A visit to Abid's, especially for those who have been away for a while, is like a recharge of the emotional batteries. Change has been gently imperceptible here and a good many markers of one’s childhood and youth still remain there
A five-minute drive down this road affords one glimpses of over 150 years of architectural history. It is also a capsule of a lifetime of personal memories, a part of town which strikes a chord in every Hyderabadi. A trip to Abid’s, especially for those who have been away for a while, is like a recharge of the emotional batteries.
Change has been gently imperceptible here and a good many markers of one’s childhood and youth still stand. For some, the associations have to do with school and college friends, and teachers, for others outings with the family, especially visits to the cinema. So many buildings, institutions and establishments are replete with memories of loved ones separated by death or distance that the hours one spends here are a suspension of past, present and future into a timeless now that one is loath to let go.
Coming over from Clock Tower opposite the Public Gardens, the instant you approach Nizam College and Aliya you enter the time warp that takes you along Mahbubia School, Bombay Bakery and the State Bank of Hyderabad (whose ultra-subsidised canteen provided succour to many a cash-strapped college student).
A little way ahead is John’s Bakery (which celebrated its centenary last year), famed for its plum cake and Puran Puri and, to an older generation of pre-liberalisation school kids, simple treats such as sugar-encrusted buns with a cherry on top, or cream cones.
Then comes the St George’s complex, with its Neo-Gothic church, the vicar’s residence with Doric columns, and the original school building -- a Palladian edifice on a high plinth: a two-storeyed structure fronted by long galleries of columns and arches. A flight of stone steps leads into the portal. On the pediment above the first-floor is the image of St. George slaying the dragon, circled by the school motto, “Perseverantia omnia vincit” (Perseverance conquers all things). The founding year of the school is proudly proclaimed: 1834.
Just across the road that turns left towards King Kothi is the Taj Mahal Hotel which conjures up leisurely Sunday morning Udupi breakfasts en famille (especially after services at St George’s Church or St Joseph’s Cathedral), quick weekday lunches and relaxed tiffin-and-coffee sessions after work.
A few steps ahead is FD Khan where Mum and Dad would take kiddies to be kitted out with uniforms and bags for the new school year. Femina, “the matching centre”, was the destination for older sisters already in college.
There they would look for dupatta or shalwar material to go with the kameez.
Mention must also be made of the jewellers Totaram Papalal, the clothiers Bulchand, and picture-framers Abbas & Co. And how can we miss out AA Hussain? It was here that we would head for in the lunch break on the first of every month, to spend part of our pocket money in augmenting our collection of books in the Famous Five, Billy Bunter, Biggles or Sudden series.
Most of these businesses have been in the family for generations and they, in turn, have had custom from families over generations. There is genuine warmth here, and not the practised pleasantry of corporate chain outfits. Parvenus who swear by the tony, glitzy new shopping districts in Hi-Tec City or Jubilee Hills and turn their noses up at the mention of Abid’s will never understand that money and glamour do not easily translate into charm and character.
Of course, there are signs of decay on the buildings here and there but a bit of mildew lends aura, heightens the perception of continuity through the passing of time. “Lifestyles” can be acquired overnight, like a coat of paint, but culture, including the etiquette that goes with commerce, is acquired over generations. So, whatever the Johnny-come-latelies say, for the asli Hyderabadi, it’s “Abid’s forever”, just as for the true Secunderabadi Paradise would still be the place to go.