One fine day in the sunny month of May 1998, my maternal uncle came up to me and asked me to get ready for a short trip to Hyderabad. I was told that we were to attend a marriage. It was my first visit to Hyderabad and I had heard a lot about the city that it was. Till then, I had known Hyderabad to be the city famous for its pearls, Biryani, Haleem and Golconda amongst others. And boy, how excited I was when I finally boarded the bus from Warangal to Hyderabad!
Gorging on authentic Hyderabadi Biryani, my love-love relationship with this dish began with gusto. Continues till date! Watching the magnificent Buddha Statue standing tall on a platform in the Hussain Sagar lake, surrounded by Necklace Road that dazzles at night (as the name suggests); I wondered at the city that Hyderabad was. My father had by then dropped enough subtle hints that this was the city we were to later settle in. And after years of living a nomadic life at various IAF bases in India, I was elated that we would be settling for good in a city that held a lot of promises for me.
As an 11 year old kid, I was enamoured by the spirit that Hyderabad as a city embodied. Its laid-back charm coupled with the tehzeeb with which its residents welcomed people from all parts of India was endearing, if not anything else. Located almost centrally in the Indian subcontinent, it is easily accessible from all the four directions. And it is probably the only South Indian city that can still boast of a population consisting of varied ethnic and linguistic groups. Relatively speaking, Hyderabad was and continues to be women-friendly compared to other metro cities in India.
Home to a multitude of research, manufacturing, pharmaceutical and financial institutions, it is sometimes also referred to as ‘India’s Pharmaceutical Capital’. DMRL, BHEL, NGRI, CCMB, NMDC, NIN and I can go on and on with this list. But the game changer for Hyderabad was probably the emergence of Cyberabad as an IT hub. And later, the state of the art Airport that is now the ‘Best Airport in India’ as per Skytrax for the year 2013. Hyderabad is now home to the Indian headquarters of IT giants like Google, Microsoft and Amazon and is still the first-choice destination for budding IT start-ups.
2001 - It was the year that my family finally settled in Hyderabad. A year had passed by when the erstwhile US president Bill Clinton addressed IT leaders in this city. Hyderabad was vying with Bangalore to be the top IT exporter in India. As a city, Hyderabad was bustling with unbridled energy and investments were pouring in from all parts of the world. The so called IT boom had a domino effect on other sectors like Energy, Pharma and Real Estate that soon rose to prominence. And five years later in 2006, even the then US president George Bush made it a point to visit Hyderabad. The fact that apart from New Delhi, Hyderabad was the only city to be host to two successive US presidents speaks volumes of the potential and promises of a great future this city had then.
But for Hyderabad, the downhill ride had begun with the infamous ‘Satyam Scandal’ in 2009. By then, even the movement demanding statehood for Telangana had gathered steam and residents like me had begun to feel the heat of dissent brooding over Hyderabad, in the form of frequent call for bandhs and strikes by Labour Unions tacitly supported by TRS activists. The Telangana movement as the media refers to, was till then an exercise in restraint. But thanks to the retracting statements by the then Home minister, the movement soon turned violent.
November 2009 onwards
I was to catch a late night flight to Ahmedabad. I was on the Airport Shuttle bus when the driver announced that we were stuck in a traffic jam at the Tarnaka – Osmania University campus junction. Minutes later, we were surrounded by an unruly mob. Armed with hockey sticks, placards and possibly sacks full of stones, they staged a Rasta roko. The driver announced that there was no way this melee was going to end anytime soon and we should probably make our way out through it. But with the arrival of the Police force, things turned messier. And when the window pane of our bus was cracked open by the stone pelting mob, we just had to escape our way out. No casualties, not much damage done with the exception of a few activists injured in the ensuing lathi charge and arrests - This was what the local media had reported in the next day’s newspapers. But the damage was done. I missed my flight. The perception of this city had received a dent, a deep gash resulting in a wound that was not to heal anytime soon.
From then on, Hyderabad has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. And as a lad, who considered himself a proud ‘Hyderabadi’, I found myself in the midst of all intellectual discussions on the Telangana movement and it’s repercussions on the IT industry in Hyderabad. Most of my friends either lost their jobs or settled in other cities that are more financially stable and are not clouded by the kind of political uncertainty that has enveloped Hyderabad now. Hyderabad was once the second largest IT exporter but is now relegated to the fourth position. Real estate prices have touched rock bottom. Frequent bandhs led to all academic schedules in major universities like OU, JNTU going haywire and putting the careers of thousands of aspiring engineer/doctors in jeopardy.
But this period coincided with my MBA stint at Ahmedabad. So, I didn’t exactly find myself in the thick of action. But to see the city I lived in, go into a deep state of chaos hurt me no end. And when my peers disapproved of the state of affairs in Hyderabad, I could only nod in agreement. My city was bleeding and the two terror strikes that happened (one in 2007 and the other earlier this year) only aggravated it further. So what went wrong? A city that was once expected to be the ‘IT’ capital of India now finds itself in the news for all the wrong reasons.
For me, the inevitability of Telangana as a state was never in doubt. And I won’t comment on an issue that is sensitive and is close to the hearts of over 30 million people who reside in this region. How can I? When I have never really had an emotional connect with this movement. But it is a known fact that blood has been shed in the process. So the fact that Telangana is going to be the 29th state of the Union of India is indeed good news. And I can only hope that things go smoothly from now on, that real development at the grass-root level happens in the new state and creates avenues for employment to the many lying there unemployed and disillusioned with the establishment.
But the announcement that Hyderabad will be the shared capital for 10 years has come as a shocker. As a professional, I am not the only one planning to eventually settle down with my family in Hyderabad. There are thousand others who share the same thoughts I have. But when leaders like KCR openly make provocative statements asking employees from Andhra to leave the state, then I shudder to think of the events that would unfold once the process of allocation of assets and resources begins after the formation of Telangana. It’s certainly unbecoming of a leader like him, who is widely perceived to be the next CM of this new state.
The allocation process is going to be long and painful, rife with disputes over what is mine and what is yours. The fact that this process hasn’t been completed in states like Jharkhand and Uttarakhand (Thousands of petitions by disgruntled government employees waiting to be heard out) should be a harbinger of things to come for Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. I just hope that the disputes are not over who should live and who should be out. That would be extremely disappointing. And for once, even the staunchest supporter of the Telangana movement should agree with me that leaders like KCR set a good example in tolerance and harmony for the millions of youngsters who look up to him and not be provocative like he was recently.
Given the current state of affairs, Hyderabad appears to be a lucrative piece of meat waiting to be torn apart. And this can certainly be avoided if Hyderabad is declared a Union Territory. But it is no Chandigarh. Hyderabad is geographically encompassed by Telangana and that is one of the many factors that put Srikrishna Committee into a state of dilemma. Even an elite panel of jurists in the committee had to come up with three narrowed options to appease all stakeholders and avoid the volatile law and order scenario in Hyderabad to flare up further. Isn’t this a classical case of Catch 22? Do you declare it as a Union Territory and deny what the people of Telangana think is rightfully theirs or declare it as a shared capital and create a logistical nightmare for the state of Andhra Pradesh? And what is going to happen to the great Hyderabadi Dream that professionals like me and many others harbor?
Needless to say, we the people have the answers to these questions. Irrespective of the decisions made by the lawmakers, if people of Telangana stay true to their instincts and follow the ‘live and let live’ principle, then things look bright in the times to come. The people of Telangana have sacrificed a lot, shed blood and have eventually been victorious. Good times are to come. But patience is the need of the hour. This is not the time to be unduly jingoistic and make the phrase ‘Jai Telangana’ a tool to gain further political mileage. Much of the damage has already been done. Telangana can’t afford to risk giving rise to another party akin to the one in Maharashtra, so intolerant of the migrant population in Mumbai. That would be fatal to Hyderabad.
When you are ‘down in the dumps’, you can only rise from there on. The same holds true for Hyderabad. I for one remain optimistic about my prospects in this city that I have come to love so much. Do I really have an option other than to remain positive? Yes, I do. But I simply don’t see myself settling in any other city but Hyderabad. For starters, no other city offers me authentic Biryani on their menu to titillate my olfactory and gustatory senses. And the fun of watching a Mahesh Babu or a Pawan Kalyan starrer in Hyderabad is unmatched anywhere else. Why should I miss all of these seemingly insignificant but priceless moments?