HomeThe trip (June-July 2005)

2nd letter, from Hyderabad (5 July 2005), continued

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Sunday afternoon Faiz invited us along for a run/walk with the group of people with whom he runs regularly. Ok, why not (if Meher and I can do it at a walk), and so we went, not really knowing what to expect. Nihal came along too; Rafi had some excuse about watching a tennis match... Well, it was a 5km walk, and a 7 km run. Adam ran the whole course, in his sandals. JS did just over half before packing it in and taking a ride back to the starting/finishing point. Meher and I collected Nihal from Faiz at the halfway point. We were the very last people to finish the course. Fortunately, the young man who laid out the course (the "hare") was very patient, and walked with me while Meher and Nihal followed, just keeping us within sight. Well, what a course. Not just up hill and down dale, but thru every sort of neighborhood to be found in this part of the city. "this part of the city" is Banjara Hills, a pretty well-off section on what used to be the outskirts of the city: granite outcrops that have weathered into stacks of huge boulders.

From Meher [TAD bits in square brackets]: For me, it was both a culture shock and a weird experience. I had, in the early seventies (a long story), been in situations where most people in certain gatherings were whites, almost all from UK. Conversations would be very strained with the English and Indians trying to be extremely polite (a longer story here). Not so on Sunday. In fact, it seemed like we just walked into a scene in Toronto. I had to adjust the bearings on my culture and historical perceptions. This crowd (HASH runners and walkers) was talking in a familiar idiom, though their accents were from all over. Familiar stuff about saving the earth with local referents (walk, don't take auto), free T-shirts with the ecological messages [actually, Faiz paid for us], and lots of loud talk, etc. It was too bad that this event was so impromptu, or we would have all packed some sneakers and I would have responded with more enthusiasm. The kids were not fazed. They just joined in most eagerly with Nihal and JS in running shoes, Adam in Birkenstocks going ahead with the runners.

Tim and I walked more slowly, somewhere in the middle of the walkers, slowly taking in the scenes; the terrain, the streets, the people. This area was on the outskirts of Hyderabad in the sixties, when I was growing up. Now, it is well developed, much of it pretty clean, and most of it yuppified with all sorts of Spas, Gyms, Health clubs, parks with paths, Health food stores etc. [on the main roads]. This itself is a culture shock for me. It would have been simpler to take Tim and the kids to the India I knew and grew up in, the India they know from my reminiscences. Things are tough when what you left behind changes and you yourself are trying to understand all the developments. I had sort of prepared my guys in some vague ways, using metaphors, holophrases, and whatever else one can do to encapsulate a lot into little time and space. There are some aspects of India that make me feel that we just sort of skipped the twentieth century and catapulted ourselves into the twenty-first. I tried to tell the guys that the twentieth century was really not ours. For the first half of the century, we were trying to get the British off our backs, a bit like Sindbad trying to dislodge the piggyback-riding old man of the sea. Having shaken off the oaf, we found ourselves in a land we had never had as a nation, let alone know how to govern. Here Adam's knowledge about the pre-British India came in handy and the kids (Tim knows everything and just tolerates my rants, I think) and we concluded our musings about India. We wrestled back an unfamiliar land, tried to make one country, but didn't succeed. The rest is history.

[Possibly so as to wind up this installment so that we can send it off a little later this (Tuesday) morning, let me explain a little more about the route of the run, uncomplicated by the past. Yes, it was a big circuit leading back to the hare's house where we had first gathered, and although it started out along the main drag (Road No. 12) it quickly descended from the spa and fancy house district down smaller and smaller streets into an area of 1- and 2-storey houses and small shops where people gawked understandably at all these t-shirted whites (mostly) striding along in a loose sort of pack. After a while the course regained the ridge level where it had started and we found ourselves on the walking path that surrounds a 300+ acre national park that was once the grounds of one of the Nizam's summer palaces. We didn't know this at the time, but rather just marveled at the enclosure of such a large area of bush, completely devoid of any sign of squatter settlements. In fact the only activity we could observes was some peacocks off in the distance, courting a peahen. The walking track we were on, separated from both the park on one side and the busy road on the other, seems to go on and on.

Part of the way along we found Faiz and Nihal. Since Faiz was running and Nihal had been unable to keep up, Nihal continued the walk with us. Eventually we came to a lookout where we paused only briefly (already it was pretty clear that that we were at the very tail end of the pack), and then to the point at which the course left the track and continued on the other side of the road. Here the organizers had set up a water station, and we stopped briefly to drink something and chat a bit. All this time I had been carrying 2 water bottles, thinking that they might come in handy, but in fact all thru this visit the weather had been very moderate, really hot (I think) only on Saturday, for part of the drive up from Bangalore. There's actually a bit of a crisis, as the monsoon has not yet arrived in this part of (southeastern) India and water in cities like Hyderabad is in very short supply. We had even considered calling off the trip for this reason, but we'll write later about why Kausar and Faiz can all of a sudden accommodate 11 extra bathers, drinkers, and users of toilets. Point is the monsoon seems to be trying to arrive. Skies are frequently overcast, and there's often quite a stiff wind blowing, which is very nice. The nights have been cool (definition of the tropics: the variation in temperature between day and night exceeds the seasonal variation) and mostly very comfortable. Sunday evening was no exception, and it actually managed to rain a bit during the first leg of the course. Naturally, we hoped for a downpour, but it never really came. After the water stop we continued in company with the hare, a plant breeder from the USA.

 
 

The lotus pond, and a bird I don't know.

This is a view to the north of the lotus pond. Above the lotus pond, and a bird I do know.

This is a view more or less SSW from the west side of the lotus pond, looking down the watercourse where the dhobis work. In the distance, perhaps a little to the right, is the Golconda fort.

 

  Near the lotus pond, a construction site showing the bedrock of the Banjara Hills.

The course he had laid out continued past another, smaller park surrounding Lotus Pond, where Meher, Nihal, and I had come early Sunday morning with Faiz. This time, however, we stayed outside the park, following the road that follows the outlet stream from the pond in the general direction of the Golconda fort that after a while we could see in the distance. Apparently the pond was originally a place where dhobis washed clothes for the houses above the pond and further back. With gentrification (construction of the park) they were pushed downstream, and Sunday morning we could hear clothes being slapped on the rocks, and see people gathered at scattered pools remaining in the streambed. Our route on Sunday evening took us past squatter settlements built with palm leaf mats and ubiquitous blue tarpaulins on the downhill side, and mansions (newly built, under construction) on the uphill side. These mansions mostly make North York monster homes look like hovels, the kinds of places one could imagine being designed by Conrad Black/Barbara Amiel wannabes.

Depressing, but it led to an interesting and useful conversation with the hare that amounted to a rapid introduction to the scene from the perspective of a North American biologist. Item: the bricks that are used in all this construction come from the brick kilns we saw along the highway on Saturday. There's a layer in the soil around here that's rich in clay and holds nutrients and water well. It can also be mined, as a landowner's last resort, and formed into bricks for the city.

 

(1st row) Across from Faiz and Kausar's house, a new building is under construction. In front of it, next to where Meher is standing, is a pile of bricks that was unloaded from a truck early one morning while we were there. The hodless brick carriers (they use their heads) are young girls probably no older than Adam.

 

(2nd row) Driving back to Bangalore we saw brick kilns. We stopped at this one, and you can see in the third shot the pile of fuel and in the distance, the raw bricks, laid out on the ground. (3rd row) A man and a woman were taking apart this kiln, and let us take their picture. And then, we were off, on our way again.
Past mansions and shanties, across a large expanse of open ground, and then we were back at Road No. 12 and close to the start and finish of the course. By the time Meher, Nihal, and I got there it was dark and the group was into their post-course celebrations. Adam and JS were, of course, already there, and I got us a bottle of beer (Meher frowns, but didn't refuse her share). As the festivities continued it seems we had to be initiated as hash (why hash?) virgins, introducing ourselves and drinking more beer. Each nationality was greeted with a rude song, the take on 'Oh Canada' being of course that Canadians are so nice, accepting of others, and BORING. Then for some reason it was the turn of the Canadians present to be recognized and given more beer. The boys and Meher pulled me into the circle for that, so the crowd found it rather cheeky that I did the same to them when I stood up as an American as well (more beer). Anyway, after all this we found our shirts that we'd shed in order to wear our new ones, and made our way back to Faiz's place.]  

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all text and images on this site are © M. Shaik and T. A. Dickinson 2005 unless otherwise noted; some images are © A. K. Dickinson 2005.