rest of the country parties on weekends, Hyderabadis do it every day. Eves nights at night clubs and pubs are jam-packed with the young and the not so old, while the fuddy-duddies are having a whale of a time in their Jubilee Hills, Banajara Hills mansions.

With all that shopping and endless partying, one would assume career and education come secondary. No siree, that’s where you’re mistaken. From a 26-year-old businessman to a 23-year-old practicing lawyer, they’re all focused about what they want, how to get it and where to go from here. Focus is the latest open sesame. A 22-year-old salsa instructor who earns more than her doctor parents did at her age for teaching the city’s swish set ‘the moves’, gives a piece of sound advice to her 50 year old dad: ‘What’s most important is to know what you want from life and focus on how to get it. Mine is earning mega bucks so that I can travel in style.’ New age ‘you can make it happen’ self-help writers could take a leaf out of her mantra, eh? Looks like.

While material pleasures rule the lives of 80 per cent of the young, the rest have already gone the whole hog of spiritual shopping. ‘I have been through "art of living", transcendental meditation, reiki, alpha mind power workshops.’ 40-year-old woman facing mid-life crisis? Nah. It’s Nisha, a promising interior designer who believes that there is a need to practise ‘detached attachment’. So is she dedicating her life to spirituality? ‘That’s where most people lose it. Spirituality is not divorced from everyday life. We all need to focus.’ Focus, didn’t we say earlier?

 

Where the young differ from their thoroughbred Hyderabadi parents is in their lack of ‘take it easy attitude’. While the older lot was content with what they had, the new generation is hell-bent on taking it to another level. Most of them travel abroad for higher studies with their parents help, or the bank’s, but study abroad is a definite must. The rest go to IITs, IIMs, and Hyderabad’s very own ISB (Indian School of Business). Even if they’re sure to inherit billions worth of family businesses. Contributing big time to this massive change are global exposure and external influences in the form of the IT revolution.

Hundreds of young professionals are pouring into the city thanks to the Microsofts, Googles and GEs setting up their Indian offices this side of the Vindhyas. Says Shankar Krishnamurthy, owner of Fusion 9, Grill Room and Deli 9, the city’s fine dining restaurants: ‘22-25 year-olds spend much more than the older lot on dining. They want the best of wines and the best of food. They know all good things cost and they’re willing to pay the price.’ Plunging necklines and rising hemlines give way to business suits as young women occupy their hard earned positions in a boardroom. So, while you have a 25 something Srikala Reddy owning a nightclub and giving others in her business a run for their money, you also have the 25-year-old Teja Raju at the helm of Maytas, the real estate offshoot of Satyam, the IT bigwig and the Jethwani brothers in the jewellery and designer-wear business, Cherry Pestonji of Chermas, Upasna Kamineni of Apollo Hospitals – all in their 20s, running empires and having fun while at it.

Pockets are getting deeper; life is being lived like it is meant to be. ‘Weddings are becoming bigger,’ says Dinaz Noria, the city’s celebrity designer wedding-planner. ‘Today’s girls and boys go to great lengths to make sure their once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully!) event is special in all aspects. They know their mind. They participate at every stage of the planning. Even if their parents are involved, major decisions are taken by the young bride and groom. The best part is they don’t pinch pennies.’

 

So what happens when lavish weddings don’t turn into happy ever after? Divorce, what else? No mud slinging, no character assassination, limited courtroom appearances. Sometimes people around don’t even get to know of the divorce until one asks: ‘So, how’s your other half.’ And the young girl/guy answers: ‘We are not together any more.’ And if you say ‘what?’ in shock, you’ll get a self-assured, ‘It wasn’t working out. We’re divorced now.’ Sometimes in less than a year. Are patience levels getting lower and values going out of the window? ‘Not really,’ says Shravya, whose marriage lasted less than a year, ‘you don’t have to check the whole container to see if the rice is cooked. One grain should do.’ So there. No more enduring till the wound gets chronic and the pain lasts a lifetime.

Another aspect that has undergone a tremendous change is the look of buildings. With so many offshore companies setting up shop in the city’s Hitec City, the IT Mecca, anybody who drives through the area can’t believe they are in erstwhile Hyderabad. You could be in Singapore, Malaysia or even the US. The city’s architectural landscape has opened the eyes of many non-Hyderabadis. Even homes look different now. Till recently, Hyderabadis couldn’t relate to apartment culture. After much resistance, they have succumbed to the housing demand and escalating land rates, and one finds high rises mushrooming in and around the city. Fortunately, some areas like Jubilee Hills are protected from the onslaught of modern-day wonders and still retain the charm of homes with gardens.

 

Hyderabadis are all over the place now. Everywhere in the world. Across continents, countries, prairies, deserts, great lakes, green forests, islands. Everywhere. The Hyderabadi diaspora continues to expand just as the city stretches from Shamshabad to Shamirpet today. From films to sports. A long way from where it started. But, as we never tire of reminding the rest of the world and ourselves – once a Hyderabadi, always a Hyderabadi. So, they keep coming back to find old haunts gone, buildings pulled down and turned into malls and multiplexes, homes razed and converted into three-hundred and fifty flats on five hundred yards and being sold at exorbitant rates.

Well, well, times they are a changing. Luckily for us, our love for food remains untouched. In fact, nobody can escape the magic of Hyderabadi cuisine. Mouth-watering Shahi Cuisine of Hyderabad. Most slim Sultanas and beefcake Pashas believe in starving themselves and saving their appetites for biryani. Speaks volumes about how some things have remained untouched. Even today, Hyderabad’s young believe in upholding traditions when it comes to eating. Several young people belonging to Muslim families irrespective of gender have learnt the Hyderabadi art of entertaining on Dastarkhan.

The 400 years of Hyderabadi culture that has its origin in art, music, dance, and poetry is most popular for its cuisine. Hyderabad is never complete without the mention of the ‘Shahi Dastarkhan’. The Dastarkhan is the dining place where the food is served and eaten. It is normally a low chowki for the dining table and cotton mattresses for squatting and bolsters for the backrest. The Dastarkhan holds a place of reverence in every household.

 

What makes the Hyderabadi cuisine special is the use of special ingredients, carefully chosen and cooked to the right degree. The addition of a certain herb, spice, condiment, or an amalgam of these adds a unique taste and texture. The herbs and spices used and the method of preparation gives the dish its name. ‘Murgh do pyaza’ gets its name from the onions that are added twice to the dish in two variations. The masalas or the rich blend of herbs, spices and condiments give the dishes a base, or what is popularly known as ‘gravy’. Some of these blends are well-kept secrets that only pass down the family line or from the ustad (teacher) to shagird (pupil). The head cooks or the khansamas were an asset to the household, and were treated with due respect.

The word ‘Nawabi’ is as synonymous with the Hyderabadi cuisine as ‘Shahi’ is with Lucknowi. These terms conjure delicacies that are rich in taste and texture with mouth-watering aromas. The ‘kebabs’ in Hyderabad need a special mention; the ‘shammi kebab’ is one such popular dish. The kebabs are originally from Greece! The Hyderabadi meal is never complete without the bread from the kilns of the local bakers. The breads from this cuisine are equally popular, be it rich ‘sheermal’ or ‘lukmi’ (bread stuffed with savory mince meat). Bread is not only an accompaniment to the meal but also forms a base for a popular sweet dish ‘Double ka Meetha’.

Hyderabad’s strong Mughlai influence is perhaps one reason why the Hyderabadi biryani has become so popular all over India. This famous dish has been experimented with time and again to a perfection. In fact the biryani has influenced the Hyderabadi’s tongue so strongly that other famous dishes of Hyderabad usually take a back seat. It takes an extraordinary taste for other dishes to beat the competition of biryani.

Thank the stars that the winds of change haven’t altered the yearnings of the palate. If anything, they have been fanned.

 

So what else has remained unchanged? The warmth of the soul, the hospitality, the tendency to trust and good old Hyderabadi Urdu. Kaiku hasn’t become kyun and nakko hasn’t yet changed to nahin. Thankfully, not yet. Like they say, you can take a Hyderabadi out of Hyderabad but not Hyderabad out of a Hyderabadi. Says Imtiyaz, a businessman, ‘Recently at an immigration queue in Heathrow I had these two suited, booted gentlemen with their short skirt, streaked hair women standing ahead of me. I passed them off as angrez from the way they looked. Their complexions, English accent and so on. Until one of them, impatient with the delay, burst out "Kithi der lagarein ji in logan. India say kharab hai bhosdikay. (How long are these guys taking? It’s worse than India".’ No English equivalent for the last word). Nothing like chaste Hyderabadi to de-stress. Only a Hyderabadi can relate to that.

 

* Vanaja Banagiri is the author of Butterflies and Barbed Wires, Rupa, Delhi, 2007.

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