By Maya Mirchandani on NDTV Blogs,
The search for identity is a universal one, the need to assert one's perceived identity, equally so. So, if there's one thing the Telangana crisis has brought to the front of my mind, it is this, and the following question: Who, or what, am I?
For the record, I'm half Sindhi, half Telugu. My father's family is from the Hyderabad of the north, in Sindh, now in Pakistan. My mother's Telugu family settled in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh in 1967, after living for nearly 3 decades in Shillong when it was still Assam. I was born in Hyderabad (at Niloufer Hospital in Lakdi ka Pul, bed fee Rs 2/-), spent every single summer between the time I was born and the age of 21 in jewel of the Deccan with my maternal grandmother and aunts (between Masab Tank, Lakdi ka Pul, and Gachi Bowli). I have lived, studied and worked in Delhi, Amritsar, Mumbai, London and New York. I'm as delighted eating "sai bhaji" and "khichdi" as I am with "pulusu annam" and "gongura", as comfortable in the bylanes of Charminar as on the streets of Manhattan.
I have it easy, some would say. My identity is a matter of convenience- my civic and ethnic identities go back and forth- depending on who I'm talking to, and where I am. But identity is also a matter of perception, not simply convenience. For all my growing up years being "half and half" was nothing but stressful. My Telugu cousins always saw me as the "North Indian". For my Sindhi family in Mumbai, I was always the "Madrasi". In Hyderabad I would try to steal a treat from the candy jars in my maternal grandmother's puja room with the scent of agarbattis and vibhuti omnipresent; in Delhi, Amritsar and Mumbai I could recite (and still can) verses from the Guru Granth Sahib my Sindhi grandmother taught me when I was just 5 years old. And however confused I was in my growing years, with the wisdom of age now I realize the harder it was to bracket myself into a parochial, religious, ethnic or linguistic identity as a child, the easier it has been for me to feel truly Indian as an adult. (Yes, however clichéd that may sound.)
Why am I wasting precious time saying all this? Because here lies the root of my total confusion over what should happen to Hyderabad, the city of my birth. Like me, Hyderabad too has multiple identities, cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic. And for much of its 420-year-old history, it's an idea that has been coveted and fought over by each one of its communities. While its more recent, post independence history is chequered with communal riots, and pro-Telangana protests, its early history is inextricably tied to the Qutb Shahi dynasty. Until some years ago, driving to Gachi Bowli from Mehdipatnam on the old Bangalore road, you could still see their tombs rise above the landscape. They are now being restored with funds from Iran- the spiritual and cultural fount for the city's Shia Muslims, many of whom are more or less confined to the old city, divided from the new by the natural boundary of the Musi River. A friend once said to me Hyderabad's communal cartography is evident, the lines between Hindu and Muslim neighbourhoods absolute dividers, sometimes even referred to as "sarhad" or border. The same friend, a Hyderabadi Shia, a Left leaning management professor and itinerant poet, asked me last week what the creation of the state of Telangana would do to his identity.
The Hindus in Hyderabad are an equally motley lot. Conservative, Andhras who dominate the political landscape, and much of the big industry - Film, Pharmaceuticals, Real Estate, for example. And not to forget the Marwaris- who came in to trade in gems and jewels for the Nizams, and like the Sindhis have an entrepreneurial spirit that allows them to call anyplace home. Culturally completely different from each other, and I am not even going to get into the caste and class break ups within the different communities.
Add to this mix now, a third, even newer Hyderabad. HITEC city. Chandrababu Naidu's dream, of making it the Dubai of South India, this part of the city, spreading outwards even beyond Jubilee Hills (once the far end of town), has over the last decade become the city's showcase, with several visiting foreign dignitaries ensuring they make a pit stop at one of the symbols of India's emerging economy.
But this has only complicated Hyderabad's identity further. The massive influx of dollars during the IT, BPO boom has brought in a new transitory white collar population of foreigners, ex-pats, westernized outsiders with their swank cars, boutiques and fancy mansions right beside the old Irani hotels and crumbling bungalows of my grandparents era. They too are now an integral, inextricable part of Hyderabad's social fabric.
As the center's decision to create a new state of Telangana now focuses on the future of Hyderabad, since the city comes bang in the middle of its districts, the debate ranges from identity to economics. Hyderabad is Telangana's cash cow. The creation of a new state will ensure the wealth it generates is distributed among what are today Andhra Pradesh's poorest districts. But Hyderabad is also organically linked with the rest of Andhra Pradesh, as Andhras from Coastal Districts (like my mother's family) and Rayalseema made the inland capital their home generations ago. Are they now being told they don't belong?
Similarly, for the non-Telugu communities of Hyderabad- are they now being told they don't belong either? For all the communal tensions of the last 50 odd years, Hyderabad has been a flourishing example of Indo-Islamic composite culture- where its multiple communities have mingled and created their own language, food, and ethos. For all of them, indeed for all of us- Hyderabad is not just a city, it is an idea. An idea that must survive the politics of division the subcontinent never seems to tire of.