Narendra Luther’s name is synonymous with a keen knowledge of the city of Hyderabad and with a “lead by example” passion for its rocky geography. It was a pleasure to be welcomed several times into his rock centred home, and, engage intensely over the city’s moorings: in the imagination of its people, as well as, physically in its rocky landscape.
As Luther sahab says, having been around for over 2.5 billion years, the Deccan rocks have witnessed everything humans have ever done here, since human life on the planet is only about 7/8 million years old! They have witnessed our city’s history in all its unfolding avatars.
If the rocks could speak we would know the truth of so many stories, for instance, whether Hyderabad was really named after a Prince’s courtesan love. There has been some tussling around the matter, with Professor H. K. Sherwani leading the opposition to it. Luther sahab is firmly on the side of Hyderabad having been named after Bhagmati, (the founder Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah’s beloved), and says, “Nothing symbolises the legacy of Hyderabad as much as the romance of Prince Mohammed and Bhagmati.” On their marriage her name was changed to Haider Mahal and the name of the new city established by the Prince around her village, became Hyderabad.
Luther sahab’s love for the rocks is evident in his much photographed and written about home in Banjara Hills and the conscious choice in it, of leaving most of the rocks on the land alone. Instead of shaping the land to suit the building, he shaped his home to suit the rocks! Rocks strew the open area around the house. Children have played hide and seek in them and his own 12 year old grandson now zips up and down the rock surfaces. Luther sahab laughs as he recounts how people dissuaded him with vastu issues and other practical objections, when he left rock surfaces inside the house as walls for living spaces. Even warnings of radiation emanating from rocks were issued! He consulted someone from the atomic energy department who assured him that there was nothing of the sort.
He says the only problem was because the coefficient of expansion of rock is different from mortar. In summer the expansion of the rock may not match that of mortar and in winter they contract differently. “It is a miniscule difference causing a miniscule gap between mortar and rock, but water is such a crafty thing it finds its way! So we had some leakage. The rock surface/walls used to get wet and the electric wiring got affected. But once the upstairs got constructed and the summit of the rock was covered, that also got solved.”
He was inspired by Mehdi Nawaz Jung and his rock-rich, historical home, Banjara Bhavan. Unfortunately this now stands demolished. His favourite rock sites used to be around Durgam Cheruvu but those are now getting destroyed with unplanned overbuilding. Other beautiful rock picnics spots that he remembers around Gandipet and Himayat Sagar, have also been “pulverized”.
As President of the Society to Save Rocks he has led valuable initiatives, along with other committed rock lovers there, to combat these developments.
“Are rocks more important or humans?” is a question he gets constantly asked in the debate over the urbanisation of more and more natural spaces. But this is a “false question”! As we see in Luther sahab’s example, we can build our homes in harmony with the uniquely beautiful landscape we are blessed with; we can plan neighbourhoods that retain the rocks in various spaces, so that children can enjoy them and communities benefit from their valuable ecological contribution to the surroundings; we can create city, state and national level rock parks where valuable lung space is reserved for our relentlessly expanding city. Such a scenario would be more desirable for humans as well, moving us, on a bedrock of respect for both human and physical geography, into a thoughtfully imagined urban future.
(Uma Magal is a documentary film maker, writer and teacher)