A Slice of Arabia in Hyderabad

By Khadeeja Amenda

Published: 28th May 2015 06:02 AM

The New Indian Express

People at the Al Askari Tea Point | A suresh Kumar

People at the Al Askari Tea Point | A suresh Kumar

HYDERABAD: As we reach Chandrayangutta from Charminar, the popular version of kurta pyjama changes into kurta lungi and in Barkas lungi along with T-shirt, shirt and pyjama is preferred. “We do wear kurta pyjama but only for special occasions. We prefer wearing tahwan that is imported from Indonesia. Tahwan is similar to lungi but patterns rather than floral prints can be seen in it and material is bit flowy than cotton. We continue this as our tradition,” says Aamir Khan a resident of Barkas. 
The colourful ittar in crystal bottles in the corner shop suggests something magical about Barkas, a slice of Arabia in Hyderabad. The ittar seller, a boy of 13, runs as hears the azan (call for prayer) from the nearby masjid.
Barkas a corruption of Barracks is now the go-to place for savouring Laham Mandi or other lightly spiced dishes. And the Yemeni settlement in Chandrayangutta resembles little of Old City.
This settlement of Hadhramis who are from Hadhramaut in Yemen still carries a bit of Arabia about everything that happens here. In Barkas, most of the things are from the Middle East, from hair dye to hookah and a kirana store becomes a Yemeni store.  The lane leading to Barkas, starts with Al Askari Tea Point. Started in 1948, in the erstwhile Hyderabad state, it is now a meeting point of Barkas’ residents. The painted bricks of the tea shop smell of a history that cannot be found in history text books.
“We came here during the Nizam’s time. The Nizam found his strongest and faithful army from Yemen,” says Salam bin Mahfooz about his ancestors. His grandfather was one among the most trusted soldiers of the Nizam.
The older generation who still speak Hadhrami Arabic, the Yemeni version of Arabic, have passed on the baton to the younger English and Urdu speaking generation.
Qahwah, the Arabic variation of coffee, is one of the links that connects the two eras. They are preserving its authenticity by using spice mixes that are imported from UAE and Yemen. Hussain al Azhkari considers himself an amateur in the art of making Qahwah that is his family legacy. “There are two types of Qahwah – made with milk and with hot water. The one without adding milk is usually had along with breakfast. The other, Yemeni Qahwah is made with milk. We continue the practice as it is a part and parcel of our life,” shares Azhari. The authentic Qahwah mix can cost up to `700 per kilogram. “One needs to be very careful while preparing Qahwah. The mixture of black coffee and sond need to be in exact proportion. The process of mixing it in a pan before boiling needs to be done carefully,” says Hussain.
Gosht, mandi, kabsa and harees, a sweet variant of haleem are a major part of the diet here. “If you want to taste harees you have to come here in the morning. We have crowded Sundays because of harees,” says Hussain pointing to a lane of closed harees shops. 
What makes Barkas different is the atmosphere. Even at the height of cricket world cup and IPL fever, either it is wrestling or football that gets the localites excited. “We do not prefer going to a gym as it can only build your body in an unhealthy way. We prefer to be face to face with our opponent. It is Barkas that has produced the best pahalwans (wrestlers) in the country. The legacy of kushti (Indian free-style wrestling) is still continuing and every child of Barkas is capable of self defence,” says Fahad Bin Hassan al Anwoodi, pointing to the ground opposite to the tea point, where kids play football under the scorching sun with full enthusiasm.
The Arab family naming convention is still carried on in the area. Their names include bin, ibn for boys and binth for girls that means son and daughter respectively in Arabic. Marriages also happen within Barkas and neighbouring Salala Barkas and in-laws from outside are not welcome. “We all are family in one way or the other,” they say in unison. Currently Barkas has a population of six lakh.  
“Barkas is like a maze. At times children get lost. We have announcements from the masjid and someone will find them. We do not have night patrolling by the police,” says Fahad, a resident proudly. Barkas is waiting the arrival of Ramzan, to witness the crowds coming for shopping from gulf markets. Then it would be Azeed Halwa, an Eid delicacy exclusive to Barkas.
Centuries before,  it was their sincerity and honesty that made them as the Royal Guards of Nizam.
It is this sincerity and honesty that still makes them special from rest of Hyderabad. As Hyder says, “The rest of Hyderabad says we are khamosh but we know that we are khaas”.

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