The bus trundles into the city just as the sun begins to struggle its way through the clouds and I feel the difference. Bangalore's unbroken skyline of glass and concrete, the result of an almost rabid, ruthless growth whose only aim seems to be to blank out every trace of tradition and history, gives way over a journey of ten hours to a timeless city that is in no hurry to grow out of its skin. I'm in Hyderabad.
The muezzin's calls to prayer rise over the roar of traffic and impatient honking; spanking new specimens of modern architecture take turns with graceful domes and minarets in their quest for the sky, their motives carefully demarcated. Smiling families look down from hoardings at the lonely old bearded man sitting in front of the meat shop, his dhoti tucked up between his legs, looking out at the road despondently as he awaits business. Boys perch precariously on their bicycles as they manoeuvre through dried slush and narrow gulleys, the result of the heavy rains of the past week.
The arrival of the month of Ramadan is evident. For a change, the self-proclaimed merits of Hyderabadi biryani are relegated to second place as Haleem signboards pop up indiscriminately, on the walls and in the hands of young men outside the restaurants and dubious food stalls. Rows of lights adorn shop-fronts, men in white caps and knee-length kurtas mill around the mosques freshly re-painted green and white. Ordinarily placid streets are packed with pedestrians trying not to get run over by cars with bumpers kissing and two-wheelers fitting into abnormally tiny gaps, the bustle of Ramadan mingling with frenetic last-minute shopping for Raksha Bandhan.
I ride through the familiar lanes with old friends, and unwelcome doubts assail me. Do I miss Hyderabad? Why do these roads that once seemed jaded and devoid of charms suddenly seem spellbinding? I know. It's that old trick that the mind and the heart conspire to come up with, that disillusionment that hits you like a hurricane and throws all semblance of sense out of gear. It is absurd to compare the known streets of Hyderabad to Moroccan souks, but that is where fantasy decides it wants to go, and I shall let it wander thither. Of what use is an imagination if you don't let it run wild, especially when all else is so rigidly held back by unreasonable restrictions and rules?
And then, as the bus wends its way through the tree-lined streets of Bangalore on my 'homeward' journey, I realise that what I felt in Hyderabad was, indeed, a momentary restlessness- I don't despise the city any longer, but what I'd felt for it over the weekend was just a nostalgia-tinged infatuation. I might want to live there again, but not right now. Neither city has been able to give me what I seek- but because I'm still discovering Bangalore and have a little faith in the nooks and crannies I don't know of yet, I hope to come one step closer to that elusive thing without shape or form that lingers within my grasp, and yet refuses to let me close my fingers upon it.
Stubborn- that's what life is.