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‘Hyderabad city has lost its character’

‘Hyderabad city has lost its character’

NARENDRA Luther truly wears many hats. An IAS officer of the 1955 batch who retired as chief secretary of a united Andhra Pradesh, he is considered an authority on Hyderabad — its history and culture — and has 14 books to his credit. His books on the founder of Hyderabad, the Nizami city, the cantonment of Secunderabad, its rockscape, the jewels of the Nizam or the coffee table book on its foremost photographer, Raja Deendayal, all reveal the depths of his attachment to this four-century-old city.

As Hyderabad celebrates the 425th anniversary of its existence, he reveals how the city endeared itself to him and how he came to write books on its history and, finally, on the attempts of the current regime to make it a smart metropolis. Excerpts:




Q. What really drew you to Hyderabad, its history?

A. Actually it was Urdu. I came from Lahore and had studied Urdu in school. So when I was posted in Hyderabad just two years after joining the Andhra cadre, I found the same imprint of Islamic culture. Lahore was a Mughal city, a garden city [like Hyderabad] and I was instantly drawn by Urdu that was the dominant language here. I was always interested in Urdu, its poetry and literature. Here, I found senior officials and those who had served under the Nizam speaking Urdu, even Hindus. Anybody settled in Hyderabad — Marathas, Kannadigas, Telugus, everybody spoke Urdu. Ever since, I have been either in Hyderabad or Delhi.

Q. But it must have been different from the Urdu you studied because this was Deccani Urdu?

A. When I first heard Urdu here it sounded like deja vu. Do you know that Deccani contains Punjabi words? Actually, the invaders had come from the northwest and they spoke Persian. When a Persian-speaking army settled among the Punjab populace and stayed there for 175 years they picked up a lot of Punjabi words and we got some Persian words. Then their descendants came to the Deccan and, hence, Deccani Urdu has so many Punjabi words. I even made a statistical distribution of words in the Deccani dictionary and found 40 per cent of the words are from Punjabi. Some of the words are not even spoken in Punjabi today. I had heard my grandmother speak those words.

Q. How did you come to write your first book on Hyderabad?

A. It was partly ambition, partly destiny. Actually, every year we, from Golconda society, used to celebrate the birth anniversary of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah. Once, it was suggested that a book should be written on the founder of Hyderabad. The director approached me saying, “Everyone is saying you are the right person to write it.” However, I turned him down. In the meantime, the then chief minister, NT Rama Rao, was, for some reason, unhappy with me. So he posted me to the refugee rehabilitation department, which hardly had any work. There were a few Bangladeshi refugees, some from Myanmar and only five families from Sri Lanka. Obviously, I had a lot of time on hand and then decided to write the book, Prince, Poet, Lover, Builder – Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah - the founder of Hyderabad, which was published by the government of India. Shankar Dayal Sharma released the book.

Q. Did you aspire to be a writer, because it seems to be more of a stroke of destiny?

A. I wanted to be a writer from early childhood. Later, I read the book The Men Who Ruled India by Philip Mason. Most of the grammar of Indian languages was written by ICS officers. RC Dutt from Bengal wrote the Economic History of India. All over India The Gazetteers were the first Wikipedia on each district. After Independence, Indians took it as a sideline job. If you did not like an officer, he was too interfering or incompetent, he was posted there. The story of the final defeat of French against the British is contained in The Gazetteers, written by the collector of Macchilipatnam. They were indeed the best source.

Q. Hyderabad has undergone a lot of change. On what should we pin the blame?

A. The city lost its character once there was an influx of population in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Before that, Andhra people used to rush to Madras, but after Hyderabad happened they came here and bought property cheaply. The people of Andhra had lots of money, enterprise and here people had a laid back style. My experience was at two levels — as a bystander and a participant.

Q. How was it after the merger of the state of Hyderabad and Andhra state?

A. It was a bad marriage from the outset. There used to be two lunch rooms at the secretariat for bureaucrats. One was for Hyderabadis and Urdu was spoken there. I remember going to the room for AP officials and they would say those fellows were lazy, only knew how to dress well, couldn’t do any work, and then the Telangana ones would say these Huns had come, those fellows had no social graces, no courtesy and only talked about work and work. It was a really bad marriage and their hearts never met. I told that to the members of the Srikrishna Commission. The epitaph of Andhra Pradesh should be exactly read so. The Andhra people had no sympathy and wanted to show them their place.

Q. What are your thoughts on the 425 years of Hyderabad?

A. What is there to say when the city has lost its character? I feel bad to see its deterioration and change in urban landscaping. They say they want to make Hyderabad a smart city. What is a smart city? A city must have its own character. Where is that character? It has been lost.

—The Statesman / India

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2016

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