Identity: An article in the Siasat Online magazine

Link to Siasat Article

During my current research on the Brahma Kshatriyas of Hyderabad, the community members welcomed me into their homes and shared numerous stories. I have met a few 70 and 80 years old members of the community as part of an effort to build an archive on the community’s history.

The Brahma Kshatriyas settled in Hyderabad in the 1700s as part of the bureaucracy of the Asaf Jahs, the rulers of Hyderabad or the Nizam State. The most consistent storyteller was my mother, Kusum Gouri, 86. She shared with me a lot of information when I stayed with her during the summer of 2020 as the COVID-19 raged.  During those four months we would finish our daily chores, a leisurely lunch and an afternoon siesta, and start our conversation or continue from where we had left earlier in the day.

One day she narrated to me about the labels of the community in which she was born. The terms “Mulki” and “Hindustani” were popularly used during regular conversations. Mulki was an ‘insider’ or a person who has been in Hyderabad for a few generations. The Hindustani, on the other hand, was a person who had migrated to Hyderabad State from the North. He was an outsider, a newcomer from another place in India to Hyderabad looking for work and to settle down here.

The origins of these labels became extremely important for finding employment.  The locals would have to produce a Mulki sadaqatnama or certificate. The “Mulki Certificate” would have to be acquired from the Hyderabad State Government before seeking employment and other facilities.  

It is important to note that Hyderabad State was a separate and sovereign entity; therefore, the Mulki Certificate became an important marker of identity. Mulki was the local, from the Mulk (the country), a settled person. The Mulki and Hindustani were the markers of your most prominent social identity. The controversy over Mulki and Non-Mulki became most prominent during the days of the last Nizam and after the formation of Andhra Pradesh, an amalgamation of Nizam ruled Telangana region and Andhra, the region that was under the Madras Presidency of the British India.

It was different then from the present day systems when religion, caste, and creed play an important role in establishing your identity. My mother said these factors back then were not so crucial. Maybe those identities were not yet mined for politics and Hindustani and Mulki were good minefields, enough to keep the reigns of politics in a few hands.

This explanation however is a bit too simplistic.

The Hindustani and Mulki identities were what my mother heard growing up- around the time of independence. So, this duality was a set idea by the time she grew up to be an adult.

She said that the term Hindustani was used as an insult to address the new migrant that came to Hyderabad in search of jobs and who did not possess a jagir, or an ancestral property. The Hindustani arrived in Hyderabad with bare minimum belongings and according to my mother, it is said that they arrived with a “thali (a plate) and lota (a globular water container)”.  As opposed to Hindustani, the Mulki or the Hyderabadi was a local person who is well settled and perhaps had landed property given by the Nizam. He was well placed in the feudal ways of life. (However, not all Mulkis were jagirdars).

My mother recalled that Jagat Narayan, Shiv Govind Pershad, my paternal grandfather, and his brother Bal Govind Pershad, came from Lucknow which is today the capital of Uttar Pradesh, the biggest province in India. Also, Jagannath Das Mahendra, who was employed in the Police headquarters along with Ganesh Narayan who was from Gujrat.

A page from the diary of Ganesh Narayan.

Dr. Girish Narayan, the great-grandson of Jagat Narayan spoke in detail about this when I met him in 2019 and then more recently when I met to him about his grandfather Ganesh Narayan’s meticulously kept diary. This diary begins in the 1950s and starts with an account of his childhood spent with his father described in minute detail. Some of the interesting anecdotes in the diary include a visit to the Delhi Durbar in 1902 when Lord Curzon was the viceroy and the Governor General of India. It had involved a grand show. The Nizam Mahbub Ali Khan government had organised a special train for this purpose. There was also mention of the founding of the school in Charminar area by the community and fighting social evils such as child marriage.

Jagat Narayan is one of the important figures in the history of this community. He was the first to complete B.A. and had a poem written about him for such an achievement. He was also one of the few members who aspired to document the community’s history. At the same time, he was one of the founders of the community’s Mufeed Ul Anam School. He later became instrumental in initiating various reforms for the benefit of the community. My conversation with his grandson Sukh Deo Narayan, 95, yielded interesting snippets from Jagat Narayan’s life. Jagat Narayan was a social reformer and worked hard to abolish alcoholism in the community. He was humiliated for this initiative. He was the outsider, far enough out on the margins to be critical of the community’s problems. As a show of opposition to his critique, it is said that he was adorned with a garland of shoes which he accepted with open arms. He was unfazed by the insults for the cause he believed in. Is it easier to critique from the outside than to do so from inside a community? What enables this process? Is it because a certain distance is available to provide a lens and also a perspective?  And what value does this story of censure bring to our minds?

While Hyderabad has been a city of migrants, the Hindustanis were the poor lot, the ones that had to make a living or work to survive. The Mulkis, or jagirdars, lived a life of “thaat”, of splendor and excesses and did not work. Visiting the house of a Hindustani or being socially close to them was considered anathema. It was looked down upon because they were the newcomers to the city. You socialized with them but they were not invited to the important gatherings and kept at arm’s length. “Roti aur beti bahot ahem hai beta,” said my mother. It meant you have to be careful where you get your daughter married and who you sit down with to eat — rules that form the structure of endogamy. However, this changed within a span of a generation and the Hindustani went on to be a part of the new middle class, the educated lot that was instrumental in much of national development.

I was born and raised in Hyderabad speaking not only Dakhani, but also fluent Telugu. However, growing up, I found that I was not a Telugu like my friends in Women’s College, Koti, nor was I a local Muslim in Stanley Girls High School, Chapel Road. I did not ever go to my “native place” when most of my friends would go away during the summer holidays. 

I saw myself as someone on the margins of conversations and to the dominant culture since an early age. Being marginalized not in the conventional economic sense but culturally was something I have been used to for most of my life.

I moved to the United States in the year 2000 and I was again confronted with questions of identity in a new way. From other Indians, the questions were, am I from the North or the South of India? Was I a Telugu or was I a Punjabi? And if you know me, you know I grew up without a last name; I was always Hema Malini or just Malini. Waghray was something that was added to my paperwork because the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) had a field that was otherwise filled with LNU – “last name unknown” for Hema Malini. So, the Marathi sounding last name that got added for my citizenship in the US further confused others in this rigid framework of identity. (And here’s another story for another time–my mother, my mother-in-law, my aunt-in-law, some of the important matriarchs I know, do not own last names or use them. Although these days, a wedding invitation will bundle them up with their husbands, a brother and now a son).

I recall wondering about these questions and thinking, “Wow, I might actually be a Punjabi because my family name from my dad’s side, ‘maiden name’ being Gayhee or Ghai.” That said, the one thing that definitely sat well with me, as part of my identity, was being a Hyderabadi, belonging to the geography and the culture of Hyderabad. So, when I was asked who I was and where I was from, a typical profiling question from other Indians in the US (including me), I would say Hyderabadi and I taught my kids to say that as well. My kids, nieces, and nephews speak the Dakhani language, which is a distinct dialect of Hindi/Urdu from the Deccan region. Before I left Hyderabad, I did not relate so much to the regional hierarchies of North versus South India but after moving to the US, I became aware of a new identity being cast on me as a Punjabi with some hesitation. Hyderabadi is the closest identity I take on and it persists because so much of what I do and who I am on an everyday basis is a part of the Hyderabadi culture.

This attitude of otherness towards outsiders was a common practice even among the Muslims of Hyderabad back in the day. This essay started off after a conversation with my mother. But at a later stage I spoke with Mr. Mir Ayoob Ali Khan of from Hyderabad. He spoke about this, as being a common practice among the Muslims of Hyderabad. He said that Muslim migrants from outside Hyderabad were called Hindustani and locals were called Hyderabadi or Mulki. Although we have evolved as a society, over time we have found new politics and have made religion and caste into minefields.

How did this politically accented polarization play out in everyday interactions? This process of othering is available in many forms but always seems to be present in society. A very humane and loving person can nurture the feeling of otherness in someone quite easily. It’s insaani fitrat, human nature, too. Today’s saturated media and social media culture enable it down to our minute moments, through WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and more.

Marginality in India is about caste politics but also political parties as well as class. It is about your religion and your geography. Politics pushes and enables these labels and identities and will always find ways to divide people. As Teju Cole says: “The priorities of the State are inimical to the priorities of justice and ethics; States are good at dehumanizing.” But asking these questions is key to unraveling that which bothers us. It is by way of these conversations that one is able to question and talk back to the past in some way. It is these answers that will allow us to zig-zag out of this maze; to find out how we got to where we have arrived.

If the Hindustani arrived with the thali and lota, they probably arrived with fewer shackles of tradition that come with property and ownership of things, of money and status. Jagat Narayan and later Ganesh Narayan despite being the outsiders in the community were among those who were instrumental in encouraging both men and women to educate themselves. My mother and many other men and women of her generation benefitted not only from this education but also from the mentorship of this Hindustani, the outsider.


Gotraachar, a ritual

Govind Lal and Mohana Devi at their home in Boggulakunta, July 2019

Mohana Devi says: “Chudi Galli, Talim Galli, Kutta Galli, Dekchi Galli, Gurbanna Galli- we stayed close to each other”. If we imagine a time when some folks are jagirdars (property/land owners) and some without the jagirs (property), this community established rules to control expenses related to weddings and such events. Here is one such example where Govind Chacha and Mohana Chachi talk about the custom where elders would come to bless the couple at the time of gotraachhar or “the auspicious time when the stars have aligned” for the couple to be married and this time is set by the pundits based on the couple’s kundlis or astrological charts.

Govind Lal said that some elders would only come to bless the couple and leave because they may not be related directly to the couple and hence were invited for ‘giving’ the blessing. They would not stay for the meal and festivities later on. This became a custom for a while and changed with the times when community members could afford the expense. Incomes increased later and people have incorporated newer customs.

As with most material aspects and objects, our capabilities and desires change. We find more ways for enjoyment but also work to find a balance. Maya and surplus, the measure of our success is always around the corner beckoning us to scale up.

Dr. Vijender Waghray

Dr. Vijender Waghray reading a couplet from his notebook of poems. August 5, 2019

Dr. Waghray, 93, was an eminent physician of Hyderabad and loved to maintain a book of poems he frequently read out of. He had his education in Mufeed-ul-Annam which was in Urdu and then his medical education was in English. Her he is reading from that book when I met him last year in August. The prominent pieces of poetry are from Ghalib. His book of poems was kept close by and he read from it. Dr. Waghray passed away at unfortunately before I arrived with my camera.

Lota- a vessel used to store water

Things, artifacts, household items of value to a family that have been preserved. These could be documents like a grandfather’s old passport, a house deed, an old diary, puja items, jewelry, furniture, books, cutlery/crockery and more. It is valuable due to its connection to the past with a story about it. Objects are located in landscapes that consist of people, places and events associated with them. These are intertwined and they overlap. The silos are set up to temporarily make sense of the reality facing this research and then to enable the larger picture to emerge.

A household object is part of a daily routine in a family, starting with affirmations of faith and circulating the rituals of meaning, to trying to manage the burden of moving into another landscape of aspirations that calls for glorifying the objects or discarding them in order to organize and present a new way of life.
Objects hold meaning in as much as they are part of the supporting structure of a lifestyle. They demand a certain care.

Interesting questions stay in the story as to who were the merchants that sold these objects or where are they now? Who had the first ability to use the machine gun like pen attached to a wire in the store that allowed for the writing on the metal? What brought this about as a cultural marker of ownership of household objects that even to this day has great significance?

This object here is a lota, a brass vessel used as kalash in pujas. The ritual meaning of kalash and the significance of the water held inside is paramount in a puja and is available to understand.
The letters on this brass lota are marked B. L. and they stand for Bidri Lal. This lota is the provenance of the Waghray family from Kachiguda, Hyderabad.
The lota travelled to the US with me (Malini Waghray) and came back to be a part of this archival research. While in the US it was a part of my dual-cultural living between the US and India and a remained in my puja as well. It has a special place in this research work hence.

Here is some history about Bidri Lal from the Green Book, which is also on a shared a google drive.

Bidri Lal had his early education in Mufeed-ul-Anam School and City College and B.A. from Osmania University. He joined the agriculture department of the government of Hyderabad and after working in Warangal, was transferred to the office of the director and later promoted as gazetted registrar and retired. He was married to Shama Bai, daughter of Gajanand Pershad Shah.

His grandfather Narayan Das, alias Bachhu Lal, apart from being a Mansabdar was employed in Sarf-e-Khas and posted in the Peshi (personal office) of Nizam the 6th, Nawab Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, who had succeeded to the throne in 1869. Narayan Das was one of the members of the Brahma Kshatriya community associated with Bansi Lal Shah, who started Mufeed-ul-Anam School. He was the cousin of Bansi Lal and was honorary treasurer of the school from 1880 to 1889. Bidri Lal was the son of Navratan Lal and great-grandson of Keshav Das Waghray who migrated from Khanbad, Gujrat.

Navratan Lal, son of Narayan Das was educated in Madarasa-e-Aiza, a prime institute. He had joined the Paigah Asman Jahi as an officer in the Accounts Department. Later he was Deputy Accountant General and Deputy Nazim Mukharij. He served the Paigah till his retirement. He was a member of the Managing Committee of the Mufeed-ul-Anam School and was honorary treasurer from 1899 to 1947.
There will be more to the story as the days pass and we leave the virus behind…

Navigating a Micro History … …

A Micro history is an interesting path to navigate larger socio-political phenomena down to individual stories!
In the first photograph one can locate the jagir of Kanhaiya Pershad (Kapoor) on the map to the right. My research got me to the Kalakriti Archives and to the many maps I browsed to get to this one.

Map Name (as per archival naming conventions; retained in spelling and order): Chadarghat & Residency_Area 9_Sheet 44_KA.MP.2016.1743
Creator of the map: Leonard Munn, A.F Chinoy, A.T Mackenzie
Date Created: December, 1912
Provenance: These sets of maps were created by the Hyderabad Municipal Survey during 1912-1915. he devastation caused by the flood of 1908 in the river Musi, prompted the Nizam’s administration to devise a plan for urban Hyderabad. This was led by an engineer Leonard Munn (1878-1935). The other people, who were part of the survey under Munn, was A.F. Chinoy as the assistant and A.T. Mackenzie as chief engineer from the P.W.D. What makes these maps much more precious is that each and every thing are depicted in it. The names of streets, landmarks, and even residents appeared prominently on the map. The dominant opinion on the creation of the municipal maps is the 1908 flood, which took over many lives as well as even merged some areas into one. After the flood, Nizam decided to change the future of the Hyderabad city, who could realize the pitfalls of unplanned growth, resulted in the formation of a planning body called city improvement Board (CIB) in 1912 under the able guidance of M. Vishveshwarya from Mysore. The following years marked by the development activities by the CIB such as improvement of the Musi river banks, slum clearance, construction of houses, construction of bridges and lakes, road and sewerage, and stormwater drainage etc. Also, M. Vishveshwarya submitted a comprehensive planning and some recommendation for the future modification of the city in 1930. The net result also included the idea of Municipal Survey, because without survey modification of the city would be impossible. Thus, survey became inevitable and became the base for everything. The original survey which was started in 1912, done using trigonometric methods with reference to Global Telecommunication System (GTS) points, took over three years to complete it.>> courtesy @Kalakriti Archives and Krishnakriti Foundation

The second photograph is Raja Kanhaiya Pershad (Kapoor) in the black shervani with his family. I had the good fortune of interviewing Dr. Sham Sunder Pershad Kapoor recently when I chanced upon the photograph.
Seating from left to right is Narender Pershad, Chanda Bai, Kanhaiya Pershad, Raj Kumari Devi, Urmila Devi.
Sitting on Floor is Ravinder Pershad
Standing from left to right is Murlidhar Pershad, Sham Sunder Pershad, Rupender Pershad and Surender Pershad.

The third picture is my team-from left to right- camera person Sharan Mohandoss, research assistant Sreesh Waghray, Director of Krishnakriti Foundation, Abeer Gupta and yours truly along with Dr. Sham Sunder Kapoor March 3, 2020

Bird’s eye view of Charminar

This is a bird’s eye view of Charminar area from the north and I came across this map commissioned by Hyderabad Municipal Survey in the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, MIT library as part of my research. This is the general area in which the #BKC lived for a number of years.
Professor Karen Leonard, of University of California, Berkley acquired all the maps while she was pursuing her anthropological research on another caste group- the Kayasths of Hyderabad. As part of our email conversations, I found out that she bought all the maps for a pittance at the Hyderabad Municipal Survey and has all the originals in her possession.
This research in progress found maps located at MIT Libraries >>Dome>>Visual Collections>> Architecture of Hyderabad
Draftsman: M. Ahmed Ali (Indian (South Asian), 1925-)
Description: full view, including Gulzar Haus in the central square and the Mecca Masjid on the far left.
Type of Work: Drawing (visual work), Topographical view
Subject: Bird’s-eye views, India, Cities and towns, Drawing, Architecture –India, Land use, Urban, Hyderabad (India), Topographical views
Rights: (c) M. Ahmed Ali (1925- )

Paraath or a large plate

A brass plate or paraath, utilized in a large family orcommunity gathering was borrowed by people in the neighborhood. It is 18 inches in diameter and is about five pounds in weight. This particular plate belonged to my husband’s family and it was a token return gift at a wedding, and all the members of this particularwedding party, in 1911, received it. The inscriptionwritten is the name of the person who got married- a symbol of syncretism. It reads “Eknath Pershad, grandson of Nand Lal” and it is written in Urdu which was the medium of instruction and common parlance through the 1900s in Hyderabad, India.

Brass Metal Plate or Paraath, Hema Malini Waghray

K L Mahendra: A history of the Brahma Kshatriyas of Hyderabad

In my attempt to record and find recorded history, I have come across compilations of the Brahma Kshatriyas history by members of the community and this is one example. This account will be examined through further research. For example, the myth related to the origin of community as mentioned below: from Scythians is an interesting one that can be explored further. The migration along with nobles and Asaf Jahs have available documentation and that is another space for research. K L Mahendra’s account has nuances and depth and gives a vivid picture of his own research.

Malini Waghray

In Hyderabad there is a well-knit community- namely the Brahma Kshatriyas. There is a tendency to link caste or communities with the epics, which is a slippery ground. Some claim descendants of Parashuram i.e., half-Brahmins, half-Kshatriyas.

Historical studies reveal that those who came from outside the country were adjusted within the four castes in the caste system prevailing in the country. The Jats were treated as Kshatriyas. Now, among the Jats there are Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In spite of these religious differences they consider themselves as one Jat biradari. Similarly, the Gujjars are the Huns that came from outside India. There is no caste differentiation among them and they all live as one biradari.

The Kshatriyas, in the four-fold caste division among the Hindus, were considered as warriors and also rulers. But, today we find that the Kshatriyas in Punjab are mainly in business. There are Brahma Kshatriyas also in Uttar Pradesh and in Bengal. In Maharashtra, the Brahma Kshatriyas are a well-knit community. Bhupendra Dutta, the renowned anthropologist, (brother of Swami Vivekananda) in his book “Indian Polity” has written that the Brahma Kshatriyas are Scythians, who, after coming to India, remained a distinct entity without entering into inter-marriages. They first settled in Punjab. Some moved to Uttar Pradesh, some to Bengal, and some to Gujarat. According to him, the royal family of Tripura, the “Burmans”, belonged to this community.

Some families of Brahma Kshatriyas came to Hyderabad from Gujarat along with some of the nobles’ families. Some came with Asaf Jahis. Some came with the nobles of Fakhr-ul-Mulk and his brother Khan Khana, and some others with the nobles of Paigah. Those who came with the nobles stayed with them as administrators for generations.

The details mentioned below of the members of the community is specific and some family members have kept an account of the stories. The nature of life back in the day, of the details that have been passed on through the generations provides a rich oral history of the members.

Malini Waghray

In Hyderabad there were five jagirdar families in the Brahmakshatriya community, a few sirishtadars and mansabdars. These were Rai Vasudev Rai, Jai Shanker Das who inherited the jagir from his maternal grandmother Rani Gangu Bai, Raja Bansilal and family; Mugat Ram and family, Mohan Lal and family and Tej Rai and family. A large number of community members were related directly or indirectly to these jagirdar families. Socially and educationally, the community was more advanced and hence persons of the community held high posts or were executives or took up clerical posts.

Rai Bal Mukund was the Chief Justice of Hyderabad High Court. Some were working in the peshi of the Nizam himself. There were some magistrates and even some collectors during the Nizam’s time. Some came from Uttar Pradesh and after studies became professionals like doctors, lawyers etc. or joined government service.

Amongst the locals, Rai Shanker Pershad was Accountant General, and Rai Bheem Rai was Commissioner of Excise. Rai Brij Mohan Lal and Rai Raj Mohan Lal were judges of the Criminal Court. Dr. Major B.S. Raj was family doctor to the Prince of Berar (Nizam’s son) and was a renowned surgeon. Others held high positions in Paigah administration and with other nobles.

Amongst those who came from Uttar Pradesh were Rai Bisheshwar Nath and Kailashnath Waghray. Rai Bisheshwarnath became the Chief Justice of Hyderabad and after his retirement from Hyderabad High Court, the Raja of Bikaner appointed him the Chief Justice of Bikaner. Dr. Kailashnath Waghray, on return from army service was appointed the Director of Medical Services. He was also the personal physician to the Nizam himself. He was amongst the top few physicians.

There were social reformers like Rai Bal Mukund who, along with Bhagya Reddy Verma, devoted himself to the uplift of the untouchables of the Scheduled Castes and depressed classes. Together, they were the founders of the Adi Hindu Social Service League and built the Adi Hindu Bhavan at Chaderghat. Bal Mukund wrote in his will that the Adi Hindus – Harijans – should perform his funeral. Because of this, the priests of the community boycotted the family for some time. From this family, Barrister Sri Kishen was a well-known public figure. Rai Jagat Narayan paid attention to social reforms in the community. Raja Bansi Lal took the initiative to start the Mufeed-ul-Anam School, now High School and College and one of the oldest educational institutions in the city of Hyderabad.

The Quomi Fund was started with the object of helping the needy in the community in education. Every member, rich or poor, contributed to the fund at the time of any ceremonial occasion in the family like moondan, janvai (thread ceremony), but especially in marriages. Mufeed-ul-Anam Girls Hindi School was started which became a high school. But due to a financial crunch, the Girls School was handed over to the Hindi Prachar Sabha, Hyderabad, during the lifetime of Sri Hari Lal Waghray, who was also in the leadership of the Hindi Prachar Sabha.

Unlike other communities in the Hindus, the Brahma Kshatriya community had two distinct features of social life. One, to ask for dowry or to negotiate for it at the time of marriage was looked down upon. None claimed dowry. Whatever was given at the time of marriage was accepted. Moreover, while bigamy was practiced among other communities, none took a second wife as long as the first wife was alive, even if she was invalid and incapacitated.

In the subsequent period, there were Brahma Kshatriyas holding high positions in administration and judiciary. There were Secretaries to Government i.e. Sri H. Ram Lal (HCS), Guru Das, Narsing Raj, B. N. Waghray, Dilsukhram, all IAS, Rai Daulat Rai (Chief Conservator of Forests) Rai Mahender Bahadur, Director of Agriculture, Dr. N. Ram Lal, Director of Education. There were Chief Engineers, Superintending Engineers: Radha Kishen, Laxminarayan, Bala Pershad, Veernath Rai, Chain Rai, Gopal Kishen. There were eminent doctors like Dr. V. N. Waghray, Supt., Osmania General Hospital, Dr. Tulsi Das, R.M.O. Osmania Hospital, Dr. Dharam Rai eminent Orthopaedic Surgeon and Head of Orthopaedic Dept., Dr. B. K. Sahay, Suptd. Osmania Hospital, Dr. Chandrakala Sahay Suptd., Maternity Hospital, Dr. P. Ramchander, Suptd. Sarojini Devi Eye Hospital and renowned Ophthalmologist; Dr. Karan Pershad, Suptd., Fever Hospital and Dr. Sathyanarayan Sahgal, Professor, Osmania Medical College. In the Judicial Services were Rai Nauratan Lal, Mohan Lal, Mahesh Narayan, and R. P. Sahgal – all Sessions Judges. In the Railways, Sri Arjun Pershad retired as General Manager. Govind Lal was in the Railway Recruitment Board. Guru Pershad entered the Railway service but when the Road Transport was separated, he became the first architect of the present A.P.S.R.T.C.

The Brahma Kshatriyas were initially not successful in business. Few entered the field i.e. Gopal Pershad, proprietor of G. Paul & Co, and Somnath Burman. But after formation of Andhra Pradesh, entry into business has started. More and more young men and women are taking to independent professions like doctors, lawyers, architects, specialized medical services, M.B.A. etc. where the trend was to join govt. services, banks, insurance and other public sectors.

The ladies in the community followed tradition. They observed purdah in old city during the Nizam’s rule. After independence, more and more girls took higher education and now there are lady doctors, teachers, technicians, and women-folk working in banks, offices and factories. This has brought about a sea change in the social outlook. Now whether a boy or a girl marries outside the caste or into another linguistic group, they are considered part of the community. Some girls have married Muslims and are considered friends. A scientific outlook has developed as is manifested by the trend to take the dead to the electric crematorium.

Generally members of the community kept aloof from the political movement. But, during the last phase of the freedom struggle, five or six members took an active part in the political and social life and some of them who participated in the communist movement were extended great sympathy and active support from several households in the community during the period when they had to work underground. They took great risks on themselves thereby. Nauratan Lal, though a magistrate at that time was arrested for his support to his communist brother Amolak Ram and for suspected sheltering the underground communists Somnath Burman, Hari Lal Waghray, Radha Kishen and Gopal Pershad. Gopi Kishen and Daulat Rai Waghray were among the many who extended their help at great risk to themselves. Certainly Smt. Gayatri Devi’s magnificent role can never be forgotten.

The explanation of biradari and the ties that keep it together is something to be explored as well.

Malini Waghray

A significant feature of the Brahma Kshatriyas is that they call themselves a “biradari” which implies much more than a community or caste.

Adaptability to circumstances and environment is normal. Those who came from Uttar Pradesh, or Gujarat or Punjab picked up Urdu, which was the official language. This helped them to get into government services.

But being educated in English or Urdu kept them away from the ancient culture and civilization, which was mostly available in Hindi or other languages but not in Urdu or English. Nor was the culture of Persia or Arabs imbibed because neither Persian nor Arabic was studied. Perhaps this is the community. History has recorded processes of denationalisation and here we have our example. Some members with education in English have settled down in US or England but still marriages are within the biradari.

Our customs are rituals that have been sustained by the women-folk who studied Hindi. They kept track of the festivals and various functions like first pregnancy, Naamkaran, moondan, sacred thread ceremony and marriages and shraadh. The men followed the advice of the women folk and the Brahmins. They were agnostics fulfilling the rituals mechanically without any idea of what it all meant.

The predominant section came from Uttar Pradesh or other Hindi-speaking people in Gujarat. This had its impact on the observance of rituals. It is evident from the songs sung in all festive occasions from birth to marriage. These are mainly Hindi an admixture of Gujarati. In old days children used to shout: “Ram Laxman Janki- Jai Bolo Hanuman ki” typical of the Indo-Gangetic region.

Our men-folk studied Urdu and bulk of our women-folk studied Hindi, while the Purohit and Shukal of the community knew Gujarati. Earlier, family disputes used to be settled mainly by intervention and arbitration of elders as was the practice in all castes, which had their respective caste panchayats quite distinct from village panchayats. This has disappeared with urbanisation and education. Even the joint family system has started breaking up from the thirties and we also have moved towards the single-family system. Such has been the socio-economic and cultural background of the Brahma Kshatriya community living in the past and its changes with the time.

by K. L. Mahendra in The Brahma Kshatriyas of Hyderabad (1997): Amolak Ram Waghray

Paandaan and the ritual after dinner

Paandaan or the betel leaf box (literal translation) was considered a part of every day meal routines and hence part of the trousseau. Most of the paandaan items were available in regular bartan (kitchen-ware) stores, or jewelry stores in the later years. Before that the jeweler was given the task of making it from silver. By the time my parents got married, they were given (as part of the dowry) a silver box with some pre-made paan (betel leaf) and some supari (betel nut). Every family decided what to give based on what they could afford and in some cases the boy’s family would say not to give anything because they already had everything and these things were handed down to the next generation.

In most homes there were two boxes. One heart shaped box to store the actual betel leaves and the second rectangular one with several compartments and little boxes to house the paraphernalia. These were made of a white metal or silver. The little boxes were almost always made of silver. The silver boxes would hold the wet ingredients like chunna (calcium hydroxide) and kattha (made from the khair tree [Acacia catechu]). Both these ingredients were also stored in their dry form in more silver boxes that were kept in the bottom of the big rectangular box. This box had a tray that had compartments and the bottom held all the extras.

Shashi’s mother Mohana Devi from Boggulakunta, Hyderabad showing the paandaan.

The rest of the supplies were lavang (clove), elaichi (cardamom), black supari (calcium hydroxide), regular supari , whole and chopped, zarda (tobacco) and khimaam (liquid tobacco which is mixed with dry leafs of tobacco before filling a pouch to keep tobacco fresh). Some people had saunf (fennel seeds) and dhania dal (coriander dal) in their paandaan and with different containers for those.

Some people used their finger to smear the chunna and kattha, some used the back of a tiny spatula which was also made of silver. Some people used wet chunna and dry kattha powder sprinkled on the chunna. Then you put the supari and elaichi seeds in the middle of the leaf and folded it to form a beeda (tube) and secured it with a lavang. The khimaam and zarda were always offered on the side.

The paan leaves are the betel leaves and have known medicinal benefits. In order to keep them fresh, the leaves were always wrapped in a wet cloth. This would make them last for over a week. It was a ritual to make paan after a meal each day. When you had a get together, you made a whole stash of them to offer to your guests after the meal.

Paan or the betel leaf box

In weddings, you had a selection of different varieties of the basic paan. The other additions were sukha khopra (dry coconut), gulkand (a mixture of rose petals and sugar cooked in the sun) toasted sesame seeds, sweet supari and tiny silver sugar balls. They used to foil the paan with silver leaves. While growing up I saw my grandparents generation chewing paan on a regular basis but my parents’ generation were occasional paan consumers.

by Shashi Sehgal

Hammaam, the water heater

The hammaam was made of either copper or brass. In most of our relatives’ homes I remember seeing copper ones, there were a few brass ones. There were a couple of different styles but the way they worked was the same. There were basically two cylinders, one inside the other. The inner one was usually made of iron, it was about four or five inches in diameter and about four inches longer than the outer cylinder, which was about twelve to fifteen inches in diameter. The inner tube had no cover. The outer cylinder had a lid. The bottom of the inner tube had a grate. You filled the outer cylinder with water, the inner one with either firewood or charcoal. You light the fire from the bottom after stuffing it with a few crumpled newspapers, similar to the way we light the charcoal chimney here that we use to start the grill.

Every morning it was the duty of one of the family members to light the hammaam. It took about twenty to twenty five minutes for the water to boil. Towards the bottom of the outer cylinder that stored the water was a faucet, to get the hot water. Everyone got to take a bucket of hot water and add whatever amount of cold water they liked to take a bath with. As soon as you got a bucket out you had to add a bucket of tap water to the hammaam. This ensured that the whole family got hot water.

Once everyone was done bathing, they used the rest of the hot water to do the dishes and laundry and then emptied the whole contraption out. It was washed and shined. The ashes were cooled and used to scrub the oily dishes, the fire was put out using water, the remaining charcoal and wood were cooled and dried for the next day.

I have some fun memories of this contraption. During holidays we stayed at different cousins’ homes and everyone wanted to shower the last because they got all the hot water they wanted. We would try to cheat in all the different ways we were trying to be ‘fair ‘. Like drawing the shortest stick, or the first one to finish eating dinner or something just as crazy was used to decide who would get the last shower. I remember breaking my stick to have the shorter one or saying I was done eating by stuffing my mouth with whatever I could in one bite and then looking for snacks an hour later!

When we got found out we would all get into trouble! Most of the time the boys didn’t care, it was all of us girls who wanted the extra hot water. By the time I was about twelve, everyone had more or less transitioned to the electric hot water heaters.

I remember seeing the hammaams in Begum Bazaar with the really large pots and pans. I wonder if these are sold still and if they serve a purpose.

by Shashi Sehgal