Friday, May 1, 1998

The ‘Nightingale’ of India

Legends and Anecdotes of Hyderabad: 34

The ‘Nightingale’ of India
By Narendra Luther

Sarojini Devi was born on 13th February 1879 at Hyderabad. Her father was Dr.Aghornath Chattopadhyay, the first principal of the Nizam College and a well-known social reformer of the last century in Hyderabad. She was so precocious that she finished matriculation at the age of 12 standing first in the Madras University. She wrote her first poem at 13 while struggling with a problem of Algebra.

At the age of 14, she fell in love with Dr. Govindrajulu Naidu, an army doctor. He was a widower and ten years older than her. Her parents naturally objected to such a match. She was sent to England on a scholarship and the parents hoped that she would overcome her juvenile infatuation.

There poet and critic, Edmund Gosse noticed her talent. However, advised her to abjure ‘western in feeling and in imagery’ and instead adopt the Indian idiom. She took that advice and thenceforth wrote on the variegated sights, sounds and smells of India.

Three years in London and Cambridge did not cure he of her love for Dr. Naidu. She suddenly returned to marry him. The great Andhra social reformer, Kandukuri Veerasalingam, solemnized the marriage in 1898 at Madras. Both the parties declared that hey did not belong to any religion.

The first collections of her poems: ‘The Golden Threshold’ was published in England in1916 and earned rave reviews. She named her house on the Nampally Road ‘The Golden Threshold’ after her first anthology. Six more collections followed.

Sarojini Naidu was fond of dressing elegantly and was a gourmet. Her house became a haunt for what she described as ‘miscellaneous fellows of both sexes’.

She was a devoted social worker and a crusader for the rights of women. She organized relief work in Hyderabad during the great floods in the river Musi in 1908. For that she was awarded the ‘Kaisar-e-Hind’ gold medal by the British Government. She joined the freedom movement in 1915 on the exhortation of Gokhale whom she had met in England. She became a member of the All India Home Rule League, and in 1925, the first Indian woman president of the Congress. In 1930 she was arrested for participating in the Salt Satyagraha. In 1931 she accompanied Mahatma Gandhi to the Second Round Table Conference in London. She was arrested again in 1942 during the ‘Quit India Movement’.

A brilliant orator in public, her wit was irrepressible in any company. She nicknamed Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Mickey Mouse’. Mahatma Gandhi used to travel by third class and stay in the sweepers’ colony in Delhi and elsewhere. The authorities took pains to make the train compartment as well as the colony spick and span. That led Sarojini Naidu to remark that Mahatma Gandhi did not know how much it cost the nation to keep him in poverty!

When C.Rajagopalachari became the first Indian Governor- General of India and moved into the Viceregal Lodge, he showed her the sumptuous furnishings and pointing to a huge ornate bed, remarked, “What will a simple man like me do with this?” Sarojini Devi replied, “Look, Rajajee, I have helped you in many difficult situations earlier. But I am sorry, I can’t help you in this matter”.

She was particularly close to Jawahar Lal Nehru who admired her for infusing ‘artistry and poetry into the national struggle’.

Once the last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan asked her what difference she found between him and his late father. Sarojini Devi replied: “His Highness was ruled by his heart; Your Exalted Highness by your mind.” The Nizam tapped his thigh in appreciation of her apt observation.

When India became independent, she was appointed governor of UP. The Government House in Lucknow was instantly transformed into a cultural centre.

She was a Hyderabadi to the core. When the news of the fall of Hyderabad in the Police Action was conveyed to her, she reacted: “I am sorry for my State, but happy for my country”.

In 1949 she fell ill. The physician came and gave her a sleeping pill and told her reassuringly that it would give her good sleep. Sarojini Naidu smiled mischievously and said, “Not eternal sleep, I hope!” She expired during her sleep that night.

She had four children. The eldest, a son, Jaisoorya was a M.D. in allopathy but became a nationally renowned homeopath. The second son, Ranadhira was an alcoholic and died young. The next two were daughters. The elder, Padmaja, was a social worker. She remained a spinster and served as the Governor of West Bengal for ten years. The last, Leelmani studied at Oxford, taught English in the Nizam and the Women’s College and then joined the External Affairs Ministry. Out of them only one, Jaisoorya married - first a German woman, and after her death, of cancer, Dr. Dwarkabai of Guntur.

After Sarojini’s death, the ‘Golden Threshold’ was rented out to a restaurant called the ‘Neo Mysore CafĂ©’. Padmaja Naidu, the sole survivor of the family, bequeathed it to the University of Hyderabad and the dedication was done on 17th November 1975 by Indira Gandhi. Appropriately, the School of Performing Arts, Fine Arts & Communication of the University named after Sarojini have been located in the ‘Golden Threshold’.

There is a road, an Eye Hospital and a Women’s College (Vanita Mahavidyala) named after her in Hyderabad. The Sarojini Naidu Memorial Trust Library and Museum was set up in 1981 in the house in which she was born on the Jawahar Lal Nehru Road. It presents a pitiable sight today. A workshop has allegedly encroached upon a part of the premises. The State Government has not released the annual grant of 100,000 rupees for some years. Properly maintained, it could be a proud monument and a tourist attraction for the city.

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The Rock-scape of Hyderabad

The Rock-scape of Hyderabad
By Narendra Luther

The 400 –year Old City of Hyderabad is known by its symbol - Charminar. A long -neglected feature is now beginning to get associated with the city—Rocks.

These rocks are part of the India Peninsular Gnessic (pronounced ‘nysic’) Complex spread over an area of approximately 20,000 square kilometers covering parts of A.P., Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. These rocks sprang from the Earth’s crust, which is 40 kilometers deep. The radius of the earth is 6300 kilometers out of which so far it has been possible to penetrate only 13 kilometers. These rocks are one of the oldest units of the world. They are older and more stable than the Himalayas.

It is estimated that they are some 2,500 million (25 crore) years old. Life started on this planet about 8 million years ago and man emerged only 2 million years ago. That gives us an idea about the antiquity of these rocks.
Around the city, they make a fascinating landscape. They have numerous shapes and sizes. One of them looks like a vulture, another like a ‘laddu’ for giants. Yet another has been named ‘club sandwich’ for the way in which rocks are piled one upon the other. Some rocks are so delicately poised that one fears that they might fall any time. But they won't. They have weathered physical and chemical action of nature for million of years. Some rocks look as if giant children were playing with them at house- building. Then suddenly they were summoned home by their mothers for their meals.

In 1820, Meadows Taylor, on his first visit to the city noted this beauty of the city environs.

The Imperial Gazetteer of 1909 observed that "around Hyderabad and stretching as far west as Lingampalli, 15 miles from the city, tors and boulders of fantastic shapes are seen everywhere, composed of basalt and granite piled up in picturesque confusion."

Rocks help form the natural drainage system of the area and are also responsible for the existence of many lakes. Over the years because of the destruction of these rocks many such lakes have disappeared. For example there was a lake on the bend of road no: 1,opposite the Dwarka Puri Lane. Similarly, Masab Tank was, as the name implies, a lake. The lake in front of the Taj Residency hotel has been polluted because of the construction of slums in the upper part of the valley and so the lake has now more of sewerage than springs water. The Durgam Cheruvu in Jubilee Hills used to be called the ‘Secret Lake’ because it was hidden from view. Now it is threatened by construction. Same is the case with the Dargah Shah Hussain Wali Cheruvu. Rocks also support rare fauna like lizards and bats.

Not long ago, Banjara Hills used to be a forbidding territory where people used to come only for shikar and picnics.

Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung is responsible for the colonization of Banjara Hills. In the 1920’s he bought some 500 acres of land. In 1930 in a jumble of rocks he built himself a house with minimal disturbance to the existing rock-scape.
He used to offer lots of 5-6 acres free to his friends and others for a song, if only they would come, build and stay there. Water and electricity was provided free for six months. Not many took his offer.

In 1933 the Nobel – laureate poet of India, Rabindranath Tagore came and stayed with him for some time. He was so fascinated by the place that he said if he didn't have his Viswa Bharati to care for, he would have liked to settle down here. He wrote a beautiful poem ‘Kohsar’ on the rocks.

After the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, colonization of Banjara Hills picked up. Quarrying because rampant rocks were blasted recklessly. Now there is hardly any unbuilt land left in Banjara Hills.

In 1962 Jubilee Hill Cooperative Society was formed covering an area of 1400 acres. Now it is the turn of Jubilee Hills to suffer a frenzy of construction, particularly with the emergence of the NRI phenomenon.

Large-scale blasting and cutting of rocks have upset the ecology of the area. Many lakes have been filled up. Others have dried up.

The temperature, which used to be distinctly lower in Banjara, matches that of the city. Pollution is increasing. Banjara Hills is no longer the paradise it used to be.

A few people, following the example of Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung, have designed their houses with due deference to the original `inhabitants' of the place - granites. But the majority of houses have copied the patterns of the plains. They have killed the rocks.

These pre-historic rocks are as much a part of our heritage as our fauna and flora and our historic buildings. In a way they are even more precious because whereas fauna and flora can be made to grow again and buildings can be renovated and recreated, these massive and hard looking rocks once destroyed will never grow back again.

On 26th January, 1996, a Society to Save Rocks was set up by some people who were keen on preserving rocks. A movement has been started now to save and preserve the remaining rocks. One way would be to develop them into picnic and tourist resorts. Atleast one ‘Rock National Park can be created in order to preserve this valuable heritage. As a result of the efforts of the Society, the government has declared nine rock formations as protected as part of the heritage under the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority Zoning Regulations. It is hoped that effective action will be taken to enforce the decision. Considering the mission of the Society, the Income Tax Department has granted exemption from tax to donations made to it.

As a part of a the campaign to promote consciousness about the value of this great asset, an artists’ camp is being organized for leading painters and artists of the country in March, 1998. They will, in their own way capture the beauty of the rocks. These paintings will then be auctioned so that they adorn the offices and residences and thus spread the message. Also it will help raise funds for the activities of the Society.

Rocks constitute a very valuable heritage of ours. Unless their destruction is stopped, our grandchildren will not know what granite is. By saving them we can preserve our present - and the future at the same time.

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‘Kohsar’ – A poem on Banjara Hills
by Rabindra Nath Tagore

‘From the distance thou didst appear
barricaded in rocky aloofness
Timidly I crossed the rugged path
to find here all of a sudden
An open invitation in the sky
and friends embrace in the air
In an unknown land the voice that
seemed ever known
Revealed to me a shelter of loving intimacy’.