Monday, November 16, 2009

Hyderabad - Golconda Fort (and a story of unjustified violence)

Day after Anil and I came back from our trip to Ellora and Ajanta, Anil's father got seriously sick and had to be admitted into the hospital. It was a very traumatic event for all of us that changed a lot my perception of India, Anil's family and my relationship with Anil. Clearly, it was even more difficult situation for Anil and I am sure it had changed many things for him too. Anyway, I do not want to go into any details about it right now. The bottom line is: we were all under a lot of stress, the father was seriously sick, but the hospital was dealing well with it and he was to be released the next day.

The first day that Anil's father was in the hospital I stayed at home with Anil's mother, an event which deserves detailed description in a dedicated post. On the second day I went sightseeing Golconda Fort and shopping (I am not heartless: we knew that the father will be coming back home that day and I also thought that it would be better for my and Anil's mother mental health that I leave the house for a few hours.)

Anil had arranged a car with a driver for me for that day and exchanged cell phone numbers with him so that at any time he could make sure that I was okay. Anil and his mother also insisted to write down the driver's name and car's registration plates, even though he was recommended by their family driver and lived and worked nearby. I definitely thought it was not necessary and felt embarrassed by the whole procedure.

Anyway, the driver arrived before the scheduled time (extremely unusual in India) and appeared to be very nice and friendly. Unfortunately, the two of us could not communicate well as he did not speak English and I could only say several words in Telugu (so much for Arjumand assuring me that everybody speaks English in Hyderabad and that even she does not speak Telugu...)

As soon as we left the house we had an accident. I did not see how it happened, but I was sure it was our fault. We were coming to an intersection where there were several motorbikes waiting to turn right and my driver must have started slowing down too late as he made one of the motorbikes fall down (and like in a domino, that motorbike cause yet another one to fall down too). Luckily neither the bikers nor their motorbikes seemed to be even scratched. Still, they approached our car and asked the driver to pull down the window. As soon as the driver did that, they grabbed his shirt and started hitting him on the face with all the force they could find in their fists. I was totally shocked by that and it took me a long time to register what was actually happening and decide what I should do.

Before I took any action, a policeman appeared and separated the motorcyclists from my driver. We were all asked to pull over to the side and my driver disappeared for several minutes. I was very worried about him, but I knew there was nothing I could do to help and that he needed to sort the situation out himself. I also thought that if he would need help, he could always call Anil, who would be of much more help than I. When the driver came back he tried to explain the situation to me (in Telugu, of course) and he seemed to be very happy. I was not happy and I was thinking that maybe he should not be driving the car as he surely must be in shock. The thought of calling Anil and asking him to make the driver bring me back home passed through my mind, but then I knew that he must be preoccupied with more important things right then, so I decided not to bother him and let fate decide if I was going to survive that day with the crazy driver or not.

The driver continued to be happy and talkative throughout the day, while I was pondering what (tf) is wrong with India that strangers start beating other strangers even before listening to their apologies/arguments.

Later that day when we came back home I asked Anil to make sure that the driver was fine and that he did not get into the trouble with the police. Anil talked with him and told me that apparently the policeman put the two other guys that were beating my driver into a jail for a night. I am not sure if I believe that story, but I was happy that at least my driver was let go free and without any fine.

When we arrived at Golconda Fort, which is located on a hill several kilometers outside Hyderabad, the driver continued to try to communicate with me and from his gestures I understood that he wanted to accompany me on the visit to the fort. In principle I did not mind it. I was happy to pay for his ticket and I felt better knowing that he would do something more interesting than waiting near the car for me to come back. However, he was going EVERYWHERE where I was going and stopping precisely where I was stopping, which made me feel uncomfortable. Since I could not communicate with him, I felt bad that he always needed to wait for me, so I was not enjoying my trip too much and I definitely sped it up, so that he did not get bored.

Golconda used to be a capital and fortress city of the Qutb Shahi kingdom, before the capital was moved to Hyderabad. The city was home to one of the most powerful Muslim sultanates in the region and was the center of a flourishing diamond trade.

One of the most fascinating features of the fort is its acoustical system. Apparently, if you clap your hands at the fort's main gate, it will be heard as far away as the top of the citadel. Today this feature is used to entertain tourists in a daily "light and sound" performance.

Golconda Fort and views from it to Hyderabad: