Five years is a long time. The city has changed so much. In fact, it would only be a slight exaggeration on my part to say that Hyderabad has changed more in the past five years than it ever did in the first twenty-three years of my life that I spent growing up here. That fuzzy feeling of familiarity it had as the place I always called home has vanished with all the old buildings that were like loyal friends to me.
Perhaps it is because of the glitzy malls that have sprung up like a litter of rabbits seemingly out of nowhere? Perhaps it is because of all the new money that has transformed Hyderabad from a sleepy, laid back provincial capital into a pulsing cosmopolitan melting pot? Or perhaps it is because of the insanely dense traffic that has turned driving into a most unwelcome chore? Strangely (on second thought ‘surprisingly’ might be a better word) I don’t think it is because of the above reasons. Instead, I think it is because of a new found hurry everyone seems to be in. That typically Hyderabadi unhurriedness has been replaced by a rude rush to get somewhere. And that has made this place, these roads, this city seem unfamiliar. Now, the city seems like a friend I’m meeting for the first time after leaving school a decade back. There are parts that are comforting in their familiarity but for the most part things have changed. So there is this awkwardness. The awkwardness of a long absence. There is distance too. A distance born out of that very same awkwardness.
In the first month, after I came back, I roamed around some places that I used to frequent in the hopes of finding that old familiarity again. That long stretch of twisting and turning road between Taj Banjara and Nagarjuna Circle over which I raced on empty nights against the adrenaline churning through my veins. That beautifully scenic but lonely road that starts after Tolichowki and continues till the second gate of HCU. That upstart addition to the spine of Hussain Sagar, which dared to call herself a Necklace. That hole in the wall bar beyond Bahar restaurant where you get the best Chicken 81 in the world. Finally, HCU campus itself, which was so wonderfully wild, more jungle and shrub than university. Beyond subtle traces of the old they all seemed to have turned into pale shadows of their former dusky glory. Perhaps their souls are spent under the weight of all the hurry that seems to have invaded Hyderabad. Why the sudden rush? Or is everyone actually running away from something? The old genteel culture, the nawabi laziness, the slow passing of the day over multiple cups of Irani chai; all replaced now by the gloomy glamor of globalization.
I know change is inevitable. In this world nothing stays the same for long. Heartbreaks get transformed by nostalgia into experience. Experience gently develops into wisdom. So a city is no different. It is only a sentimental fool who looks at the past through blinkered glasses colored by false nostalgia. The heart yearns for the familiar but the mind knows better. This duality of reason and emotion drives me into this curious state of lethargy where I seem to be waiting for something to give. Five years can wreak havoc on expectations built across the divide of continents.
However, five years is also a weird length of time. It is not as significant as a decade nor is it as quick as a couple of years. It is somewhat like that indeterminate time between dusk and night when familiar things take on a melancholic aspect that cloaks their true character. So I may be jumping the gun as usual. After all, it has only been a couple of months. Time can heal the awkwardness. Renewed friendship can bridge the distance. Is it possible? Only the city can tell.