Monday, March 06, 2006

Hyderabad: Through the eyes of a North Indian

The cultural difference between the northern and the southern states of India is so huge that anyone arriving at one part from the other will feel as if in a foreign country. For me, however, the arrival at Hyderabad was quite the opposite experience. I felt I was back at home. Reason? Simple. I was coming after spending two months in Chennai.
The sound of people speaking Hindi was music to my ears. You have a better chance of hearing a cuckoo in winter than a person speaking Hindi in Chennai. Then there were the signs. From advertising billboards to street directions, everything in Chennai is Tamil. Most of it, in any case. The little that isn’t Tamil is English. Hindi? Whoever’s heard of such a language? Even the well recognized brands like Coca Cola, ICICI Bank or Pizza Hut had their hoardings in Tamil. But here in Hyderabad, although Telugu has an edge, Hindi and English signs can be seen all around.
Anyway, I don’t intend to compare Chennai and Hyderabad here: that’s a comparison that I have to make too frequently these days. Instead, I’ll describe a few things that I, as a Bengali who has grown up in UP, finds unusual.
The first thing that struck me on arriving here was the traffic. I mean in a figurative sense, of course! At first sight, the traffic here seemed to be chaotic to the nth degree. However, a closer study over the next few days revealed that there are two simple road rules in Hyderabad. Follow them, and you can survive here. They are:
1 Drivers’ rule: The road is meant for driving, and has space for everybody. It is quite wide, and has two lanes, and two pavements. So drive where you please, as you please. No side is wrong side. While overtaking, the left is as right as the right. As long as you don’t crush people, you can’t do anything wrong. Which brings us to the second rule…
2 Pedestrians’ rule: Want to cross the street? Go ahead and do it. What’s the use of dilly-dallying on the sidelines? No need to see if the road is clear, because it will never be. It’s the drivers’ responsibility to see that you don’t get crushed. Just do it.
So a person riding his motorbike on the wrong side footpath may seem odd in other cities, but not in Hyderabad. Here it is as normal as cars taking U-turns on flyovers, or passing through a red light at forty miles an hour. I haven't been able to get used to these rules, especially rule 2. The problem is, when I get used to it, I'll become vulnerable in any other unruly city.
Enough on traffic. Let’s move on to the second thing that bowled me over. It was the food. After spending two months in Chennai, I was of the opinion that I can endure any kind of food. And Hyderabad is famous for some dishes. So imagine my shock when I couldn’t finish my lunch on the first day because it was too hot and spicy. Next day I was cleverer, so I ordered only curd rice. The curd rice arrived, full of finely chopped coriander leaves and green chilies. After eating a few spoonfuls, I surrendered. Since then I’ve found it easier to learn cooking (via email from my mom) and I prefer to taste my own culinary misadventures rather than someone else’s. if we keep aside the slightly disturbing fact that over the last six months four people have left our flat and another one has gone on a diet, I am quite satisfied with my cooking skills. Also, everything in Hyderabad has a sour taste. Everything except the water they put in the phuchkas (That's the bengali name for pani puris, or gol-gappas, as you better know them). That water is pure sweet in taste. No wonder I'm living without phuchkas for the last six months!
Another thing that’s worth mentioning is the Hyderabad rickshaws. If I find the man who designed them, I'd surely reward him for innovative design. Their seats are about six inches higher than their footrests. So you have to virtually squat when you sit on one of those (I haven’t had the chance yet). Imagine doing that wearing a skin-tight jeans or well ironed suit. I think further comments are unnecessary. Each auto rickshaw driver of Hyderabad is very sincerely trying to get his name in the Guiness Book of World Records for carrying the maximum number of passengers at once. So while an unambitious auto driver carries only three people in the rear and two (excluding himslf) in front, the more talented ones do not start their vehicles without four in the backseat, four in the front seat and a guy or two hanging from either side.
The people of Hyderabad are quite nice. Here I saw lady bus conductors for the first time. All bus conductors' behaviour here is exemplary regardless of their sex. The bus conductors of Delhi and Kolkata can really learn a lesson or two from their Hyderabad counterparts. Here, the same route bus comes in three categories... Metro Express, Metro Liner and Ordinary. Although they follow the same route, their comfort, speed and number of stops varies according to their category. Needless to say, speed and comfort comes at an extra cost.
Hyderabad is a large city, and it won't be possible to describe everything of this place in a single post. I'll be writing about different aspects of this city, maybe in some other post, but before I end, I'd like to narrate this small incident. I was buying vegetables from a small temporary shop in our locality. I tried to know the prices by asking the shopkeeper lady,"Gobi kitna? Gajar kitna?" and so on. She responded by saying, "Cabbage 8 rupees sir, and carrots 6 rupees a kilo." Well, English-speaking green-grocers are not among people whom you meet everyday in the North. Hats off to Hyderabad!


  1. well composed.. seems like It will continue as part I to X.

  2. ROTFL bro....
    kasam se, u'v kept ur promise, really joy4readers.
    But Chennai isn't that bad as u hav described n i guess hyderabad as well !! Abey I need 2 deciede my TCS center donn confuse me.

  3. darum likhecho money hochey aami ek versatile bondhu peychi

  4. @abhijit: Thanks. Well..I don't really plan to write parts I to X, but I'll definitely post more on Hyderabad.

    @aurindam: When did I describe Chennai as bad? On the contrary, what I meant was, people made me believe that food problem can't be more acute than in Chennai. I'll say the opposite. I really loved Chennai, but I also love Hyderabad. I'll be posting one on Chennai soon to remove your confusion...

    @tultuli:Thank You...Ar lajja diyona...tumio kichhu kom versatile nao!

  5. hummm....I will also switch on word varification. :-)

  6. hey..i feel as though i've jus been to hyd..thru ur eyes..very keen observation..guess i'll remember this description of urs if i ever happen 2 go there..
    & well..chennai is not that sad..ya there is lotz of tamil there..i agree..

    of course thanks to hyd..u now know hw to cook..!!

  7. Hello! Sir

    I am BILIGIRI RANGA, from Hyderabad, INDIA, writing an article on ‘FOOTPATH MENACE’ in city for a Hyderabad based magazine PRISM, a 10+ year old mag.

    I saw your blog and keen to have your views for my article

    Pls get in touch with me at

    Waiting for your e mail at earliest soon


  8. heya
    u seem to b very much in love with the city..
    i still din fell for it though iv been der for two years!

    well il change ma viewpoint now..