Myself, Travel

A City After 6 Years

It took me a few days of being in Hyderabad to parse the T in ‘TSRTC’ on local buses – it stands for Telangana. Six years ago, I would have been waiting for an APSRTC bus. But the hulking metal and glass blocks, regardless of political affiliation and State Road Transport Corporation, still make my heart lurch when they elbow their way past my rickshaw or bike.

The steamed dosa at Chutney’s is no longer called the Chiranjeevi dosa. When I looked for it on the menu, I realized that I could not remember if the name had ever actually existed officially or if it was just a bit of apocrypha we parroted to out-of-towners.  (But no, apparently the Chiranjeevi dosa does exist, and the actor’s family plans to capitalize on the name and the recipe. The official story however makes mention of an unknown restaurant in Mysore from where Chiru-garu got his idea, while we were told that Chutney’s came first.)

There are more Chutney’s restaurants now; one in Jubilee Hills, which we once turned our nose up towards because it was not the “real” restaurant, and one in Inorbit Mall in Madhapur. There are probably more that I don’t know of.

On my last day in Hyderabad, I went to the original restaurant at Nagarjuna Circle, joined by a friend who continues to work at our original workplace – the office of which has now moved to within walking distance of the restaurant. He will complete 14 years with the same company in May; had I stayed on, I would have celebrated the anniversary two days after him. “I hardly come here, though”, he said, making me groan in disbelief. He then ordered the South Indian thali while I got the steamed dosa, and the moment the gigantic plate loaded with the small bowls came to the table, I knew I had made a mistake.

“The city has moved”, my friend Shahnawaz said. “We hardly go to Begumpet anymore. We don’t need to.” Indeed, Madhapur and Gachibowli, once areas confused about their identity in the city greater, have embraced the “hitech” appellation whole-heartedly. The area, especially on weekday evenings, buzzes with festive. Brightly-lit alleys have busy hawkers serving tea, jalebis and bhajjis to a crowd that is dressed in a combination of pajamas and business casual; mostly young, some holding hands, others sitting inside cars waiting for orders to be served. I did not remember neo-Hyderabad this way, my memories of the Madhapur area is that of buildings in construction, desolate rocky areas punctuated with promises of dwellings both residential and business; unfriendly landlords and long commute times.

The first time I go from that part of town towards the older part of the city, the auto-rickshaw driver sputters and winds his vehicle through streets and past buildings that make me question my existence. The Metro is coming up, a winding spinal cord of giant pillars that introduces more chaos into my mental map of the city. It feels like being in a dream-version of Hyderabad, where the only thing I am sure of is that of my presence in the city, but there is nothing I can grasp and call my own. It is only when we reach Jubilee Hills check post that my brain realigns itself; from then on, I can make out landmarks of yore. Familiar buildings house unfamiliar names, but at least I can anchor myself to the once-that-was. I passed by a building that housed a restaurant I had come for a third date; another that had had a beautiful garden once. I went past a lane that a friend from work had decided was where the actress Trisha lived, and he would rev his bike through it every now and then while returning from the office, hoping that the lady would show up, and ask him for a ride, and then they would live happily ever after.

We reach Somajiguda Circle and I realize that I should have given better directions to the driver, because the road is now blocked and we can no longer make our way towards Raj Bhavan Road unless the guy drives another kilometer and makes a U-turn. But then, the guy reminds me that we are indeed in Hyderabad – he cranks his engine, swerves to the right, and drives through oncoming traffic on the other side of the road; honking twice as much as the annoyed drivers who still make way for him, he reaches the other end of the circle and merges not-so-smoothly with the rest of the traffic. Then he hears me guffawing in the backseat, and grinning wide, throws me a high-five.

Later, he tries to run down a kid who has walked to the middle of the street to pick up an errant kite. We are apparently friends, and he decides that his rickshaw is now a shared vehicle, stopping in front of random people to ask them if they want to get in. When I get down at my destination, the guy insists that he can change lanes again to make sure I stop right in front of where I am headed. But I do not wish blood pressure surges upon the good people of Lakdi-ka-pul, and proceed to cross the road myself. The Hyderabadi way, of course, which is to casually saunter across and hope nobody’s brakes fail. I nearly die twice, but nothing untoward happens to anyone. Maybe some wonder at the manic grin on my face, but I don’t really think about it.