June 17, 2013

Exploring Hyderabad


  Today I managed to see a bit of Hyderabad; much of it from the car, as I spent, I believe, longer than I was supposed to at the one place I did stop at...the Chowmahalla Palace (one of those unfortunately redundant names- since "chow" means "four" and "mahal" means "palace", what I just wrote was effectively the "Four palaces palace"). It was the seat of the Nizams of the Asaf Jahi dynasty, who ruled Hyderabad state from until it became a part of the Indian Union in 1948. [Asif Jah had been governor of the Deccan region under the Mughal Emperor, but declared his independence and founded his own dynasty in 1724, though it was Asif Jah II who moved the capital to Hyderabad 45 years later.] On top of the expected ornate and dramatic architecture, gardens, fountains...there were also wonderful collections of wax seals, copy books of the young princes, clothes, weaponry, photographs, and some pretty spectacular vintage cars (1900s and 1910s; with the 1912 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost the mot amazing of the lot). The place managed to do a great job of giving you a sense of the people who lived there, and it was fun to wander the halls.
On the way there and back, I did get to see (in passing) a lot of "old" Hyderabad; the Charminar, Mecca Masjid: the largest mosque in Hyderabad, the High Court...the area around the Mosque reminded me more of Kerbala than anywhere else; a grand mosque complex surrounded by narrow curved streets lined with shops. I've found when driving (right, being driven) through the older parts of Indian cities I have a hard time turning off a reflex from doing field work...every time I see a shop with plastic buckets, or metal implements, or pipes or hoses, or a carpenter making something...I think, "I have to remember where that is in case I need to build, fix, jerry-rig, etc. some gear." Well, it's a little different this trip, staying in 5-star hotels I'm not even allowed to open my own door or occasionally even push my own elevator button. I finally gave up on fighting for my independence, it seems to genuinely distress the hotel staff...   
My afternoon I met with the new (since last month) Pro-Vice Chancellor Khwaja Shahid of Maulana Azad National Urdu University; a central government supported institution, which, as its name suggests, delivers its education in Urdu. They have a number of satellite campuses all over the country, and offer programs in languages, business, arts/social science/natural science, journalism, and education. The university certainly faces some systemic challenges but has a great deal of potential; the PVC spoke of working to improve educational opportunities and employment potential for women, and also for the mostly men who have received all of their (Urdu-based) prior schooling through religious institutions, largely on theological topics. Having an Urdu language university provides them with the option to gain credentials in a range of topics. Certainly serving these populations can provide potentially transformative benefits. However, the institution needs faculty who are not only subject experts but also capable of teaching in Urdu; where faculty shortages are an issue across the country, adding an additional criterion makes the job of staffing even harder. Some of the satellite campuses are also in less developed areas than the city of Hyderabad; without good schools for faculty kids and adequate health care facilities for faculty families, recruiting for those adds yet another challenge. 
Then, the next challenge; making the materials needed to teach biotech, or IT, or any of a number of fields available in Urdu. While certainly there was a time that there was a great deal of knowledge creation being documented in Urdu, these days in tech fields it is not the case. Employment in these fields is also tending towards English as the language of operation; so, once the challenge of providing appropriate education material is met, how does one make those graduates marketable? All challenges for the new PVC...who was very generous to give me his time this afternoon.