It recently came to my attention that people might not know what Hyderabad is.
In the short story that I just submitted for publication last Thursday (pray for me!), I decided to make the protagonist a Hyderabadi Muslim girl, not unlike myself. Fiction does not come easily to me. In fact, the only kind of writing I can do with much confidence is writing that comes from a place of experience. I was asked to consider changing to a more well-known Indian city like Delhi or Bombay (I got post-colonial daddy issues, aight?). But I just couldn’t do it. To me, being Indian means being Hyderabadi. I don’t know an India outside of Hyderabad, and as I’ve gotten older, I’m more than okay with that.
I wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I wouldn’t want anyone to know I’m Hyderabadi. But today, being married to a non-Hyderabadi (Mr. Rafia’s family is from Lahore, Pakistan – very different from Hyderabad, India; don’t let the non-white skin fool you!), displaced from my Hyderabadi roots, whenever I chance upon a fellow Hydro I latch onto them like life support. Because, in many ways, they are.
It was only after I got married and moved away from home that I realized just how much of Hyderabad lives within me. When you’re surrounded by fellow Hyderabadis, you don’t notice it. You can even ignore it. But when it’s been months since you’ve eaten khatti daal, you begin to feel lonely in a way you’ve never felt before. It doesn’t matter if you don’t even like khatti daal. Something is missing. Something is wrong.
Unlike Teenage Rafia, Married Rafia relishes her Hyderabadiness at every opportunity she gets. But I recently realized my blog has been bereft. As readers of my blog, I have been doing you all a disservice by not sharing this part of me with you. What follows below is an insider’s guide to the city I have never lived in and frankly never want to live in, yet still, strangely enough, consider home. Let’s start from the beginning!
Hyderabad is a city located in central India. I like to say ‘south central,’ because everyone knows South Indians > North Indians. Superstar Rajinikanth is all the proof you’ll ever need. Hyderabad is known as the “City of Peals,” despite being completely landlocked (Tank Bund, which Wikipedia tells me is actually named Hussain Sagar – but what does Wikipedia know? – is a man-made lake), because we are prized for our jewelry-making skills. You’d think this bride was going for the whole retro look, but no; it’s a requirement for Hyderabadi brides to be decked in jewelry that weighs twice as much as she does. Fun Fact: Did you know that the Kohinoor Diamond that sits on the Queen of England’s crown was stolen by the Brits from Golconda Fort, situated in… well, close enough to Hyderabad? Damn right!
But I don’t care for jewelry and I’m thinking most of you don’t either. What Hyderabad is perhaps best known for is our food, particularly Hyderabadi Biryani. Don’t believe it when some other South Asian says that the biryani from their region is the best. They’re lying. Unfortunately, most Indian restaurants in North America feature either North Indian food or, if you’re lucky, South Indian – but never Hyderabadi. You have to personally know a Hyderabadi if you want authentic Hyderabadi food. If you don’t, well, sucks to be you. Hyderabadi Biryani is so good, it’s the only non-dessert item I have cravings for on a regular basis. When my mom says she’ll freeze some biryani for me, I just can’t get myself to say “No.” I know it’ll be months until I get that stuff in my hands and down my mouth, but just the thought of eating good biryani makes me happy. My husband and I went to this one place in Indiana that marketed itself as serving Hyderabadi Biryani, but within a second inside the restaurant I knew I was being lied to. My husband thought I was being unnecessarily skeptical. But I was right! If you ever see Butter Chicken in close sight, you’re being duped. Hyderabadis do not eat Butter Chicken.
Sure, our food is great, but what are Hyderabadis actually like? Ask a Hyderabadi and he/she will say they are the nicest, most hospitable people you will ever meet. Ask a non-Hyderabadi South Asian, and they’ll tell you that they are super traditional and clannish. Both are true. Hyderabadis are proud people and rightly so. I think we’re the only Indian city that can claim independence during the time of the British Raj. Sure, the Princes of Hyderabad (or Nizams, as they were called) most likely made some sort of deal with the Brits, but in the end, we got the bragging rights. So, who cares?
To me, what distinguishes Hyderabadis from other South Asians is our distinctive way of speaking. If you can get past our paan-stained teeth, you’ll fall in love with the utter poetry of our words. Real Hyderabadis speak a dialect of Urdu known as Dakhini. Urdu-speakers from other regions like to disparage Hyderabadi Urdu for being a bastardization of what they deem real or asli Urdu, but I say: language is fluid. We all don’t speak the same kind of English, do we? Also, they’re jealous. I like to call Hyderabadi Urdu the Ebonics of Urdu, but it can actually be likened more to Southern English. This video visualizes some of the stereotypical profiling of Hyderabadis (I’m referring to the man, in case that’s not already clear). But (most) Hyderabadis don’t mind this lampooning; we love to laugh at ourselves. In fact, nothing pleases us more than watching videos on YouTube that remind us how awesome we are. One way to tell if you’re speaking to a Hyderabadi is if he/she adds the suffix -koo to common words, like “Nakoo,” which is an emphatic way of saying “No,” and “Kaikoo,” which can be translated to “What the hell are you talking about, foo?” We like to add -koo to many words that don’t grammatically need them. Why? Because we’re Hyderabadi!
I hope I answered some of your questions that you never had until now. I fear that I most likely have left more people mystified than informed, but that’s okay. As Mr. Rafia has come to learn, you’ll never stop being amazed by us Hyderabadis. As I like to say, “Once you go Hydro, you’ll be wishing you had said, ‘Nakoo,’ but it’ll be too late!” Okay, I’ve never said that before. But I needed a neat way to end this ramble of a post.