Our last tourist activity in Hyderabad was the most interesting: we visited what used to be the mansions built by the white-collar administrators of the Nizams, those wealthy Persians. These well-paid administrators aspired to the bourgeoisie as much as the employer they served, and they built mansions to prove it. Most were European-wannabe architecture, which was all the rage in the 17-18th century here, with courtyards. Originally the mansions stood on large tracts; in time the city filled in around them.
Now the mansions are in irreversible disrepair, and many people squat there. Basically, if a structure here has at least two walls and can be roofed, someone will be living there. Not sure I’d go so far as “squalor”, but certainly “extreme austerity” – more than the most unpretentious and modest conditions we ever see in Mexico. One of the mansions dedicates one floor to a family and the other floor to goats; the result smells about the way you’d expect. I couldn’t figure out where the family did their toilet, and I don’t really want to know; I can’t believe this place would have running water.
While it’s depressing that no one has stepped up to rescue these structures or at least declare them off-limits to squatters, this was the most interesting of the Hyderabad tours since it addressed an important facet of the history and got us into backstreets of the Charminar area where tourists definitely never go. It is worth remembering that more than half the world’s people live this way (if not even more austere). Worth remembering next time you hear someone use the expression “That’s a first world problem”.
Oh, right - my two presentations were successful by any standard, and there were even a handful of Indian students who recognized me from taking the MOOC. They were honored to meet me in person and wanted a picture with me, and were positively giddy when I offered them free book copies. It is nice to feel one is making a difference; the whole purpose of my trip was to help Indian faculty adopt our stuff, and I think based on the reception I received that it’s been a successful trip.
Next: Penguin and I travel to Mumbai in 2nd class rail, with the working people!