Not So Rock-Solid

India was few weeks shy of celebrating 42 years of being an independent nation, whenI left its shores for the first time to come to the United States. That was over 33 years ago. The plan then was to return to India in a few years. But as my dad would always say, “God’s will shall be done”, and so America became my adopted country. 

I have spent most of my adult life here in the U.S. but often travel to my hometown.  Each time I go back to visit, India, and especially my hometown, seem different. My inability to relate to the once familiar surroundings frustrates me. The changing topography makes it difficult for me to get around on my own. The city, which I knew intimately as  a teenager, seems to have become a strange and unfamiliar place. I need to ask for directions or use Google maps. I realize that despite traveling back to India so often, the longer I live in the US, the less familiar I become with my changing hometown and country.

Ancient Rocks Disappear

On my recent trip to the southern city of Hyderabad, I drove around the affluent suburb of Banjara Hills and the tech town Gachibowli, and visited the Sanghi Nagar Temple. I was taken aback by how much had changed. 

The enthralling, ancient rocks, billions of years old, were fast disappearing. 

I remember when I was a child, my dad would be fascinated by these boulders. We would drive to Naubat Pahad almost every weekend and go to Banjara Hills, where he would ever so enthusiastically show me all these fascinating rock formations. But I was a child and could barely empathize with his enthusiasm for some lifeless rocks, so I never truly paid attention to them. Probably because there were so many of them all around that I took them for granted. Or  maybe because he always joked about how he and mom found me on one of the rocks and brought me home. 

And now, as I looked at the rocks lying broken and scattered around Park Hyatt, Banjara Hills and the Sanghi Temple area, I choked up. I missed my dad so much because I so wanted to talk to him and listen to all the fascinating stories he had about these rocks. The rocks are the heart and soul, the very identity of this historic city.

An Ancient Rock Wasteland That Made History

Over a 2 billion years old, dramatic rock formations define Hyderabad’s landscape. A view from Sanghi Temple. (Photo credit: Anita Mohan)

Once the rocky home of a gypsy tribe from Rajasthan, Banjara Hills was full of enthralling rock formations. Until the early 1980s,  nomadic Banjara women, dressed in their traditional bright colored skirts, complete with metal chokers, heavy ear and nose rings, and multiple ivory and metal bracelets clinking on their hands, were the common inhabitants of the hills.

Hyderabad-based writer and historian, the late Narendra Luther, wrote in his blog  that the area around Banjara Hills was just acres of empty land with various rock formations. In 1927, Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung bought about 200 acres of land in Banjara Hills from one Moin Yar Jung who was happy to dispose of a “waste land” . In 1930, Nawab Jung built a ‘cave’ house primarily  made of the existing rocks and named it “Kohistan”. 

The last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan suggested that the area be named after the Nawab, since he was responsible for its development. The Nawab replied that since the original inhabitants of the area were the Banjaras, it was only fair to call it Banjara Hills. 

Ancient Rocks Moved Tagore To Poetry

In 1933, Nobel Laureate Rabindrnath Tagore visited Hyderabad. He stayed at Kohistan as a guest of Mehdi Nawaz Jung. It is said that Tagore liked it so much that he composed a poem on Kohistan and Banjara Hills and translated it into English:

From the distance thou didst appear
barricaded in rocky aloofness,
Timidly I crossed the rugged path
to find here all of a sudden.
An open invitation in the sky,
and friends embrace in the air,
In an unknown land the voice that seemed ever known,
Revealed to me a shelter of loving intimacy.

Amin Jung, the finance minister of Hyderabad, invited Tagore to his home for an evening of poetry and philosophy. This memorable event was attended by the who’s who of the city, including the Prime Minister of Hyderabad, Maharaja Kishen Pershad, and master of rhyming quatrains, Amjad Hyderabadi. Both Tagore and Amin Jung sported long beards that grazed against each other when they embraced, sparking some on-the-fly witty compositions.

Maharaja Kishen Pershad, himself a poet, composed and recited the following couplet on the spot:

Mehfil mein hain aaj jama do saheb e resh
Donon dilshad aur donon dilresh
(Assembled today are two bearded gentlemen
Both of them cheerful, both have wounded hearts)

Amjad Hyderabadi, composed another couplet introducing the poet and the admirer of poets.

In donon ki mukhtasar si ta’reef ye ḥai
Darwīsh parast aik, aik hai darwīsh
(Here is the introduction to these two personages,
One is a devotee of mystics and the other is a mystic)

Rocks Give Way To Concrete

This was the effect the rocks of Hyderabad had on literary greats. Sadly, with all the urban development, Banjara Hills no longer has many of the exotic rock formations. It is now a town full of homes, bungalows, villas, high rise apartments, commercial and professional buildings. 

Not far from Banjara Hills is  HITEC City and its neighborhood, home to posh apartments and multinational companies like Microsoft India, Novartis, Infosys, Amazon, Deloitte and HSBC, to name a few. The Durgam Cheruvu suspension bridge was recently built over the calm Durgam Cheruvu lake, to ease increasing traffic congestion. Durgam Cheruvu has an artificial waterfall, a floating restaurant, and offers visitors boat rides. 

My trips to Hyderabad these days are a far cry from my calming childhood walks with my father. Concrete is overrunning my hometown’s ancient rocks at an alarmingly fast clip. Now I put my faith in non-profit organizations, such as the Society to Save Rocks, that are fighting to preserve these dramatic natural rock formations that define this city.

Anita R Mohan is a poet and a freelance contributor who loves to write on various themes. She mainly writes about women, India, Indian life, and culture.