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My City of Lions and Pearls and Motorcycles

Written by Anonymous

Graphic by Alyssa Lin

My earliest memory of Hyderabad, the city my parents grew up in southern India, is from the summer of 2009, when I was 5 years old. I remember laying flat on the cool marble floors of my grandparents’ house, drifting in and out of sleep as the fan above me shook so vigorously I was sure the ceiling would collapse. I spent that summer running in and out of the house, playing cricket with the kids on the street, eating mangoes, forcing my relatives to drive me around the neighborhood on a motorcycle, and marveling at the simultaneous novelty and familiarity of Haydar’s city- the city of lions.

I was fortunate enough to be able to revisit Hyderabad and India this summer after my family’s last visit in 2018. This was my favorite visit yet, as I finally felt mature enough (and fluent enough in the local languages) to understand the significance of my city. Here are some glimpses of my city inspired by two of my favorite poems written by Indian political activist, feminist, and poet Sarojini Naidu.

In The Bazaars of Hyderabad (1913)

What do you sell, O ye merchants?

Richly your wares are displayed.

Turbans of crimson and silver,

Tunics of purple brocade,

Mirrors with panels of amber,

Daggers with handles of jade.

What do you weigh, O ye vendors?

Saffron, lentil, and rice.

What do you grind, O ye maidens?

Sandalwood, henna, and spice.

What do you call, O ye pedlars?

Chessmen and ivory dice.

What do you make, O ye goldsmiths?

Wristlet and anklet and ring,

Bells for the feet of blue pigeons,

Frail as a dragon - fly's wing,

Girdles of gold for the dancers,

Scabbards of gold for the kings.

What do you cry, O ye Fruit merchants?

Citron, pomegranate and plum.

What do you play, O ye musicians?

Sitar, Sarangi and drum.

What do you chant, O ye magicians?

Spells for the eons to come.

What do you weave, O ye flower-girls?

With tassels of azure and red?

Crowns for the brow of a bridegroom,

Chaplets to garland his bed,

Sheets of white blossoms new-garnered

To perfume the sleep of the dead.

Various reflective jewelry is displayed at a Charminar bazaar stall. There are about 50 of these stalls and in the afternoon sun, sometimes the light bounces off and blinds you while walking by.

Biriyani my mother made for lunch. Hyderabadi biriyani is arguably the most famous kind in India and is a staple of the city’s cuisine.

Bottles of attar, or essential oil, are sold at a stall in the Charminar market. Attar is used as perfume, and my favorite scent is chandan or sandalwood.

Adjacent to Charminar is Chudi Bazaar, a historical market known for its bangle shops. This is a photo of a collection of bangles in one of several bangle shops in the area. Bangles are a common accessory across South Asia, and people typically own several sets for everyday wear to party wear.

This is a photo of Bhairav, the dog who lives under the bathai or mosambi juice stand on the street of our home. It is a species of citrus fruit and is known as the sweet lemon in English.

Nightfall in the City of Hyderabad (1916)

See how the speckled sky burns like a pigeon's throat,

Jewelled with embers of opal and peridote.

See the white river that flashes and scintillates,

Curved like a tusk from the mouth of the city-gates.

Hark, from the minaret, how the muezzin's call

Floats like a battle-flag over the city wall.

From trellised balconies, languid and luminous

Faces gleam, veiled in a splendour voluminous.

Leisurely elephants wind through the winding lanes,

Swinging their silver bells hung from their silver chains.

Round the high Char Minar sounds of gay cavalcades

Blend with the music of cymbals and serenades.

Over the city bridge Night comes majestical,

Borne like a queen to a sumptuous festival.

A view of Hyderabad at night from the plane.

Traffic passes over the Purana Pul, the oldest bridge in Hyderabad. The Purana Pul is over the Musi River, which flows through the state of Telangana in India.

A view of Charminar from the ground. Charminar is a 16th-century mosque that is well-known as a symbol of Hyderabad. The Charminar grounds are a site for celebrations during the festivals Eid-ul-adha and Eid al-Fitr, the two main holidays celebrated in Islam.

The view of the neighborhood we stayed in this summer from the rooftop of our apartment complex. Some of the trees in this photo include coconut, mango, cassia, and red cotton.

Charminar as it appears from the beginning of Chudi Bazaar. Charminar translates to “four minarets” and is located on the east bank of the Musi River.


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