James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Tea, Biscuits, and Ivanka Trump in Hyderabad

Tea, Biscuits, and Ivanka Trump in Hyderabad

Chai in Hyderabad

I’m stuck in afternoon traffic in Hyderabad’s city center, near the gleaming white spires of Charminar. During the famed monument’s construction, Persian architects were commissioned to add their own touches to the architectural plan, and what resulted was an amalgamation of domes and arches not native to Hindu architecture. This is just one of the many examples of Indo-Islamic influence that snakes through the city.

To understand Hyderabad’s present, one must know its past. For two centuries, the city was ruled by a succession of aesthetically minded monarchs. Known as Nizams, their lineage descended from the religious successor to the Prophet Mohammed. To Hyderabad, they bequeathed their Persian sensibility; Urdu was officially designated the language of the court. As a result, Hyderabad became famous for its Urdu scholars, calligraphers, and writers, eventually amassing the largest repository of Persian literature in India.

Today, Hyderabad is known for something more topical: upstaging Bangalore as India’s tech center. Because of its comparatively better road infrastructure, the city has become a hub for Silicon Valley’s prominent companies, ranging from Facebook to Google. In the HITEC district, young engineers order three-wheeled motos from their smartphones before streaming seamlessly into the chaotic traffic of the city.

Through a smooth express highway that rises above the city, visitors can depart the airport and reach the city center in 30 minutes. From my bus seat a day before I had seen a brown and chrome skyline rising in the distance, and something more surprising—countless billboards plastered with Ivanka Trump’s porcelain face. On the weekend I was visiting, an international conference had brought her into town, and her face was everywhere.

Back in the old city center, I make it out of the traffic and head into Laad Bazaar. All around me, women are streaming into the small stalls that line the street to buy cheap and plentiful bangles. In front of Nimrah Café and Bakery, the line is thick. Inside, I squeeze into a short booth with hard vinyl seats and find myself facing an electrician in a blue jumpsuit and his sari-clad wife, both munching on biscuits. I order an Irani chai, black tea and cardamom punched with an impossibly sweet, small shot of condensed milk. Resting on the side of the cup is a chalky Osmania biscuit that flakes in my hand until I dip it into my tea.

The electrician sets down his saucer and looks at me curiously. “Where are you from?” he asks. I tell him that I am American. He turns to his wife, who looks up at him, bewildered, with biscuit crumbs hugging the trace of her lips. He turns back to me and nods with certainty, before speaking. “Ivanka.”

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