Anant Maringanti talks about the geographic-historic discourse of the city and its contemporary re-mappings

Researching the documentary on the rocks of Hyderabad, we met urban geographer Anant Maringanti, executive director Hyderabad Urban Lab, to reckon with issues around urbanisation and geology. We found that the relaxed and welcoming attitude there, had as its bedrock, an intense engagement with the geographic-historic discourse of the city and contemporary re-mappings of it.

Starting out, Anant pointed out that it is impossible to imagine the rocks of Hyderabad without the water bodies that suffuse the landscape. Water laden sagars, kuntas, nullahs, cheruvus and bowlis are as ubiquitous in describing various parts of Hyderabad, as are rock filled bandas, kondas, gaddas and pahads. The region is home to a quirky geology that creates a unique drainage pattern. Anant elaborated that because of the rocky outcrops being in various directions, water does not flow off on one side evenly as in the Gangetic Plain. It flows instead in any direction that the rock surface takes it. This water run-off is caught in various lakes, ponds, canals and other water bodies, in the middle of the rock formations, creating the water-rock combination that is so familiar to us.

For instance Durgam Cheruvu, the beautiful “secret lake”, was so well hidden within the rocks that it historically used to supply drinking water to the rulers at Golconda, as fear of the water being poisoned by enemies was reduced. Today, Durgam Cheruvu is the celebrated centrepiece of the Cyberabad avatar of Hyderabad, with construction and offices invading its space.

Relentless urbanisation today is denuding our landscape of rocks while water bodies are shrunken, polluted and built into. Retracing a few key historical moments of this urbanisation, Anant describes how, initially there was a small rocky hill fort in the time of the Kakatiyas and the gollas (shepherds) caused it to be named Gollakonda (shepherds’ hill). Over the years it grew and attained grandeur under the Qutb Shahi rule, morphing to ‘Golconda’. When the Golconda fort was overcome by population rise and rampant disease, the Qutb Shahi rulers established the city of Hyderabad.

Once Hyderabad came into being and expanded, it was relatively well-governed; until population growth in the 1970s created huge demands that the municipal system was unable to meet. The 1990s saw the Cyberabad Act passed, allowing large tracts of surrounding agricultural land to be urbanised. The Greater Hyderabad Development Authority and Airport Development Authority came into being to help manage the growth. However the situation currently calls for far more forethought and planning. Indiscriminate quarrying has cut into the rocks, decimating entire hill ranges. Building infrastructure has filled up lakes and dried them, cutting through natural drainage paths in haphazard, hazardous overbuilding.

The leitmotif synergy of rock, water and green cover of our area is in crisis. While increasing urbanisation is a resolute current fact, we need a responsible reimagining of our urban future: moving ahead while retaining our core strength of a uniquely beautiful and ecologically sound landscape, and, respecting a shared heritage of human and physical geography in responding to the compulsions brought by that future.

(The writer is a documentary film maker, writer and teacher)