A nice thing about backpacking India is the loosies on every corner. I don’t smoke– much. I had just finished my second biryani of the day, chicken over rice with spicy sauce, and a sudden urge came over me to smoke. I don’t usually indulge such urges, but I didn’t feel like going back to my room yet. I bought a cigarette, walked past a funeral and chose a fine stoop to sit and smoke. I watched the motorbikes go by, and I began to see everyone’s story.
There was an aging couple going home for dinner, two young men, the one driving wearing earphones, a young couple still much in love, a small family with a boy riding behind handlebars. Everyone who walked past me I wanted to see my eyes so they could see that I saw them. I didn’t have to see their eyes to know them, the aging women following each other down the road, the young girls avoiding narrowly swiping three men on their way to live adolescent pleasure, the old men having seen so much change in their lives, I saw them all.
While I smoked I knew them, and I almost felt scared. Like I shouldn’t be able to see so much. I forgot about the potential issue my hotel disallowing me to store my bags may cause; the malaise and worry I had felt earlier while wondering what I would do to better see the city tomorrow during the day while I wait for my 630 train; I stopped wishing I could have more time to see Pondicherry and the nice parts of the south, I forgot about my ineffable loneliness and everything that was me telling me to be me and I accepted what I was doing.
Across the street were timber shops with thirty foot high bamboo trunks leaning against walls. A man stood on top of his timber truck hacking away at a piece of bamboo that seemed to guard the pile from spilling over. Only now does the impracticality of his chopping strike me. While I sat I envied him. He had his work and that was his life. I wanted to watch him hit his final chop, the same way I wanted to watch my still smoking cigarette get crushed under the wheels of so many bikes, cars and rickshaws. He started striking down on the piece of wood, chipping it down. Finally it broke off and the man watching him from atop the bamboo pile side-bobbed his head in approval.
I didn’t come to India to see white people or to relax in the sun. I came for the cities, and that’s why I came to Hyderabad. I love cities because they are where people live and work and forget about everyone but themselves. They become corrupted by life and that is interesting to see. They become immune to life and others, which seems natural and paradoxical, because in a place brimming with so many people and ideas and ways, everyone reverses into themselves and forgets.
But I was able to reverse it. Now I was accompanied, I was the party, sitting on the blue step watching the timber stores and thousands of people pass. Everything I had seen in the midday sun, the mosque and the big Muslim arch, the pearl shops and heels hanging on strings, the sari collections, and crockery sellers to Hotel Shabad and its killer biryani– it was all picturesque and very Hyderabad and interesting, but this, without trying, this was the best part, and it didn’t cost a thing. It was entirely free and was just as Hyderabad as all those tourist sites and India guide book spots.
So here’s my guide book to Hyderabad:
There’s plenty to see and do in Hyderabad, from the Muslim-owned bangle shops to Cyberabad’s ritzy scotch parlors, but the most overlooked parts of the city are its busy streets. It helps to travel during the hottest months, when you won’t see anyone else but locals, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to sweat out your relation to the rest of humanity. Pick a spot that gets a sufficient amount of foot and road traffic, but far enough off the beaten path so you won’t have to deal with too many touters and beggars. Keep a water bottle handy– you don’t know how long it’ll take you to figure out the meaning of life while you sit. Eventually, when you’re ready to get up, you should have devalued your ego enough to want to write about it. Hit one of the local chai spots for a little burst of caffeine to help you in your creative endeavors, and don’t plan the next day until you wake up.