In conversation with Yunus Lasania and Serish Nanisetti
Or listen to it here:
Deepika: You know the 18th century Mughal poet, Mir Taqi Mir once wrote –
Dil-o-Dilli donon agar hain kharab
P’a kuchh lutf is ujde ghar mein bhi hai.
Which translates to:
My heart and my Delhi may both be in ruins
Yet there are still some delights in this ravaged home.
Arpita: Oh wow we are starting the year with Mir – but before I ask you what this is about, I know we’ve all been complaining about Delhi in recent times, but why was Mir critiquing Delhi back in the 18th century.
Deepika: He was critiquing it but he was also saying that he loved the city despite its many ills, whatever they might have been back then. And I just thought how you know at TCC we spend a lot of time thinking of how our cities need to change for the better, we think about their present and the future, considering issues like consumerism, water and garbage management etc but maybe we don’t get enough time to speak about all those things that make us love and want to make our cities better.
Arpita: That’s true, like Mir I do love my city – Bangalore – despite the many worrying issues and like you said it is exactly because I love the city that I think the work of reimagining it and making it better is worthwhile and important.
Deepika: Exactly, so as 2023 unfurls, I thought we could begin with an exploration of the city that was – talk about and celebrate the city spaces that have shaped our identities, habits, likes and dislikes – some consciously and others less consciously and look at how and why city histories are important to engage with and preserve.
Arpita: Very intrigued – so tell me who you spoke to –
Deepika: Well for our chat today we travel to the beautiful city of Hyderabad and meet two very interesting people, the first of whom was Yunus.
Yunus: So my name is Yunus Lasania, I am a journalist by profession. I’ve been a journalist for about 10 years now. And I have been a reporter for most of my life. So I started my career with The New Indian Express, and then I work for the Hindu. And then I worked for Mint, which is the business organisation of Hindustan Times.
Deepika: What Yunus isn’t saying there is that he also moonlights as one of Hyderabad’s oral historians – someone who is deeply interested in and documents historical information through various mediums, which actually led to him to founding the Hyderabad History Project; and as it so happens he is also the host of a Suno India podcast – Beyond Charminar, which explores the history of Hyderabad beyond the larger more well known landmarks of the city.
Arpita: That sounds like so much more than moonlighting! But you said you spoke to two people?
Deepika: Yes, the second person I spoke to is someone who used to be Yunus’s senior colleague at work and continues to partner and mentor his ventures – Serish Nanisetti.
Serish: Hi, my name is Serish Nanisetti. I am a journalist, I work in the Hindu currently on the city reader there. And I have been in the profession of journalism for the last 25 years. And I have written – earlier, I used to work on the desk, where I did headlines and edit copies. Now I work as a reporter. I do city reporting. I mostly report on the happenings in the city and with a lot more focus on history and heritage.
Deepika: And not to forget – Serish, is also the author of a book released in 2019 titled Golconda Bagnagar Hyderabad: Rise and Fall of a Global Metropolis in Medieval India – which traces the history of Hyderabad for the period of 160 years from 1518 to 1687.
Arpita: That’s quite the duo. I have so many questions but I think the first one I want to ask really is how did the two of them come to be so deeply interested in the history of Hyderabad, how does one go from journalism to history?
Deepika: Yeah that’s always interesting to find out isn’t it? But I thought with both of them there was this very organic extension of their curiosity – they are both Hyderabadis and have been reporting and writing about the city for their work. For example, Yunus was hooked on to history somewhere early 2016 when he was working at the Hindu with Serish and as it happened INTACH, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, brought out its list of Heritage awards.
Yunus: So INTACH released its list of names for that year’s Heritage awards in Hyderabad, Telangana, actually Andhra Pradesh, that’s what the state was then. So I saw the list. It had the name of a church, which is about like five minutes from my house. So I asked my boss, ‘hey, can I go check out these places and write about these places?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, sure, go’. And when I went to the church, in the Church of St. John’s, it’s called, Church of St. John the Baptist. So when I went to St. John’s Church I realised that the church is… I used to pass by it every day for my whole life, while going to school. And I realised that’s a very old church.
Arpita: I know that church! And the odd bit is that it is the only church I know in Secunderabad cause I haven’t actually ever lived in the twin cities but my very close friend got married in that church!
Deepika: That’s amazing! And there is something really powerful about a space like that being still very alive and functional, not turned into just a ‘monument’.
Arpita: It was a beautiful structure – if I remember correctly – bright white as if freshly painted, small but full of character and light with its neat wooden pews and vaulted high ceiling and this beautiful organ which played when she entered the church – it was just magical! I can imagine how it can capture someone’s imagination – once you see it, it’s kind of hard to unsee it.
Deepika: But did you know it’s the oldest church in these two cities, 209 years old to be exact?
Arpita: No, I didn’t know that – and I don’t think it would have occurred to me cause it’s so well preserved.
Deepika: And if I may add, that old grand organ you spoke about – its a 113 years old!
Arpita: Oh wow – you’re full of historical facts today, where is this coming from?
Deepika: Courtesy Yunus and his work of course!
Arpita: Aaah, that explains it – I really do wish I had known this when I had visited – I can see how Yunus must have felt about these discoveries having lived there all his life when I am getting excited having been there only about once.
Yunus: It’s the oldest church of the city, but it’s also a very, very important landmark, because Secunderabad is basically the cantonment area of the city, British government. So that is basically the first major physical landmark of Secunderabad also after it was founded in 1806. Secunderabad was formed much later than Hyderabad. Hyderabad is 1591, Secunderabad is 1806, 200 year difference. So yeah, so I started with that. And there’s one more I think there was also the Wesley Garrison Church and just then there was a temple and things like that. So I just started writing about them one by one.
Deepika: And intrigued by these stories and places he was unearthing or seeing with fresh eyes, Yunus’s exploration of history brought him to the realisation that 2016 as it so happened was also the 50th death anniversary of the last Nizam of Hyderabad – Osman Ali Khan.
Yunus: Basically, I ended up writing a feature story about Osman Ali Khan through people who had met him, he died in 1967. So most of the people I met were very, very old. So Osman Ali Khan in Hyderabad is also known, he was the world’s richest man. By the way, in 1937, he appeared on Time Magazine’s cover. So for a man who was a world’s richest man at one point is also somebody who was known as a miser. So I was like, you know, theek hai, maybe we should do something and that’s how I started, you know, going out and meeting people. Oh, that’s actually I guess that, in a way was also probably my introduction to oral history in that sense. So I wrote that story, that story actually went quite well.
Deepika: It did more than well – it went viral actually.
Arpita: You know frankly it doesn’t surprise me that it did. I remember from my visit to the famous Salarjung Museum in Hyderabad. I had seen this portrait of Princess Niloufer – the Last Nizam’s daughter in law, an Ottoman princess who was also nicknamed the Kohinoor of Hyderabad cause of her beauty – and just felt so curious about how back then a young girl from Istanbul must’ve moved to Hyderabad, what her journey must’ve been – and what I dug up was this crazy politicking of royals across multiple continents to get marriages arranged in these fancy families – it was just so bizarre and interesting!
Deepika: Clearly marriage as a way to bring wealth and families together is very much rooted in history.
Arpita: But just to pedal back a little bit – what was Serish’s story? How did he end up being so interested in the history of Hyderabad?
Deepika: Well, like Yunus, Serish was intrigued by the rich tapestry of stories that unravelled when he started asking his first questions about Hyderabad’s history.
Serish: Usually, when we see history or when we are taught history in schools, these are just dates. And we just come to know about the dates. And we never come to know about the people who are responsible for these wars and battles, or how they lived their lives. Like when I was researching about Hyderabad history, I realised that around Charminar people were living actually in tents. Okay, so when I say tents we imagine them to be the small military tents, no, these were massive tents. This stretched over dozens of feet and had canopies which were covered with Kalamkari cloth, which were works of art. Okay. And they, whenever the king travelled, for example. There were two sets of everything. So one set of the tents, the cooking vessels the paraphernalia of the royalty would go to the next stop. They would go there, they would stop, they would set up the whole thing. And when the king reaches there, he would have a fresh.. tent is ready. Food is ready. Everything is ready. Just like the earlier thing. So this is the kind of life if you read about it, you’ll say oh, wow, this is this interests me. We rarely get to know about the food they used to eat. Right? So this is what made me interested.
Arpita: I love what he’s saying there and it’s just so so true! I remember that long sheet of dates one had to memorise back in school and reproduce unthinkingly during exams. Without the stories to animate them, they were just random numbers one was mugging up and regurgitating. I don’t know how we’ve forgotten that the word history actually has story in it –
Deepika: Ah the beauty of storytelling- that’s what I loved the most about it when I started studying history in college – and really Serish was full of such stories! For example, he asked me to guess which language these people back then spoke in – can you guess?
Arpita: No, not a clue.
Deepika: Well it was Dakhni that was spoken in the Qutub Shahi kingdom in the later part, after 1590s – not Persian or Hindi.
Serish: So, Dakhani is actually an amalgam of multiple languages, it absorbed the information from Marathi, Kannada and Telugu. It is an language born in the region. It is not like Urdu. Urdu’s origin and name all are related to Persian and camp and all those things like.. Dakhani is for dakshin, the South. So it’s a language which has the name of the South and which has the stamp of the South like in the sense, we talk about aao nako these are Marathi words, okay, aao nako is a modified.. small tweak of Marathi words. So, when you travel in the Deccan region, for example, if you go to Latur or you go to Gulbarga, the language that is spoken you can easily understand. You can converse with those people. Even in regions of Andhra there are places where Dakhni is understood. Even in regions of Tamil Nadu that Dakhni is understood by people. They speak that language. Okay. So we’ve never learned about this in our school education. Or even in newspapers, they don’t carry stories like this, only now people are interested.
Arpita: Dakhni the language of the deccan or the southern people – wow i never thought of it like that!
Deepika: Right? This dakhni that we’re talking about is different from the dakhni which is spoken now but it does totally change how you think about the language and about the region, doesn’t it?
Arpita: Yes, how languages evolve to facilitate communication across the region –
Deepika: Now if you were told this versus just being asked to mug up facts – wouldn’t it have been a totally different experience of learning history?
Arpita: Oh absolutely – this feels more lived in and colourful, evokes your imagination which is in stark contrast to a list of dry dates.
Deepika: Exactly, and as Serish and Yunus continued with their research and writing they realised that these stories of lived history were not only missing in the textbooks of children but in general they were hard to access.
Yunus: I don’t think there is any one particular platform which I could actually find back then to you know, say that look this is a place where I can go learn about Hyderabad. Like if you wanted to learn about Hyderabad, you would have had to rely on old books. You would have had to rely on only archival material.
Arpita: That’s very true – I mean there are museums but they’re not quite as common and they can sometimes seem so separated from the city of the present.
Deepika: Yeah and even when you visit historical monuments, you often don’t know what you’re looking at in any detail, what makes certain structures special, when they evolved, the stories behind them etc.
Yunus: So then I thought, you know, what, if I can’t write for the newspaper, I can write somewhere else at least like on my own. That’s when I started the blog called the Hyderabad History Project. So it originally began as a blog.
Deepika: Yet he felt the reach of the blog was also limited and the search for a space that would be truly attractive and reach a greater number of people was on.
Yunus: So I somewhere thought, okay, you know what, maybe I should just go to Instagram, it’d be a lot easier. So that’s actually one of the reasons why the Hyderabad History Project on Instagram started. Because I thought people will find it a little bit more visually attractive to you know, have see a nice photo and then read the blog, and then read the information.
Deepika: And that was the inception of the online space for this very interesting project that has since grown on Instagram to have almost 13,000 followers.
Arpita: You know it is quite fascinating how individuals following their curiosity can carry so many others along. It’s also very interesting to me how the online and the offline have intermingled in this model of new learning which I think is called hybrid learning in the education world, right? I mean as the world changes our educational models and methods also change.
Deepika: Actually I haven’t come to the most important real world element of this Project which makes your point all the more valid. As it so happened rather organically, Yunus was contacted by Sahapedia an open online resource on the arts, cultures and heritage of India – and asked to collaborate with them on doing actual walks within the city.
Yunus: I believe my first proper history walk was the was a church walk in Secunderabad. For which I actually put in a lot of work, I actually went to five, six churches sat and got so much of information, spoke to the presbyters in the churches, and I did as much work as I could. So that’s where it started from 2017 May I continue to do walks for Sahapedia.
Arpita: That seems apt considering it was the churches that got him interested – so basically the online spaces he has been creating are augmented by this chance for people to spend quality time experiencing and talking about these spaces in these actual spaces.
Deepika: Exactly. In fact since 2017 he’s grown on to creating and experimenting with different types of walks that he’s been running on his own. And because the main home for the project is Instagram, he seems to attract a particular demography.
Yunus: There are very few elderly people who come to me, they come.. they come with their daughters and sons and children and like, someone gets them, they don’t come they don’t find it on their own. So most of the time, it’s people who basically are much younger. I think in the group of 18 to 30s, or 40s. They’re probably 18 to 40 or a little bit but not senior citizens mainly, majorly mostly working people or people who are very young or students.
Arpita: Right, so what does a typical walk with Yunus involve?
Deepika: Well Yunus said a typical walk can last about 2 hours in which he covers a well-researched path in a particular city area or around historic monuments – he shares the facts and stories about these spaces, even carries an Ipad to make it more visually stimulating and through all of it there are pauses and stops to encourage conversations and questions.
Serish: So a lot of information gets shared in these walks, and a lot of questions are asked. So I’ll tell you one thing, like, one of the things about Hyderabad is many people believe it was called Baghnagar and was named after Bagmati. So during one of the walks, when we asked this question, like is it true that do you believe in Bagmati? We don’t know all these things – only when you go for a walk like this, these questions get answered. People ask: How can so few people rule a place? Or what was the role of say, for example, Hyderabad has Osmania University and the language of instruction was in Urdu. So why did University come about in a language like Urdu, and why wasn’t it Telugu? Or why wasn’t it Dakhni? So these are the questions that are getting asked, and Yunus answers them with patience.
Arpita: You know as much as I understand Serish and Yunus’s interest in history, I am curious – why do they think it’s important for other people living in or visiting the city to know about it’s history in quite this way.
Deepika: I asked Serish this very exact question and really loved how he explained it.
Serish: So we need to know the history of a place because we want to live with the city – the city makes us, we make the city. It doesn’t happen that you live in a city… In most modern cities, there you will have glass chrome buildings with concrete where you get out, get into a vehicle go to the office come back. But Hyderabad is not like that, Hyderabad, has a living history. It is a continuum of history, you’re part of the history. For example, your food is part of the history. Like for example, we have something called Osmania biscuits. Why is it called Osmania biscuits either these biscuits were made for patients who were being.. who were being treated at the Osmani General Hospital. That is one version of the story. The another version of the story is Osmania biscuits were created in a bakery and because Mir Osman Ali Khan the seventh nizam, liked them so much they got the name of Osmania biscuits.
Arpita: I don’t think we often think of history living with us in these very fun ways – I mean Osmania biscuits from Karachi bakery is always on any travellers list when headed to Hyderabad but you never really consider how it has these origin stories rooted in history.
Deepika: And speaking of food, Serish had another example which is lesser known than the Osmania biscuits but it showcases how cuisine, geography and culture come together in complex unique ways.
Serish: I’ll tell you about a dish called Pathar ka gosht is a very typically Hyderabadi dish, which where the meat is roasted on a rock. So rocks Hyderabad is known for its rocks so there’s a slab of rock which is heated with the wood fire and on top of it there’s a roasting meat. So the meat gets at a very different temperature than on a tawa. Right? So if you go during Ramzan time you will be able to see, eat, get this at multiple places.
Deepika: You know there’s this very famous quote how ‘history is who we are and why we are the way we are’ – and you really make that connection as Serish and Yunus share these really fascinating stories. This one about the origins of the Sherwani was another favourite of mine!
Serish: So the Nizam, Osman Ali Khan was somebody who lived a good life. He was born in 1869 and he died in 1911 Okay. So 1869 is when Mahatma Gandhi was also born okay. So, this man lived a very good life and he spared no expense. So, if he wears a suit, he wears a dress, he will not wear it again. So, this person saw the Europeans wearing something called a frock coat, which had buttons going down and all that. So, this man instructed his tailor to shift the design in a particular way, which we now call sherwani. And he wore the sherwani when he met Archduke Ferdinand on a particular day in January just before the World War, and it was photographed. And we have the photograph of the evolution, we have a proof of evolution of sherwani in Hyderabad because of this photograph. So and now the Sherwani is such a common dress like Nehru liked it, lot of people wear it, it is almost the favourite diplomatic dress for a long time in India, because it’s very sophisticated. And it speaks to so elegant and speaks to our Indian sensibility. It’s not a suit, but it suits our Indian sensibility. And this is like a tweak of what the Europeans wore with buttons and all those things.
Arpita: I think literally every third groom in present day India gets married in a sherwani without knowing this!
Deepika: As did my partner when we got married and I was in a garara and am wondering what its origins might have been!
Arpita: And that’s really the point of it isn’t it? I mean we walk through and embody so much that is very far from being ahistorical – our language, our daily outfits, the landscapes we are a part of – they’ve all got this long history behind them. When we are born and brought up in a city we sort of sub-consciously imbibe and become part of those rooted cultures and like Serish said – it’s difficult to tear the city and its people apart – they’re interlinked by this long history of creating and recreating each other.
Deepika: And you know Yunus pointed out something additional that I found really resonated with me.
Yunus: You know, when we all get first introduced to history, it’s all like palaces and kings and queens, right? So you’re a little bit, you’re like, wow, oh my god, so much, such fancy people – like opulence and things like that. But yeah, started with same thing for me also, but then I slowly realised that there’s a lot to history than just that. But I realised that I actually like working or working class history, or like, I like things that are actually that are places that are still in use, you know, like old Irani cafes and things like that. So for me, those things matter a lot more.
Deepika: My sister who was recently in South Africa was telling me about the museums she visited there that documented and spotlighted the lives of those who were driven out of their homes as slaves or faced apartheid. And we were discussing just how essential these are – the lived experiences of the masses – to have around for the present and future generations.
Arpita: It’s one of the most important tasks of history isn’t it – to remind us of the way things were – some good and some bad – so that it gives us an insight into who we have been and who we might want to and choose to be – and a lot of that learning comes from zooming out and looking at the common persons or the marginalised people’s experience and not necessarily those of the upper classes.
Deepika: And to add to that I like what he’s also saying there about lived history – history being something that is currently and constantly being woven – that we are all part of that fabric of time.
Arpita: I suppose as journalists who are reporting on the city on a daily basis, watching how the papers they write in will someday serve as historical archives to these times we are living in – this must be all the more powerfully felt.
Deepika: And I think their explorations have led them to find these little hidden gems, these stories and I think this historic lens to seeing these stories that are embedded very much in certain people and spaces that are a far cry from kingly opulence but just as beautiful, if not more.
Yunus: I also met a couple of very elderly people and realised that they were actually able to help me with a lot of things just by talking to me and, you know, talking about things and places through their memories. Because for them, they have also seen places change, and I’m talking about a period of over 50,60,70,80 years, right? So it’s important to also talk to people who’ve seen places change. And I think it’s also important to understand. See, oral history, I guess, you know, is not something with its with the like, there’s no way ever to put a pin and say this is 100% accurate, I guess. But I think we all love stories at the end of the day, and it serves a very, it serves also in some way as an archival thing where people narrate their own personal histories of what they faced or what they saw. For me, for example, is like a very old radio repair store. It was run by two brothers who have been meeting some seven, eight years, one of the brothers passed away just last year. And other one is about 71 years old, and he is now the only person in the entire city who can fix old radios, I think from what I understand.
Deepika: Serish mentioned another really beautiful example of how when you enter certain city spaces with this lens, your experience transforms and the world expands –
Serish: So you’re not just engaging with the building you’re engaging with history or engaging with stories you’re engaging with the life that people led some years before okay. Like for example, you can now as you can walk on a lane near Hyderabad near Dewadi it is called Chatta bazar. So, you go there are calligraphers who draw calligraphic wedding cards and all.. they make those things, right. So like for example, if somebody for example, who likes typography, he comes to Hyderabad. He goes to the Chatta bazar he will be amazed at the kind of skills these calligraphers have. So, you may be working with Adobe TrueType fonts, or PostScript fonts. But when you see the real art of a calligrapher, you’ll be like, oh this is how the writing evolved.
Arpita: I am reminded of my time in Ahmedabad when the construction of the Sabarmati riverfront project led to the removal of the Ravivari or the Gujari bazar – which was a 600 year old Sunday market actually established by Ahmed Shah who is credited with establishing the city of Ahmedabad. I remember wandering through it before it was razed and it was just as eclectic and interesting as the kind of spaces Yunus and Serish are speaking about here – I met a coin diver, an old clockmaker. I was heartbroken when it was thoughtlessly replaced with characterless concrete pathways inspired apparently by Paris or London.
Deepika: Yeah it’s a trend we see in our cities a lot isn’t it? That we seem to look for design inspiration outside our country, often ignoring the very rich cultural heritage that already exists.
Arpita: In so many ways this has led to so many of our cities starting to look the same – if we understood the evolution of these spaces better I suspect we’d fight for them a bit more and not be so easily taken in by ahistorical imaginations of our cities.
Deepika: Not just ahistorical but also a one dimensional view? I live in Mumbai, a city where I have spent sooo many years of my life and feel like I know it pretty well – but then I visited Khotachiwadi which is this quaint little gem of a heritage village with these style old homes, a place made of a totally different texture of time right bang in the middle of the bustling fast paced south Mumbai gullies – and I was totally blown away just how this could happen.
Arpita: You know Calvino wrote this beautiful poetic book called Invisible Cities and he said in it – “For those who pass it without entering, the city is one thing; it is another for those who are trapped by it and never leave. There is the city where you arrive for the first time; and there is another city which you leave never to return. Each deserves a different name.” It’s rings really true isn’t it? Hyderabad or Delhi or Mumbai or any of the others – they aren’t really just one city – they morph and change by the lens that we apply to them.
Serish: Hyderabad is a multicultural place. So I’ll just give an example. So there is a festival say, suppose there is an Eid, and all the Muslim restaurants are closed, I can walk into the restaurant run by Hindus and I can eat food there. And suppose there is some festival of Hindu say Dussera or Diwali and Hindu restaurants are closed, I can walk into a Muslim restaurant and have food. So this is the benefit of living in a multicultural city and a historical city. For example, during Ramzan a lot of people go to Hyderabad to see the city. They want to understand how the city lives they want to savour this smells the fragrances, flavours of the city and it is a very different thing like culturally it is very different you get food which is not expensive and which is very tasty, which will not get other points of time.
Arpita: I think every city in India I’ve lived in has these elements, these spaces and culture that make them so uniquely memorable and full of character. I remember during summers in Ahmedabad when it was impossible to get out during the day cause of extreme heat – the markets would come to life in the night and street food, decorated thelas full of it would magically appear – and they would go late into the cool nights with these festive twinkling lights all over.
Deepika: I love the visual that that evokes and it’s actually reminding me of Old Delhi and its streets! But you know Serish also pointed out other reasons for doing this work of acknowledging and knowing our cities roots.
Serish: There’s a lot of propaganda and misinformation about Hyderabad history, like the story about Bagmati or the various tales of the Nizam’s miserliness, and these are all apocryphal tales told by people who are disgruntled or unhappy or have an agenda. And these are the people who have never been to the city. They’ve never travelled to the city. They have never walked the lanes in the city.
It’s really crazy to think that this kind of misinformation is created and spread and is actually viral. So that’s why when Yunus started doing this heritage walks, he kept the price very low, like 100 rupees or 200 rupees, and opened up a world of information for young people. So a lot of people would see his posts on Instagram and they will get interested will come for the walks. And they will all go back saying oh wow they have learned something and let this lot of mobile population in Hyderabad – IT workers and all the things, they would come meet people here, they would go back interested. They would share that information in their circles and also the information is changing very rapidly. So that was one of the positive things about Hyderabad History Project which Yunus is doing.
Arpita: That’s lovely that he’s made it so accessible and quite literally is using the power of experiential education to address so many issues!
Deepika: Yeah especially in recent times when we’ve seen random factless propaganda go viral and create divisiveness or very black and white readings of history when the truth is always really far more layered and complex. An example that Serish gave was of the recent oversimplified memes on Aurangzeb.
Serish: Aurangzeb was responsible for the destruction of Hyderabad. At one point he renamed the city Dar ul jihad, its land of war, and a large portion of Hyderabad near the Charminar in Char kaman where were the palace complexes, they were all razed to the ground by Aurangzeb’s army, searching for treasure. Okay, he was not doing it out of spite, he was searching for treasure, buried treasure. He even dug up a mosque to find the treasure, which he.. they didn’t get the treasure. So once you learn all these things, you realise oh, these people were after the money not after destroying another civilization or culture or anything like that.
Deepika: I read a BBC article where another historian says the same thing – that his legacy is much more complex and not so easily classified into one motive or the other. Once you really dig into the historical archives the truth is often much more grey and layered.
Arpita: And so the idea behind the walks is also to begin to see nuance?
Deepika: Exactly. It’s one thing to see a passing meme but a whole other experience to sit with a historic time and place with someone who presents you with the facts. I mean you give your attention to the issue for 3-4 hours and really get a chance to consider the multiple facets involved and not jump to hasty conclusions. You know Mark Twain has this famous quote where he alludes to the idea that travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness – and really these walks and this project embody that same principle – once you spend some quality time dipping yourself in another time and place even within your own cityscape – you find yourself changed in so many ways.
Serish: We should care for them because we are just custodians of, for the next generation. We are not going to live forever, nobody’s going to live forever. we are just passing atoms.. we pass and it’s over. But these are the memories. A city is also its memories. It’s every city… like why do Indians go to a European city? Because they want to see the history they want to see go to the Oxford Street or the see the Oxford building, or they want to go to Paris and they want to go to say New York or say Portugal or Spain. And where do they go? They go to these historical hearts of the city. When they go to Rome, they go to St. Peter’s Basilica, though they are Hindus, they go to St. Peter’s Basilica. Okay, they’re Muslim they go to St. Peter’s Basilica. It doesn’t speak to their religious sensibilities, but it speaks to their cultural aesthetic sensibilities, and, and we want to know about our past. And, like, we really want to know how people live then and what did they eat and how they live. So how are we connected to them?
Arpita: Yeah absolutely – we’ve seen so many examples of this in our conversation today haven’t we? I love what he says there about cities being embodied memories.
Deepika: Really – and you know my parents lived in Hyderabad before I was born and listening to both Yunus and Serish speak so warmly of the city – makes me want to go there pronto and see and experience all that they’ve spoken to.
Arpita: Also you know I was thinking so many of us take our cities for granted, especially the ones we’ve grown up in and live in – we keep thinking we have enough time and someday we’ll get around to exploring it and instead go on big holidays to other places and spend more time thinking about those places than the actual homes we live in!
Deepika: Very true – maybe I need to begin with Mumbai before I do Hyderabad! Here’s to gifting one holiday to our cities. Time well spent discovering and loving our homes for all that they have been and continue to be!
Outro: To join a walk, follow the The Hyderabad History Project on instagram for the latest updates on history walks and to get better acquainted with the people and stories that have shaped the city and its culture. In our next episode, we’ll go on a different kind of walk with one of the founders of Go Hallu Hallu in Mumbai who talks about why we need to slow down in our fast paced cities and what emerges and becomes possible when that happens. We hope you’ll listen in!
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This podcast was created by Srinidhi Raghavan, Deepika Khatri and Arpita Joshi. The Sound editing was by Vijay Chawla.