Saturday, December 19, 2015

When Palaces and Forts Brim with People


Fill this city with people
 As Thou hast filled the ocean with fish, O Lord!
- Quli Qutub Shah 

Thus goes the prayer of the royal founder of Hyderabad, and ever since, the city has seen swarms of people flocking to its topography and making the same their homes. And why not. Hyderabad from time immemorial has been a seat of art, architecture, music and poetry bringing art lovers to the city. It’s not for nothing that poets like Makhdum Mohiuddin and Dagh Dehlavi added splendour to this Deccan capital. Lately, the city has been a host to a number of events that didn’t just engage the audience and mesmerise them with their special themes, but also the historical places they were conducted in, lighting up moods and taking audience on historical trips.

Even before that, Quli Qutub Shah himself wrote diwans in Persian, Telugu and Urdu. Other than that, Sufi saints like Syed Yousufain Chisti and Hazrat Husain Shah Wali made Hyderabad their home and now when tunes of qawwali emanate from their dargahs it is a scene of Kaifiyat. Even now after years Hyderabad is resonating with the same qawwalis, ragas and display of artworks at different events. What adds charm to these soul-inspiring events is that they are being organised in palaces, forts, and mausoleums bringing alive times gone by. The winter chill that descends on heritage structures of the City of Pearls sets the perfect mood for music to flow and art shows to blend with nostalgia of eras gone by which these events reflect a shadow of. What Hyderabad has to offer -- palaces and tombs of Deccani kingdoms of Bidar, Berar, Ahmed Nagar, Gulbarga or Bijapur pale into contrast.

For example, the necropolis of Qutub Shahi tombs contains the regality of an entire dynasty. Read on to find out how these relics of history are inviting common public inside their regal facade and leaving them spell-bound and at the same time instilling into them, a sense of lost glory that must be seen, visited and experienced:

Qutub Shahi Tombs

Located close to Golconda Fort this complex is distinctive with its bulbous domes reminiscent of Persian architecture blended with Pashtun and Hindu forms. Completed in 1550 AD, the tombs of all eight rulers of Qutub Shahi Kingdom are ornamented with exquisite lime-stucco works blended with glazed tiles-work here and there. In the complex there are 40 mausoleums, 23 mosques, 6 baolis and a hamam complete with gardens and surrounding walls.

On a misty evening of December 12, in the open space of the complex with the towering domes as the backdrop Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad the noted qawwals of ‘Qawwal Bachchon Ka Gharana’ of Delhi made the audience smitten with their music. The Dakhni compositions of poets Siraj Aurangabadi, Kamil Hyderabadi and Amjad Hyderabadi that they sang enlivened the entire complex. A mesmerised audience sat there asking for more. It was organised by Agha Khan Trust for Culture as their three-day heritage and cultural event named ‘Engaging Hyderabad with Conservation’.

Says heritage conservationist and secretary for Deccan Studies Sajjad Shahid, “Way back in 1940s a grand musical event Jashn-e-Mohammed-Quli used to be held every year in remembrance of the poet-prince. It stopped and started again in 1970 by efforts of poeple like Narendra Luther and Abid Ali Khan. Now, after the restoration of the tombs started, this is the first time a qawwali evening was organised by AKTC. We plan to make it an annual event.”

Chowmahalla Palace

The word chowmahalla is a blend of two words – Persian and Arabic, and they together mean four palaces. Built in 1880, it was the seat of Asaf Jahi rulers and later the official residence of the Nizams. The palace with beautiful yellow facade and ornate Persian stucco came alive again as Ustad Mazhar Ali Khan and Ustad Jawad Ali Khan sang Raag Bhagyashree along with compositions of 13th century poet Amir Khusro. In 1306, Khusro had come to the Deccan region with forces of Alauddin Khilji; there is no record of the poet visting the region that is now Hyderabad. It was on a vibrant evening of December 13 as part of International Sufi Music festival named Jashan-e-Khusrau organised by All India Markazi Majlis-E-Chistia (AIMMC). The rows of chandeliers glittered as the backdrop of the stage. Muzaffar Ali Soofi, the organiser and president of AIMMC says, “The idea is to engage people from the city into the depths of music which is essential for the spiritual growth of an individual.”

Red Fort Hill

Located at the base of Naubad Pahad, it was once the official residence of Prince Moazzam Jah. The ruins of Fort Hill Palace at Basheer Bagh was temporarily revived in a garb of colours as Shrishti Art Gallery held its 22-day-long art festival Ramaniyam at its neglected rooms. The six-acre-property stands old yet proud on the elevated surface of Naubad Pahad overlooking the expanse of Hussain Sagar Lake. A variety of sculptural works by 83 artists have was put on display. The old facade, looks exactly like that of Trinity College, Cambridge.

The palace was once known as Ritz Hotel and saw flash of life after two decades. It became a heritage property in 2015 after it completed 100 years. Talking about taking heritage as part of people’s life the owner of Shrishti Art Gallery Lakshmi Nambiar opined, “This place is part of our heritage. If we blend art into its derelict areas people will understand the heritage that surrounds us.”

Taramati Baradari

The anecdote associated with this heritage structure which was once a sarai with beautiful gardens is the love story of prince Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah and singer-dancer Taramati. People say that the prince sitting at Golconda Fort used to listen to Taramati’s songs as she sang for travellers staying at the serai. That’s how they fell in love with each other. The structure built around 1625 AD has 12 arched doorways in an open pavilion. In 2012, Hyderabad Literary Festival was held here. In 2014 another Sufi Music Festival Ruhaniyat was held at its premises. The open air auditorium was filled with more than 500 people. One of the Sufi singers Bhai Nirmal Singh from Punjab who sang at Taramati as part of Ruhaniyat, Sufi Music Festival shares, “Not only the music and songs that we played were soulful. The entire structure with its history added depth to the compositions.”

Hyderabad Public School

Established in the year 1923 as an educational institute for the aristocrats of Hyderabad it was renamed as Hyderabad Public School after feudalism was abolished in 1950. It encompasses 160 acres and is built on Islamic architecture with arched doorways, high ceilings and, minarets and lattice work. Yet to attain the 100-year-old tag HPS is now the official venue for Hyderabad Literary Festival held every year in the month of January.

Last year itself poet and Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar came for his book launch and sitting in its green lawns said, “A literary event gets bejewelled if held in such beautiful pieces of regal architecture.”

Golconda Fort

Golconda needs no introduction. Built at a rugged granite hilltop, Golconda was the crown of Hyderabad. First built by Kakatiya dynasty it fell into the hands of Qutub Shahi dynasty in 1507. Its construction was completed in 1600. It’s known for its acoustic architectural wonders, tunnels and huge pavilions surrounded by lofty arched doorways. Once alive with sprawling gardens now on special occasions grand events are organised by theatre personalities like Mohammad Ali Baig of Qadir Ali Theatre Foundation. His play ‘Quli Dilon Ka Shahzada’ and Sawaan-e-Hayat’ was staged at ramparts of the Fort in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Nawab of Deccan Cuisine

Enter the drawing room of a three-storeyed bungalow at Jubilee Hills and the first thing that greets you is the chime of grandfather’s clock standing under the gaze of a huge glittering crystal chandelier hung from a wooden ceiling that gives you a feel of sitting in some palatial wood cabin in a hill station. A number of table chandeliers glow near different sets of sofas and heavy teak tables. As the vision adjusts a tall frame in crisp white kurta pyjama and skull cap enters saying salaam. His smile is brighter than the diamond ring he is wearing. This is Nawab Mehboob Alam Khan for you, doyen of the Hyderabad royalty. He is just back from his kitchen supervising a sumptuous dinner that he is hosting at his house for fifty people. Yes, Nawab Saab also dons the chef’s cap.
It’s not for nothing that he is known as the legend when it comes to Deccan food. Now in his late sixties and having braved a by-pass surgery his stature grows larger day by day when it comes to the knowledge of Hyderabadi cuisine that he opens a treasure trove of. Sitting in the plush sofa he checks the progress of the dinner with his staff and continues the conversation, “What’s food? It’s four things: namak, mirch, gehun, and chawal. These make  the basic food. Somebody puts wine. Someone puts cream and hence different cuisines emerge. The way of cooking changes as the geography of kitchens change.” He tells that the right preparation of haleem takes 11 hours! “The ghee, gosht and genhu (wheat) needs to be rightly cleaned, ground and cooked. It’s the balance that makes the difference. These days cooks use semolina so how can one expect the right taste for a bowl of haleem when the ingredient is not right!” he laments.

The clock announces 8:30. Nawab Saab checks with his attendant about Doodh Ka Sherbet over the phone. “I use charcoal smoke for the sherbet as it is prepared in a clay pot. It’s a typical Muharram food savoured in Deccan. There won’t be many in the city who know about this sherbet,” he informs.
For the dinner, under his supervision were cooked delectable dishes like Safeda/ Sofiyani Biryani, Mirchi Kaa Saalan, Baghare Baigan, Chaal Kii Kebab, Shermal, Baigan Ka Raita, Haleem, Murgh, Sheer Khorma and salad. And of course his signature dish haleem with its cream colour texture topped with onion rings fried golden in ghee.

Who has ever heard a Nawab take to cooking? But Baba, as he is fondly called has been cooking for the past forty years. And how exactly did he land in the kitchen? He smiles and says, “As a young boy sometimes I’d peep into the kitchen and help myself with some quick food. As I grew up I knew I loved my food. Then, we had cooks who knew the golden secrets of our kitchens and were old and dying. I decided I can learn the tricks from them if I have to eat the same delicious royal food that nobody else cooks. And that’s how I learnt cooking from them and till date I am cooking.”

When the monarchy of Hyderabad ended in 1947 police action happened and it came under Indian Union. “There was a large scale migration that never happened in other parts of India. The best cooks moved, only a few remained and those died. I was in London in 60s I started cooking there also. In 1956 three districts Bidar, Raichur and Gulbarga ewent to Karnataka and four went to Maharashtra. We studied their recipes and cooked the food. The best part is that such food was cooked in pure ghee. Even today we use pure ghee. I love cooking Mandi also especially the way Yemenis relish eat. They dig a pit and fire huge logs into it. Huge pot of rice with cardamoms and water is cooked and then on the top lamb is put. A gunny sack which is wet is also put. Such food is not cooked with oil. It is cooked in the heat. The shawarma of Middle East is different from ours. They use camel meat while we use beef or mutton. The real shawarma is marinated in onion juice,” he beams.

So, what Deccan recipes has he restored? “Daasht. It’s kind of chicken of Hyderabad. We use paste of browned onion, almond paste, chiraunji and khus khus. For marinating we have special lagan, a shallow pan with legs”, he shares.

And guess what, he’s collected heavy-bottomed copper utensils that were used in the times of his forefathers even from his great great grandfather. The crockery and cutlery of his family suffices for 500 people. And he even has the scales. He has English style serving dishes. Chhaal Kii Kebab made from minced meat which used to be served in many royal Hyderabadi dinners and lunches. He himself goes to the market for buying meat.

“Many people don’t know what is silver screen in a meat-piece. Those who have the zauq and shauq of good food only can understand what it is. If it’s not cleaned properly the masala won’t cook in the meat-piece. Then there is Mukhdas a sausage like Arabic dish we make which is meat-pieces wrapped in cleaned intestines. Again its recipe is lost in many families,” he explains and adds, “We make different kinds of Do Pyazaa like Tamatar Ka Do Pyaza, Nimbu Ka Do Pyaza, Meetha Do Pyaza without adding sugar to it. Kachii Imli Ka Do Pyaza, and even Starfruit Do Pyaza. We bhuno it so much that nothing of onion remains in the dish. Dalcha is another dish we make i.e., Deccan Ka Dalcha with three different kinds of pulses, tamarind and meat chunks. These dishes are exquisite.”

A walk into his kitchen and you get to see stocks of sauces, vinegars, oils, spoons, spice-boxes and three burner stoves. This is the place he comes to whenever he rustles some ingredients in a pot to cook his legendary dishes that even food connoisseurs and chefs are fond of. But for dinners like he hosted on a Sunday he gets temporary brick stoves made at the backside of his bungalow on the floor. And the food is cooked on huge wood logs. We take a walk and find the cinders still glowing red. The smell of wood-smoke mixed with food cannot be ignored.

He still has buffaloes whose milk is used for cooking. “The kind of fodder that animals eat has its effect on the taste and texture of food,” he tells us.

He has been trotting all over the world and has collected rugs from countries as far as Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Kazakhstan Pakistan and Iraq. He loves collecting knives. He has built his collection over the past 50 years. And these are not big knives but small, foldable ones.

He shares, “You don’t get pure Shah Zeera outside Hyderabad. It grows only in Afghanistan. What is sold outside the city is not Shah Zeera, it’s something else. When I’d gone to Afghanistan, local merchant told me that 90 per cent  of Shah Zeera that is grown in their country is used in kitchens of Hyderabad, they use only the rest 10 per cent.”

 So does travelling enrich his food experiences? “I don’t have a club life. Travelling always enriches experiences. I taste the food wherever I go. This tells which food is different from what. I find that pulao or pilav as it is called is cooked in many countries. The taste and ingredients differ from land to land. You see the basic is rice and some condiments.”

The director of Hyderabad Deccan Cigarette Factory, popularly known as Golkonda Cigarette Factory, and honorary secretary of prestigious Anwar-Ul-Uloom Group of Institutions starts his winter breakfast at home with Daal-e-Maash topped with ghee tadka and roti.” He is fond of rural Deccani food. But finds a lot of refinement in Hyderabad food. “Twenty quintals of biryani I cooked for my son’s wedding and 1,200 Kg fish and 3,000 Kg chicken. We make certain foods in clay-pots. You cannot cook the same on a gas stove. Western cooking is dependent on the sauces. Ours is masala-based that needs to be cooked for a longer period. Country chicken is better suited for our kind of cooking. The skin of country chicken stands the heat and spices. It takes one hour and a half, and then the masala will develop its own taste. You cannot do it with broiler chicken. For restaurants broilers is heaven-sent item. I cook Anglo-Indian food also like Chicken Roast. I do pot roast in old English style,” he tells us.

He reminisces the time when he would relish pomfret at Taj Bombay when he used to visit Bombay as a little boy along with his father Nawab Shah Alam Khan. “They removed their signature dish which is sad,” he laments.

After the sumptuous dinner that he lovingly served to his guests he sits and talks about the time when he was invited to prepare a feast for Prince Agha Khan who didn’t want a lot of ingredients to be included in his food platter.

“Two sets of dinner were prepared under my guidance; one for the guests, one for him. It so happened that he ended up having the guests’ food while the food prepared only for him remained untouched,” he chuckles reminiscing. He has many food stories up his sleeve and before we take his leave we ask him if he’s going to pen a book. He thinks and responds, “Now I think I will.”

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Students from War-torn Countries Flock to Hyderabad

Foreign students see the city as an island of peace that lets them pursue their higher studies 

After arriving in Hyderabad from Gaza Strip, the first thing that Mohammed Ahmed Alsaiqali wanted to see was the Golconda Fort. The rugged old rock castle reminded him of his war-torn country's landscape. He has left that behind and arrived here with a hope for a better future. The next most enticing place for him is his place of study — Osmania University. 

Like him, many other students from war—torn countries are increasingly turning to Hyderabad for their higher studies. 

Another student, Masood Zalmai, who has come to study linguistics in Hyderabad from Kabul, shares, "There's nothing left in my country. Peace and safety do not exist. Our family did not move to Pakistan like other families. During the Soviet occupation, the civil war started, and I lost many family members in one of the attacks. I took up small jobs and somehow kept on studying. Now, here I am in Hyderabad, studying with nationals from other countries. I feel safe here." 

Post—Taliban era life is still very difficult in Afghanistan. It is slowly recuperating from the troubled times of militancy and civil war. "You can see girls studying in the makeshift refugee classrooms. But the teachers are not that really qualified," Zalmai adds. 

Many foreign students from Middle East, Central Asia and Africa find India an economical destination for higher studies, and at the same time, it is peaceful and calm.Ahmed Fuad Musawa from Yemen, who is studying Masters in English Literature, says, "The situation in Yemen is not stable. There's a crisis and it has affected everyone big time. I don't know how the situation will be when I go back to my country. The teachers in my country have studied here. I heard a lot about Hyderabad and India from my teachers in Yemen, and that's why I am here." 

Each year, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) gives over 3,000 scholarships to foreign students, especially from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iran, Yemen, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Syria and African countries. G Laxmi, the regional er of ICCR at Hyderabad, says, "For the current academic year, we have received 1,500 confirmed admission applications based on scholarships. Moreover, the education ministries of these countries choose universities in Hyderabad as the preferred study destination. The scholarships take care of the students' travel, rent, tuition fees and everything else as well as their stipend." Mir Ahmad Zabih from Afghanistan, who is pursuing MA in political science from Osmania University says, "I received a stipend of Rs 11,000 after I received the scholarship. I can relate to the culture very well. Many students from my country are here and we share a rented flat in Habsiguda which is easy for our budget." 

Hyderabad is an island of peace for Alsaiqali in contrast to Gaza. He still shivers while narrating the bombardment of Gaza. "Education was out of question. 'Life' was the first priority. When I came to India in 1989, getting a permission to study wasn't easy. I landed here and experienced what peace is. Our cultures are so similar, so I didn't feel out of place here. I eventually got married to an Indian woman here and have children too.However, I am still worried about my family in Gaza Strip and tribe who have to live in fear," he says, adding, "After Pune, Hyderabad is the second most favoured city for us." At present, he is completing his PhD in Microbiology from OU. One can see a huge crowd of students from different nations flocking the University Foreign Relations Office (UFRO), Osmania University. C Venugopal Rao, the director informs, "Students from Iraq and African countries like Sudan face a lot of visa problems. We extend the duration for them so that they can continue their studies. This year, we have received 450 scholarship applications for OU." 

Many such students choose to study Masters and then enroll for a doctorate. Some of them are in their mid or late 30s. Thanks to the volatile political situation in their country, they do not get a chance to study further. 

Ali Hashim Muhammadi from Iraq informs, "This is my only chance to study. Because of the crisis in Iraq, I had to wait for a long time. Most of the instructors and teachers have fled from my country." He sighs, "We hope for the best, but the reality appears to be different."

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Desserts Royal Style

The City of Pearls has always offered an assortment of desserts to choose from for the food connoisseurs. From the ubiquitous soft, gooey apricot dessert Khubaani ka Meetha to milky and the understated delight Elaneer Payasam, the latticed sweet Baadam Kii Jaali, Urusa Halwa made of beetroots and age-old bread pudding called Double Ka Meetha… traditional Hyderabadi sweets have always been around. But now, the luxury restaurants in Hyderabad are giving them a special touch by adding choicest of ingredients. Even the calorie-counting celebs, super busy top bureaucrats and politicians can’t finish their meals without opting for these sweet cravings. We present to you the vast array that luxury hotels and plush restaurants in Hyderabad have to offer.

Khubaani Ka Meetha
No scrumptious dinner or lunch in Hyderabad is ever complete without a bowlful of cooked apricots dripping in syrup and topped with dollops of ice cream or thick layers of cream. Well, whenever a celebrities land in Taj Deccan, Banjara Hills, the demand that chefs get for satisfying their sweet cravings is of King of Desserts: Khubani Ka Meetha. Dried apricots are cooked on very slow heat in sugar syrup for three – four hours till they are tender and get a sheen like glass. And when the dish is served it’s kept plain and simple. Executive chef Rishi tells us, “Simplicity is the key. I just let the apricots soak in sugar syrup till the right amount of time. We top it with cream and serve.” No wonder then other hotels of Taj Group follow suit. But it’s the guests who have the gala time. The price for the sweet dish is ` 225 ++ taxes. Details: 040 66663939

`4Urusa Halwa
Urusa Halwa is an old Nizami recipe. Since it is made with beetroot, the sweet is maroon in colour. This is a much favoured dish of Taj Falaknuma Palace. Chef Sajesh Nair prepares it with beetroot cubes, milk, ghee, sugar and cardamom powder. He says, “The name is derived from the Arabic word uroos which also means celebrations.” Urusa is an Arabic word which means bride. Perhaps because of the colour, the
halwa has been named so. It’s priced at `540 ++ taxes. Before serving, they adorn it with chandi ka varaq. Details: 040 66298585

Shahi Tukda

Yes, it’s that bread delicacy dipped in thickened milk with a dash of saffron and crunchy nuts. Better known as Double Ka Meetha, it gets this name because the dough rises to double its size on being baked. Triangles of golden fried bread are left to cook in condensed milk with saffron and cardamom. That’s how it gets its deep golden yellow colour. The dish is decorated with chandi ka varaq (silver leaf) and served with a dash of pistachios and almonds. Executive chef Agnimitra Sharma of Hotel Park Hyatt, Banjara Hills, informs, “It’s mostly the expats who swear by this dish.” 
13Baadam Kii Jaali

It is a dish with calligraphy. Yes, you heard it right. Inspired from the lattice in the windows of old palaces, this royal sweet has lacunae that are nothing but calligraphic works in Nastaliq script. The result? A delicious and beautiful pattern of sweetmeat. Made with almond powder and sugar Baadam Kii Jaali is sold by kilos. Earlier available only with age-old recipe knowing people in the crooked lanes of Old City now it is available on plush platter of Hotel ITC Kakatiya. Informs executive chef Paul, “I bake Baadam Kii Jaali in the oven for a subtle flavour. The final product turns golden yellow.” For a royal finish, he adds layers of chandi ka varaq (silver leaf) on top of the sweet. He doesn’t mention names, but asserts that his guests swear by this sweet. It is an exclusive item not available on the menu and is prepared on request. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hyderabad Times Impact — Child Rights panel takes action after reading Hyderabad Times report

The story of young boys made to beg during Ganesh puja, carried in Hyderabad Times on Sept 5, titled 'The agony of boys painted like toys', has moved the authorities to take action. The State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) has called for a meeting with the Police Commisionerate and Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation to issue guidelines to curb child begging and trafficking in Hyderabad. 

"We are issuing guidelines to the Police Commisionerate and GHMC to come together and curb this menace. A task force will be formed to rescue child beggars from the clutches of their fake parents," said Achutya Rao, member SCPCR. "After we read the story in Hyderabad Times, we saw the need for immediate rescue of children painted in silver near the puja pandals. We have sent squads to different parts of the city to nab these fake parents. No parent, by rule, is allowed to force hisher child into begging. If she does that, she is liable to imprisonment," he said "The children will be taken to hospital and given treatment as the paint applied on them is toxic. The first action has to be taken by the traffic cops," Rao explained. "These beggars keep roaming around traffic islands, so traf fic cops have to swing into action first. If a traffic cop sees a person holding a child and begging or little children begging, he needs to inform the SHO of the nearest law and order Police station. There's a mafia that's working behind it. We need to sensitise public so that they stop supporting the cruel exploitation of children in the name of giving alms."

Agony of Beggar Children Painted Like Toys

Ganesh Puja is a time for festivities, but for some kids near the Khairatabad Puja pandal, it is a cruel trick of fate. 

On a sunny afternoon, near the tall idol of Ganesh at Khairatabad, is a child painted in silver with spectacles and dhoti sitting on a torn blanket. The boy may not be more than eight and could barely speak as passersby threw coins on the cloth on which he was sitting. Around him, is an air of carnival as worshippers push and shove, some gape at him, some don't even give him a second glance and move on. The boy painted in silver varnish is not the only one on the road leading to the Khairatabad idol - there are more waiting at other spots. 

Thirst above all The serpentine queues push and jostle towards the enormous towering idol at the pandal. And quite naturally, after crossing the rail track of Khairatabad, the first thing that catches people's eye is the child in silver paint. These small children, aged between seven and 10, are made to sit for hours in the sun. And in the evening, as the footfalls rise, they even 'perform' for the 'demanding' crowd. 

When we speak, the boy barely manages to mumble, "I sit from 8.30 in the morning till 6 in the evening. The paint tastes bitter when it enters my mouth." 

He is not supposed to move as his job is to sit still and catch the attention of the festival revelers. Some people sit near him, some poke him, touch him, to see if he's real and treat him like a festival toy. 

He does not go to school and comes to the pandal every morning with his grandmother. He says, "My body burns all the time. I get to eat only after it is dark." When we hand him a drink, the thirsty child immediately grabs it and gulps it down till the last drop. Ironically, there are several traffic cops posted there to manage the crowd, but they appear to have more pressing things at hand. When questioned, they shrug and move away. 

An amusement toy? 

A troupe of 15-16 such children is forced into begging and performing when the puja time comes. Reason? More people, more money! The little boy's grandmother in a South Bihar accent says, "We do it once a year. We have to earn our living. We are poor labourers." She confesses that she herself paints the child. "It takes almost an hour. But I wipe the paint off with the pallu of my sari," she adds. 

Malati, a hawker selling cheap plastic flowers, says, "You should see them early in the morning when they come with all their children. Some of them are then sent to Necklace Road and others to Lower Tank Bund." Many such children can be seen begging and performing at different places all the year round. Ratheesh, who is a tea vendor, informs, "The paint that these people procure is mostly from factories. Of course, they are not going to buy dabbawalla paint!" 

Dr Subha Dharamana, a cosmetic dermatologist, warns, "Harmful substances present in such paints can be toxic. There can be mercury, zinc and lead present that can cause severe damage in a small child. The child can even get cancer or tumour if the paint goes inside his body." 

Sudarshan, one of the organisers of the Khairatabad Ganesh Puja Utsav Committee says, "These people come on their own. We have nothing to do with it." There is little hope of the plight getting better. Amal Raja, team member of Child Welfare Committee (CWC) says, "When we get to hear about these children we send our team and rescue them. The persons involved are liable to be punished." 

Anxious Wait for a Word from Kashmir

It has been two days since Hina Kaul heard her brother's voice. As the news of flood spread, her brother Ishfaque Kaul, tried to get in touch with his parents in Kashmir Valley for two days, and then caught a flight to Srinagar armed with medicines, blankets and packed food. Her parents are cut off from civilisation in their Naseem Bagh house, Srinagar. "He was searching frantically for them, but now, there's no contact with him also," Hina, a PG student at Osmania University sobs. Her friends have gathered at her Narayanguda home to comfort her. Hina and her brother came to Hyderabad for studies, and their parents, who stayed back in Srinagar, were happy to see their children their pursuing higher education. 

But Hina's story is not an isolated one. There are many other Kashmiris who are in Hyderabad praying for the safety of their dear ones back home. Samia Farheen has not heard from her brother Mohammed Zahid, who lives in Anantnag. "I have been trying to get in touch desperately. There are some social media groups that are active, and people are trying to help me reach out to my brother through phone." The only relief that she had was about hearing from her friend Huzaifa Pandit who lives in Chaanpura, Srinagar. "All he could say in a few seconds was that he's well and safe, but there is no water to drink. Then the phone went dead," she says teary-eyed, recalling her visits to the banks of serene Jhelum River. "We never thought the river will vent its fury on us like this. The bowl shaped Valley has now become a trap for Kashmiris," she says. 

Samar Banerjee, who lives in Madhapur, had bought a pearl necklace for the bride-to-be of his friend Rahman Malik in Sopore. He was all set to go to Kashmir and enjoy the grand wedding.But now, all his plans have been dashed; he has been able to locate his friend, and some of his relatives, thanks to the hyper-active social media. "I got hold of a Bangalore number. The person in Bangalore connected me to another guy in Delhi and finally, I managed to speak with Rahman, who said he's been rescued along with his mother and sister.They could save nothing from their twostoried house. Everything is destroyed.Because of the chill, his father now has fever, and at present, all they need is water-purifying tablets and medicines," says a worried Samar. "My friend and other people in the area need to be evacuated as Wular Lake is nearby and the Dal Lake is already rising," adds Samar. 

What they need 

We have been inundated with calls after our story -`City reaches out to Kashmir flood victims' - published we did on September 11, 2014. The calls have been from people who want to donate and reach out to people in the Valley. So, here's a list of things you can donate for the flood victims. 


Disinfectants, hand sanitizers, first aid bandages, betadine, syringes, needles, ORS masks, anti-allergic, medicines (for cough, cold, fever, malaria, asthma, skin irritation, pain killers and more) etc. 


Bleach powder, ropes, rubber boots, undergarments, chlorine tablets, water proof bags, toothpaste, tents, mats, delivery kits, torch, candles with matchboxes, mosquito repellents, old working mobile phones with chargers etc. 


Ready to eat food items, milk powder, dry food,juice,biscuits etc.Here are the numbers you can call to make contributions: 9866916734 or 7675043509.

Women Commuters Cheer for Segregation in the Buses

Most Hyderabadi to women have an experience or two to share when they commute in city buses. Some carry Swiss knives, some pepper sprays and some use umbrellas to keep pesky men at bay. This sense of insecurity may become a thing of past, if the pilot run of TSRTC succeeds. On the first day of the trial run with the partial partitions installed on a bus plying between Secunderabad and Afzal gunj, women reclaimed their space. The fourth seat from the front has a sheet of fiberglass behind it, the aisle is not blocked. But this demarcation seems to be more than enough as men did not cross the line as they usually do. The women appeared happy with the arrangement on bus no 8A. 

All about mental comfort 

Lavanya, a girl in her 20s was travelling to her office in Afzalgunj and seemed happy that now she can sit comfortably without men crowding the women's area. "I am a regular commuter. A couple of days ago it was over-crowded," she said. Pointing to the crowded men's section she added, "Complete partition may create problems for the conductor to move. But it's a real relief. Some men actually stand so close that you feel uncomfortable and if you ask them to move aside they throw a fit. It's so irritating at times." 

In the offing 

At present, only one bus with partition is plying via route 8A. RTC officials say more number of buses will be introduced with the partition. Aparna Kalyani, an RTC official at Ranigunj shares that because of the long festive season there's slight delay in bringing all the buses on the road. "By October 8, seven more buses will be plying this route. For other routes, talks are going on." 

The bus has seats for handicapped and senior citizens as usual near the main entrance. We spoke to the conductor Surya who also felt different. He shared, "Many times women would call me to complain about certain male passengers who would stand too close to them. Am glad it will not happen now." Saying this, he went over to the male section, asking the standing men not to come inside the women's section. 

Mixed reactions 

But here also there is a difference of opinion. Garima Rao, a student at Koti Women's College, travelling in the bus told us, "It's good to see such initiatives but when the bus gets overcrowded will these people not come to this section? Why can't there be a rule that a certain number of passengers can only board the bus! And if anything of that sort is there why it's not implemented?" Men argued that making women feel uncomfortable by getting closer to their seats is sometimes not their choice. Ahmed Fazal, who boarded the bus from Moazzam Jahi Market said, "What if the bus halts all of a sudden? Do we not kind of fall forward? Does it not happen to women? I agree that some men do it deliberately. Good this partition thing has come up." 

The 30-minute journey from Secunderabad to Afzalgunj came to an end with many women walking away with a smile.

Splash of Colours and Memories

If the Salar Jung Museum showcased the works of Bombay Progressive Artists — namely Syed Hasan Raza, MF Husain, FN Souza, Ram Kinker Baij, Jamini Roy and others — an art gallery in Jubilee Hills came alive with the works of eminent contemporary artists of Hyderabad, right from 1950 to 2014. Called 'Ramaniyam 2014', this was a three-day tribute to the grand old man of arts and letters in Hyderabad — Jagdish Mittal. The exhibition ended on October 12.

Thota Vaikuntam's rural woman in oil, neo-tantric elements woven in PT Reddy's 'We Two' painted way back in 1966, to Laxman Aelay's 'Komurayya' painted in 2014, it was a celebration of art and artists of Hyderabad to mark Jagdish Mittal's 90th birthday. Mittal is better known for the finesse of his pahari style and the repository that he has built in Hyderabad.

From the maestros' brush

"Art has always blossomed in different forms, and in what better way can it be celebrated than by presenting the same on one platform," said Thota Vaikuntam, with the backdrop of his 1982 painting showing a dusky woman of Telangana, in hues of blazing orange and yellow. The vibrant simplicity of Vaikuntam ran parallel to the etchings of his fellow artist, Laxma Goud. "I don't care if people don't appreciate my work. I come from a rural place and that reflects in my works. I have tried tracing the signs of our own heritage through the works painted during the revivalism of Bengal," said Laxma, who's known for the streak of eroticism that runs through his work, and which was on display at the gallery in his 1974 work.

Is art taking a new shape?

This question loomed large and there were multiple answers. A look at Fawad Tamkanat's acrylic on canvas transported onlookers to the sleepy cityscape. However, the shades of blue that filled geometric shapes of houses glinted from the dull topography that they were built on. The sky and water body reflected typical blue shades used by Picasso. Another oil painting by Surya Prakash was a mishmash of red representing the surreal strokes of a floral landscape. He thinks that Hyderabad is still very young and has long way to go. He shared, "To a great extent, the artists here have done great work. But this does not mean the art scenario here is much enriched if we talk about young artists. They have to learn a lot." Pointing to a vibrant painting titled 'Komurayya' painted by Laxman Aelay he added, "This one painting is very symbolic of Telangana struggle. The colours of revolution are bright in the orange headgear of the old man holding a green bidi."
The experience was best summed up in the words of Jagdish Mittal, "Art is alive in me as it is in the hearts of every artist. When I look back and glance at the collection today, I feel good that the lines and dots are not dying, but taking new shapes."

Pakistani Serials Create a Buzz in the City

It's been years since Zarin Aman saw her cousins in Karachi. At the most, she has vague memories of them visiting her at their Chirag Ali Lane home in Hyderabad. 

But now, she gets a glimpse of a life her cousins might be leading on the other side of the border, thanks to Pakistani serials that are being aired on TV , being downloaded and shared on video sites. "The characters in the serial look, act and talk like us," she says.

Zarin is not the only one hooked to Pakistani soaps."Sometime back, when my friends started talking about Fawad Khan and what an eye-candy he was, I watched an episode, just for the heck of it. As I watched it, I found the stories very intriguing. The best part was that the other characters were fleshed out in a much fuller way . I was hooked! The acting was brilliant, and sans the melodrama, the characters looked more believable," says Rashima Sharma, a young bank professional. Now, she either switches on the TV or watches it on her laptop. 


Serials from the other side of the border are different from the episodes churned out in the Indian scenarios.Their shows deal with corporate issues, problems of daily life and have welletched, strong, independent female characters, which evolve as the story progresses. They are not shown in extreme black or white. Characters like Kashaf in Zindagi Gulzar Hai have become darlings amongst many. "I like Sanam Saeed as Kashaf.She is so real and speaks strongly for herself. Her life isn't centred around a man.She has other issues to deal with, like her father's second marriage. On the other hand, the way characters are portrayed in our serials -with so much melodrama -makes me laugh," says Sadaf Mujib, a student. 

Mahira Khan as Khirad in Humsafar is another character that has found admirers.Ruchika Aggarwal, a young IT professional says, "Khirad remains a silent character in the beginning, but as the story progresses, she too evolves. She makes her mark and emerges as a strong character, even though her marriage is on the rocks. I like her individuality ." 


Mohabbat Subah Ka Sitara Hai, based on Umera Ahmed's Yeh Jo Subah ka Ik Sitara Hai, won hearts with the way its protagonists, Romaisa and Zeeshan, deal with life. "I like the simple plots and how the story evolves without getting too complicated. It's wonderful to see the way the characters are dressed up -no heavy make-up or embroidered Benarasi saris when they get up from bed.The roles stay with you and take you along with the plot," shares Mahek Chaudhry, a 24-year-old college student, who has just finished downloading a couple of episodes. 

"I love the sense of style and the clothes worn by the actresses in Pakistani serials.I am fascinated by the long Pakistani kurtas worn with straight pants and wide dupattas or scarves. They are a break from the regular jeans and T-shirt," she says.ground the next. Another variant of the game was a contest of how far one could through the disc.

Lipstick Revolution

Girls kissed girls. Guys kissed guys. Girls and guys kissed each other.Students at University of Hyderabad were kissing for a cause - the right to express themselves, without the fear of moral police. It was one dramatic Sunday evening, as hundreds of young men and women turned up to kiss in public! On one side, you had representives of various student political outfits shouting slogans against 'Western influence' and 'moral decay'. On the other side, there were cops trying hard to keep the mob under control. But no amount of booing, catcalling or sloganeering by the self-appointed guardians of "Bharatiya Sanskriti" could deter the 'kissers'. And while the angry mob brandished their flags, banners and moral danda, the young protestors had just one weapon to fight the moral police -lipstick! There were lipstick marks everywhere -on their faces, mouths, posters - as they kissed each other in protest. 

The protesters were a microcosm of India -there were students from Delhi, North East India, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Andhra Telangana... And a heated debate ensued. 

"Who defines culture and how?" asks Agaja, a 21-year-old MA student, adding, "Who assigned the moral police the 'job' that they are doing?" Shailendra Sahu an M.Tech student and ABVP activist fumed, "How can they kiss like this publicly? If their parents walk in or a senior professor passes by , will they not be ashamed? Will any of these guys allow their sisters to come up in public and kiss other guys in public?" To this, pat came the reply from Bilal Majid, a doctoral student of HCU, "My sister has turned 18, and as an adult, she has every right to go ahead and kiss if she chooses to. As her brother, I respect and support her right of freedom." 

Saying this, Bilal went to apply another coat of lipstick before kissing and hugging fellow students.

Another student, Raman S said, "People can take off their pants and piss in public. But if someone wants to kiss, it is labelled 'obscene'! How? I say , if pissing is allowed in public why not kissing?" "Kissing is not about sex. It can happen between two friends, class mates, relatives, a father can kiss his daughter," said Arundhathi B, a student, as she kissed her classmates. "A kiss is an expression of affection. How come no one protests so strongly against eve teasing and rape?" she fumed, adding, "It is my right to do what I want to do. I am not doing anything obscene by kissing or hugging." 

Talk about using 'kiss and tell' to drive home a point!

Life is Short, Hum its Tune

Says Bhai Nirmal Singh, who sings mesmerising kirtans, music connects souls and brings them closer to God; this is what the priestly singer Bhai Nirmal Singh Khalsa believes in. In Hyderabad for the spiritual music festival Ruhaniyat, Nirmal Singh talks about his love for Almighty, charm of Hyderabad and his connection to Pakistan through his mother. The Hazoor Ragi (resident singer) at the Golden Temple, is a man of many facets which he connects like dots to his spiritual calling. 

"I like the ambience of the city. It stays with you and makes you feel calm," he says. "I got into a cab where the driver was playing a south Indian piece and wanted to change it. I asked him to let it be. The music was mesmerising. Music does not know any borders, any languages it just binds you," says Nirmal Singh who made his mark with his voice he lent to Shabad Kirtan, where the words of Guru Granth Sahib take precedence over music but lead to a mystical experience. 

The lesser known side of Nirmal Singh is his attachment to ghazals where he considers the Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali as his guru. "I used to listen to his ghazals religiously. But I never dreamt that I would even meet him. But there I was face to face with him in England. He listened to me and agreed to teach me music. That's how I became his disciple," he says jubilantly. 

Crossing borders has become regular part of his life. "Lahore is just 20 km from Amritsar. It's a different feeling when I step into Ghulam Ali's house. I have become a family member," says Nirmal Singh, whose 85-year-old mother can recite the Quran as she has her roots in the present-day Pakistan. 

Music is the thread that binds all in today's fast moving world, says the singer who has travelled to Pakistan, US, Canada and a host of other countries taking his mystical singing experience with him. "The way Indian music touches the soul, no other music can. Music was born in Hindustan. These songs are for worshipping the Lord. The music flows in forests, rivers and wind without acknowledging any borders, any language. It connects you to the Almighty and is the nectar for your soul.There can be no alternative for this kind of music," says Nirmal Singh who can make people forget themselves with just the sound of a stringed instrument and his mellifluous and soothing voice. 

He has been travelling and performing for Ruhaniyat for the past 10 years. He first checks out the audience and then begins performing. "It's important to understand who's going to listen to you and how you can connect to them. This is what ruhaniyat is all about. It's Sufism that teaches you to love another human being with all your heart and this pure love takes you closer to ruhaniyat. Music envelopes you, gives you inner relief and seeps into your soul. This is what I've experienced in my 65 years," says Nirmal Singh who is also a Padma Shri winner. "Life is very short. Hum its tune while you are still alive," he signs off.

Music and Sounds from Another Era

In one of the inner lanes near Goshamahal floats the raga of bygone era. An 85-year-old ghazal maestro continues with his riyaaz in the early morning hours on the terrace that faces out to the Golconda Fort. This is the house of Pandit Vithal Rao Shivpurakar, the last court singer of the Nizams. Vithal Rao remembers the anecdotes from the durbars of Mir Osman Ali Khan and later his son Moazzam Jah for whom he sang ghazals and bhajans. 

Tryst with Nizams 

Clad in a cream-colour sherwani and churidaar, he raises his hand to the forehead and greets us with salaam. The jasmine attar on his dress wafts in his room. The walls are covered with photographs of Mohammed Rafi, Bade Ghulam Ali and a handsome young Moazzam Jah in royal finery. Vithal Rao sits on the carpet straight without leaning against the bolsters. He plays a dhun on his harmonium that he once played for Osman Ali Khan. His eyes shine as he says, "The Nizam was very fond of me. I was a small child. He had heard me singing a ghazal of Siraj Aurangabaadi on radio in a children's programme. And I was called to sing for him as he was amazed how a young child can sing a ghazal so well. He'd sit in his chair and get engrossed in the ghazal. Whenever the notes would touch his heart he would raise his hands as dua and would say Subhan Allah." 

A four-horse buggy with silk curtains would be sent to young Vithal Rao's house. He would be then taken to the Nizam's palace: King Kothi. "Those things I remember very clearly though my memory is fading," says the pandit of ghazals. Nizam would reward him with pouches of asharfis (gold coins). "Sometimes, when I would spill sherbet on my dress which used to be spotless sherwani and pyjama, the Nizam would say, 'Naye kapde lao bachhe ke liye (get the boy new clothes)'. And I'd be let off after that." He'd sing ghazals of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Ghalib, Mir and Zauq for the Nizam. 

His bonds with royalty grew in the lavish mehfils at Hill Fort Palace thrown by Moazzam Jah, who was a poet and an aficionado of poetry. The nobility of the city would be invited, lawns and halls would be decorated and Vithal Rao would sing ghazals written by the Prince himself. "His takhhalus (pen name) was 'Shajee'. The Prince would write ghazals and I'd compose and sing it then and there." 

Vithal Rao hums a couplet from Moazzam Jah's ghazal, "gham ne dekha muskura kar aap ko, aap hii se dur jaa kar aap ko..." After an evening of ghazals would be the sumptuous dinner. "I would often accompany him to shikar and when he would rest he would do a farmaish (request) for a ghazal," Vithal Rao recollects. Whenever guests from abroad visited Vithal Rao would be called to sing for them. Western music was always a part of Moazzam Jah's mehfils, but soon he became so fond of Vithal Rao, that ghazals became the prime focus of his evening mehfils. 

On movies and more 

Born in a Maharashtrian family of Hyderabad in 1930, the five-year-old Vithal Rao would repeat the bhajans that his father sang in mornings. His father put him under the tutelage of sangeet guru Laxman Rao Panchpoti after noticing his talent. Later, as a court singer of Nizams, when his fame reached Bollywood, he was asked by Naushad and Mohammed Rafi to relocate to Bombay and sing for movies. But he declined the offer, "I didn't want to leave my watan, my mitti. Hyderabad is my home." Pointing to a framed picture of him being hugged by Sunil Dutt at an awards ceremony in Bombay, he says, "Nargis once said, 'He is a Marathi. How can he bring nazaakat in ghazals?', but when I sang teri ruswaiyon se darta hun, jab terey shahr se guzrta hun, she was in tears." 

He composed music for a Hindi movie Sukh Dukh and two Telugu movies, but discontinued later. 

Beyond borders 

Vithal Rao is a globe trotter in the course of entertaining and receiving awards. "I live with my music and my memories," he says. None of his five children have picked up his lead in music.
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