In search of photos for my company’s Photography competition I went to Hyderabad’s Landmark, The Charminar. It has been long since I visited Charminar; the last time I remember visiting this place, some 6 years back, was during my sister’s wedding to buy bangles in Laad bazaar. I remember nothing from that visit except that it is a crowded area where people bought bangles and sarees which are too glittery and ugly. This visit came as a pleasant surprise and realised how different our perception about things around us changes as we grow old. As a child, during my school’s annual outing, I remember having told by my classmates that it as a place where you have to be cautious of the people there; alleging the religion and its followers aggressive and less compassionate. The most talked about monument of Hyderabad ‘The Charminar’ disappointed me then, it did not live up to my imaginations and the photos I seen some hundred times before. It did not look grand or architecturally pleasing, probably the clumsy setting in which it stood made it look so. As we grow old our perception changes, we become more matured, our outlook towards people and places change, our pointless fears fade; there could be many reasons and circumstances to this change in attitude, but I believe age plays a major role.
This years Photography competition theme is ‘Contrast’. According to the organisers contrast shows opposites or dissimilar objects or qualities together. Hoping to find contrast demonstrated by two very different neighborhoods, Charminar area’s old buildings against some modern setting, on a hot summer day at 2’0 clock I maneuvered my way through the crowded main road, passing through huge archways, to the monument in anticipation. But alas, I did not find anything modern there, everything looked medieval and old. The crowded lane, with huge arch gateways, amid the crumbling Nizam era building with small cenotaphs and minarets with pillared cloister in front of each shop you see an array of wares, spread out on sale, which leaves you puzzled. Glittery clothes and chappals every where….Antiques like, alladin lamp, brass bells from colonial times (marked London), brass gramophone and its records, crystals, ceramics….Junk like old electronics, keys, cassette tapes, iron wares, ceramic plates…..old to modern chinese locks…talismans..jadi buthi with bizarre looking roots and shoots, feathers (I was tempted to ask the man buying these roots, what he intends to do with them, but restrained, expecting puzzled looks). Amid all these you find the place bustling with activity, raucous and energetic. As I walked through the streets, old Hindi songs from the seventies, shop after shop, rattled out from old tape recorders; one song I particularly recognised was ‘ Lila O liala…”. This song, in which a dancer sings in Arabian clothes on a desert, looked so apt to the setting.
I am not a westerner and some place like this doesn’t come to me as a complete surprise leaving me fascinated. But still, to walk through the streets, opens a new window to the life which is so close to us but never completely aware of it. The diversity of India is so much that there is always some thing in store to leave you enchanted about . While I was walking through Laad bazaar, beside a glittering bangle store I saw two very old men, in white clothes with similarly coloured long beards behind old Urdu books spread out on sale, completely absorbed in reading a book by passing a finger from left to right. This scene stayed with me and looked as emblematic as everything else in that setting; just like that of Lila O Lila.
Access to the top of Charminar is through one of the minarets on the four corners. It is a narrow circular staircase to the top of it. It left me thinking why was the staircase was not designed symmetrically with proportionate steps all along when the whole structure is geometrically symmetric.(It may be due to later intervention). It is today more a square monument than a mosque which it initially served as. The steps lead to a corridor which runs connecting the four minarets with beautifully symmetric arches. In fact every opening through out the building is made as an arch. The circular dome in the middle is said to hold two more floors; visitors are not allowed to the top floors. Interestingly a small temple stands right next to the monument. It seems to be more a crude gesture to make the Hindu influence felt in the Muslim stronghold. Ornate lime stone carvings can be seen on the external walls, though most of the inner walls are left plain. Charminar stands imposing in the middle of the market place looks beautiful but the architecture and scale of it is not jaw dropping.
For centuries, more than as a testimony to the fallen empire, Charminar, has been the at the core of Hyderabad’s cultural milieu. My purpose of visiting the place was not served but this small trip to my neighbourhood has transported me to a medieval city, which continues to carry the aura of that bygone era.