Hyderabad, yet again, seeps into my veins (or refuses to cleanse itself out of them). However, I still cannot find it in myself to love the city enough.
The fly-over rises over a lake choked by a thick bed of algae; buffaloes wallow in the shallow pools near the edge where milkmen bathe their cows. Vehicles inch down the road, almost abreast of one another, jostling for space and air. Plumes of smoke splutter from engines of vehicles which, doubtless, would have passed the pollution test. A green-painted bus passes by, still advertising the World Military Games held in 2007. Disembodied voices chanting poetry waft from a single-storeyed 'school'- a building with very few rooms and an open storeroom heaped high with notepads and folders. Grey water gushes through a broad drain by the low wall. There is no evidence of a playground. Or children, for that matter, on this blazing Saturday afternoon. Could the sun be the culprit, shining unabashedly when a soft December wind should be sending yellow leaves drifting off trees? Or is it something as practical as exams and the constant race that we have so successfully embroiled ourselves in?
Box-like houses, discoloured, chipped and generously cobwebbed, stand in rows- no colour, no sign of habitation, not even a clothesline. Trees block the sunlight out, their shadows splayed across the walls. A temple with vermilion-red walls, pictures of deities painted in bright colours, spreads out in a small compound a few steps below road-level. Further down, spires, domes and intricately-carved minarets peep out from behind high walls.
Shops. Plenty of them. Glistening outlets which market goods from Cambodia, Sri Lanka and India under famous names, filling up coffers in Europe and the US and expanding egos closer home. Right next to the shack where the sweaty mechanic in grease-streaked clothes crouches by the rickety old motorbike and the stall that stocks everything from betel leaves to copies of economic intrigue.
Beggars cluster at the traffic signals, emaciated babies held at the waist in dirty rags by tired mothers, drunken fathers lolling on the dividers. You don't want to encourage them- but it isn't easy to turn away either, cold-hearted and indifferent; only, you know that single coin you give them isn't going to help them anyway, and you wish you could do something more, then forget about your resolutions promptly once the light turns green. Fickle, cold-hearted humanity.
The fly-overs and the faux-modernism cannot mask the infrastructural lapses and the glaring masses of people struggling to make ends meet. The few gardens and the sparkling fountains don't hide the vast tracts of barren land where garbage is heaped by the truckloads, the ponds wherefrom sickening odours rise and where parasites thrive. Tombstones and cremation grounds dot the outskirts, the dead and the forgotten buried and burnt and generally dispensed with. Life as it is, ironically, may not seem much better to some of those multitudes.
Time to weed the garden.