The story of Hyderabad, Sindh
Hyderabad is one of those cities where the magnetic pull of nostalgia can be felt to a maximum, owing to the ever glorious landmarks of a bygone era. It is one of those cities where the past silently trudges along with a noisy and loud present. Apart from its new face where it is adorned with high rise buildings, bustling, busy markets thronged with heavy locomotive traffic; there is another face where the past lurks behind colonial buildings, hiding under electrical wires and large hoardings. The same old face can be seen written over the aged, gnarled and wrinkled face of an elderly person who has witnessed it, in all of its glory, and sailed through some of its sadness.
The story of this city dates back to the time of the Arab invasion when it was a mere fishing village.
It came into prominence when Kalhora ruler Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro established it as a capital of his empire in 1768. Afterwards, it was passed on to Talpur and into British hands until the creation of Pakistan in 1947.
Despite having a very bumpy history, this city has shared innumerous happy and prosperous times as well, like when its streets used to be washed with rose water. It once hosted a large number of gardens that overflowed with green parks where children played and their laughter echoed, and libraries that were brimming with books, all that were testimony of its grandeur and peaceful public life. However, those times seem to have been shrouded in dust and the missing vitality of it seems almost impossible to imagine.
The opulence of this city was partly owing to rich and well-to-do Hindu businessmen and merchants who traded in indigenous goods and exported them all across Europe, Middle East and South East Asia and were generally called ‘Sindhi workies’. Then there were Amils, literate Hindus who first served in Kalhora and Talpur courts and then joined the British civil administration. They built many large buildings ranging from public to private, domestic, religious and welfare types. At the time of partition, most of the Hindu population of Hyderabad left for India, vacating the buildings that were then occupied by refugee families from India.
The British government and civil society also built many distinctive buildings that are scattered across the older sections of the city. The main clusters are located at Tilak Incline, Heerabad, Pakka Qila , market area and Serey Ghat sections. A vast majority of these edifices have now been razed to the ground due to commercialisation and, now, only a handful of them are still standing.
The city was once famous for its wind catchers locally called ‘mangh’; a simple architectural device that captures wind and helps keep the interior of a building cool. There was a time when you could find a wind catcher on every rooftop in Hyderabad. Now, almost all of them are gone, changing the cityscape for good.
My interest in this city’s past began in my student life. I used to take walks from my old campus, past Hyder Chowk, Gari Khata and into an old market that is a thoroughfare for women of Hyderabad, also known as Resham Gali. Despite how crowded this particular path is, you will still be struck by the beautiful buildings prevalent here that were built in the pre-partitioned era. Your path will be bordered by books stalls, stationary shops, bakeries and small dhabas along the road. If you look up, you’ll be mesmerised by the magnificent stone work galleries, trellises, floral motifs inscribed on facades, windows, balconies and jharokas. While walking, I almost always had my eyes transfixed upwards until some vehicle or the other zoomed past me with a blaring horn to bring me back from my trance.
We had a point bus that used to take us back to the campus at 7pm. By now, our shopping spree would end and lights would be lit up everywhere, illuminating the entire area. At this time, those mansions looked grand, elegant, gothic and almost surreal; it looked like if you touched them, they would suddenly evaporate into the evening mist.
Oblivious to the heavy traffic and commercial activity, the silhouettes of these once magnificent buildings have an aura of sadness that swells and seemed to befall the entire area. Occasionally, a window would open up and a woman or a child would peer outside and then close it, leaving the building in its solitude again.
Perched above the facades, the pigeons would flap their wings and fly away.
The rapid destruction of such old buildings is a threat to the city’s vibrant cultural and magnificent heritage. It is time that this risk is soon identified and taken charge of by the concerned authorities.
History, once lost, cannot be restored.
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