In a city bitterly divided over the move to carve out a new state of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh and make it the joint capital, the tension is spilling over from political speeches and street protests to simpler things in life such as menu cards and restaurant names.
Traditionally, the ‘meals ready’ sign outside restaurants in and around Hyderabad meant mouth-watering, spicy ‘Andhra’ food cooked in the coastal Andhra style. Not anymore.
‘Andhra’ is now a sensitive word and people in Hyderabad are treading gingerly on the emotive issue.
As the state teeters on the brink of being split, the famous ‘Andhra meal’ is running into competition from the ‘Telangana thali’, introduced in deference to pro-Telangana sentiments. What used to be an ‘Andhra mess’ is now just a ‘mess’ or ‘students mess’.
Some locals say it is better to check the menu these days before asking for ‘Andhra meals’ because you might be in a ‘Telangana’ restaurant and invite angry glares.
Earlier, diners could walk into a local restaurant and just order ‘Nellore fish curry’ or ‘Gongura chicken’ or ‘Andhra chilli chicken’.
Now, restaurants owned or run by people from Telangana have rewritten their menus and call dishes ‘Telangana thali’, ‘Telangana chicken’, and Pulihora pulusu, a tamarind rice dish earlier referred to as Andhra pulihora.
The mood also prompted G Suraj Chaudhry, who worked in ‘Andhra’ restaurants for more than a decade, to open Telangana Ruchulu (Taste of Telangana) opposite Secunderabad Railway Station.
“Besides people from Telangana, we have lots of guests who walk in out of curiosity. Popular Telangana dishes include ‘Boti’ and Gongura curry’,” he said. “Hyderabad has all kinds of cuisine including Hyderabadi, Irani, Andhra and Rayalaseema but Telangana was missing. It is a matter of great pride for me to launch ‘Telangana Ruchulu’.’’
Some restaurants have even changed the style of cooking dishes to Telangana from Andhra. For instance, ‘Potlakaya pulusu’, or snakegourd stew, is now ‘Telangana Potlakaya pulusu’.
“People from Andhra, Telangana, north India, all kinds of people come to my restaurant. I cannot object if someone asks for Andhra chicken because it is famous and belongs to the undivided state’s cuisine. But it is a matter of pride for me to introduce Telangana dishes in the menu,’’ said K Suman, owner of Salsa Restaurant.
Many restaurants have retained Andhra dishes but have simply done away with the ‘Andhra’ pre-fix in their names. “We are in Telangana not Andhra, so we should have our own Telangana meals, right?’’ asks Dayakar Rao, who runs an eatery for students.
“There is Andhra Bank and State Bank of Hyderabad. We need to have our own Telangana Bank. We are not angry with Andhra people but the word ‘Andhra’ cannot define the entire state’s culture. So I think a lot of things will come up with the ‘Telangana’ pre-fix,’’ said P Ravi Kumar, a Telangana student leader at Osmania University.
The change in name, however, is not just limited to food.
For instance, the Sri Chaitanya group of educational institutions, originally from Coastal Andhra, has renamed itself as Telangana Sri Chaitanya to protect its interests in Hyderabad and the Telangana region.
The Narayana group has also come up with a similar strategy.
P L Visveswara Rao of Telangana Forum said Telangana people do not want to associate themselves with ‘Andhra’ and therefore these changes will occur as the new state is about to come into existence.
Many people have already repainted their vehicle registration plates, replacing AP with TG even though it is illegal and will have to re-register their vehicles if they want the TG tag after the new state is formed.
Birla said her campaign this time is “very similar” to the last time.