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The Rediff Special/Anvar Alikhan
Back to the Future in Hyderabad
When I was a kid the term "The World's Richest Man" was synonymous with the Nizam of Hyderabad. Today, of course, it is synonymous with Bill What's-His-Name. Curiously, the two of them have a meeting point... and that meeting point is the city of Cyberabad, where Microsoft has its fancy Development Center.
Hyderabad, truly, is a city caught between two worlds: the medieval world of the nawabs is finally now fading away and the brave new world of infotech is noisily being born. Somehow, nothing seems to capture this bizarre collision of cultures better than a recent CD-ROM, "Hyderabad -- From Past to Present".
It feels a little strange. You sit down at your laptop. You pop the CD-ROM into the slot. You click on your mouse. And suddenly you are transported back to a whole different era, a whole different world. On screen is a pageant of sumptuous sepia-tinted Raja Deen Dayal photographs of tiger shikars and Rolls-Royces, of gilded durbars, dripping jewels and polo matches.
Another click takes you to an oral history of Hyderabad, as narrated by various of the city's old-timers. Further clicks take you to the city's history, to travel and business information, and to Chandrababu Naidu and the city's new generation of business leaders talking about their vision of the city's future.
Yet, the best part of the CD-ROM is its unique treasure-trove of rare Raja Deen Dayal photographs... over 300 of them.
Raja Deen Dayal, it is not commonly known, was one of the world's great photographers around the turn of the 20th century. So much so that the leading European camera and lens manufacturers of the time used to vie with each other for the privilege of his custom, and inscribe his equipment with the legend "Specially manufactured by XYZ for Raja Deen Dayal".
He lived at a time when Hyderabad wielded the greatest influence within the British Raj and when Hyderabadi culture was at the zenith of its glory. He was, fortuitously, the right man, in the right place, at the right time.
As court photographer to the Nizams, he had intimate access to every part of Hyderabad society, and was therefore able to record a unique body of work documenting Hyderabad's fabled way of life for posterity -- an opulent way of life, like that of Imperial Russia, perhaps -- that the world will never again see: the court scenes, the palaces, the military pageantry, the costumes, the lifestyle, the street scenes, the modes of transport (my own favourite is the double-storeyed elephant carriage!).
Sadly, much of Raja Deen Dayal's work is now lost forever. Large parts of it were lost through neglect and ignorance in the 1950s (many rare and precious negatives apparently melted down for their tiny silver content). In the 1980s his grand daughter-in-law managed to retrieve what remained and published a book of some of his photographs. But now one hears that the only surviving samples of his work are in an American collection. This CD-ROM has managed to get what is perhaps the largest collection of Raja Deen Dayal photographs still in India (belonging to the Siyasat newspaper) and offers 300 of the best to posterity.
So if you want a chance to see Raja Deen Dayal's priceless old photographs -- if you'll forgive the lousy pun -- click here.
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