This Used To Be My Playground (with apologies to Madonna)

I'm spending Diwali in the city that symbolises 'home' to me - Hyderabad. I had my schooling here and the beginning years of my professional life. In my experience, its a great place to be. The city is bursting at its seams now, has perennial water shortage and terrible, terrible traffic. And yet, the madness seems to reach out to embrace me, making me feel more included and wanted than the place which I have made my home these days.

Sarojini Devi Road, (known as 'Oxford Street' in British Times) in Secunderabad has always been busy. Even way back in 1985, when my family first moved here, it was busy little road. On one end of this road was Sangeet, one of the few movie theatres that screened English movies and at the other end was the famed Paradise restaurant, arguably the best biryani place in the 'twin cities'.

Twenty six years down the road (pardon the pun!), so much has changed while some things have remained just the same.

Sangeet before demolition. Source: The Hindu
Sangeet theatre is a thing of the past. Demolished to make way for a multiplex I'm told. It was a sad day when I heard the news. So many wonderful movies and memories are associated with Sangeet. Watching 'Rear Window', 'Vertigo', 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' with my dad, a devoted fan of Hitchcock. Being taken from school - located just a stone's throw away - to see 'Ten Commandments'. The timings at Sangeet were unique. Three main shows at 4pm, 6pm and 9pm. And two other shows - a morning show at 9.45 am and a matinee at 1.45pm. Balcony tickets were Rs. 6 and stall tickets were Rs. 5. And I remember how we mourned when the fare was raised by 50p.

Old photo of my school. Source: The Hindu
The next wonderful building on that road is of course my alma mater, St. Ann's. I have spent some of the best years of my life here. Technically, the school spans the space between Sarojini Devi Road and Sardar Patel Road. And I would prefer to take Sardar Patel Road as it was less crowded. I walked to school for the most part and later in high school, I cycled over. The school has also not been spared in the passage of time. In my day, one had a clear view of the two main school blocks from the road itself. During sports day, we used to have passers by and fellas climb and perch on the compound wall to witness the events. Now a new building has come up inside, presumably to accommodate more students, which totally blocks the view.

Ajanta theatre has been demolished. I remember a rumour that a fan fell on the head of some hapless viewer in Ajanta. And I used to tell the ticket seller not to give me seats directly under the fan! Some of the biggest hits of my time played at Ajanta. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahi.... Now it is just an empty spot overgrown with weeds, awaiting a new lease of life.

The red brick Methodist church at the turning near St. Patrick's School, originally built in 1882, has been demolished. A large modern building built in its place invites the devout for worship these days and goes by the name of New Millenium Methodist Church. Possibly the new building came up in the year 2001. I've looked for a picture of the old church on the net but regretfully could not find it. Whatever reason the church authorities had for demolishing the red brick church, I miss it and the new glass, steel and concrete structure that has taken its place just does not evoke the same sense of history.

Amidst all these changes, few things remain re-assuringly unchanged. Like the fruit stall opposite St. Mary's Church, where the vendor always greets you with a warm 'salaamalaikum'. Or S. Mohammad Ali and Sons who rents out tents, utensils and furniture. The board proclaiming their name, notes the date of establishment as 1899. During my time, the owner's daughter studied in my school. So we got props for our drama competitions free!

Basera Hotel
Basera Hotel is still going strong. It has a fancy new restaurant called 'Pickles'. Back then, it had two restaurants called 'Daawat' and 'Mehfil'. One was more 'junta' and the other more sophisticated. Apparently, Talat Aziz used to sing at Mehfil. I still remember one hilarious incident when my family and I had gone for lunch to Basera. My poor dad, unable to decipher the androgynous figure drawn outside the toilet door, walked into the ladies toilet, even as waiters rushed to stop him. During our next visit, we saw that the androgynous figure sported a necklace and teased dad that they had done it because of him.

A view of Oxford Street (S.D.Road) in 1890
Source: Hyderabad Once Upon A Time 
In August this year, as part of Madras Week, there was a heritage walk on Mount Road titled 'The Mount Road Magnates'. Sarojini Devi Road in Secunderabad is as rich in history and buildings like those I've described above.  Others like the Deccan Chronicle Office, St. Mary's Church, are all historical buildings in their own right. I wonder if there is any group in the twin cities that looks at preserving and promoting its  culture and history?

These are just some wandering thoughts that came to mind as I walked down Sarojini Devi Road today and revisited my childhood. A sense of gratitude to have wonderful memories to share and a sense of loss at how my green valley has changed. 

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9 Responses to This Used To Be My Playground (with apologies to Madonna)

  1. sampavar says:

    Ah, well I can understand why passersby would want to climb up a wall and watch all you lovely ladies play. :)

  2. Yeah I can empathise with you.. having spent a part of my life there too. I found this about Kolkata when I went there last year - the city just did not live up to what it was in my nostalgic dreams. I remember Sardar Patel Road and the leisurely walks I used to take on it. I also remember the exhibition on parade grounds and the Lamba theatre beyond ( where " chatha" movies used to play by the dozen :-)). I haven't gone to Abids or Koti in a long time but I guess it must be as bad as this..! Sangeet used to be such a treat. I remember this being the only theatre where you could watch an English movie without nasty comments being shouted out. Natraj theatre is also gone.. I found that Tivoli theatre is now a function palace. That open space near St. John's church does not exist anymore and ... the buffloes do not seem to walk that way in more ( I never thougth I miss THEM!)

  3. Anonymous says:

    what a beautiful post to re-capture one's childhood days. Loved knowing more about Hyderabad through your blog.

  4. Deepa says:

    Thanks everyone. Glad you liked this post. I'm just glad to have started writing again!

  5. radha says:

    You have forgotten to mention the lovely sandwiches at Sangeet theatre. The city is no longer the same.

  6. Ah Deepa some more memories- remember Sharada stores on R P Road and golden bangles? I think some of the best clothes are sold in Evergreen, Ladies choice, Madam's collection and queen's collection in General bazar. At least that part of Secunderabad has not changed! Trouble is people think only Hyderabad has history. Secunderabad also has history but of a different variety. Nobody acknowledges that!

  7. Deepa says:

    Meera: Of course I remember all that. Pot market, Shermal Jain :)) Secunderabad's history has about a 200 year vintage - more colonial in nature. While Hyderabad's is older and more grand due to the Nizam and his wealth. Guess that overshadows poor ole Sec'bad's limelight.

  8. Shaha Abu says:

    hello admin i first like to thanks for this post,i born and brought up up in secunderbad i have lots of memories schooling and inter from st marys high school degree from Wesley degree college house and father office (work place) R.P road i have spend 23 years in such a beautiful city now residing in London for studies and further opportunities iam glad to know secunderabad have such a great history my father use to share stories (as he know from his grand father and father)about nizam and queen visit from london to hyderabad and a car from london use to clean street of hyd as somebody refuse or not-allow nizam to take ride in it. any way our family risiding in secunderabad since 1915 we have given generations in 100 years what a lovly city you can go station by walk school 1.5 miles away masjid and mandir and churches and also grave yard after death , i love paradise biryani and city light hotel tea and bis cute clock tower monda market many more