I went to Kiran's place last night. There are always these little changes you notice, like it or not, when you visit the places where you grew up. I spent the later part of my teens hanging around my friend Kiran's Mayuri Marg flat in Hyderabad and for a few of us lads, the place is second home. The apartments are just the same even after all these years, only there are always a few more cars in the space where kids used to bicycle around and play cricket. And every year I come back, the approach road seems narrower than I remember. In reality, it remained the same size always; my own horizon kept expanding making it seem smaller.
There are two new changes to Kiran's house this time. One of them was the spanking new elevator his building has. The old elevator, RIP, was an institution in its own right. It used to work only half the time, and just a split second after you open the grill shutter, a voice recording of a rather shrill female commanded you to close it. 'PLEASE CLOSE THE DOOR', she would shriek into your unsuspecting ears before you even opened the door properly. The angry lady almost made the elevator seem alive. She was the soul trapped behind the metal shutters, eternally upset at you for violating her peace and harmony.
When I got into the new elevator, I experienced mixed emotions. The body has changed, but its soul survived. The female voice continues to urge you to shut its door. Only, it sounds mellow and uncharacteristically polite. For a moment, I missed the angry lady of old lift. Kiran has a lovely daughter now (that's the second change) and a new generation of kids play in the cracks between the cars these days. Nobody wants them to inherit a dysfunctional lift and if you force it upon them, the kids will go away when they grow up. I realised that the arrival of kids makes people amenable to change and even inanimate things refresh themselves in celebration. The spanking new elevator and the bubbly girl who gladly jumped into my arms brightened my mood and I was celebrating the renewed vigour of the place. I told Kiran that I was going to write about the new lift.
And for past few days that I spent in Hyderabad, I have been mulling over something related to this emotion. Unlike Kiran's house, the city is persisting with its old lift. The soul seems long dead. I remember, when the city suddenly shot itself into national limelight in the nineties, with all the new industry and the flyovers. The roads were suddenly clean, the administration was working overtime to please the citizens. There were awards every year and there was a character to the city; there was a clear sense of pride which reflected in its people. I have seen so many small companies springing up around me, and most of them are large enterprises now. People felt more confident and when we travelled to other places, dwellers of other cities asked us about the transformation stories of Hyderabad.
There seem to be very few causes for such collective celebrations anymore, even if individuals live contended lives with personal successes. The society seems disinterested in these trifles. The old roads are tired of carrying more and more traffic. I saw a new sewer drain overflow every day in the Punjagutta to Motinagar stretch. The dirty roads almost represented the bruised soul of the city. New roads are getting built and mega mall spaces are springing up every month. But I see the deterioration in the small things. Bylanes are dug up everywhere and badly patched. Parking on roads is unrestricted. No biker wears a helmet and no one is mindful of traffic police when travelling on the wrong side of the road. Two miniscule religious places of my childhood encroached brazenly on to the roads to become much larger and no one seems to care. The city has become a small town in its mind again. And it doesn't make national news anymore, except for the incidents like the destruction on Tank bund.
I was disappointed. This city needs a new lift, just like Kiran's house. May be it will cost the citizens a bit more, emotionally and financially. But if its soul is not brought back to life soon, the kids will move away to other places when they grow up.