“Jai Telangana!” This phrase, “Hooray Telangana”, can’t be escaped on campus – or anywhere in Hyderabad for that matter. It is graffitied on signs, buildings, and even on the road in the middle of a busy intersection. This week, the Indian government in New Delhi made the decision to split Andhra Pradesh (the state I am in) into two new states – Andhra and Telangana. It is hard for me to distinguish between news and rumor on the subject, but a news broadcast earlier this week said that the national government made the decision based on 50+ years of persistent demand within Telangana for its own state. The question that is on everyone’s mind now is what is going to happen to Hyderabad, the former capital of Andhra Pradesh that has now landed right in the middle of the new Telangana state. The bittersweet news for Telangana supporters is that Hyderabad will remain the capital of both states for the next 10 years while Andhra, the new coastal state, creates its own capital. But what does this mean for Hyderabad? Will it become a union territory, floating within one state and governing two? Who will receive the benefits and opportunities flowing from the urban center of Hyderabad, and where will they draw the lines?
I won’t delve to far into the politics here, mostly because it is hard to say what has been decided and what is still being debated. However, what is certain is that this decision has been in the works for decades, and I am here for one of the most exciting moments in its history! The day after the announcement, campus was full of celebrations and large groups of students went from building to building cheering, banging drums, and throwing hot pink powder, the color of the Telangana movement. Without taking sides on an issue that I know far too little about, I am interested to watch the makings of a new state. Nevertheless, it comes with its ups and downs. News reports suggest that Andhra officials in Hyderabad will be forced out of their positions to make way for new Telangana officials. And on a personal note, my roommate Jennie and I were supposed to go on a hiking trip this weekend, but erring on the safe side, decided to stay home to avoid protests in a nearby area. The recent protests have not been violent, but they may pose a threat to travelers, not to mention the annoyance of roadblocks and traffic. I hope that some of the excitement dies down soon so that we can start our independent travels!
I realized that I have been so busy for the last 4 weeks that I have not stopped to ask myself, “Where am I?” I know it sounds simple. I am in Hyderabad, India – I can point to it on a map. But I have struggled to piece together the history, the events, the culture, and the people that I have seen in Hyderabad to really grasp where I am. So since this week has been mostly about settling in, I thought I would dedicate the rest of this post to answering this never-ending question.
I am part of a program called CIEE (a UR-affiliate program) with 12 other American students and four advisors. Being a part of this program has made the transition to living in India much easier because our advisors are pros at helping American students acclimate themselves to living in Hyderabad. We are studying at the University of Hyderabad, a unique school with a small student body, yet the campus is vast, full of greenery, and home to tons of wildlife. While I have been here, I have seen water buffalo, peacocks, and monkeys so often on campus that it almost seems normal. The University of Hyderabad has also been described as a miniature version of India. Its students are from all parts of India, from all types of backgrounds, and speak all different languages. I always wonder, how can I understand where I am when I am surrounded by so many different cultures?
The neighborhood I live in, called Manikonda, is about 15 kilometers away from campus. It is an area packed full of apartment buildings, schools, and shops everywhere you look. Produce and street food vendors are on every corner, and there are always people, cows, and dogs walking along the streets. When we are in our apartment in the evenings, there are constant sounds of car horns, barking dogs, and the call-to-worship from the masjid (mosque) near by. Although the neighborhood is always bustling, Jennie and I have started to feel like part of the community. Some of the auto drivers and street vendors recognize us now and say hello as we walk to and from the bus stop every day for school.
Hyderabad, one of the largest cities in southern India, has a rich history and, as I explained earlier, is still changing rapidly. Although the city is predominantly Hindu, it is one of the Islamic centers of India, and this dynamic plays out in many of the traditions and celebrations of Hyderabad. In fact, this is the first time in 38 years that Ramadan (an Islamic festival) and Bonalu (a Hindu festival) fall on the same month, and both are being celebrated right now around the city.
Hyderabad is also home to many interesting organizations that Jennie and I have been exploring since we got here. Today, we went on a short hike with a group called Greater Hyderabad Adventure Club through the hills near our neighborhood. We hiked, rock climbed, crawled through caves, and watched the sunset from Top Rock over the skyline of Hyderabad. The organization is full of great people from Hyderabad who just love being outdoors. We also visited another NGO this week called Desire Society. Desire Society is home to about 60 children with HIV/AIDS, most of which have been orphaned or cannot live at home with their families. Many communities in India, especially in rural villages, don’t understand HIV/AIDS and label the children as “untouchables”. Desire Society provides these children with a place to live, schooling, and daily health care. When we visited last week, we played with the children, some as young as 5 years old, and taught them songs and games.
So despite my reluctance to cancel our hiking trip this weekend, I am glad that I stayed in town so that I could explore a few more areas of the city. I am anxious to see new parts of India, but I am also starting to realize just how much there is to do right here in Hyderabad! I feel so lucky that there are opportunities near by to explore and to search for answers to that recurring question: Where am I?