Urban Enigma - Introduction

The late 90s in Hyderabad was filled with ‘development’ euphoria. Unpaved roads were getting covered by thar, single lane roads were turning into multi-lane. Road side streetlights were shifted onto the divider of a by-lane road. Elders always spoke about Hyderabad becoming a land of opportunities. Tall buildings under construction were confirming such hopes. Global investments and global attention on the city was reported daily in the newspapers. We were to believe that billions of rupees were waiting at the borders of the city to leverage on the ‘development’ activities. In other words, there was a sense of urgency for ‘development’. The center of the city was rapidly moving from banks of Musi river to the private banks of Hitec City, under the name of ‘development’.

This radical transformation in the economic geography of Hyderabad changed the perspective on future among the traditional and emerging middle class. All the aspirations were tuned towards service sector (read IT and Outsourcing services). A huge mass of people were absorbed within the ferments of this (then) emerging sector. With the population of Hyderabad getting doubled from 3 million over a span of 10 years, a neo middle class (NMC) that is intertwined with IT service sector emerged – a class that is more global in character compared with the traditional middle class. NMC comprises of two kinds of people – one, traditional middle class that transformed into NMC, two, emerging middle class that moved up the social ladder from a successful engagement with ‘development’ agenda (Eg. economic success in IT sector or real-estate).

Before the emergence of NMC, during the late 90s euphoria, people imagined the future with good conditions of life, less bureaucratically organized and implemented with ideas taken from global input. May be some old egalitarian enthusiasts who bought the ‘development’ idea have hoped for a more equal economic landscape across the city. But, people felt their right on the city was implicit in this whole process of ‘development’. Economic success to a huge number (but a minority) of people affirmed such delusions. Little did they know that through their inability to come out of the ‘comforts’ (credit) offered, they gave blind acceptance and let American corporate money shape their urban life. (Lower middle classes’ struggle to have their right on electricity has gone unnoticed among emerging NMC).

“…in making the city man has remade himself” is an important statement by urban sociologist Robert Park. When this is true the following is correct – who makes the city – what city he/they makes – decides how people of tomorrow are going to be. Also the social relations, life style, aesthetic values of tomorrow are deeply encoded in the DNA of forces of city ‘developers’.

Today, Hyderabad is a home to 10 million people. We the 10 million have some questions to ask ourselves –

1.Did this urbanization in urgency contribute to human well-being?
2. Did it leave us perplexed in a world of alienation, anxiety, anger and frustration?
3. Do we lack the substance for a critique on the system?

Let us seek to answer, with this Urban Enigma series…

Siddhartha Malempati


Hyderabad, India http://about.me/sidmalempati