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From Irani Chai to Habshi Halwa

Heterogeneous Hyderabad

Generations of migrants from different countries have contributed to the unique culture of cities like Hyderabad, and a nationwide NRC threatens their citizenship, branding them as “foreigners.”

One of my first thoughts when the reality of a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC)—carrying the potential to disenfranchise marginalised communities, including Muslims, women, Dalits and indigenous tribes—began looming on the horizon, was: “Will the Irani café owners of Hyderabad be forced to leave?” To me, a life without these cafés, where lakhs of Hyderabadis like myself spend time chatting nonchalantly over cups of tea every day, is simply unimaginable. Beyond the simple act of drinking tea to start the day, it is the unique taste and setting that Irani cafés offer, which have become part of Hyderabad’s essence. Without these spaces, and the people who make them vibrant, the city will simply not remain the same. Some of the cafés are run today by second and third generation immigrants from Iran, who are assisted by extended family and friends.

India has always witnessed migration (both in and out), making it a cultural melting pot. In the two centuries (1724–1948) that the Nizams (the Asaf Jahi dynasty) ruled Hyderabad, people of many nationalities and ethnicities had come to the princely state for work, eventually settling here for good: Pathans from Afghanistan, Arabs from Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and Iranis from Persia. Of course, the Persian influence on Hyderabad goes as far back as 1591, when Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth monarch of the Persian Shia Muslim Qutb Shahi dynasty (1518–1687) founded the city, which had turned into a global metropolis as early as the 17th century. The famous Garden Cafe in Secunderabad (a former British cantonment in Hyderabad) near the Clock Tower was started by an Iranian in the early 1940s. It started as a bakery, selling bread and other baked goods to the Britishers who passed by it on their way to the other side of town. A cup of Irani chai from this establishment, with its hospitable and chatty staff, takes one back in time. 

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Updated On : 17th Feb, 2020

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