Monday, October 23, 2006

Happy in Hyderabad

*retyping a lost post sucks. That's all I have to say.*
The guidebook says Hyderabad is a city of contradictions. Old and new, Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor. They are right. Hyderabad is in some ways the most modern city I have been to in India yet. ATMs on every corner. Rampant consumerism, malls areas with flashing lights reminiscent of New York City. But at the same time there are things that lag behind. For one the garbage problem is still there. On the small street on which my hotel is located, there is a giant garbage pile which is generally smoldering or fully on fire. Its smoke fills the entire street. And despite signs every few feet along the walls that prohibit urination and defecation, people still regularly squat down in the gutter and just "go". The signs even threaten a 50 Rupee fine, but people regularly ignore it. There is less sexual harassment here though, which is a step forward. Some younger women wear jeans, tank tops, and tight t-shirts without being harassed. So that's great. On the other hand many women also wear Purdah, which the guide book claims is mostly to avoid harassment. I'm not certain that they're right, but it certainly makes for visual contradictions to see women in tank tops and jeans, and women covered head to toe in draping black fabric.
One of the contradictions, Hindu and Muslim definitely has a traumatic history which is being relieved even today. The clashes took place decades ago, but the animosities between Hindus and Muslims living in close contact are still evident. On the bus today I saw an "heated conversation", you might call it, between a Hindu man and a Muslim man over who had the right to sit in the seat. But so far as I could tell it was really not about the seat at all, but rather the expression of pent up anger and frustration. I guess if shouting and arguments on the bus are the manifestation of these hostilities it's better than the communal rioting that took place here in the past.
I did have one good "inter-cultural" experience. Yesterday, when coming back from the Laad Bazaar and Charminder, I caught an auto with a Muslim auto driver. Initially he was talking to me in Hindi and very broken English about how my god and his god are all one Allah. And I said Yes. But mostly I didn't understand a word he said. Then I said something to the effect of "I don't know Hindi" in Tamil, and he answered me in Tamil. It turns out he is Tamil, and has been living in Hyderabad for the past 20 years. He converted to Islam 25 years ago, and moved to Hyerabad, married a Hindi speaking woman and has 5 children. He converted to Islam from Hinduism, and was very sincerely enthusiastic about his religion. So he starts asking if I have read the Koran, and I said No. Then he asks me if I will read it, and I said Yes. Finally I promised him I would read the Koran (something I should do anyway) and he was very pleased. Then he started asking me about marriage. A common line of questioning. I told him I am not married yet, don't know when I will be, or to whom, and my parents will not arrange it for me. So then he told me I should marry an Indian Muslim and convert to Islam. I said something to the effect of "Maybe, you never know what will happen." And he was very happy about this too. By the time we arrived at my hotel he was calling me his younger sister and offering to arrange my marriage. I declined that offer. Then he offered to send me a copy of the Koran, and I told him he could do that, I would certainly read it. He wanted my phone number which I declined to give, but gave the Institutes address so he can mail me a copy of the Koran. Then he told me not to pay him for the ride.
If he does send me a copy of the Koran (in English) I really will read it. As I think many Americans (or at least the liberal ones) are now thinking, I need to learn more about Islam and understand it better if the world is going to become a better place, with less hatred and more understanding.
On another topic completely, yesterday I went to the Archaeology Museum here in Hyderabad, and saw their very lovely collection of Bidriware, Chinese pottery, Hindu sculpture, and bits and pieces of Buddhist stupas. While there I was wondering around the courtyard and saw an office with a sign that said NO ENTRY, but the walls were lined with books. So I poked my head in the door and said "Are you the archaeologists?" and the woman sitting there said yes. She turned out to be Dr. Suguna Sharma, an archaeologist who was working on textiles and patterns. So we talked for a little while and had tea, and she referred me to Dr. K.P. Rao, at the Hyderabad University. His was a name I thought I recognized, and indeed he is the author of the book Deccan Megaliths (1988, Sundeep Prakashan, Delhi), which I have often cited. So she gave me his contact information, and this morning I called him on the phone and asked if I could meet him. He proposed this afternoon, and so I went by bus to the campus (18 km away from the town) to meet him.
Dr. Rao turned out to be a very friendly man, and very helpful and interesting to talk to. He gave me copies of many of his articles, and allowed me to look at and photograph some of the pottery from a megalithic site that he has been excavating recently. He also said that when he goes for field work I can join him and participate in surveys and excavations and the like, whatever he's doing next summer. To top it all off he said I can come back and do some analysis of pottery and human remains from his recent excavations. It's all very future and tentative, but I'm still thrilled and excited nonetheless.
I have been doing some sightseeing too, and will post those pictures soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

About the Koran, I agree muchly. People in this world aren't so different that a person can't figure out how to walk a mile in another person's shoes, and religious understanding goes a long way towards that.

Then again, based on what I learned in my Making of the Islamic World class, a great majority of Muslims should also spend some time reading the Koran.