Leaving Hyderabad was painful. It wasn’t the way that I wanted to leave and returning due to the pandemic left such a bitter after taste that when I arrived home I couldn’t remember the sweet and savory memories of my 7 months in a home that I was beginning to call home. I felt that I had abandoned my friends, colleagues and my host organization and felt immense guilt even though leaving was out of my control. It was difficult to write or say anything about how I was feeling because I didn’t want to admit that this was my new reality. In need of catharsis and closure, I thought about maybe writing a letter or a poem to express my emotions but I even in April when I had sometime to process, my fingers would freeze upon trying to write. It was then that all the fellows and I had to begin deciding on our publications for the End Point conference and the idea for podcasting resurfaced. It was then that a co-fellow, McKenna Parker and I, led the project to produce a podcast that would showcase the various stories of all fellows in themes ranging from: brokenness to innovation, heat to movement and from being lost to being found. We called this podcast “Let’s Chaat: Stories of Fellowship.” In this, we hoped to give other fellows and opportunity to say the the things they once couldn’t from written words alone. It gave me the opportunity to do the same when I wrote my story for episode 4, “Naksha: Stories Lost and Found“. We titled this episode because in the fellowship, many of us lose and find many things during our time in our new respective homes. We may lose ourselves, our sense of home and direction, or even a special token or item. For me, it felt as if I lost all three. But in writing this letter, I found them: my identity, peace that Hyderabad will always be a home I can go back to, and my time living there can always be redeemed. It took me months to build the strength to write but when it was finished, I found peace, closure and acceptance.
Should I say dear? I’m not sure if we are that close yet.
Where do I begin? To be honest, I’ve been meaning to write to you for a long time but I have struggled to come up with the words. I never even had a chance to say goodbye and I have felt so guilty for leaving so unannounced. You probably don’t remember me among the 10M other acquaintances you have.
We only knew each other for 6 months and you never got to show me all of your favorite sites. How many times did you invite me to check out your poetry readings at Aaromale or interesting sessions at Lamakan on art, theatre, or gender equity and I couldn’t make it because… well, I thought more time.
You know, I have been checking up on you and my friends tell me that you’ve changed since lockdown. They tell me that you are no longer the rambunctious and popular city you always were. Even the Charminar in all of its glory, during Eid of all occasions, stands quiet. How could you have changed so much?
Not only do I mourn the time we could have spent together, but I also miss the times that I got to know you.
I’m back home with family and they always ask about you and what I miss. Honestly, I haven’t thought too much about it until now. I think I was in denial of how much it hurt to leave all that you were behind. To reminisce, I made a list:
Okaṭi. One. The cool breeze during night-time uber bike rides on Necklace Road admiring the Buddha statue standing proud against a sunset backdrop in the middle of a heart-shaped lake. Honestly, I would fly back in a heartbeat with the one I love to see you again and to show her this indisputably romantic scene.
Reṇḍu. Two. How I miss your food! I mean, my God. Nothing is more Anthony-Bordainesque than your streetside Romali shawarmas in Nampally, your homey Irani chai that takes a little better when you pour it from cup to saucer or your let’s not forget your indisputable staple… dum biryani.
Mūḍu. Three. While getting to know you, I was surprised by what I saw on the roads: the subversion of expectation – women in burqas and teens barely old enough to smoke drove by on their motorcycles during my commute to the office. I’ve even seen a baby sit on the handlebars of a bike, smiling like he was the king of the road. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. And how I miss your post-work traffic after a long day at the studio cutting a video. I never considered it chaotic – if others saw it the way I see it, it’s like water that flows and never crashes. You’ll never see an accident. At least I never did. Sometimes I stuck my arms out to feel the cool breeze and I wasn’t even wearing a helmet. It made me so happy I could have high fived the driver right next to me.
Nālugu. Four. And I miss your mosaic of religion, culture, language – all a beautiful coexistence. Through a short time, I was able to witness so much: the solidarity that was Battuk Amma on my first week of being there when I tried ice gola for the first time, the vibrance and promise of fortune on Diwali as I stood with a friend and family atop a roof that overlooks the city as we cast spells of light with fireworks that permeated the night, and the hope for longer days on Pongal amidst children running around flying kites that pierce the sky just the same.
You were always so welcoming and offered hospitality through everyone you knew. I never without feeling stuffed and satisfied with paniyaram or bitter gourd even when I said “Chaloo” or “Tinaru (TIN-NA-RU)” (which means I already ate lunch). And let’s not forget that you flaunt a diverse repertoire of language akin to Babel. Dakhni, or what my coworkers would try to teach me alongside Telugu, is the local language that harkens back to your regal heritage. The beautiful amalgamation of Marathi, Telugu and Kannada (Kuh-nuh-da). Unfortunately, our language class had to abruptly end.
Aidu. Five. Lastly, I missed the opportunity to say goodbye and tell you how much you meant to me. As I sit here, alone and pensive in self-quarantine, looking back I can see my time knowing you in a different light. At first, I was ashamed of how bad of a friend I’ve been to you and all of the time that I lost telling you, “Sorry, maybe next time.” Know that during this time we’ve been apart, I found in our friendship, not only peace, but myself.
You gave me the confidence to dream again and to believe that anything was possible. Do you remember Srilekha, who – with no mobility in her limbs – could paint with her mouth? She told me that. If it wasn’t for you, I would not have met her and learned that empowering lesson.
And how about the daughter of our caretaker, little precious Boomi, who taught me supreme patience. At first, when she would invade and terrorize my room every morning and urinate on my floor, I thought she was a spawn of evil but now, I can’t help but miss her cute smile and unintelligible babbling and rants.
Let’s not forget Sumi, Rose and Sangeetha who all helped me feel part of a work family as we would always bond over anime at the office until midnight or at the Graffiti Café over our usual plate of fries and parmesan chicken pasta. You all showed me that even while testing and driving one another mad, we would always be there for one another.
Srujana and Pallavi, thank you both for always making me feel so at home in a city so far far away. Our misadventures and food escapades are ones that I will never forget.
And let’s not forget my dear friends Pavan, Roushna and Lalitha who all I met on a bad day that you all turned into my best. Thank you for your morning check-ins on my way to work, your late night talks of poetry in front of the GVK mall, and for letting me dance into the night with you all.
Hyderabad, for all of these lessons and friends you’ve introduced me to, I say thank you and I hope you can forgive me for not being as good a friend to you as you were to me.
To the Lion City, I bid you adieu. Until next time.
This blog post is adapted from my segment in the “Let’s Chaat” podcast. Listen to the full episode here: