Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2011

Hyderabad — née Bhagyanagaram, the City of Fortunes — has an eclectic personality you’d be hard put to find elsewhere.

Larger-than-life statues of Lord Shiva and his consort, Goddess Parvathi. The size of the people standing at the base of this sculpture should give you some idea of its magnitude

Architecture:

In this city, the ancient Hindu architecture and the architecture influenced by the Islamic culture have jostled each other over the centuries and ultimately settled down into their own grooves. 

Architecture influenced by the Hindu religion is known for its use of color and sculptures. It, in fact, revels in the portrayal of larger-than-life forms of Gods, Goddesses, humans, and animals and their role in the mythological stories. No Hindu temple is considered complete without its share of intricate carvings and murals all along its walls.

A mosque

Diametrically opposite to this, architecture influenced by the Islamic culture favors tall towers and huge domes. Engravings on the walls depict austere, yet beautiful, geometric and freehand patterns, since Islam forbids depiction of humans in any shape or form.

It is quite common in this city to come upon a temple with its intricately sculpted images painted in riotous colors just around the corner from a solemn mosque, with its towering turrets and domes.

Sculptures on the face of a Hindu temple

 

Carvings on the walls of a mosque

Clothes:

You can’t leave Hyderabad without losing yourself in some shopping, especially for women’s clothing. It is one of the centers in modern India for eye-catching designs, colors, and fashions in ethnic wear.

Women in Saris

A six-yard sari (pronounced phonetically as: saa-ree), a timeless example of “less is more” in terms of exposure of skin, used to be the original choice of apparel for the majority of women in India. Unfortunately, it is not the most convenient of fashions, owing to its several layers that hinder free movement and also the amount of time and skill required to drape it in the proper style. As a result, a sari is losing its popularity as an everyday wear among the modern and younger generations. It has become just one ethnic choice among many, depending on the occasion and time and place.

A chudidar or a Punjabi Suit (a style that is the descendant of the traditions and

Punjabi Suit

 trends from parts of northern India mixed with those of the Muslim culture) is the most usual style of choice among women in all of India now. It is easy to wear, cheaper than a sari (usually) and stands up to the busy and demanding life of today’s woman.

Hyderabad has brought the trends from North-and-South and Hindu-and-Muslim cultures together and come up with a chic — yet ethnic – and traditional — yet immensely convenient — wear for women.

I realized on this trip that, these days in shops, there are as many style choices in chudidars as there are stars in the sky. (Okay, may be an exaggeration, but only slightly so.) They come in several prices ranging anywhere from $10/- a set all the way up to hundreds of dollars. Depending on the time, money, and energy you are willing to spend, you will find a style to suit any occasion, however big or small.

Food:

Dosa with Chutney, Sambhar, and a cup of piping hot coffee

The food in Hyderabad reflects the marrying of not only the two major religions of the region, but also several cultures from around the country (and beyond).

From roadside food vendors’ carts on the streets to small cafés on the curbside (with names like Irani café or Punjabi Dhabha) to posh five-star hotels, each carries a menu that can only be described as a delightful medley of tastes and flavors.

On the same menu, you see items such as: Hyderabadi Biryani, Gosht ka Salan, and Khubani ka Mitha that are examples of the gastronomic gems that are born of the Hyderabadi Muslim culture, followed by true South Indian specialties such as: Dosa-Chutney-Sambhar, Chicken Korma, and Payasam, with Indian-Chinese items like: Chicken 65, Chilly Chicken, and Hakka Noodles nipping closely at their heels, and Aloo Parantha, Kheema Naan, and Ras Malai, mouth-watering delicacies from various regions of North India, not too far behind. (See below for translation/explanation of the names of each of the dishes mentioned here, if you’re interested :-).)

Gosht ka Salan

Language:

The same ease and acceptance exists in their general outlook on life among the city’s populace. Telugu, Hindi, English, and Urdu — all with an accent/dialect unique to the region – are only a few of the languages you hear exchanged on an average day in Hyderabad.

For all its journey full-speed ahead into the 21st century and its willing immersion into true globalization – which has brought materialism and dwindling ethics and values with it, unfortunately – Hyderabad (and all of India, for that matter) still retains a flavor, an other-worldliness if you will, on a day-today basis that dates back to centuries of tradition and culture.

— ** —

Glossary:

Hyderabadi Biryani: Fried rice/Pilaf using chicken or mutton cooked in a style unique to Hyderabad.

Gosht ka Salan: A spicy curry of goat or lamb.

Khubani ka Mitha: Khubani is Urdu for apricots. This is a dessert consisting of dried apricots in a thick syrup, served over a thick cream or custard. 

Dosa: Crepes made out of lentils and rice. One of the most common breakfast items in southern India.

Chutney: A spicy ground mixture made of peanuts or some kind of lentils to go with crepes.

Sambhar: Yellow lentil soup.

Chicken Korma: Chicken curry made using yoghurt and several spices.

Payasam: Traditional rice pudding.

Chilly Chicken: Chicken cooked in Chinese style (steeped in Indian spices) and garnished with lots of green chillies to make your eyes water along with your mouth.

Hakka Noodles: Also an Indo-Chinese specialty, crispy noddles that taste sweet and savory/hot at the same time.

Aloo Parantha: Unleavened bread stuffed with spiced potatoes.

Kheema Naan: Flat bread with several light layers, stuffed with spiced ground goat meat.

Ras Malai: A dessert made of paneer (somewhat similar to cottage cheese) and thick cream.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Hyderabad. Just the name sums up many visual and gastronomical treats for me.

This busy, historic, and throbbing-with-life city was the first stop during my recent

Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, which was the seat of power of the Qutub Shahis. This is a section of the ruins of the fort as viewed from the main entrance

 trip to India. It is the capital city of Andhra Pradesh — one of the southeastern states of India — and is a thorough mix of old-with-new and traditional-with-modern.

The original city of Hyderabad, now known as the Old City, was founded 500 years ago on the banks of Musi river. The founding of this city, not to mention its name, is steeped in romance and religious tolerance. 

Legend has it that crown prince Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah (of the Qutub Shahi dynasty that ruled the area at the time), who belonged to the faith of Islam, fell in love with a Hindu girl called Bhagmati. This girl lived in a village on the opposite bank of the river from the prince’s fort.

The prince used to continually brave even the flooding waters of the river to go meet with his flame. His father Ibrahim Qutub Shah, the then ruling king, who heard of his son’s infatuation decided to lend his support to the courtship. He soon had a bridge built over the river so his son could cross the river safely in any season and woo his girl.

One of the buildings in Hi-Tech City, the hub of IT industry in the state. Photo taken from: myhyderabadonline.com

Now, if that is not the height of tolerance and understanding, then I don’t know what is.

Eventually, Mohammed Quli married Bhagmati, and then ascended the throne at the death of his father. He went on to found a city, which he named Bhagyanagaram after his wife. (Bhagya means “fortune” and nagaram translates to “city” in Telugu, which is the language spoken by the majority of the people in my state. The name in its entirety can be seen as “The Fortunate City” or “The City of Bhagya” as in Bhagmati’s city – pretty clever pun on words, if you ask me!) Later when Bhagmati was awarded the title of Hyder Mahal by her husband, the name of the city was changed to Hyderabad to reflect her new moniker.

A view of Charminar – the historical monument that is the face of the city -- from the street

The bridge, called Purana Pul (The Old Bridge), that Ibrahim Qutub Shah had commissioned over 500 years ago stands sturdy to this day. The arched bulwarks underneath the bridge, made of heavy stones, exhibit not only the fine craftsmanship of those times but also a keen eye for beauty.

Since the bridge is narrow and would not serve the present-day traffic needs, a broader bridge has been built parallel to it for everyday use. The day I visited this bridge happened to be the eve of Bakrid, one of the holy days for Muslims. The whole area was teeming with people, so unfortunately, I couldn’t get close enough to take good pictures of this beautiful, yet practical, monument for love.

On the old bridge, there now flourishes a walk-through bazaar where shopkeepers squatting under small awnings do brisk business in a variety of stuff  beginning with chappals (shoes) to fruits to pearls to clothing.

I was thoroughly heartened by this fitting use — rather than naming it a heritage monument and cordoning it off from public — for the vision of a father who had this bridge built to serve a practical purpose.   

An aerial view of the monolithic statue of Lord Buddha in the middle of Lake Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad. Photo courtesy: Post card printed by the Department of Archaeology and Museums of Andhra Pradesh

Of course, as with most other legends in history that lack a recorded version, there are other theories to dispute this one about the origins of the name of the city of Hyderabad. However, I have always been fascinated by this story of love, romance, and understanding and have whole heartedly subscribed to this version of it. And I still do.

The current-day Hyderabad has outgrown the original city and has expanded northwards. As I mentioned earlier, this metropolis is a true amalgamation of new and old, modern and antique, and ethnic and technological (Hyderabad is one of the strongest hubs of the IT industry in India) now. There exists such harmony between one facet and the other that I cannot imagine Hyderabad without either.          

The city is also a living and breathing monument to the coming together of two major religions in India: Hinduism and Islam (over 80% of Indians practice Hinduism, while Islam and Christianity are the next two major religions practiced in

Night-time view of Birla Mandir, a temple for Lord Venkateswara, one of the deities of the Hindu pantheon, in Hyderabad. It’s made entirely of white marble and is famous for its serene beauty and architectural details. Photo courtesy: Post card printed by the Department of Archaeology and Museums of Andhra Pradesh

India). The two religions are so intertwined in this city that you would find it hard sometimes to tell where one begins and the other ends. The architecture of the several monuments in the city, along with local food and clothing (more details coming up in the next post :)), bear testimony to this very basic fact of this city.

However, as it usually happens elsewhere in the world, owing to the proximity of two religions, this is also one of the highly volatile areas in the country. I guess, not all practitioners of the two religions choose to apply the doctrines of tolerance from their holy books to real life.

Mecca Masjid, an example of history walking hand in hand with current life: People go about their everyday lives around the centuries-old mosque, which lies at the heart of the Old City

All one has to do is take a page from the history of the city — of the enormous leap of faith Ibrahim Qutub Shah took for his son, the religious tolerance he had adopted in the matter, and the empathy he had shown for the emotions of his son — to get some perspective. But, in today’s world, that looks like a really tall order.

When I mentioned the same to some of my friends – who were born and bred in the heart of Hyderabad, unlike me – they said I had too simplistic a view of the complicated matters that dictate the pulse of the city.

Maybe it is or maybe it isn’t. As with so many things in adult life, it depends on who is doing the asking and who is  answering…

The majestic tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah, the founder of Hyderabad

Read Full Post »

Why Do We Do That?

There is this show on HG TV (Home and Garden Television) called House Hunters to which I’m strangely addicted these days.

Whenever I’m in need of some relaxation or have some time to kill in between more pressing events, I find myself tuning in to that channel, hoping that that show is on. If it is House Hunters International, then yum, that much better.

This show — for the uninitiated — follows potential real estate customers on their hunt for a new home (in the U.S if it’s just House Hunters and in an international market if it’s the International version of it).

I find myself:

  • Rooting for the single mom and her two children as they relocate to Barcelona from London
  • Trying to understand the young couple who are retiring to the sandy beaches of Belize before they’ve even fully immersed themselves in the workforce so they can enjoy an athletic lifestyle while they’re still young and healthy
  • Commiserating with the elderly couple and their problems in renovating their home away from home in Jurich.

So involved do I get in their search that I feel exhausted, pursued by nagging worries, by the moment of final truth: What if they make a mistake in choosing the right kind of home? What if they regret their move later on? What if their finances are worn thin?

Why am I attached to this show? I honestly don’t know, except for the fact that it is fun. Pure and simple!

It’s fun probably because it’s not I who’s doing the packing and relocating, not to mention a new mortgage and the financial dilemmas that come with it. And it’s probably also because of the freedom I have, as a viewer, to choose a home that doesn’t affect my life in the least.

All said and done, just the fact that so many episodes of the show are being aired per day is proof that there are quite a few other suckers like me out there.

Is there a show that you watch (or a magazine that you read or a food that you eat) regularly but then question your strange attraction to it?

Read Full Post »

To the untrained eye or the uninitiated, it looks like utter chaos and spells certain, imminent death: the road is choked with vehicles and bodies of every kind. Pedestrians (and more times than not, loitering animals enjoying the tumult they’re causing) and puny bikes weave across lanes of traffic with nonchalance, where buses and trucks are barreling down.

Photo Courtesy: dreamstime.com

This was the first scene that greeted me when we stepped out of the airport in India.

It’s not like I’m exactly new to this, though it’s also true that there has been an explosion of motorized vehicles on the roads in India — especially in Hyderabad, the capital city of the state I come from – in the last decade or so.  

For the first two days, conditioned as I have been for the divided lanes and orderly passage of traffic in the U.S, I constantly said my prayers and kept preparing myself for a maimed body. At best. Morbid? Yes, but you had to be there to understand.

Picture this: you’re sitting in a city cab — about the size of a Honda civic — and a fully-loaded (as in people dribbling down to the first step) passenger bus comes and brakes right next to you. You look up and realize that there is just the glass window of your cab and three inches of air that separate you and the monstrous front bumper of the fifteen-ton hunk of metal. Gulp!

Ever so slowly, though, generations of survival instincts and the Eastern stoicism kicked back in, and I began to settle in. Every time I thought I was going to be roadkill, my mantra* became: Jo hona so hoga. Phikar karne se kyaa phaayda?**

Once I decided to sit back and relax, cocooned in the hope that my cab driver knew exactly what he was doing, my eyes began to see and my mind started to absorb. It was then that I had an epiphanic moment: There actually is an age-old order beneath the apparent madness of criss-crossing vehicles!

It was like an unacknowledged food chain, only this was a vehicle-chain. The man on foot knew where to look for guidance: at the vehicle just above him in the order, which is the bicycle. The girl on the bicycle paid heed only to the auto-rickshaws zooming past her. The auto-rickshaw driver had enough regard for the cars and taxis that ruled the road for him. And the taxiwallah*** had a grudging respect for buses and trucks that could crush his box of metal if they so wished.

No wonder in all my traveling on the road during the trip, I hadn’t come across a single traffic accident. Like my friend Jai Joshi said, when you’re on the road in India, your senses are honed to razor sharpness.

You hear a certain kind of horn behind you and deduce, without even looking, what kind of a vehicle it is that is pursuing you. Depending on who you are, a bicyclewallah*** or a bus driver, your brain does certain calculations and you either make way reluctantly or make a subtle adjustment to your speed and position so you effectively block the other vehicle’s exit.

The absolute truth dawned on me only a few days before I left for America: Indian traffic is an elite club to which not everyone is allowed access. You have to have a certain state of mind and stoutness of heart to even apply for membership. Once you’re in, though, it’s a lifetime’s citizenship; one that prepares you to face anything with élan.

–*–

* Mantra – A chant or a short prayer.

* * — One of the basic philosophies of life in India (and probably in most parts of the East). It roughly translates to: Whatever is meant to happen will happen. What’s the use of worrying?

*** Taxiwallah/Bicyclewallah: Two of the many Hinglish (Hindi + English) words in common, everyday use in India. Literally, they mean: ‘The guy with the taxi/bicycle’, but in this case it’s used to refer to ‘taxi driver or the one riding the bicycle’, whichever the case may be.

Read Full Post »

2011 – just the name sounds so sci-fi, doesn’t it? Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are raring to go in this new year!

I had a great trip to India – thank you all for wishing me well on this trip. To borrow a phrase from one of my readers (thanks, Sharoon!), I soaked up the glorious medley that is India and came back content in the heart and nourished in the soul.

I couldn’t have wished for more beautiful weather while I was there! India (at least the southern parts of it) has seen an unprecedented amount of rainfall these past few months; the vegetation has probably been blindsided at first by this unseasonal bounty, but then it obviously decided to take advantage. Everywhere I turned, there was lush greenery. Living in the not-so-green section of the U.S, I’d forgotten how vibrant and dazzling the color green could be.

In addition to spending time with family and friends, I also crammed in some sightseeing – both historic and natural — into my already short trip. It made it all pretty hectic, but if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change any of it.

I read this advice somewhere: pack a scented candle or a body lotion that you have never used before, when you’re setting out on a special trip. When you’re back home, all you have to do is whip out the lotion or the candle and voilá, you are transported back to an enchanted time. Of course, as it usually happens, I read these wise words after I came back from my vacation.

So, I’m going to do the next best thing. I have taken quite a few pictures during the trip, but how many times will you look at plain pictures, right? Now, if those photos came with the tales of behind-the-scenes, then that would be something!

I’m going to supply those stories for myself so that all I would have to do to go back in time and place is read those words. Words that would remind me what I heard, how I felt, and what I saw when I was either posing for the picture or snapping them.

I’m going to blog about my trip, on and off, for the next few weeks. My hope is that while chronicling the moments for myself (and my daughter, with whom I happily shared this jaunt, and who helped add new dimensions and perspectives to it), I’d be able to provide some entertainment to you all.

Also, this would be my way of thanking everyone who has had a hand in making this trip such a precious one for me!

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to hoping each one of us finds some semblance of peace, something dear to remember the year by, in 2011!

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: