The article which made it to CBSE Text-Book

In 2008, I wrote this article for TerraGreen. I accidental discovered a couple of days ago, that this article has been published in the CBSE Std X , Interact in English, Main Course book. I was neither informed nor was my permission sought since the copyright for the article still lies with me. While I am pleased that something I wrote is being used to educate and inform impressionable young minds, I am a trifle miffed that at the general lack of regard for the rights of a writer. I have written to TerraGreen and plan to contact the CBSE board too. For all those who have been asking, here is the article that made it to the CBSE Std X, English text-book. CBSE.


( Please do not reproduce any part of this without permission. Copyright lies with me)

A look at the naturally formed picturesque rocks in the city of Hyderabad, their importance and what impedes their conservation.

Hyderabad is a bustling metropolis that is striving to be the city of tomorrow. With a heritage that promotes art and architecture, the city offers residents and visitors more than lip-smacking Biryani. Famous around the world for its Nizami past, in reality Hyderabad has moved beyond its rustic image. It is now matching steps with Bangalore for the title of the ITES, IT and BPO mecca of the south. Though the city is dreaded for its dry landscape and fiery summers, people from across the country are arriving here in droves to live/work here or simply to vacation at this retail capital of the south.

But one of the most interesting facets of the city simply happens to be its best kept secret. As you drive across the city, mammoth granite rocks in bewitching poses capture your eye and imagination. Rocks large and small precariously balance on one another to form shapes that mesmerise the mind. To the onlooker these rocks seem to strike poses and imitate life. These rocks, among the oldest in the world, are Hyderabad’s true heritage. Even the mighty Himalayas at 40-60 million years old are younger than these rocks!

Evolutionary tale

What caused these rocks to assume such forms? The answer lies in their creation. When the earth was formed some 4.6 billion years ago, its upper crust was thin. It was only as the earth aged and matured that the crust hardened into a thick layer. Some 2.5 billion years ago, the Deccan plateau comprising hard crystalline rocks began to form below the earth’s crust. Based on the position of these granite rocks, geologists determined that these rocks are intrusive igneous rocks by origin.

Intrusive rocks were formed below the surface of the earth when molten magma lava unable to reach the surface, cooled and solidified below the earth’s crust. As it solidified, these sheets of granites developed horizontal and vertical cracks. Over the following million of years as the earth aged, weathering caused the top country rock to wash away, exposing the granite rocks of the deccan plateau below.

While the evolution of these rocks is fascinating, it is their distinctive form that makes them truly unique. And that is where nature played her part in shaping these rocks. Primarily quartz and feldspar in composition, these granite rocks are grey and pink in appearance. Though they are resistant to erosion, weathering left its mark on the rocks. Known as onion peel weathering, the cracks in the granite once pushed up to the surface of the earth, fell prey to the environmental forces. Changing temperatures, water, wind and other natural forces chiselled away the rocks, leaving behind the fascinating sculptures that can be witnessed today. And it is not just Hyderabad that is home to these magnificent granite marvels. Surrounding districts of Rangareddy, Medak, Mahbubnagar and Warangal too have their share of such stunning rock formations.

Nature’s sculptures

As you gaze at these rocks it is easy to lose sense of place and time. The gigantic boulders inspire creativity and reverence in people, forcing them to look beyond the obvious shapes to create imaginary forms. A puppy seated on its hind legs with its front legs raised in the air, a Santro shaped car, flying saucer resting on rocks, four chambers of the heart, and a woman standing with her face to the breeze; these are just a few shapes that tickle your imagination. It is no wonder then that people have taken to naming certain rocks after the shape they think it resembles or the idea they think it epitomises. Some of these names have stuck on and the rocks have thus become landmarks in the city. And in some other places, rocks with their symbolic shapes have inspired the devout. Natural openings and cave like structures formed by the rocks have been used as temples by locals. Many people even consider them are a symbol of the divine and worship these silent sentinels.

Maintaining ecological balance

Apart from being a visual treat for viewers, these rocks play an integral role in preserving and nurturing the ecological balance of the region. Lakes and ponds have always formed adjoining rocky patches. This is no coincidence but a natural occurrence as rocks help create the natural drainage system of the area. Subterranean passages formed created by these rocks results in the natural flow of rain water to that area, aiding the formation of ponds and lakes and recharging ground water levels.

And where there is green, there are birds and bees. Rocky hills often act as the bio-diversity hub for the area. Prickly thick shrubs and dry deciduous forest ensconce the rocks. Along the lakebeds, tall grass grows in wild abandon. Often even medicinal plants and aromatic herbs are found in the area. And hidden in this medley of plants are insects, birds and reptiles. So don’t be surprised if a Baya weaver flies by or a snake wiggles past you, when you are trekking about the rocks. Fauna and flora of varied kinds thrive in rocky eco-systems. Nature is at its best in these spots and here is where people can go to for a whiff of the wild. But today, such spots are disappearing with alarming alacrity. Rocks are being destroyed indiscriminately; the price the city is paying for growth.

Development at the cost of nature

It is easy to wonder why someone would destroy rocks that are billions of years old. For centuries now these rocks have been the building material for the city. Even the famous Golconda fort of Hyderabad which sits atop a granite hill is made of the very same granite rock. The problem however lies at the speed and magnitude with which these rocks are now disappearing. Just consider the following statistics. The official 2001 census stated the Hyderabad population was around 3.7 million. But today the overflowing buses, traffic jammed streets, and expanding city borders tell a very different story. Unofficial estimates peg the actual population closer to 6.1 million; nearly double of what the Andhra Pradesh government’s website states. Years ago visitors to the city did not have to do much to find these rocks. But today these marvels are becoming a forgotten story. As time passes, this natural legacy is giving way to tall residential high-rises and software parks. Hills are being replaces with malls and buildings.

As the massive inflow of population continues, rocks are being quarried around-the-clock to cater to the exponential boom in the construction industry. Large tracts of land have been approved for residential or commercial use, without taking into consideration what actually lies on the land. The rocks are blown down, land is cleared and the hard crystalline rocks are used as construction material. In the past four years itself, vast stretches of hills around the city’s fringes have been turned to rubble or have completely disappeared. Drive where the development is taking place and an environmentalist’s heart will bleed at the sight of the half quarried, half-eaten mountains.

Growth and development are inevitable and necessary to absorb the growing needs of the economy. But the problem lies in the truth that none of this growth is monitored. Giant machines dig the earth out and transport mud to all corners of the city. Ratty trucks with the broken remains of gigantic rocks can be seen ferrying the roads primarily during dusk or night. Most of this quarrying is illegal. Contractors excavate mud and destroy rocks in remote spots often under the dark cover of night for a paltry sum.

Mass destruction of rocks has exacerbated the depletion of green cover. Precious fauna and flora has been destroyed. Loss of these rocks has meant ground water depletion which has further compounded the city’s water woes. Years ago tiny lakes dotted the entire city including the famous Jubilee and Banjara hills localities. Today lakes are found only on the city outskirts in places like Shamirpet. Lakes closer to the city are shrinking every passing year.

Fighting for Conservation

Though Hyderabad has seen the gradual depletion of rock cover, ecological conservation is an issue that has not found much voice with the population. Most citizens especially those new to the city are too busy focusing on seeing a snazzy Hyderabad finding its spot on the global map. But even in this bleak scenario there is a ray of hope for the rocks. Since 1996, a group of concerned citizens have come together to prevent indiscriminate destruction of the rocks and protect the rocky landscapes. Their organization ‘Society to Save Rocks’ (STSR) has since then been working hard to preserve the rocky ecosystem in the city and state.

Due to their dedicated campaigning, the Government of Andhra Pradesh has added nine rock formations in Regulation No. 13 of the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA) for the protection of Heritage Buildings and Precincts. This act of the governments was hailed by conservationists across the country as a great step in recognising the importance of the rocks and the need to protect them. Today Hyderabad is the only city in India where rocks are protected as a natural heritage. Encouraging the government to preserve these rocks by promoting them as tourist attractions is an alternative that the Society is pushing for.

But despite STSR’s dedicated efforts, the city faces a challenge as the government has already sold off much land in and around the city. Durgam Cheruvu one of the designated heritage sites is the best place where the government’s attempt to conservation and apathy towards rocks, are both visible. Years ago the lake lay hidden between rocky cliffs and was inaccessible. A few years ago it was converted to a model tourist spot with boating and other leisure facilities. But entire stretches of hills on one bank of this protected area has been destroyed in the past decade to accommodate the fast-growing Hi-tech city. Durgam Cheruvu thus epitomises the ongoing conflict between development and protection in the city.

However some individuals have successfully managed to integrate rocks that abut their house into the structure of their homes. The rock forms as much a part of their home’s interior as does their sofa or any other furniture. Some builders and companies too have taken the initiative to include rocks in their building complexes. While they have included a natural rock structure within their building premise, their focus remains on decorative appeal rather than ecological consideration for the rocks.

Over the years, due to the efforts of organizations like the STSR the rocks of Hyderabad have found a voice. But the din of the construction industry and growing needs of an expanding city are far louder than the voice of these few individuals. What the rocks require are greater public support and a deeper appreciation of their existence. Locals, tourists and governments need to take a pro-active approach to ensure that growth includes preservation of rocks and their eco-systems. After all if a booming economy overtakes billions of years of nature, the consequences and blame will be have to be borne by none other than the citizens themselves for the only people who stand to gain will in reality be the ones who lose.

Rising from silence

I have been angry all week. I have been unwell this entire week. My brain is busy trying to reconcile with the innumerable rapes it reads about and ignores in the news everyday. My heart is busy trying to tell me that it cannot rage indefinitely against eve-teasing, rape and molestation. But all I want to do is sob or vent my anger on someone. All I want to do is believe that it will end.

I thought I had put it behind, but I cannot forget the coconut water vendor who entered my building, waiting for me in the stairways and groped by breast as I was returning to school. I cannot forget another man who tried to do the same thing, in the same location, a few months after. For years afterward, I ran up the stairs of my own building afraid I would encounter something similar. I cannot forget the boy who worked at the newspaper stand which delivered the newspaper to my house. For months, often in the night when I was sleeping alone in the living room, the tiny slot in the front-door from which the letters were dropped would open and someone would peep inside. The first time I saw it, I thought I imagined things. The next time it happened I was scared. I felt unsafe, violated in my own home. My grandma and Dad refused to believe me initially. Everyone was sure I was imaging things. It happened for months on end, till one day I asked some college friends to keep watch at night. They followed the person who came out of my building and told me who it was. Then it began to happen during the day. One day as soon as I saw the letter-slot open, I walked to the door opened it and saw someone run upstairs. I told my dad and he believed me. He found the boy crouching in the upper floor and yelled at him. But it continued. I would have nightmares, wake up scared. One day I covered the letter-slot from inside with a piece of cardboard . The peeping-tom eventually gave up but my nightmares never went away. Even now suddenly they reappear sometimes.

I cannot forgive the boy who as I walked down a deserted road at 6.30 in the morning for college, walked in front of me and groped my breasts. Nor can I forgive the men who have tried to feel me up in the bus nor the perverted masturbating nude man sitting inside a van who opened the door just as I and my friend passed by so we could see him. Don’t even get me started about the college boys who thought I was someone easy and available just because I spoke to boys and believed in dating.

Of all the wounds, the one that hurts the most is that inflicted by family. I cannot forgive my uncle who tried to kiss an adult me. I pushed him away, and he claimed he was always hugging his son and how even his son said kids our age don’t like it. He fumbled for words to cover his tracks but my mind flashed as I remembered how he would casually place his hands on my thigh when I wore shorts. I struggled with that silence for months knowing it would hurt my dad and family. When I did it to tell my patriarchal grandma ( who has cursed, been judgmental and treated me as a ‘girl’ child since birth), she blamed my modernism and clothes for her son’s behaviour.

For years I believed that these incidents were partly my fault. That as a woman who lives in a perverted world, you have to protect yourself. That as scarring as it was, being felt-up is part and parcel of being a girl. But now my mind screams and asks why should it be normal when it doesn’t feel normal. This isn’t life. Normal is not about a man thinking it is o.k. to touch a stranger’s body. It is not normal to treat a girl like she is responsible for everything that happens to her. Clothes don’t cause rape, a man’s mind causes it. Molestation happens when a man uses his might with a woman he knows is weaker. Such incidents happen because we live in a world where a woman is taught to live in silence because she is taught by her family that talking about such incidents disrupts their honour.

But today, I don’t want to be silent. I want things to change. I am happy with the mass public awakening in cities. But I am still afraid because I know things like rape, molestation, incest will continue in the small towns and big cities alike, because of men who are titillated by raunchy movie stars and woman who continue to be silent. I am afraid because I know people will continue to suppress their truths. As someone who has been eve-teased by local policemen, I am not confident better policing is the only solution. This movement needs to leave cities and move to all small towns. It needs to go to schools where children are taught openly about sex and anatomies, about respecting differences. This movement needs to find ways to address curiosity, provide outlets to vent frustrations, nip perversion in the bud, support women, apprehend criminals, enable social reforms if we as women are to live more freely. Till then all I can do is rise from my silence, speak and write about this, and try to raise my son to be someone who does not crack sexist jokes, does not eve-tease  and respects women.

Studying Journalism

I remember my writing professor MKB Nair drilling into our heads:” Read 3000 and write 1500 words everyday. Brevity is the key. Be exact, be precise.” Vigorous writing is concise, he would often go on quoting, William Strunk Jr and EB White, from the legendary bible for writers- The Elements of Style.

I was appalled at the idea of having to write 1500 words a day, let alone be able to read 3000. But his words have lingered on in my soul and every time I sit down to write, I remember him.

I didn’t have to study Journalism. I was already writing by the time I enrolled for my PG. Why did I do it? Because I wanted a different perspective; because before I embarked on writing as a full time career I wanted to meet others who were already writing; because I knew the professors would be great. Of all the professors I met then, Nair taught me the importance of making sure each written word was necessary in the sentence, V. Gangadhar took journalism beyond the paradigm of just writing and made me think of it as a profession- Not to mention he gave me a break writing my first article outside the Times publications, and last was S. Ramachandran, the youngest of the bunch who went on to become more of a friend and a great mentor who would dissect my articles to bits and tell me where I excelled or goofed. Their impact on me was tremendous and doing that PG was one of my finest decisions ever.

Recently the desire to study has been strong again. Education, I believe, is a continuous process. There is an urge to explore further into new territories and reconnect with what I am really good at. Probably all that is required is a fresh perspective. And so if it is going to be lectures and a tutor or books and self-study, remains to be seen. Something is coming my way; all I need to do is clear the path of obstructions for the light to shine on me.