A day that begins under the setting moon is a good day. These days, I wake up early and stand outside in the garden long before the sun has hinted at its arrival, and watch everything around me still asleep. The dogs have finished their chorus against the cold some time around 2am; the neighbours are asleep, the streetlights are still on.
For someone who used to enjoy spending time outdoors, I have recently found myself chained to my laptop. While my mother and son plant things, I retreat to my room and complain that the mosquitoes have a contract out especially for me. I cite allergies and the smoke from burning leaves as reasons for my voluntary incarceration. I memorise the appearance of new flowers from my window as if I had to pass a test on them. I baffle myself.
It wasn’t always like this. Where I live, it was easy to walk and I used to do a lot of that. In recent years, though, the narrow roads in our area have become congested with building materials and all the machinery associated with construction. With more people moving in, there’s more trash that doesn’t get lifted, and the municipal workers elect to burn the garbage in the collection bins instead of moving it. My excuses for not stepping out are valid: the air is noxious around here.
But the experience of early morning has recently inspired me, and on a weekend when my son asked to go cycling, I agreed to walk along with him. A few roads away, there is one sheltered square that, for some reason, is free from the urbanisation the rest of us have to endure. The roads are assiduously swept, and there isn’t much traffic. It’s safe for children cycling at reckless speeds, and perfect for adults who daydream while they walk.
It occurred to me that this was my natural environment: this place that successfully muffled the city but was within shouting distance of it; this carefully constructed parkland. It shames me somewhat to realise that what I call my natural environment is really a high-maintenance hothouse, preserving exotic species that are otherwise incapable of surviving the prevalent conditions outside.
But what can I say? I love cities in theory and in small doses. I don’t much like having to negotiate them on a daily basis. Give me my trees and the early morning and I’m happy.
As you read this, Hyderabad is hosting its first Literary Festival. Jaipur, Kovalam, Chennai and Delhi are all on India’s literary map and have been for some time now; but Hyderabad, stranded somewhere in the Deccan and close to no other place, has always suffered a literary drought. I spend a lot of my time cribbing to writer friends that they leave my city out of their itinerary when they embark on a reading tour.
Muse India, an online literary journal, has (with the support of several partner organisations), I hope, changed all that with this first festival. This year, most of the invitees are poets, and the emphasis is not only on Anglophone writers. I see this as an encouraging sign, and an opportunity for everyone to interact with writers writing in different languages.
The last time an event like this took place in this city was at the ACLALS conference in 2004. At that time, the buzz was palpable, with hotels and universities teeming with conversations and readings. It’s a measure of how little happens in Hyderabad that an event from six years ago should still be memorable.
Many places do their bit toward making the city a more culturally active place: Lamakaan, the Goethe Zentrum, the Alliance Française and the US Consulate all bring different events to the people. And yet, there’s a general feeling of discontent, as if all this wasn’t enough.
I think the reason is that the city itself doesn’t throw up enough of its own writers, dancers, playwrights, singers and artists. This is not to say they don’t exist; merely that they’re probably shyer than most, and they’re not in conversation with each other. Perhaps the Hyderabad Literary Festival will do its bit to change that.
An edited version of this appeared in today's The New Indian Express.