2012-04-23

The changing face of urban Hyderabad

A few days ago, my family went shopping to the Ameerpet area of Hyderabad. We shopped for about an hour-and-a-half; the time was 17:00. My wife wanted to have some coffee (so did I, in fact). We could not find a place that served coffee in the immediate vicinity. We walked in the general direction of a few restaurants. Thus began an amazing hour of discovery!

We went into the first restaurant that we came across. We seated ourselves at the first table available. Presently, a waiter turned up. ``Two strong, hot coffees," I said. ``No, sir," he replied promptly, ``we don't serve coffee." I was surprised. We picked up the bags, and walked on.

At the next restaurant, we were cautious. We did not go as far as seating ourselves; rather, we waited for a waiter to approach us. ``Do you serve coffee?" I enquire. We get the same reply, ``No." I was more surprised. We walked on.

The third restaurant was a familiar one. It has been around for over twenty five years. The last I had visited it, it used to serve coffee, tea and snacks. However, that was several years ago. My four-year-old son complained of hunger by this time. He wanted a pesarattu (a special Telugu dish that is a kind of thin-and-large pancake). I felt that there was a high probability that this restaurant would serve both pesarattu and coffee. So, we climbed up a floor to the restaurant. ``No, sir. We used to serve South Indian food until about six months ago. We no longer do. Now, we serve Mughalai, Tandoori and Chinese!" I was mildly astonished. My wife and I sighed simultaneously, and we walked on.

My son was very disappointed. As we walked, he was eagerly watching for another restaurant. This time, we had to walk quite some distance before we came across another. Its look made it clear that it was a very non-vegetarian-oriented restaurant. We did not bother to walk in. My wife and I had a quick consultation, and decided to turn around, pass the shopping area, and try in the other direction.

My son's disappointment grew with each passing twenty five metres, or so. He started getting petulant. We negotiated the distance back to the shopping area with some difficulty, coaxing my son along the way. As we walked past that, we soon realised that there were no restaurants within sight! By this time, we had spent close to an hour covering a total of a little over a kilometre, without finding a place that served South Indian snacks and coffee! We resigned, got into the car, and drove back home.

The episode left me wondering, however, about the dramatic transformation that Hyderabad has undergone in the last couple of decades. It is very difficult these days to find decent (or even semi-decent) restaurants that serve Telugu vegetarian food. I have noticed the same trend in Bengaluru too, particularly for supper. A large number of restaurants have colluded to systematically eliminate South Indian menus. A key reason is that Mughalai, Tandoori, Chinese, etc. food is much more expensive. The restaurants earn significantly more per table-hour when they serve them. The constant in-flow of North Indians into Hyderabad has only made it easier for the restaurants to switch over.

Another dimension that has seeped in over the years is that of western fast food (pizzas, burgers, etc.). In the name of maintaining international quality at an international price, the western chains charge ridiculously high prices (by Indian standards) for such fast food. We have to remember, however, that economic liberalisation has placed sudden money and means in the hands of an entire new crop of employees and entrepreneurs (and their pizzas-and-potato-chips brats). India has, consequently, been witnessing rapid changes in urban social patterns. The new-found affluence has resulted in a large number of families dining out several times a week. And, in the name of novelty, a vast majority of them patronise the more expensive varieties. The smaller restaurants, obviously, do not wish to let the opportunity slip by. We see, thus, a steady decline in the number of restaurants serving native food.

Craving for the new often dislodges the old! In this instance, Telugu (South Indian, in general) food and beverages are the casualty!

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