Saturday, October 15, 2011

Why Kolkata will win in 20 years

By way of human capital it is India’s wealthiest city.
Twenty years ago, this meant little and
Kolkata’s brightest minds left the city.
Today it is gold

Aakar Patel

Which Indian city has the best infrastructure, the most attractive culture? In a nation where Nasscom says 90% of all graduates are unemployable, which city produces many times more competent people than it can hire? Which city is our greatest net exporter of talent? Which city will win in 20 years?


This is ridiculous, because Kolkata lags Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai and even Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune in attracting investment. It has no software economy and no financial sector. What industry they inherited, Bengalis have packed off efficiently.

Relic: Kolkata still has hand-pulled rickshaws not found anywhere in the world. Photo by Indranil Bhoumik/Mint.

Relic: Kolkata still has hand-pulled rickshaws not found anywhere in the world. Photo by Indranil Bhoumik/Mint.

It is ridiculous because Bengalis don’t even have a proper trading class, and use the word “bene” (baniya) with contempt. How is such a place fertile for capital?

Then there is the matter of the anarchy. Even by India’s low standard, Kolkata is a monumental mess. Little governance is visible on its roads, which the state has surrendered to the population and shows no desire of retaking.

But Kolkata has assets, chief among them its people. In a world where cultures must integrate, Bengalis have built one of our most attractive and open cultures. More about this later.

If you were to close your eyes and imagine the city without its grubby occupants, Kolkata actually has the finest infrastructure of any Indian city. Options for getting around the city include a Metro (not found in Mumbai), local trains (not found in Delhi), taxis (not found in Bangalore), trams (not found anywhere in India) and hand-pulled rickshaws (not found anywhere in the world).

It is even possible, though it isn’t advisable, to walk one’s way around the city because it has footpaths, something supposedly urban centres like Gurgaon and Bangalore don’t have.

The problem is only that all this great infrastructure is poorly managed. And actually it is very easily remedied. New tram cars running on these same tracks can transform inner city commuting. It is the middle class (not the poor) that uses the rickshaw in the old city lanes of north Kolkata. A boost in their incomes will mean bigger fares for the destitute Biharis who pull them around.

Kolkata’s taxis run on metered fare, unlike in most of India, and need only to be more modern.

The systems are in place. A little governance is required to get the economy moving. A man or small group of people charged with making the city attractive for investment can transform Kolkata in five years. I’m tempted to say it should be one of the Bengali-speaking Gujaratis or Marwaris who support Trinamool. They will know what to do and instinctively connect with those who have capital. Labour unions are not relevant in the IT industry where retaining trained talent is the problem and not job security. A little assurance from Kolkata that it will not be aggressive on such issues for white collar workers will get businessmen excited.

Let us turn to culture, Bengal’s priceless asset.

He is useless at managing his own economy, true, but the Bengali represents the moral end of our politics.

The Communists and Mamata Banerjee can be accused of many things. Being corrupt and being communal are not among them. Perhaps they don’t really know how to make money in office, but their open-mindedness is deliberate and comes from within. The city of Kolkata is Britain’s gift to Bengal, a one-city state. Bengalis have responded by producing an urban culture that is sophisticated and modern.

This gives them an attractive duality. Middle-class Bengalis are comfortable and, importantly, urbane in both English and Bengali. They can express modern ideas in their language, which is supple and can accommodate words from other languages easily (“bourgeois”). This separates them from much of India.

High culture comes from Kolkata’s bhadra, who is Kayastha/Brahmin/ Baidyi (Vaidya). Along with southern Maharashtra and northern Karnataka, Kolkata is the place that produces classical musicians at will.

Despite having a majority Muslim population, Bengal’s nationalism has coalesced around Bengali language, not religion.

One reason Bangladesh isn’t Pakistan is that it is insufficiently Islamized. But why? Because the gentle leavening of Rabindric culture has resisted the harsh call of an Arab social order.

Bengal is animist, and its riverine geography has retained the river-based culture of our ancients. This culture the Bong carries with him where he goes. Bengalis are among our most ubiquitous professionals. They dominate the media and are represented heavily in services and academia, and in higher management. They are all-rounders. They bring a sense of quality and aesthetic that is uncommon.

Let one example suffice. The best designed newspaper in India isAnandabazar Patrika. Its puja-special magazine is a thing of beauty and not to be compared with what other Indian newspapers produce.

The outsider who can look past the grime and the soot will find much that is rewarding in Kolkata.

It is our only city to have a Chinatown. It is our football capital, with a proper and passionate football following. This integrates it with Europe and in time, when there is money in Bengali sport, this will be one of the city’s big assets.

There is history on Kolkata’s roads, and many people will come to see it if they are shown it—the homes of Tagore and Vivekananda, Victoria Memorial and the lovely British-built areas around Park Street. Also the great spiritual centres that were founded around the city and radiated their message of soft Hinduism across India.

Kolkata is altogether more relaxed in the mingling of the sexes. This is something I’ve noticed in all cultures where honour isn’t at a premium, and it is the same in Gujarat. Single women are comfortable in the company of men.

Kolkata has excellent places to eat and drink. Meat is served, and alcohol is freely available. Bengalis don’t have the fake morality of some of our other cultures.

Gujarat covers itself with hypocrisy. An Ahmedabad daily I worked at reported a few years ago that the majority of licensed drinkers in the city also insisted on prohibition. Why? “That’s our culture,” they said.

On leaving the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and becoming the chief minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan’s big initiative has been to raise the drinking age in Mumbai to 25. He spent years learning at
Manmohan Singh’s knee, but the peasant’s instinct isn’t easily exorcised. Another Maratha, R.R. Patil, abolished the city’s beautiful dance bars. Between them, the pious Marathas have done satyanash of that city. Piety is a personal value and not to be inflicted on another, but this is difficult for some cultures to internalize.

It isn’t that Kolkata isn’t devout, and there is no celebration like Durga Puja anywhere in the world. This much religious fervour would otherwise always inject a harder edge into the air. Like it does during Ahmedabad’s annualrath yatra, whose organizers insist that its floats parade through the Muslim ghettos of Shahpur, Kalupur and Dariyapur. Floats on which akharabraves, bare-chested, display their valour. What does Sri Vishnu have to do with bodybuilding?

Kolkata’s puja is festive, and inclusive. Not threatening, not menacing.

From either end of the subcontinent, two disparate states observe India pass them by. Gujarat and Poschim Bongo (should we now call them Bongolis?) are two states that don’t fall neatly into our north-south division.

Both states have missed making money in the new economy.

Gujarat has missed out despite having outstanding infrastructure— power, roads—and access to capital. All that fledgling information technology firms need. It has governance but does not have the fundamental ingredient: human capital. Oriented towards trade, its urban class is uninterested in, for the most part contemptuous about, employment. English isn’t spoken in Gujarat, even by the elite, for Gujarati delivers the most important function of modern language—communicating complex economic thought.

This will not change for a very long time. Kolkata has a different problem: It lacks governance. But by way of human capital it is India’s wealthiest city. Twenty years ago, this meant little and Kolkata’s brightest minds left the city. Today it is gold.

I always enjoy visiting Kolkata, even if by the third day of looking at the happy poverty and the chaos the mind turns to thoughts of escape.

All Indian cities have problems. Few also contain solutions. It is entirely possible, and I think most likely, that Bengalis will be able to sort out theirs, which are quite minor. Kolkata will then be one of the world’s great cities again.

Such a beautiful and cultured people deserve it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Was Dennis Ritchie more important than Steve Jobs?

Computing pioneer Dennis Ritchie died this past weekend at age 70, becoming the second technology giant to pass within a week — the other, of course, being Apple’s Steve Jobs . Although Jobs was unquestionably the better-known figure, Ritchie was the creator ofthe C programming language and one of the primary developers of the Unix operating system, both of which have had profound impacts on modern technology. Unix and C lie at the heart of everything from Internet servers to mobile phones, set-top boxes and software. They have exerted tremendous influence on almost all current languages and operating systems. And, these days, computers are everywhere.

The coinciding events lead to an obvious question: Who was more important to modern technology, Ritchie or Jobs? It’s a classic apples-to-oranges question… but the search for an answer sheds a bit of light on what lead to the high-tech revolution and all the cool toys we have today.

Dennis Ritchie, Unix, and C.

Dennis Ritchie was a computer scientist in the truest definition: He earned a degree in physics and applied mathematics from Harvard in the the 1960s and followed his father to work at Bell Labs, which was one of the hotbeds of tech development in the United States. By 1968 Ritchie had completed his Ph.D., and from 1969 to 1973 he developed the C programming language for use with the then-fledgling Unix operating system. The language was named C because it developed out of another language called B, created by Ken Thompson (with some input from Ritchie) for use with Multics, a Unix precursor. So, yes, even the name is geeky.

Both Multics and Unix were developed for early minicomputers. Of course, they were “mini” in name only: Back in the early 1970s, a “minicomputer” was a series of cabinets that dominated a room, made more noise than an asthmatic air conditioner, and had five- and six-figure price tags. The processing and storage capacities of those systems are utterly dwarfed by commonplace devices today: An average calculator or mobile phone has thousands-to-millions of times the storage and processing capability of those minicomputers. Minicomputers’ memory and storage constraints meant that, if you wanted to develop a multitasking operating system that could run several programs at once, you needed a very, very efficient implementation language.

Initially, that language was assembly: low-level, processor-specific languages that have a nearly one-to-one mapping with machine language, the actual instructions executed by computer processors. (Basically, when people think of utterly incomprehensible screens of computer code, they’re thinking of assembler and machine code.) Ritchie’s C enabled programmers to write structured, procedural programs using a high-level language without sacrificing much of the efficiency of assembler. C offers low-level memory access, requires almost no run-time support from an operating system, and compiles in ways that map very well to machine instructions.

If that were all C did, it probably would have been little more than a fond footnote in the history of minicomputers, alongside things like CPL, PL/I, and ALGOL. However, the Unix operating system was being designed to be ported to different hardware platforms, and so C was also developed with hardware portability in mind. The first versions of Unix were primarily coded in assembler, but by 1973 Unix had been almost completely rewritten in C. The portability turned out to be C’s superpower: Eventually, a well-written program in standard C could be compiled across an enormous range of computer hardware platforms with virtually no changes — in fact, that’s still true today. As a result, C compilers are available for virtually every computer hardware platform today and for the last three decades, and learning C is still a great way to get into programming for a huge number of platforms. C remains one of the most widely-used programming languages on the planet.

The popularity of C was tied tightly to the popularity of Unix, along with its many offshoots and descendants. Today, you see Unix not only in the many distributions of Linux (liked Red Hat and Ubuntu) but also at the core of Android as well as Apple’s iOS and Mac OS X. However, Ritchie made another tremendous contribution to C’s popularity as the co-author with Brian Kernighan of The C Programming Language, widely known as the “K&R.” For at least two generations of computer programmers, the K&R was the definitive introduction to not just C, but to compilers and general structured programming. The K&R was first published in 1978, and despite being a slim volume, set the standard for excellence in both content and quality. And if you’ve ever wondered why almost every programming reference or tutorial starts out with a short program that displays “Hello world”… just know it all started with K&R.

To be sure, neither Unix nor C are beyond criticism: Ritchie himself noted “C is quirky, flawed, and an enormous success.” Both C and Unix were developed for use by programmers and engineers with brevity and efficiency in mind. There’s almost nothing user-friendly or accessible about either Unix or C. If you want to stun non-technical computer users into cowed silence, a Unix command prompt or a page of C code are guaranteed to do the job. C’s low-level power can also be its Achilles Heel: for instance, C (and derivatives like C++) offer no bounds-checking or other protection against buffer overflows — which means many of the potential security exploits common these days can often be traced back to C… or, at least, to programmers using C and its descendants. Good workmen don’t blame their tools, right?

But the simple fact is that Unix and C spawned an incredibly broad and diverse ecosystem of technology. Microcontrollers, security systems, GPS, satellites, vehicle systems, traffic lights, Internet routers, synthesizers, digital cameras, televisions, set-top boxes, Web servers, the world’s fastest supercomputers — and literally millions of other things… the majority descend from work done by Dennis Ritchie. And that includes a ton of computers, smartphones, and tablets — and the components within them.

Steve Jobs and the rest of us

Steve Jobs’ legacy is (and will continue to be) well-documented elsewhere: As co-founder and long-time leader of Apple, as well as a technology and business celebrity enveloped in a cult of personality, Jobs’ impact on the modern technology world is indisputable.

However, Jobs’ contributions are an interesting contrast to Ritchie’s. Ritchie was about a decade-and-a-half older than Jobs, and got started in technology at a correspondingly earlier date: When Ritchie started, there was no such thing as a personal computer. Although a perfectionist with a keen eye for design and usability — and, of course, a charismatic showman — Jobs was neither a computer scientist nor an engineer, and didn’t engage in much technical work himself.

There’s a well-known anecdote from Jobs’ pre-Apple days, when he was working at Atari to save up money for a trip to India. Atari gave Jobs the task of designing a simpler circuit board for its Breakout game, offering him a bonus of $100 for every chip he could eliminate from the design. Jobs’ response — not being an engineer — was to take the work to long-time friend and electronics hacker Steve Wozniak, offering to split the $100-per-chip bounty with him. The incident is illustrative of Jobs’ style. In creating products, Jobs didn’t do the work himself: He recognized opportunities, then got the best people he could find to work on them. Woz reportedly cut more than four dozen chips from the board.

Wozniak and Jobs founded Apple in 1976 (with Ronald Wayne), just as Unix was graduating from research project status at AT&T to an actual product, and before K&R was initially published. But even then, Jobs wasn’t looking at the world of mainstream computing — at least, as it existed in 1976. Apple Computer (as it was known then) was about personal computers, which were essentially unknown at the time. Jobs realized there was a tremendous opportunity to take the technology that was then the realm of engineers of computer scientists like Ritchie — and, to be fair, Wozniak — and make it part of people’s everyday lives. Computers didn’t have to be just about numbers and payrolls, balance sheets and calculations. They could be entertaining, communication tools, even artful. Jobs just didn’t see computers as empowering to large corporations and industry. They could be empowering to small businesses, education, and everyday people. And, indeed, Apple Computer did jumpstart personal computers, with the Apple II essentially defining the industry — even if it was later eclipsed by IBM and IBM-compatible systems.

With the Apple Lisa and (much more successfully) the Apple Macintosh, Jobs continued to extend that idea. Unix and its brethren were inscrutable and intimidating; with the Macintosh, Jobs set out to make a “computer for the rest of us.” As we all know, the Macintosh redefined the personal computer as a friendly, intuitive device that was immediately fun and useful, and to which many users formed a personal connection. Macs didn’t just work, they inspired.

Jobs was forced out of Apple shortly after the Mac’s introduction — and, indeed, Apple spent many years literally building biege boxes, while Microsoft worked on its own GUI — but his return to the company brought back the same values. With the original iMac, Macintosh design regained its flair. With the iPod, Apple was able to meld technology and elegant design to many consumers’ obsession—popular music—and when Apple finally turned its attention to the world of mobile phones, the results were an undeniable success. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the bulk of the PC industry has been following Apple’s lead for at least the last dozen years (even longer, when it comes to notebooks), and Apple was never matched in the portable media player market. Similarly, Android might be the world’s leading smartphone platform, but there’s no denying the Apple iPhone is the world’s leading smartphone—and the iPad defined (and still utterly dominates) the tablet market.

As with the original Mac, the Apple II, and even that old Atari circuit board, Jobs didn’t do these things himself. He turned to the best people he could find and worked to refine and focus their efforts. In his later years, that involved remaking Apple Computer into Apple, Inc., and applying his razor-sharp sense for functionality, purpose, and design to a carefully selected range of products.

Who wins?

Dennis Ritchie eventually became the head of Lucent Technologies’ Software System Research Department before retiring in 2007; he never led a multi billion-dollar corporation, sought the public eye, or had his every utterance scrutinized and re-scrutinized. Ritchie was by all accounts a quiet, modest man with a strong work ethic and dry sense of humor. But the legacy of his work played a key role in spawning the technological revolution of the last forty years — including technology on which Apple went on to build its fortune.

Conversely, Steve Jobs was never an engineer. Instead, his legacy lies in democratizing technology, bringing it out of the realm of engineers and programmers and into people’s classrooms, living rooms, pockets, and lives. Jobs literally created technology for the rest of us.

Who wins? We all do. And now, it’s too late to personally thank either of them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hyderabad Blues - October 2011


(Source : for the italics part)

I left for Hyderabad on 04/10/11 thanks to some great/cheap deal arranged by Didi (sister), on Asthami (the 8th day of Durga Puja) on Jet Airways. First, I went to Delhi (Delhi Airport is now just a cc of a part of Singapore Airport) and then took the connecting flight to Hyderabad. Due to the Telengana movement (all flights were delayed), I reached Hyderabad very late at 10.45 pm! Since Hyderabad airport is quite far from the city, there is an Aero express bus, just like Kuala Lumpur (KL), to reach the main city. But unlike KL (Rs 120), they charge Rs 180 (!!) for a lesser distance (!!??) despite Malaysia being 4 times richer than India (as per GDP)! But since it was late, even the aero-bus service had stopped!

I had to make an arrangement with a local Telegu speaking person to reach the hotel (by hiring a car, which was going back empty, after dropping the air hostess). But I had to pay Rs 300, which is cheaper than hiring a taxi (Rs 500) to go to my hotel at Abid’s, near the GPO (post office). I found my ex-office colleague, Mr. Madhu Das (now retired) waiting for me around 12.30 am at the GPO to receive me! The hotel is a minute’s walk from the GPO. The food (fish and rice) was ready. Interestingly, although we did not plan the tour together, I found that he had an almost identical tour plan and had posted the information to somebody else on FB! We stayed at Hotel Suhail (040 - 2461 0299: booked by him and recommended by LP and was on my mind as well, Rs 750 - non AC). There are 27 rooms in that hotel and all the rooms were occupied by Bengalis. Amazing!


Next day, we (booked our ticket through AP tourism website -online (There is no need to go AP Tourism office at 4/1 Middleton street , beside Sikkim house and ICAI Instt and lane opposite Vardan Market - 9433 044 584, 2281 3679) to book. You can book online.) planned to go to Ramoji Film City. We had some apprehension about the tour because of the Telengana movement. Luckily nothing happened, except that because of the transport strike, we had to commute by auto - which was the only option available. We went to CRO Basheerbagh (which is also an APTDC office ), as it was our pick-up point. When we reached there, I felt as though I was in Kolkata - 85% of the tourists were Bengali!

'If Charminar is the signature building for Hyderabad city from the times of Nizams, Ramoji Film City is the new signature of the city, being the world’s largest film studio spread across 1666 acres of land and the Guinness Book endorses it. It is all about what is filmy and fake and at the end of the visit you would have a feeling of having visited Fakedom....!'

It is around 50 kms from the centre of the city. After having our breakfast, our tourist bus left the city late (scheduled time of departure was 8.15 am) from their main office near Tank Bund and reached at 10.15 am.

'But ... you should reach there by 9:30 or so to see the opening ceremony. Now there are two types of tickets that you can buy – Normal and Special. The former costs you Rs 600/- and the latter, the exact double of it and includes lunch, water and snacks in it and they promise to take you around in AC vehicles, but then it is just a promise and with all the attractions not too far from each other you hardly use the vehicle except for getting from the ticket gate to the main gate which is a few kms apart. So a strong advice is not to fall into the trap of special package and just go in nicely designed open-air buses'

You have to deposit everything at the cloak room before you enter the film city. The price of the food is normally double. My advice is - eat heavy breakfast before entering! You are NOT allowed to enter with even a food packet! Take a flier /pamphlet from the counter and plan your tour, according to the timing of some very interesting “shows" - exactly the way you move around Singapore Zoo (say). Since the AP Tourism does not even bother to give or inform you about the flier, I did not have the flier initially and missed some shows like “stunt show”.

'Guide told us that there are as many as 124 different types of Gardens in the film city, though this number may be a bit exaggerated, there are a many gardens, each one with a different theme like a Shell Garden, a Mughal garden, Mysore garden, Japanese garden, Thinking man’s garden, Hawa Mahal, Arizona style cactus garden and a whole lot of them with European look and feel.

All of them have been designed to shoot films without actually going to the actual locations. There are various tree-lined walkways, which are used to shoot institutional scenes and with right signage can re-create various locations from across the world. There are highways where just change the milestone and you are transported to that location. There are detachable lampposts on either sides of the road, which can be modified again according to the place to be depicted.

One interesting set is that of Buddhist caves, that has been executed quite well and is reasonably big in size. A small show in the deepest corner of the cave takes you a world where the idols on the walls can come out and dance at their will. It is quite interesting!

Most amusing part of the Ramoji Film City was various sets that create various scenes like a village scene, a market scene, a city skyscraper and streets. There was a huge building, which is designed as an airport on one side, a hospital on other side, a church on third side and a bank on the fourth side. Similarly, there are bungalows, which have 4 different facades on four sides, and a single building can serves as multiple houses for various characters of a film.

Similarly there is a fake railway station with fake wagons on whose two sides there are two platforms, one that serves as village platform and the other as a city platform.

One fascinating set is that of a palace scene probably used for all the mythological and period dramas. The grandeur of this set does give you a feeling of being in a different era.

Similarly a set called "Movie Magic" takes you for a few minutes into the fantasy world of movies where everything is bright and shining and in a minute you go around the world. In between all this you have small shopping areas to buy souvenirs though I must say the choice of merchandise is quite poor and you may not find anything really innovative or interesting to buy... I did not find it very interesting though.
There are a few shows, which give you a breather and you can relax as you enjoy them.

One of them is a “ spirit of Ramoji show” that is about film dancing and some very interesting and entertaining pieces that showcase some really talented artists. You can see a person balanced himself on a rolling pipe, a clown show and a ring dance. All these shows were amazing and you would get up from your seats and applause. But I could not see the full show, because our bus is suppose to leave at 4.00 pm (but I got an insider information that it will leave at 4. 25 pm!) and this show started at 4 pm. In fact Madhu Babu was so anxious that he did not go to see the show, lest he misses the bus!

The stunt show showcases an action scene setup in a stud farm and with typical gangsters as they are depicted in the films. Actors fight with each other, and yes with the right background music enhancing the effect of those punches. There is gun firing, there is bombing and there are buildings falling and people jumping from top of the buildings. If you scared of the sound, do not sit very close to the stage.

Unfortunately I could not see this show, thanks to AP Tourism - since I did not know the timing of the show.
In a show called Action, they pick up a person from the audience and make a small movie (Sholay) with them, showcasing the camera work, sound and music mixing and editing. This is a very informative show and I especially liked the demonstration of the re-production of natural sounds like air, rain (from sand), thunderstorm and even running horses (from pebbles). We were told that an American was the father of this sound recording system. He is probably George Lucas - the creator of Star Wars.

We missed the opening and closing ceremony thanks to AP Tourism. Better, a hire a car for 8 hours @ Rs 800. You can break-even if you are only 4 - because AP Tourism charges Rs 800 (600+200).

To keep up with the current amusement park norms, there is a 4-D show called Ramoji Tower and kids would enjoy it. There is Bora-sura the magician’s workshop that is a maze created to scare but is actually quite funny with its sometimes sinking sometimes moving floors, it’s easy to navigate mazes and some popular but still enjoyable illusions. This is again something that the kids would enjoy. This is amidst the area called Fundustan, that is more like an entertainment park, with an area for rain dancing, the jungle book graffiti, fountains, Titanic look alike ship and rope bridges to play around. There are rides as well to twist and turn you around and keep the kids interested in the place. We could not see any of them!

There are many restaurants around for you to eat and have snacks or buy water etc.

Overall the place is good to visit once. You can spend a whole day there, so it is good to go with your family or a group of friends. Keep in mind that by end of the day you will be tired, but I guess it is worth it. Do put it on your itinerary if you are travelling around Hyderabad.

We were dropped at Secretariat, near Secunderabad. It is very near to the iconic restaurant of Hyderabad - Paradise. What Royal is to Chicken chaap and Anadi Cabin is to Moghlai Paratha in Calcutta 30 years back, Paradise is to Hyderabad for Biryani. We had Hyderabadi Dum Biryani (@ Rs 165) - which was enough for two of us. The restaurant is quite nice and located in a very nice area (1st floor). For your information, you can have good Hyderabadi Dum Biryani in Kolkata at Khawab, near Deshapriya Park, beside National High School for Girls. You don't have to go to Hyderabad for that! We had some Falooda (@35/-) drink too at their shop downstairs - which was quite ordinary. I must admit Hyderabadi Biryani is no match for Lucknawi Biryani - and definitely needs much lesser skill. I took Hyderabadi Biryani almost every day for almost rest of my stay in AP at various restaurants, but Paradise is definitely the best.

We returned our hotel by an auto. Incidentally, in Hyderabad, dial-a-cab is very popular.


Next day being free, we left at around 10.30 am and decided to take a walking tour in the old city. Literally, today was our first day in Hyderabad - since Ramoji film city is not Hyderabad after all.

Hyderabad is the capital of Andhra Pradesh , located on the banks of the Musi River and on the Deccan Plateau. Hyderabad and Secunderabad are "twin cities" near Hussain Sagar Lake (also known as Tank Bund in local parlance) but both cities have grown so much that now they have become one big metropolis. The city and district of Hyderabad are co-terminous. Many of the suburbs of Hyderabad were recently merged into the city, now called Greater Hyderabad. A city rich with history and tradition, Hyderabad now competes with Bangalore and Chennai for the crown of India's IT capital; Microsoft and Google have their India headquarters here.(In Hyderabad muslim marriage between Pakistani groom is quite common!)

The history of Hyderabad is rooted in romance (1591) . Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah of the Qutub Shahi dynasty fell in love with Bhagyamati, a Banjara (tribal) girl and married her. Initially the city was called Bhagyanagar, but after her conversion to Islam she became "Hyder Mahal", hence the present name Hyderabad.
The Qutub Shahi kingdom, which took over the rule of Hyderabad (1512) from the Bahamani kings, was followed by the Mughal rule (1687) under Aurangazeeb.
After the fall of the Mughal Empire , the Asaf Jahi kingdom came into power under Asaf Jahi who established the Nizam lineage. The post Mughal Muslim rulers are referred to as Nizam. By this, the power of the Deccan kingdom grew in strength and area. The Nizams became amongst the richest rulers in the world. The different dynasties along with British influence added variety to the culture and cuisine of the region.

Mir Osman Ali Khan Siddiqi ( April 6, 1886 – February 24, 1967), was the last Nizam (or ruler) of the Princely State of Hyderabad and of Berar. He ruled Hyderabad between 1911 and 1948, until it was merged into India. We were told present nizam stays in Turky (?).
During his days as Nizam, he was reputed to be the richest man in the world, having a fortune estimated at US $2 billion in the early 1940s or 2 per cent of the US economy then. At that time the treasury of the newly independent Union government of India reported annual revenue of US$1 billion only. He was featured on the cover of TIME magazine, portrayed as such. The Nizam is widely believed to have remained as the richest man in South Asia until his death in 1967, though his fortunes fell to US $1 billion by then and became a subject of multiple legal disputes between bitterly fighting rival descendants. As per Forbes magazine he was fifth on the Forbes All Time Wealthiest (11 April 2008 by FabbiGabby).
His wealth include a vast private treasury. Its coffers were said to contain £100m in gold and silver bullion, and a further £400m of jewels. Among them was the fabulously rare Jacob diamond, valued at some £60m today, and used by the Nizam as a paperweight. There were pearls, too – enough to pave Piccadilly, hundreds of race horses, thousands of uniforms, tonnes of royal regalia and Rolls-Royces by the dozen.
Osmania university was named after him.

We started walking from the hotel (3 km) to the signature monument of the city of Hyderabad. As I walked around, I also felt a sense of dejavu as the place so similar in its character to Delhi’s Chandni Chowk ( I stayed in Delhi from 1999 - 2002). The bustling markets, the heritage building on every nook and corner, the chaos and food all around, they all sounded so familiar. To South Indians, it is a North Indian city and for North Indians it is a South Indian city. I did not see the familiar lungis we normally expect to see in South India. People here speak Hindi - so it was super easy walking around, unlike Chennai.

We walked for almost 1 hour to reach Charminar after crossing Musi River and on the way clicked numerous photos.

Charminar, simply translated means 4 minarets and I wonder if this was the original name of the building or it became its name by word of mouth. The four-storey building with arched gates in all four directions, built with lime and mortar stands tall with four lanes emanating out of it in all four directions. Literature tells me that it was built as a memorial mosque after the city got rid of the epidemic of plague.

The mosque wall is on the second floor that is now not open to public, but you are allowed to go to the
first floor balcony after taking about 54 steps on a narrow round staircase and from here you can see all the important landmarks of Hyderabad.

You can see the Golconda fort on the distant hillock and Qutab Shahi tombs just by its side. You can see the Falak-numa palace that has now been converted into a Taj group of hotel (India Hotel Company - owned by Tata group), I am told, again higher than the rest of the city.

You can see the High court building and the Chow-mahalla palace along with various other domes popping out here and there.

The best view is that of the streets radiating out of Charminar and the top view of the street markets. Standing here you feel to be in the centre of the city with an ability to see anything from there. The building has been repaired many times and at present it looks decently preserved. It is said that a secret passage connects Charminar to Golconda fort. There is also a small temple on the side of Charminar. I really liked the architecture and better than what I imagined - but I never thought it is in such a busy and congested area.

On one corner of Charminar is Mecca Masjid, probably the biggest and one of the oldest mosques of South India. As you enter the mosque you see a long rectangular corridor with a series of graves both male and female and one of them covered in the green cloth indicating the grave of a saint.

The graves belong to the royal family of Asaf Jahi dynasty and anyone around there would tell you which grave belongs to whom though there is no way you can verify what they tell you. The main structure of the mosque is supposed to have been made from bricks baked from the soil brought from Mecca and hence the mosque gets its name. Four bulky minarets stand on the corners of the building. The climbing on minarets is not allowed. Though in Jama Masjid in Delhi, you are allowed to climb the minaret and get a bird’s eye view of the city.
In the courtyard of the mosque there is a huge stone cup carved out of a single stone and along with it there is a large bench in black granite. Legend is that if you sit on this bench you would come back to sit on it again.
There is another funny anecdote that was told to me by a kid who chose to share some Hyderabad stories with us. On the back wall of the mosque, on a particular brick you can see a human face with no nose and the stories goes that while a man was trying to steal something from the mosque he got struck here with his nose chopped off.......There are huge chandeliers that are hanging from the ceiling of the mosque but they were all covered with thick cloth and the mosque overall looked pretty bland. I was told that the chandeliers are opened and lighted only once a year and one of them is supposed to have a big diamond inside it.

You can sit around the mosque and see the families coming there, some praying, some eating and socializing and some just enjoying the bit of open space in the crowded surroundings.

Inside the mosque, I managed to talk to one of the ulemas and asked him why there was a mazar inside a mosque. After all, Mazar is against your religion. He explained that we do not pray at the mazar but ask them (dead) to help us reach closer to Allah. At this point of time, one young person said "Your dress is not proper in this mosque!" I was wearing a Khajuraho Tee-shirt and did not realize that before. Luckily, nothing untoward happened!

Opposite the Mecca Masjid is an Unani hospital built in a composite architectural style in pale pink colour. It is a fairly large building with large domes surrounded by smaller one around them.
So, in a way, we started our walking tour from Charminar. After that we had some Irani chai (Tea in the old city of Hyderabad is normally Irani Chai) and some biscuits.

From here we walked into the lane called Laad Bazaar or the Bangle market. Laad in local language means lacquer, a key material used to make colorful bangles. The lane shines and shimmers with the colours of bangles, Jewellery and the bright and heavily embroided clothes that it sells. Though I visited in the day time, I still got a good view of the colours all around - but in the evening it would be interesting! A melting point for the women, who would love to shop the clothes and the matching accessories to dress themselves up for any occasion. Walk through this bustling street to see women buying these items, trying them, checking them out, matching them, choosing them and finally bargaining for them. It may be difficult to decide if the clothes or the women are shining more! In fact I saw most of the woman wearing Borkhas.

The street would lead you to the Chow-mahalla Palace (on the left), one of the must-see places in Hyderabad, though not many people seem to have visited it. Like Charminar, this palace also gets its composite name from the four palaces that it houses within its complex.

Complex is divided into two parts northern and southern, while the Northern parathas the 4 palaces, the latter has the public buildings, a durbar hall called Khilwat, a clock tower and a council hall. Khilwat is flanked by long corridors on both sides that also house a row of small rooms along the periphery and a huge water body with fountains in the middle of the courtyard.

The Khilwat Mahal seems to be the durbar hall where the seat of the Nizam has been kept intact even today. The high roofs of the building have many chandeliers made with Belgian glass hanging down from it. The arches, the ceiling panels and the walls have been elaborately decorated in Deccani style in a pleasant beige and white color.

My hunch is that the original colour may have been brighter shade of yellow, as that was the color of the dynasty that ruled from here. The rooms around the main hall now hold exhibits like old maps, palkis, currency notes and coins, armory, biographies of the 7 nizams and stories of the dynasty. Rooms on the first floor exhibit the furniture and the artifacts from the Nizam’s collection. You get another view of the durbar hall from this level specially the chandeliers.

An interesting anecdote talks about the meeting of first Nizams with Hazrat Nizzamudin who gave him a bunch of Kulchas but the Nizam kept only seven of them. The saint then wrapped the seven Kulchas in a yellow cloth on which was written a spiritual message and prophesized that his rule will last for 7 generations and apparently this came out to be true as it was during the rule of 7th Nizam that the state of Hyderabad accessed to Union of India. Now the confusion I have is the Hazrat Nizzamudin lived centuries before the era of Nizams, so how did they meet? Was it a dream that the Nizam had or was it a different saint with the same name?

Northern part of Chow-mahalla has 4 palaces called Aftab Mahal, Afzal Mahal, Tanhaiat Mahal and Mahtab Mahal. These palaces are arranged not so symmetrically on four sides of a central garden. 2 of these belonged to the women of the palace. Chow-mahalla has been recently restored and some palaces are still under restoration. One palace now exhibits the textiles and costumes of the Nizam era. The exhibits have been designed and displayed very well .. There is a display of royal vintage cars (that include a restored bright yellow Rolls Royce) and bikes that have been exhibited in the backyard of the palace.

Another palace has the biggest attraction of the monument – a mechanical clock that has more than 20 movements in sync with each other like a Khaleefa smoking a hookah and moving his head, his attendants fanning him and curtains going up and down. Every hour an attendant comes out and
beats the gongs corresponding to the hour. For maximum fun you should be in the museum at 12 Noon so that you can hear maximum beats. Clock also has an inbuilt piano, though I am not sure how that plays. The clock was manufactured in late 18th century in England and continues to work till date; all it needs is a mechanical winding once a week.

A giant first generation radio that still works is also on the display.Everywhere in this palace, chandeliers are worth noticing. Most of them are in white crystal or cut class but there are interesting ones in green with golden work on them and one with almost colors on it. I wish there was a map showing the various parts of the palace or there was a small booklet explaining the history and stories of the palace and the people who lived here.

AP tourism has a walking tour on Sunday. only.

There were many shops selling Itr or the perfumed oil made from various flowers around this old city. Multiple oils are mixed in various proportions to create new fragrances. Itr somehow adds to the character of the place.

If the history of Hyderabad interests you, a visit to this area is a must.

We had lunch (Mutton curry) near Musi River [I forgot the name of famous Sadhav Hotel :( ].Then we took an auto to buy some pearls near Hussain Sagar for a friend of Madhu babu’s. After that, we headed towards Lumbini Park at Hussain Sagar. It also offers very nice Laser Shows in the evening, a first in India. The standard of show is quite high. They tell you the history of Hyderabad and it looks like a movie in the air! Since I have seen very high quality laser show in Singapore at Sentosa, I did not find anything new in it. After spending some time by Hussain Sagar, we left for our hotel. We had our dinner at "Grand Hotel" - 1 minute from our hotel. Again, we had Hyderabadi Mutton Biryani. The quantity as usual was enough for two of us (Rs 110).


City Sight Seeing Tours:

We had already e-booked our tickets for the city tour. According to AP Tourism website, the tour starts at 7.45 am and the usual route is Birla Mender - H.E.H The Nizam's Museum -[Salarjung Museum (closed, since it was a Friday)] Chow-mahalla Palace- Mecca Masjid- Charminar (all 3 Drive around) - Zoo Park-Golconda Fort - Qutab Shahi Tombs - Lumbini Park (Terminating Point). Some of the places are closed on Fridays but we went to an interesting car museum. We checked out of our hotel in the morning and took our luggage with us in the bus.

I would not recommend this tour to anyone. They took us to two temples. The highlight of the Birla temple (1st one) is its location on a small hill. The second one is not worth visiting. The Nizam's museum was nice and you have to pay Rs 100 for camera - which was too much. They did not stop at Chowmohalla Palace- Mecca Masjid- Charminar. They were shown through the window - on the pretext that there is no place for parking. Some of the tourists protested, but it suited us perfectly! We went to see an interesting car museum, where different types of cars were displayed. Some of the shapes were Shiva Linga, cup and even condom car.All of these actually runs! Then we were taken to the Zoo - which was nice (for one hour only).

Later, we had lunch and left for Golconda Fort.

We were given around 1 hour time to see the fort. The fort is nice, but Daulatabad fort, which we saw last year near Aurangabad, was way better. We could not see the light and sound show, since it was held in the evening. We saw the Banjara hills from the top and we were told in those days the banjaras or nautch Girls used to stay there. But now it is famous for rich and famous of Hyderabad!

Historical evidence suggests that the Kohinoor originated in Golconda kingdom, in Hyderabad state of Andhra Pradesh, one of the world's earliest diamond producing regions. After that, we went to Asaf Jahi Tomb.

Since everybody was tired, none of the tourists, except the two of us, wanted to get down to see this interesting tomb. So Madhu Babu suggested that we drop the idea, much to my annoyance. The last stop was for shopping at a Hyderabadi Pearls shop - where everybody got down!

We were dropped off at the Tank Bund Tourist office. After food, we went to Ashoke Nagar to catch the bus to go to Vizag/Vishakhapatnam. However, Madhu babu made a mistake to consider Ashoke Nagar as the boarding point (which is 25 Km from Hyderabad!) and it was informed to the bus company through a local Telegu speaking person. We were relieved to change it to Lakri ka pool (wooden pool - a very known place) - where all the transport companies have their offices. Madhu Babu was very tense - if we had to go to Ashoke Nagar, we would surely have missed the bus. We had our dinner together (again chicken biryani and chicken Tandoori), but went by two different buses to Vizag.


Due to the Telengana movement, both the buses took different routes to circumvent the agitation and reached Vizag very late at 2.20 pm (he reached at 12.20 pm) - instead of the scheduled 10 am! Since the Eastern part of AP is not a part of the Telengana region, there is no problem on this side. According to the local people, the Telengana region, barring Hyderabad has been developed.

I had booked the hotel from Calcutta - Hotel Poorna (0891-250 2344 or 0 98488 32 3272) for 1 day, when we had no booking, at Poorna complex - it was given in a very old version of LP and I paid 30% of what Madhu Babu booked for a APTDC guest house ( only from 9/10/11 onwards) ie Rs 325!! (It is low because it is 7 minutes from the main tourist area). It also said that you cannot cancel the booking - so he had no option left but to leave this hotel the next day and stay at the pricey hotel. The hotel was perfect - the rooms are big and have clean bathrooms with tiles. There is a TV too. Initially, when I booked (without payment - according to them, you need not make payment to book it!), I thought it was too good to be true and I had to call them several times to tell them that we are actually coming!

We had lunch with leftover food from last night’s dinner and it was enough for us. Then we went to Road Transport Complex or RTC or simply 'complex' to book our tickets for my next day’s tour to Araku Valley. Unfortunately, the rail cum road tour (goes to Araku by train, but comes back by bus) is fully booked and is always booked 3 months ahead - it is equivalent to the Konkan rail trip in the west and passes through 40 tunnels bridges and beautiful landscapes.

The best way to visit Araku and Borra Caves is by taking a train from Visakhapatnam train station which starts at 7 am in morning and takes nearly 4 hours to climb up the steep slopes of the Eastern Ghats. This line is one of most scenic routes of Indian Railways, as going towards Araku; one can see the valley on the right side, and waterfalls on the left. There are numerous tunnels and bridges on this route. The second half of the year is ideal for visitation, most pleasant being July and August, when nature is at its full glory.

Buses and private cabs can be an alternate way of transportation, but trains offer a more spectacular view of the Eastern Ghats.

Anyway, I had to book the "road tour" only for Rs 500 (Rs 650 for road cum rail tour). The person at the counter.Mr. Roop Kumar, speaks very good Bengali since he was posted in Calcutta for 3 years.

Then we left see the most famous tourist attraction in Vizag - Kailash Giri temple. The beaches of Vizag, especially the drive on the beach roads can be termed as one of the best in the country. It is often referred to as Goa of the East coast. You would experience the hills on one side, along with the blue sea on the other. You can enjoy the stunning views of the sea from hill tops like Kailash Giri (hill). You can also enjoy activities like Rope-way and Toy train. We took a bus (No. 301) to go to Kailash Giri. The bus fare was Rs 18 per head and it ended just before the top of the hill - where there is a nicely maintained park with stunning views of Vizag and the sea. From the top, it looked just like Phuket!

We spent some time there and then took the bus to go to Rama Krishna or RK Beach - the most popular beach in Vizag - which falls on the way to Vizag. We could not go to the famous Rushikonda - which is further away from Kailash Giri. We spent some time at the beach and took a bus to go to the RTC complex. We went to the famous "Masala Restaurant" near complex, to have the famous spicy Andhra dish - Chepa Pulusu - somewhat against the wishes of my colleague! The fish turned out to be just okay!

I was told there is another beach called Yerada beach.

contd to next page .........

Source :

I. for the italics part

V - Wikitravel and others

For pics see:

Chronological order