Gems from the earth

Sajjad Shahid shares stories of’ valuable stones in goat droppings’ amidst rocks of Deccan.

Published - August 14, 2014 08:22 pm IST

Sajjad Shahid Photo: G. Ramakrishna

Sajjad Shahid Photo: G. Ramakrishna

In speaking with Sajjad Shahid, the past and the heritage of Hyderabad is not seen nostalgically via a diffused lens refracted by fading shards of memory. It is instead a picture of clarity and inspiring depth. From interesting titbits like “GVK Mall was once a beautiful art nouveau stone house called Kohinoor” to the association of the Deccan Sufi legacy with our rocky hills (Pahadi Sharif, Maula Ali, Fakhruddingutta etc.) ; From the synonymy of the Deccan with stone to having our great buildings, temples, mosques etc. being built of either basalt or black granite; from Iqbals poetry (whose lines about ‘the soaring eagle for whom many skies await’, are Sajjad’s alma mater Hyderabad Public Schools’ message to students) to an artist’s interpretation of Iqbal in the form of a stone sculpture of a bell with an eagle perched on top that stands in front of the Secretariat... Sajjad Shahid’s account of Hyderabad’s natural and cultural heritage is rivetingly and richly detailed.

His parents are the foundation for this knowledge and enthusiasm. His mother, Zeenat Sajida and father, Hussaini Shahid were sought after authorities on Sufism and Dakhani literature and active in the Progressive Writers Association. Sajjad himself is a civil engineer from Aligarh Muslim University. Early exposure to Bijapur architecture via his family whose origins are traced to the area, created a lasting impression, leading him to the architectural and heritage conservation work that he is well known for today.

He focuses not only on the architectural heritage of Hyderabad but also its physical heritage. Growing up, he says, was spent exploring the caves and tunnels in the hilly rocks around his home in Banjara Hills. “Rocks were home to eagles nests, snakes etc. We didn’t fear of snakes and knew to look out for the dangerous ones. There were monitor lizards by the hundreds. Sitaphal (custard apple) grew wild in the rocks and we ate smoked sitaphal roasted on fires. We could identify the sweet trees by the colour of the leaves and “aankh” (eye) of the fruit.”

“So high up in the hill there would be water amidst the rocks, it was amazing. The best pond in the area was near the current Taj Krishna hotel’s pool. It had crabs and would flow down to the green-house in Bella Vista.” The Waddars and Lambade who lived here were fantastic at finding water. They did so by the look of weeds, grass, the colour of rocks etc. and were more accurate than modern water divining methods! Those rocks are gone, that whole ecosystem around the rocks is gone now.”

He remembers his grandmother’s stories of a special breed of goats whose droppings had diamonds. A state license was required to pick up the droppings! Researching her story, he found similar references in the book Relations of Golconda by Methwold, and, in Tavernier’s writings. He deduced that it referred to the famed bezoar stones of Golconda. “These stones, carat for carat, sold at the same rate as diamonds. Tavernier apparently bribed people and got six goats! We’ve lost the goats, the sitaphal, the ecosystem...”

Among different Deccan landscapes he remembers the rocks of Jubilee and Banjara hills stood out: ‘ Inka husn hi alag tha .” “Today, Durgam Cheruvu is one of the most beautiful places in the world when from the top you see the lake, the bund and the dargah.” There are still great rock formations in and around Hyderabad that must be preserved.

City planners, he says, must be sensitised to this wonderful aesthetic and ecological treasure that our city is gifted with. The public must also come out and object to thoughtless development that sacrifices our natural heritage. He sees some hope in the current discussion around Golconda fort being declared the site of Independence Day celebrations. “All kinds of people are saying it is a great idea but that the fort and its landscape should not be damaged. It’s a positive sign. I don’t think that we have become so base that we don’t appreciate our heritage and beauty. Even the person on the road has a response. We must channel this somehow.”

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

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.