It was around the mid 90s that Hyderabad began to experience its first big Boom. Chandrababu Naidu, a relative unknown in the league was at the helm, and was determined to make Hyderabad a glitzy, glammy Super-Cyber-Hyperabad.
Like pimples on a teenager’s fresh face, strange buildings and erections rose from the land. Flyovers shot up into the sky, a tower called Cyber Towers sprang up, soon to act as Mothership for other hitech, jazzmatazz offices who were helping American companies clean up their desks. Government services were digitised, and Bill Clinton was invited to inaugurate the transformation.
Among the many dreams within Chandrababu Naidu’s dream was a quick, economic rail network to connect the older city with the newer, shiny cousin. To connect Sudama to Krishna. And thus was born the MMTS. Multi-Modal Transport System. Intended to connect the two sides of the city, the engineers hadn’t expected the steroid-induced growth that Hyderabad would experience in the coming decade. Which has resulted in the MMTS being sidelined by the urban, yuppy, corporate crowd. The MMTS does not ply to Banjara Hills, Cyberabad or Jubilee Hills – these temples of the New Gods. It is for more commonplace places, like Malakpet, Huppuguda, and Sitafalmandi, where I currently reside.
While the MMTS was inaugurated with much fanfare in the presence of Chandrababu Naidu, it was the other Chief Guest of the event that should have instilled some doubts in the minds of Hyderabadis. The fact that LK Advani inaugurated the MMTS should have been a premonition for things to come. For if Naidu saw the MMTS today, he’d give up politics and retire to Manali.
In their own unique way, the MMTS has become representative of Hyderabad and its laid-back nature. As I live right next to the MMTS station, I have begun to feel a connection with the enterprise. From the first train that begins at 4.45, to the last one that chugs home tiredly at 2355, the MMTS has become the trains of my little Apur Sansaar. And as I interact with the enterprise on a daily basis, I have begun to appreciate just how Hyderabadi the MMTS really is.
For one, timings are merely notional on the MMTS. If the timing mentioned is 10.20, it is just a ballpark figure so that you are dressed and ready on the platform. The train of course, will amble in about ten minutes later, just in time for the man with four gunny sacks to stuff them through the running doors.
Unlike in airports and Metro stations, where the entire world seems like a large, rushing crowd, the MMTS is barely ever in a hurry. The trains even have the feel of medieval caravans. There are hawkers, magicians, and little kids doing tricks with a tiny hoop for some change. For you see, unlike in Chandrababu Naidu’s dreams, the MMTS isn’t really used by the Movers and Shakers of the city. It is used instead by the hustlers and the jostlers. Those who have no where to rush to. The kind who can wait for the next train if they miss this one. Unlike the metro trains of Mumbai, there are no films shot in Hyderabad’s locals. There are no dark, intriguing, sinister stories; just a bunch of people going from one place to another.
The engine drivers are speaking on the phone and screaming at people as the train leaves the station. People are laughing and chatting and arguing in the trains as they hold the rod for support, the entire compartment a sea of Paragon chappals and sweaty armpits. People avoiding the gaze of the cops in First Class even though they have a ticket.
There is an overpowering sense of brotherhood and camaraderie. On a few occasions, I found a few men get into an argument with the guys who hang near the doors. But on most other days, I see the guys at the doors stretch their hands out to pull newcomers into the compartment. Because you see, these aren’t the hard-boiled urchins that you see in Mumbai. These are Hyderabadi urchins – kindhearted, sarcastic, and with a sweet tooth.
The concept of privacy doesn’t exist here, those are for 1st AC trains and Business Class passengers. Here, people peep into each other’s phone. As I’m drafting out this text, the guy next to me is peeping in for a good view. I turn to him and he smiles back like a twin lost in the Mahakumbh.
When Hyderabad announced that it was going to add itself to the list of cities equipped with a glitzy inter-city Metro service, I was a little circumspect. I was scared that the shiny Metro would make the humble MMTS even more irrelevant than it is today. But my fears were allayed by the fact that it’s Hyderabad we are talking about here. The ministers didn’t sign on the required papers, their secretaries sat in their rooms sipping on scotch, the engineers were clueless, and the workers packed up and went home. Resulting in L&T pulling out of the project citing the state’s inefficiencies. Petitions were filed against the bulldozing of house and property, and manholes on the road grew up to become monsterholes.
And just like that, the Metro project got postponed to 2019. Three years from now, which in Hyderabad terms means a decade. A few more years for MMTS to do what it can to remain irrelevant. To meander about aimlessly unbound by cut-throat timings and maddening frenzy. To amble from one place to another like a contended buffalo, grazing in fields that she particularly likes.
To flash a shiny electric rod at the world. To prove that it is possible to be a poet among robots.