Professor, writer and local historian Anand Raj Varma looks back on his life in the city.
The Hindu Metro Plus first met writer and Hyderabadi Anand Raj Varma during the release of his book ‘Hyderabad: Mohalle, Gali aur Kooche’ a year ago. Having just put together local histories of thirty localities in Old City, the former biology professor was brimming with stories; one of them began with how ‘Damri’ masjid while in another he marvels at the feat of engineering that is the Shah Raju Qattal Dargah in Misri Gunj.
“What’s interesting there? The stone roof of the dargah is held up by 110 stone pillars. It is not cement but slabs of stone; patthar hai woh. There are 476 stone slabs on the roof. How do you think they mounted it?” Ten minutes and a few more anecdotes later, this reporter was tempted to put away the list of questions and let the afternoon unfold into a session of storytelling but instead made a mental note to come back when time allowed that luxury. A year later we heard ‘Hyderabad: Mohalle, Gali aur Kooche’ is being translated to Urdu and fondly remembered our pending appointment.
Most people know Varma as the former principal of Anwar Ul Uloom college, other’s may recognise him as the brand ambassador of the Hyderabad Metro Rail project, even those of you who may not recall his face might surely remember his voice and diction from Quizline, which aired on Etv Urdu for 7 years. “It was an hour long live show, so you can imagine how much we had to prepare before going on air,” recalls Varma. His passion for Urdu forms the basis of most of these opportunities.
“Urdu has given me a boost,” says the recipient of the lifetime achievement award from the Andhra Pradesh Urdu University. “It is not my mother tongue but I was schooled in Urdu and besides, in those days, everybody spoke it,” he says. Recalling a time when knowing languages was considered the mark of education and experience. “I imbibed my flair for Urdu from my fore fathers. Three teachers would come home to teach my father and his sister; for English, Urdu, Hindi and Persian. Now some children can't speak any of these well.”
Education and culture were always regarded with high esteem in the Varma household. Apart from running distilleries, Varma’s great grandfather also had a successful career as a legal advisor. “ He was not a lawyer but in those days, a profound knowledge of law was helpful,” says Varma. His grandfather, on the other hand worked with the excise department and later joined the Arab army in Barkas as an office superintendent where he was one of the three Hindus among 700-800 Arabs. Varma’s father, he says, was a man of letters “so much so that his geets and dramas would be broadcast from Lahore, Lucknow and Delhi.”
“Although we did not belong to an aristocratic family, we lived like aristocrats but more than being wealthy, we were rich in our heritage, in culture, in civilization, in education and connections,” recalls Varma.
The history of the Verma family is in a sense a history of the Jaiswal community in Hyderabad. “ My forefathers came from Unnao in Uttar Pradesh to Hyderabad via aurangabad about 200 years ago,” says Varma. The Jaiswal were known for their expertise in distilling liquor, so much so that all the big excise contracts for the same were given to them. It was when the third Nizam, Nawab Sikandar Jah learnt of this expertise that the Jaiswals were invited to Hyderabad City to start this business. “When those who were here saw that the conditions were favourable, they invited others as well. So they came from Unnao, Lucknow, Kanpur, Faizabad and other adjoining places,” he recalls.” You’ll find that most north Indians families in and around Char Mahal are from one of these places.”
Varma’s great grandfather settled in Chandrayangutta where Varma grew up and remained till he shifted to another part of town in 1964. “Our house was constructed in the late 1860’2 and it was a huge 5000 square feet home about 5 kilometres from the Charminar with gardens all around, a big well and two huge cisterns,” recalls Varma fondly. However, the land, with no one to take care of it, was sold off in 1974 after which Varma built a house in Himayath Nagar where he resides to this day with Prabha, his wife of 55 years.
After completing his intermediate from City College, Varma went on to do his BSc and MSc in Botany from Osmania University where he made sure to take an interests in the “finer things in life.”
“I wouldn't call myself multifaceted, but I took interest in many things,” says Varma, who not only acted in several plays but also took part in sports: badminton and cricket. “ I was also editor of the college science magazine for three years and president of the Hindi union for a year” he adds. “I continued to do the same at Anwar Ul Uloom College because I received a lot of encouragement there.”
Varma recalls his time spent at of Anwar Ul Uloom college with utmost pride, for what the institution stood for and for his own contributions as a teacher and Principal. “Till date if I attend a wedding, especially a muslim wedding, not less than ten or twelve old students come up to me and greet me,” says Varma who can still list out the names of all his colleagues from 19659. When Varma joined Anwar Ul Uloom College in 1959, there were hardly three to four students in a class.
The college was good as we had our own culture. Although majority of the students were Muslims, we had Hindus and even Sikh students during the Sixties and it was coeducational then. For this reason, we used to have the best cultural programs. People used to gatecrash to watch the music and drama programs,” remembers Varma.
Ever enterprising, Varma took up the task of upgrading the existing science laboratories in college and was also “fortunate enough to be the advisor of the student union, science association and the language association at one time or another.” He was also the founder-secretary of the college’s teacher’s association. “Khan Bahadur Abdu Salam Syed was the college Secretary. He used to come every Wednesday, or ‘Binaca Day’ as we used to call it.” Why? “Because that was the day ‘Binaca Geetmala’ used to air on the radio!”
Speaking of the radio, Varma has given not less than hundred talks on All India Radio, some general but most of them relating to science; he has also contributed actively to science magazines. “I have also tried to do something for my community, I am still the working president of the All India Jaiswal Community,” he points out.
In his sixties, Varma continued to live life with the same enthusiasm for literary and cultural pursuits as he had as a young college student. In 2004, he combined his memories of the city and passion for chronicling history with his love for language and wrote a series of articles for Swatantra Vartha, a Hindi Daily. “The 166 articles told the story of Hyderabad starting from the Qutub Shahi dynasty to the day of the last Nizam,” he says. It was these articles that led to the penning of his book.
Today, the 77 year old has just finished translating ‘Hyderabad: Mohalle, Galli aur Kooche’ into Urdu and is looking to get it published. He informs us about plans for a new book about the “role of the Arya Samaj in the struggle for Hyderabad in the 1940’s.” Varma’s cellphone rings periodically; people inquiring about how far things have come along. “I have an appointment with the DTP center after this,” he said after hanging up after the last conversation. “It is 10 kilometres away but he is the only person who can do a good job of it,” he concludes.