According to our Resident Director, the weather in Hyderabad is usually dry and hot, but on New Years Eve it was humid. I rode up front as we left the airport and passed through a labyrinth of nearly deserted toll roads whose shoulders and medians billowed with green, yellow, purple, and salmon-colored bushes that sprouted palm trees like lamp posts. Billboards ran along the highway, some finished, most still under construction, their scaffolding rising like skeletal sails over the road. The landscape on either side was flat but rocky, with stained red and white sandstone quarries rolling into hills. “All of these quarries are getting demolished,” Diia explained over the rush of the breeze whipping in the window. “Workers blast them out to make room for the expanding city. Hyderabad has a Save the Rock Society. They host a Rock Walk every year, but sadly it has been very ineffective.”
“Dvar” means “gate” in Hindi. “Divar” means wall, so as not to make things confusing. The “dvar” at the first tollbooth we came to was wrapped in Christmas lights, and strands of silver and brown tinsel dangled from the arm. Two or three cars lined up at each “dvar,” mingling with trucks whose sides were emblazoned with colorful mosaics and spray paint renditions of Buddhist sand paintings. Elsewhere, however, the highway was startlingly clear.
“Most drivers in Hyderabad don’t venture out of the city,” Diia explained. “They don’t feel comfortable driving on the highway. The lines confuse them.” This seemed understandable at first, since the lanes appeared to merge across one another in some places, creating diagrams more suited to the roof of a mosque than the asphalt of a highway, but it became ironic once we got into the city and saw what the driving was like there. Herds of motorcycles broke rank to squeeze between trucks and taxis, while cars rode up on each other, never allowing for more than a foot to grow between bumpers. The access road that ran around the university campus was long, dusty, full of bicycles and thorn bushes sprouting debris. We passed the Shopcom, not a convenience store as I’d expected, but a red dirt lot dotted by palm trees, motorcycles, and thatched shacks selling essentials. At first glance, the campus of the University of Hyderabad is certainly not what I am used to seing in the U.S.. But it grows on you. The cranes, water buffalos, and occasional monkeys help. So do the people, especially Mr. Das, the resident director who single-handedly runs Tagore International House. Though simple, the international house is kept impeccably clean and everything you really need, from internet to medicine to toiletries, is available. They serve three meals a day, and although the food starts to get old after a while, it’s both tastier and healthier than any cafeteria food I’ve ever eaten in the United States.
My classmates and I took a few hours to settle in and meet people before boarding our first rickshaw and traveling to Paca, a local restaurant near south gate whose owner, Bharat, knows several of the international programs directors. Bharat’s venue is his back yard—not even his, technically, since the land belongs to no one and was unofficially appropriated to him by the government after he petitioned for it. It’s full of trees, rubble, stray dogs, and plastic tables that hold delicious food: barbecue, stuffed pitas, and falafels. Hoping for a bigger crowd, Bharat had hired a DJ to pump electronic music through the yard, but so far Paca has remained popular only among his friends. He’s got a vision, though, and hopes to eventually cater to all corners of the Hyderabad community.
So that’s how I came to spend New Years Eve in Hyderabad, surrounded by new friends, watching fireworks burst through a grove of stubby trees.