By Sana Asif Ahmad
Our 12 days in Hyderabad helped us discover the colours of this city beyond the famous tourist attractions of pearls, biryani, IT city or the Charminar. We were here for our Winter Institute, a two-week fieldwork based module organized as a part of the Master’s in Urban Policy and Governance. The steep and rolling landscape of the city was covered in vivid colors of the Bathukamma festival, floral festival celebrated predominantly by the women of Telangana, as streets were lined with women selling the most fascinating combination of flowers. As we interacted with people on the streets I understood Zehra Banu’s secret tip for the ‘zaika’ of the biryani, the diversity of flavors that is present in just a single bite.
The significance of the City of Nizam as an aspirational capital was very striking as many people travelled to make it big in Hyderabad. These dreams came from a variety of people — from a coconut seller, tailor, a student. But the idea of a woman present in public spaces was still contested. “How can women roam on the streets, Ma’am? They will be spoiled!” says Shamim Bibi, a mother of two. Yet, I managed to meet the likes of Lata and Ayesha at a skill-training centre in Rasoolpura, who eyed a bright future.
Mohd Bhai complained about his social life as he regretted coming back from his 8-year-long stint in the Gulf because of family responsibilities. “What are dreams? Today I dream of one thing, tomorrow another” he said in a resentful tone as he cleaned his workstation at a makeshift electrical repair shop in Ameerpet. He complains that coming back to Hyderabad brings so many social responsibilities from attending funerals to marriages unlike in Gulf where one has only job duties to meet.
Both Rasoolpura and Ameerpet are hubs for informal livelihoods. Many we spoke to there had either dropped out of education due to some constraints or due to lack of faith in the education system. Utterances like “Even if we become graduates, we wont earn as much. Why spend money? Anyway we weren’t interested.” Were common.
Most women we spoke to mentioned how girls were married-off early. On asking a young 17-year-old Sheeba, shyly explained how she was also getting married in a month’s time while her brother, now a delivery boy for a food delivery service, averted questions by looking busy on his phone as he sat with pride on his delivery bike. The men came across as more accustomed to earning before deciding to settle down, but even here not everyone had a college degree. Even the aspirations that we witnessed in Ameerpet, a more work dominated setup saw men more inclined to make it big through experience and skills rather than education.
The underlying theme recurrent in Hyderabad’s city life was dominated by communal amity. Rasoolpura as a residential setting saw occurrences of varied belief institutions with temples, mosques and churches almost crisscrossing pathways. This played an important role is securing open and safe workspaces for all and also attracting migrants from as far as Uttar Pradesh like the “Maggam” (Zardozi embroidery) workers.
The most positive part of the city of Hyderabad was its inclusiveness for all variants of dreams. The city could make space for the information technology boom led growth and lifestyles along with smaller scale ambitions residing in the alleys of Ameerpet. They nurtured simple urges to find space on the upscale marketplace of Banjara hills or just to ensure that their kids don’t end up with similar struggles of life. Stories of a coconut seller and a migrant working at a glass fitting shop reaffirmed my understanding of this city for its open opportunities of social mobility.
Our trip to discover the aspects of work life and the city along with its hidden implications helped us understand how intertwined the two are with each other. The social life and aspirations of Hyderabad value every individual and their place on the street. It enlightened me about the levels of commercial understanding possessed by these people deriving their livelihood from the streets. Bhanu explains, “A corner is the best location, the public walks in from both ends”, as I saw him deftly roll the Puris on a small portable stool. Similar is their judgement about customer behavior as Bhanu asked me to come after 12pm when the office going crowd is gone and he could make time for my queries.
Our visit to Hyderabad was an enthralling experience for its learning outcomes and for the beautiful exposure to the spirit of work life that the city possesses. Hyderabad’s work life covers a huge spectrum of diversity from the opportunities of work ranging from street vendors, tailors, food stalls to food delivery boys and sales women. The range of the aspirations are not limited by any national boundary as the advertisement board on a high rise, right outside the entrance to Rasoolpura reads ‘Migrate to Canada’.
My little encounters with Bharthi a sales woman, Gayatri the shy girl employed at the coffee shop, Md Abdullah the key maker or Ahmad bhai running the alteration shop – all displayed the pride they derive from their work. It is their lives that helped me recalibrate my views on the work that is sustained on the streets of our cities as they strive with their skills and honor to ensure that there remains a hope for a better tomorrow.
Across the road have you noticed that man, woman or child?
Whose effort to catch your attention makes him go wild;
“Three for two”, “Aadhe daam par saheb”, “Free Free Free”, the noises that make you go sick,
No fancy hoardings, no designer shops, they rather have encroaching spaces doing the trick;
He can be a migrant, a slum-dweller or just semi-skilled,
But in your rough city, he still manages to survive with his strong will;
No dearth of passion, aspirations and Banjara hill dreams,
You ask him just a question and hear his desires scream;
The woman there, peeping from her shop’s end,
Has strong signals of independent aspirations to send;
Ask her about her struggles to survive the men dominated stares,
Bearing the scorching sun, the pouring rains and even the Municipal scares;
Yet they come out with pride, living life each day,
As we see them, yet not notice, in our life’s way.
The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.
To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website: http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute.html