It’s not just my instinct or a feeling fostered by a few isolated examples that Hindus and Muslims are more integrated in and around Hyderabad. Apparently, this has been the case for a long time in the Deccan. At the inaugural lecture of the newly established Centre for Deccan Studies at Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), William Dalrymple spoke about “The Syncretic Civilisation of the Deccan”.
At the outset, he demolished V.S. Naipaul’s seemingly Hindutva-esque views on Vijaynagar in his book, India: A Wounded Civilisation, as based on received wisdom or “the historiography of the British Empire”. This historiography naturally served only to advance the Empire’s interests and Dalrymple stated that scholarship such as the 1996 essay, A Sultan Among Hindu Kings, by Philip B. Wagoner has done much to undermine Naipaul’s ideas of the Muslims as rapists and pillagers as against the peaceful and pure Hindus of southern India.
And any Indian school child will tell you that the British Empire’s modus operandi was to divide and rule and that they used any and all methods available to pit communities against each other to enrich themselves under the guise of furthering their ‘civilising mission.’
Dalrymple said that “Vijaynagar was in reality a victim of shifting alliances in Deccani power politics, not a concerted communal campaign by Muslim states intent on wiping out Hinduism from the face of India.” Scholarship and research like Wagoner’s paper are vital to set the record straight and the new Centre for Deccan Studies will be of great value in this effort besides giving us glimpses of a lost and forgotten world.
Drawing from many sources to tell the tale of the fascinating fusion of the two cultures, Dalrymple spoke of the melding of art, architecture and attire that also incorporated styles imported from the Middle East and Persia, leading to the unique identity of all things Deccan. In many ways it appears that the best of varied cultures was absorbed by locals, making the Deccan a hot global melting pot of yore.
As it goes with all melting pots though, the old ways increasingly get sidelined as the new generation gets attracted to the latest trends, fashions and styles. The decline of the old way had begun in the very houses that helped to establish it, as illustrated by a letter Jackie Kennedy wrote in the 1970s to her friend, art historian Mark Zebrowski, about her trip to Hyderabad. She described the old noblemen of the court dressed in their sherwanis reciting poetry and the classical musicians playing under the moonlight as she heard them tell her how sad they felt that the youth did not care much for the old ways. And how at the same time, the sons of the house, dressed in tight Italian pants and open shirts, had taken her son John to their rooms and offered him a tall glass of whiskey and put a pornographic cassette in the Betamax and the Rolling Stones on the tape deck.
The world has gotten much smaller since then and in many ways we are all more than ever a part of an increasingly global culture influenced and shaped by things almost as they happen around the world. Indian youth everywhere are quick to embrace and adopt the new world culture and there is no stopping that. At the same time, India’s recent boom has also seen greed gain new ground as every inch of any available land has been taken over. Hyderabad has among the worst records of conservation, despite having such a rich heritage. Dalrymple stated he was saddened that so much had been lost, with works of art having disappeared and the alarming encroachment on, and even destruction of, sites that should be preserved as part of our collective history and culture. And so the decline continues.
What Mir Moazam Hussain referred to as a culture and place of “monotonous standardization” in the context of what Hyderabad has become, is also reflected in the architecture of many Indian cities that have all started to look the same, with endless shops and brand new office buildings. These new buildings in particular are air-conditioned glass boxes ill-suited to the local climate and responsible for generating “heat islands” that increase the temperature. Along with the loss of green cover, they make our cities hotter than they have ever been. Gone too are the gardens, lakes and fountains that provided respite from the heat. In blindly aping the West, we seem to have strayed so far that German city planners and architects studying Cyberabad noted that the local buildings designed by foreign architects appear more “Indian” than the ones built by the local designers. This is really sad.