The place wears a deserted look. Except for a few men spotted walking in this galli, with a different variety of dress that resembles Lungi and kameez. One can get an impression of walking in an Arab street, the long walled houses with Arabi script inscribed in them. As you walk by, you can smell the flavour of Sulaimani chai wafting along the breeze from the nearby chai shop. Talking over the special Sulaimani Chai in front of his shop, Sultan Cold drinks, Sultan Sayeed Bin Ali Al Kaseri, a cheerful old gentleman, with wrinkles and white beard prominent in his face, greets us with his betel flavoured smile. A respected old man well known here, chats gleefully about his years of living in this place, which has been his home for his family for about two centuries. He regales “I can tell you lot of stories which may not be there in the history book. Since I don’t have formal education I can’t substantiate it with facts and figures, but I have knowledge which I got through constant interaction with elder people”.
His stories start from the history of Barkas and continue on and on where he brings even the contemporary history, politics, and toponymy (stories behind the names of places) etc. His predecessors started coming to Hyderabad some two hundred years ago. They were called for working in the Nizam’s Army. Earlier they were in Maheshwaram and had to come around 50 kms to work. So the Nizam allotted them some land nearby army barracks. Later on, Barkas became the name of place, where this basti is situated. It is also a very strategic army point since the place is surrounded by four hills. They are Chakki pahad, Chandrayangutta,Nalakula pahad, Chuhe ka pahad. There is place called Gurramcheru in between these hills, it was the place where Nizam’s horses were left to graze and drink. In Telugu Gurram means horse Cheru means lake.
Sultan Sayeed explains with pride about their loyalty to Government. They also took part in many wars. They were in World War II and were also present in the army that got freedom from Japan. General Edroos (Habeeb Mohammed Ahmed El Edroos), one of the leading commanders of the then army and G M Sayeed, the third commander of Nizam’s Force in 1962, which fought against China were from this Yemen community. Sultan clarifies that they were always loyal to the government, irrespective of the party that forms the government. “Barkas is special as they have never gone against the government. They belong to every party but loyal to Government.”
Talking about the distinct Yemeni cultural identity, he stresses on how the people have been keen on preserving their culture. Their long Arabic name, food and dress are indicators of their unique cultural identity. When asked about his name, he tells he belongs to the Kabila, which is in the ruling of Yemen. The name ‘Sultan’ indicates this. Kabila means different tribes among Arabs, usually the ending part of an Arab name indicates one’s Kabila. According to Sultan, there are almost 200 Khabilas in Barkas alone and more than one lakh in Arabia. Their common dress is the same, that of the Yemen’s common dress, Me’uaz, futah(Long Checked Lungie), Kameez(long shirt), Shal( head gear). A normal Lungie, futah will cost around 300 to 400 rupees. According to Sultan, the costly ones are available even at a range of ten thousand rupees.
Ali Kasim Ahmed Moosa, a native Yemeni, a PhD Scholar, from University of Hyderabad, has done two years of research over the Barkas. He says “Barkas is a small Yemen in Hyderabad, I felt like home when I visit Barkas. It is same that of my home, like any other street in my village. The dress, food structure everything is the same. Even I could feel the wisdom of Yemeni language when some of the elder people spoke to me in Arabic, though I couldn’t see much of it in the younger generation”
The food culture is pre-dominantly Yemen and availability of the variety makes it. They include marg( meat soup), Mogdaf ( a variety of dish made by liver & lungs), Roti with honey and ghee etc. Now rice has also become a part of their food habit. When asked about the Hyderabadi biriyani, Sultan’s friend Bilal Bafana joins in, “This hyderabadi biriyani became popular through a Yemeni bawarchi (cook) named Amar Hannain, (who is actually from this Barkas). He cooked for Pandit Nehru, Nizam and even Raj Kapoor. He is even getting pension from them. His pather ka gosh, a dish prepared by of roasting meat on slab of stone is also famous.”
The wedding function is also similar to that of Yemeni’s and is held in nikahkhana, or in mosques. In the night, they sit in a group and sing. Earlier days it was baiths (verses in Arabic) now it is Qawalis in Urdu. Walima, another custom in the wedding function is held on the second day after the marriage.
It is interesting to know the different kind of systems, working in Barkas. There are different committees for different social activities like committee for marriage function, funeral Service, Medical Service etc.; all of them are named in Arabic language like Majilisul Sabil ul Khair (Masjid committee). There is a committee for emergency medical care and they provide ambulances also, the committee is called Al Shabab. Barkas people are proud about their emergency ambulance service, which has been functioning for the last twenty five years, which is much before the State EMRI Ambulance service.
Whenever some delegates come from Yemen, they use to visit this small Yemen, Barkas. Even people of Barkas often visit Yemen. For smoothening issues related to travel like Visa, Air tickets and other documents, there works an office called Jamaatul-ul-Yamenia.
This community is popularly known as Hadhramis in Hyderabad. The term is actually a name of a place in Yemen. There is no evidence of any scientific or historic account of this community’s love for migration. The meaning of the Arabic word Hadharmout is Death has come. It may be indicative of one’s destiny. But whatever it is, Wherever a Yemeni lives. He/she lives a Yemeni, by sticking to their Socio-cultural lineage. And these Barkas people signify that.