In Hyderabad, we lived close to Mozam Jahi Market in the main business district of the city. Our residential complex seemed to be an unwelcome guest in that locality. The main market was a circular structure of rough granite, where meats and vegetables were sold. But it was only a minor planet in a bustling commercial universe.
Beside the market was the famed Karachi Bakery, which sells the finest fruit biscuits made outside heaven. Often, there used to be a long queue in front of the bakery in the evening: people would wait patiently to buy their freshly baked bread. Across the main road was a huge fruit market. As one walked along a narrow lane treading on decaying leaves and broken baskets, one passed dingy shops on either side, with mountains of fruits. The shops changed their colour (and merchandise) every few months. Summer meant golden mangoes, numerous varieties of them. August and September, black and green custard apples in abundance. There were great deluges of grapes, oranges, and apples from time to time, not to mention the lesser fruits like bananas and guavas.
Shops in the nearby road leading to the Bank Street sold hardware and asbestos sheets. At its entrance was a tent house, an establishment that rented out tarpaulins, marquees, chairs etc. for functions like weddings. (A little away at Gunfoundry, one also found a row of red Cadillac and Impala convertibles eagerly waiting to carry bridegrooms to their destiny.) This road was always chock-a-block with shoppers, porters carrying baskets on head, push carts, rickshaws and small trucks. Walking along the road was a nightmare even in 1981. I shudder to think of how it is like today, with so many thousands of new vehicles on roads.
Adjacent to the main market, there was a road-side workshop where masked welders fabricated iron grilles. As I walked home for lunch, sparks from their welding guns flew in every direction. Whenever I crossed them, I recalled an earlier incident when an enterprising mechanic had tried to weld a leaking acetylene cylinder. The resultant explosion killed many, including some passers by. That recollection hurried my steps as I walked from home to office or the other way round.
The luxury of going home for lunch was not the only pleasure of living in Hyderabad. It was (and still is) a beautiful city with parks and lakes. At weekends, we used to go for long walks along the Tank Bund in the cool breeze blowing in from Hussain Sagar, or watch children frolicking in the Public Gardens. Although April and May was uncomfortably hot, with the first rains, Hyderabad would magically transform itself into a delightfully cool place. And would remain so for the next ten months.
Our children were toddlers then. Hasheem Chacha used to take them to their preschool on his cycle. Hasheem, a slender elderly man with a stoop, worked as a part-time sweeper in our bank and supplemented his meagre income with odd jobs like that. Hasheem sang in a mellifluous voice and used to render ghazals on radio regularly. If one is asked to talk about an Indian tragedy, one might recall the last floods or the latest communal riots. But the fact that a gifted singer like Hasheem had to earn his living as a sweeper was tragic too.
Opposite our house, there was a restaurant that sold mouth-watering but terribly spicy biriyani. Our children loved it, but it was most unfriendly towards their tender stomachs. Some evenings, my wife tucked in the kids early. When they were safely asleep, I would leave the house surreptitiously to bring home some biriyani for us.
Behind our house, there was an exhibition ground that came alive every few months with trade fairs. The constants in the fairs were the eateries, a giant Ferris wheel, a toy train and a motorboat on an artificial lake slightly bigger than a bathtub. But the stalls changed. At one time, it was a handicrafts exhibition, at another, it was an industrial fair. Our children loved these exhibitions. I too liked them … I always love the anonymity and aloneness offered by crowds.
In one of the fairs, we came across a stall that showcased a new motorbike. My wife and I looked at it from different angles. It was a time when only a miniscule percentage of salaried employees could afford to buy a two-wheeler. I was not one of them, although I was a bank manager. After working out the arithmetic of our savings and the quantum of loan available from office, we decided to postpone the venture to an indeterminate future. And forgot all about it.
At home that night, my daughter and son didn’t go to bed at the appointed hour. They were closeted in their study, discussing something. After a while, the discussion turned acrimonious, and a full scale war began. We were a little surprised because they rarely fought.
As we mediated a ceasefire, we learnt what the issue was. They were fighting over who should sit in front and who should sit behind when the bike was bought.
Bangalore, 30 September 2009