It’s a unique fact of our twinned city life that even someone who has grown up in Secunderabad is a Hyderabadi! Usha Raman, one such Hyderabadi, has been surrounded by the rocky landscape of the two cities all her life: in Secunderabad where she grew up; at Osmania University and Nizam College where she studied, as well as at the University of Hyderabad where she currently heads the Department of Communication. All these areas are known for stunning rock formations. Unsurprisingly, the rocks of the city suffuse her memories of life here and underlie her experience of it.
The memories are not all pleasant. They also underpin unfortunate rites of passage in grappling with the horrific realities of our world. Usha describes one such incident in the craggily beautiful rocky landscape of Mahindra Hills in Secunderabad. It was a favourite space for her and her two girlfriends, “To cycle and walk armed with sticks to chase away the chameleons and snakes. We never had any sense of danger.” All this changed when they were 13/14 years old and faced a molestation attack there. One friend was pinned against a very large rock. Pluckily, they screamed and raised an alarm until the men took fright and ran away. “It was a landscape of huge rocks and shrubs. Possibly the men hid behind the rocks watching us (creepy enough thought) and picked the moment to jump on us. They seemed to have appeared out of nowhere but were actually behind the rocks all along.” It was an experience in which a sense of secure selfhood in a trusted world was lost forever, and replaced by a wary alertness to the unknown threats of this newly alien world. A moment of “growing up” most women would relate to. In Usha’s memory, a loss of innocence moment in which the rocks were as centre-stage as the players.
She asks in the first stanza of her poem “Searching for the soul of Hyderabad”:
Is it in the rocks
Picturesque, shapely, misshapen,
that have watched
over me and my ghosts
past and future
Travelling in the city area, she describes watching well loved rocks disappear in the face of new development, particularly, the loss of beautiful rock stretches along the Outer Ring Road. “There’s one rock that I’ve named the Wise Old Man. He has a large forehead and exposed teeth; sometimes it’s like he has bared them in a permanent grin, mocking, or just sad. He doesn't have too long, I'm afraid. The blasts will sound, the huge cranes will swing, and that smile will soon be wiped off...” This takeover of the landscape by commercial and residential overbuilding, inspired her poem “Urban Sprawl”, an excerpt from which is below:
This was where
at balancing boulders
from millennia past
fed back into
of real estate developers
for the upwardly mobile.
Development in Hyderabad has brought jobs, opportunities, energy, new people and their skills and a host of modern infrastructural conveniences, creating new intersections of people and places, locating us strongly as a global centre today. But the other side of this coin is the serious effect on our landscape, our ecological sustainability and the voices of people displaced through this development. Looking at this in totality should raise a clear discomfort with the imbalances in our current development plan. As Usha says, such discomfort may be good: “There may be opportunities where that discomfort can be a cautioning voice in decision making.” It could be harnessed in re-imagining a sustainable future for the city that will substantially support retaining its memorably beautiful and valuable rocky silhouette.
(Uma Magal is a documentary film maker, writer and teacher) . This is the 22nd in a series of articles based on research for a documentary on the rocks of Hyderabad.