Our luck improved at the 19th-century British Residency, now a part of Osmania Women’s College. Both my mother and Hya had studied here, and behind the graceful Palladian-style building, Mom sought out the cannon that was a constant fixture of her tales from her university days. “My friends and I would sit there and have lunch,” she remembered. Childhood roles reversed, we directed Mom to perch atop it for a picture.
In an era before cable TV arrived in India, trips to the 1930s Moazzamjahi Market for ice cream in the shadow of its granite clock tower were the highlight of my week. Now we climbed up to the roof to get a closer look, and my father pointed out where his pediatrician’s office had been across the street — just as he probably had many times before, when I was too fixated on creamy mango scoops to notice.
We crossed the Musi River to the Old City, and in the Moghulpura neighborhood, we knocked on the door of the home that now stands at my father’s birthplace. There’s no trace of the original house that once spanned the entire block, but the current residents let us poke around inside anyway. When Dad gestured toward a wall that once had beautiful woodwork, the owner nodded in recognition. It was there until just a few decades ago, she remembered, before termites plundered the delicate moldings.
I inherited my obsession with reading from my father, and yet somehow he’d never taken me to the Asafia Library, his childhood haven where his own father pored over the rare Urdu, Persian and Arabic manuscripts. Perhaps I’d simply never been interested?
Later, at the Chowk ki Masjid mosque, as my father read aloud the Urdu script from a consecration plaque by the minbar, my mother, sister and I were shooed out by an ornery attendant. “No ladies allowed!” he said. Ironic, since it had been built in 1817 by a woman, my great-great-great-great-grandmother Syeda Vazirunnisa Begum.
The mosque isn’t far from the 19th-century Chowmahalla Palace, where I’ve passed the portraits hung on the walls countless times — only now I had Dad to point out the portrait of Hyderabad’s second nizam, my ancestor Nizam Ali Khan.
Finally, as the sun started to dip, we climbed up the claustrophobic stairwell of the Charminar, a landmark whose four tawny minarets could be the city’s insignia, to take in the gilded view of the old city. After a lifetime of drive-bys en route to bangle-shopping in nearby Lad Bazaar, this was our first-ever family picture at the top.