For the present, three of my essays are posted here. All of these pertain to the city of Lucknow in India. An essay with the heading, Literature of the Other Kind, incorporates the local lingo as spoken by die-hard Lucknow fellas, so there are a number of idioms and phrases in Hindustani. Hope this turns out to be worthwhile during the lockdown period. Would appreciate if you do leave your comments.
Tales from a Die-Hard
Recently I came across two articles on social media which had been written by me for a magazine, almost five years back. Both articles did not mention the name of the author or its source of origin. These nameless articles had been forwarded to me by friends who thought that they would be of my literary interest. I was amazed. Thereafter, I thought of compiling together some of my essays in a book form which could be read at convenience and at same time bears the credentials of the author so that in the future I am not presented my own concoction after it had become stale for me, though I understand that books do not have a shelf life.
In this compilation I have selected six essays which have a common theme. All of these contain a glossary of the history of the localities of the city of Lucknow in India and catches a glimpse of the much talked about culture of Avadh. The language spoken by its inhabitants has also been appreciated for its finesse, but the street lingo, or one may say, the dialect of the less literates of the town is also quite unique in the sense that it may sound garish to the unaccustomed but when spoken by a local it becomes so endearing. This lingo is still spoken by die-hards of Lucknow, though it may have migrated to other parts of north India, as well as, penetrated tinsel town in Mumbai.
An article in this booklet about Aminabad, I believe, is the first of its kind in English language and had been written after some painstaking research.
I hope the readers find the booklet worthwhile.
Syed M Rizwan
View from a Clock Tower
Changing Landscape of Lucknow
This is the second cover story that I am doing for this magazine and, instead of gathering information and experiences from people connected with the city, I take the liberty to recollect my own memories of Lucknow, which has undergone quite a transformation in its landscape. These memories are spread over a span of nearly fifty years and, as such, they are by no means ordinary.
As I stand on Hanuman Setu, the bridge that connects central Lucknow with trans-Gomti areas, and look westwards, I can see the river meandering in at a snail’s pace. My eyes search for some tell-tale signs of life in the river which has been the life-line of the city since the time-machines on umpteen towers could rewind. The horizon glows the last trumpet whilst the sun sets softly, sending languid flecks of beauty over the still waters. This stream like river may seem docile to the point of being lethargic, but the soft nature of this lackadaisical tributary of Ganga, originating from Gomati Taal near Lakhimpur, should not be vouchsafed for sobriety as it had wreaked havoc by flooding major parts of the city every decade since the beginning of the 20th Century. In 1971, La Martiniere grounds, golf course, and the periphery of zoo had become one big lake and Hazratganj, Narhi, Ashok Marg, Sapru Marg and Shahnajaf Road had become waterways with boats plying passengers to islands created on the upper reaches. This upsurge had been a regular feature every decade till in 1980 embankments were constructed on both sides of the course of the river throughout the city.
Notwithstanding the floods, vagaries of nature may cause disruption at times, but rivers serve a purpose which is more divine than an upheaval, and so it is with river Gomti. This baby of mother Ganga flows on its own journey of 900 kilometres, takes replenishment from several ponds and streams on the way and feeds the towns of Lakhimpur, Sitapur, Lucknow, Sultanpur, Jaunpur and many more villages lying in its course and after having served its purpose hands over the baton to mother Ganges just before Varanasi. So it is not the fault of the river if people chose to indiscriminately reside too close to the shores and in doing so virtually made it the centre-piece of the town.
As I look down from the bridge, I see a lonely figure at the ghat drying a dhoti by waving it in the air; across the river two kites are battling for supremacy of a portion of the sky and just after the embankment on the northern side is the Indo-Saracen styled Nadwatul Ulama building. In rapidly fading light a glance on the horizon reveals the shimmering umbrella atop Chattar Manzil, the serene dome and minaret of Tiley Wali Masjid and over the river are the Daliganj Bridge and Hardinge Bridge or the pucca pul.
Before darkness could overwhelm, I turn around to catch some more scenes. On the northern side of the river, the once sparsely used road that came about over the embankment had now become the main thoroughfare connecting the bridge that I stand on with Nishatganj Bridge. (Phew, that’s not all; the town boasts of some more bridges) On this side, the multi-storied residential apartments, lined one after the other, are much taller than the old trees reinforcing the embankments. A short walk to the river view front of Oel House and I sit down on the concrete bench overlooking pearl white Moti Mahal to reminisce the good times.
The contrasting images observed from that vantage point vividly depict the changing landscape of the city. According to a leading design theorist, a city is not a tree; it’s a landscape. And landscape is one of the predominant features of a society’s culture and has a great impact on how we live within its panorama.
I was twelve years old when our family first came to settle in Lucknow in 1967, for some years, but somehow the years have been rolling till today. Thence, within a few days of the settlement a series of questions arose in the mind of the young lad who had already spent six years in Lutyen’s Delhi and had been in Delhi Public School for three years and, as such, was not a country bumpkin. Younger brother and me were admitted to La Martiniere College and while the elder two siblings joined Colvin Taluqdars’ College.
It was the first day in school that set the queries rolling. Is this a school or a monument? Who built it in such a grand style? What’s the story behind so many statues? Why so much of opulence for a mere school? Before I could get any of the answers, I got the opportunity to visit Colvin and also saw the University across the road and my queries took an algebraic twist. I could see that the architecture of the two schools and the university were quite different with each other, yet the opulence remained on the same scale. But that was just the beginning of my amazement.
The enclosure of Kaiserbagh complex- Safed Baradari, Lal Baradari, Amiruddaulah Public Library, mausoleums of Saadat Ali Khan and Murshidzadi and the historical monuments of Husainabad were subsequently seen which altogether enraptured the young mind. But the most disquieting discovery was Dilkhusha Gardens, which though in ruins, had a mystical effect on a rather pure soul. Much later I read that the garden retreat was based upon Seaton Hall, Northumberland by architect Sir John Vanbrugh and was an entertainment retreat for the British elite. Then I could also understand why W.H Russel, an Irish war correspondent, had written about Lucknow, “Not Rome, not Athens, not Constantinople, not any other place in the world looked as beautiful…”
It took almost two years to oversee the main monuments and learn a bit of their socio-political history. A number of local historians have written at length about the destruction and decimation of beautiful palaces and monuments by the British in retaliation of the mutiny of 1857. No doubt, Machchi Bhawan, the erstwhile fortress of power, was blasted into smithereens; Panch Mahla along with its museum was irreparably destroyed; Kaiserbagh was plundered and the beautiful gardens were desecrated among many other atrocious exterminations by the British, but they did also build many new buildings which became distinguishing landmarks and laid roads which made far off places more accessible. In doing so, the colonists constructed building that synthesized the architecture of their country of origin with the characteristic designs of their new found land, thus, creating a hybrid design that was in alignment with the existing structures. Domes, arches, courtyards, driveways, porticos remained common features of both cultures. Charbagh Railway Station, designed by Swinbon Jacob; a kiosk within the precinct of Hazrat Mahal Park in Indo-European style; Husainabad Clock Tower, designed by Richard Bayne are some of the existing examples of the aforesaid synthesis. Furthermore, the architecture of Canning College, Christian College and King George Medical College have elements of European style adorned with raised miniature domes in typically Mughal style which have given the city its unique identity. Vidhan Sabha, designed by Henry Lancaster and Thomas Arthur Lodge and built by Sir Hartcourt Butler in 1922, has the crescent with projecting galleries and Gothic arches, ribbed dome crowned by a cupola much like the umbrella on top of Chattar Manzil, gave the majestic look that such an establishment required and are all examples of the hybrid blend of architectural designs.
That night while sitting on that bench, a plethora of thoughts on the sights seen and imagined, fragments of history, blend of disparate cultures kept revolving in my head till it dawned on me that dawn was near and so I got up to go on my early morning walk back to home. That march reminded me of the colonizer’s contribution of the concept of well-defined and self-contained cantonments. Among many other assets, Lucknow can also boast of a well-planned cantonment where one can feel the difference even in the air on entering the invisible boundaries of the regiment. Other contributions of the colonists were the historically significant churches which have given a cosmopolitan image to the landscape. Pointed towers, Gothic arches and arabesque frames for stained glass panels have become a part of the city’s face. The present day General Post Office building, another contribution of the British, was originally an opera house which was designed in Hindu and Beaux-Art style within a garden setting.
A city can be thought of as a text book which has no single author. The city of Lucknow has a unique blend of Hindu, Muslim and colonial cultures which have left imprints on how it looks today. The fine art of designing that was meticulously followed by successive regimes imbibed the structure of culture with the nature of landscape to achieve an outcome which the people could not only use but also enjoy and preserve. Lucknow was fortunate to have these structural elements adopted over a period of more than 200 years not only by the ruling class but also by the well-to-dos. The intriguingly breath-taking havelis, kothis and mansions of the ruling class, landlords, businessmen and the high-born are testimonies of an aesthetic sense incorporating intrinsic culture and sociological norms without deviating from the overall architectural pattern. In each era there was an unusual level of architectural innovation and yet what the designers and builders achieved contributed to a striking legacy for the city.
Lucknow’s landscape started deviating from its landmark post-independence. It seems that in the 1950s there was a mad rush to accommodate the burgeoning class of civil servants and, as such, double-storied colonies were hurriedly constructed which were stark living quarters bereft of any aesthetics or were of any given architectural style. Government offices had also multiplied, hence, multi-storied austere building rose up in which the emphasis was on more and more rooms than on view. The common designs of these once modern buildings were imports from the national capital and so were their given names in Lucknow. However, modernity is short lived and on its expiry it looks incongruous, so do the twin office buildings on Ashok Marg. Similar bland structures were the local administrative offices and courts of the District Magistrate and subordinates.
Then during the 1990s, with the influx of new inhabitants from other funky towns and farmlands, the demand for housing took a spiralling turn. Land value of fancied areas shot up rapidly and the concept of singleton bungalows started vanishing into inconsequence. As per the census, the population of Lucknow city prior to the revolt of 1857 was about 10 lakhs which decreased to 3 lakhs after the war was over. From the 20th century onwards the population kept rising steadily till in 1991 it breached 16 lakhs. Thereafter was a phenomenal increase from 21.85 lakhs in 2001 to 28.17 lakhs in 2011. Thus in a matter of 20 years the population rose by 12 lakhs and at this rate another 3 lakhs would have been added by now.
It is not difficult to understand that when a city’s population doubles up in 25 years then the infrastructure needs to be augmented accordingly or else it is bound to explode. The subject of infrastructural development is beyond the scope of this article, however, the impact of the growth of population on the landscape of the city has been both lateral and vertical. The pressure of demand for land within the limits of the city has led to a large number of bungalows and kothis getting demolished and multi-storied residential complexes constructed in their places which has dramatically altered the skyline in Lucknow. In addition, the periphery of the town has been expanding in every direction. The highways leading to Kanpur, Rai Bareli, Sultanpur, Sitapur, Hardoi, Kursi and Barabanki are no longer recognizable as the trees lining the roads have been cut to widen them and commercial and residential complexes and institutes have been constructed on acquired green fields on both sides of the highways. Initially these new constructions did not adhere to any prototype and were randomly designed as par whims and fancies of the developers. But lately, due to ample of choices and a discerning clientele, the architectural designs have incorporated some aspects of the legacy of Lucknow and the newer buildings do not look so out of place. The facades of these hi-rise buildings have pillars, arches, balcony with canopies and landscaped gardens within the compounds. Shalimar Builders, one of the leading developers of the town, have designed their latest multi-storied residential complex on Jopling Road incorporating these essential features.
Before the embankments along river Gomti came into existence, the entire area of what is now called Gomtinagar was marshy land which was prone to water logging whenever the water level of the river rose. Hence, it was unfit for habitation. But after the embankments were built, this area which included the hamlets of Ujariyaon and Malhaur, became suitable for colonisation. Most of this vast area came under the control of Lucknow Development Authority and the infrastructure of a modern township was laid by the government as per a master plan. The site plan included parks, recreational facilities, malls and residential colonies. As the entire area was more or less vacant, planning could be implemented smoothly and within a short span of ten years Gomtinagar developed into the largest and most well-planned township in Lucknow. Today it is a much sought after area for both public and private sector.
In the private sector the first building to come up in Gomtinagar which paid heed to the architectural heritage of Lucknow was the hotel of ITC Group – Taj Vivanta. The dome, wings and driveway are typically of the aforesaid hybrid design. Similar attention was given to the designs of Sangeet Natak Academy, Reserve Bank of India building and the upcoming High Court building on Faizabad Road. Gomtinagar also has three of the biggest parks of the town which are also a legacy of the past. Among them, Janeshwar Misra Park is spread over 376 acres and is considered to be the biggest park in Asia. Gomtinagar could be a trans-Gomti area but it now has the distinction of a township which is close to the centre of the city and is well-connected with three recently built bridges over the river.
There is a row of five beautiful heritage bungalows on Vikramaditya Marg called Panch Bangaliya. Right from the British times, these bungalows have been residences of senior officials and a former chief minister also resides in one of them. Therefore, these hundred years old bungalows have escaped the hammers of builders. But a few years back they were in need of extensive repairs. Search for a skilled contractor was initiated but none was willing to undertake the tedious repair job. Then in 2006, Mirza Aslam Beg, former Head Mistri at U.P Rajkiye Nirman Nigam, took up the challenge of repairing the exteriors and replacing the broken miniature domes on pillars. He started with the second bungalow as one goes down the road. Beg did a splendid job that was appreciated so much that other bungalows also got similar repair work done by him.
Meanwhile, BSP supremo Mayawati had by now returned to power on the strength of her samajik parivartan theory. During this tenure, she was bent upon leaving an indelible mark on the landscape with which she could be remembered for posterity .But the extravaganza that she brought in was alien to the architectural heritage of the city. The first attempt at social reformation was by way of enlarging the traffic circle next to Clarks Avadh and placing an out of shape globe on top of a grotesque black jettisoned pillar. Though the circumference of the ball was rectified after some months, it still remains a blot on the skyline amidst nearby heritage monuments.
This innocuous addition was followed by a liberal use of stones in constructing memorials, walls and statues of the downtrodden and their guardian angels. All of these structural additions and changes were in pink and peach sandstone and marble and are so enormous that they cower over everything else. Now a first-timer gets a wrong image of Lucknow’s heritage when he lands at the airport and drives down into the city. He gets the impression that Lucknow is a part of Rajputana. The sthals and parks with hordes of elephants in stone and thousands of date tree trees may look grandiose but they are out of sync with the previously existing monuments and have trampled upon the century old emblem of Avadh which were the fish and fish scales.
After the fall of Mayawati government, an eco-park by the name of Janeshwar Misra Park was developed in Gomtinagar in addition with Lohia Park. These parks have the required greenery and aesthetic value and are ideal for jogging and cycling. The government has also taken the initiative of constructing cycle tracks along selected roads to streamline the traffic. Moreover, the entire area of Husainabad is undergoing a massive restoration and beautification program which on completion would add feathers to the centuries old heritage of a city blessed with a splendid past, though in the past and in the future as well it had been and will be confronted with intrusions on its harmonious fabric that has been carefully woven with the yarns of amity and affability. As conscious citizens of the home town, it is incumbent upon us to thwart such attempts by raising our voices or by demonstrating the power of the pen.
Literature of the Other Kind
A treatise on the street language of Lucknow
Rangbaaz wore metal-framed sunglasses eight hours a day and six days a week. The silver-coated bracelet chain, forever dangling around his right wrist, had a small rectangular plate in the middle on which was stylishly inscribed MLC.
His Dulari Bua, hailing from Hardoi, had named him Murari Lal and his father, Chaubeyji, had to accept whatever his elder sister had ordained. She would often come to visit her brother for a couple of days and during her stay Rangbaaz could not sport his goggles out of respect to some extent but more due to fear. So that’s how the average per week could not go above six days. Rangbaaz was not too happy, quite naturally, with his rather archaic name, so he let the nomenclature given by his langotiya yaars prosper, and whenever sarkari lekha jhokha demanded a legitimate name, then, of course, M.L Chaubey would come in handy
Rangbaaz had just one exotic dream – that of possessing an antique model convertible car.
Today was one of those bright and sunny Monday mornings that Rangbaaz could possibly get a much needed haircut. But to his immense chagrin he had to grudgingly get the trimming done at Nakku’s Hair Cutting Saloon in Narhi, as he was too short of money to cross over the road to the more elite A.N John Hairdressers. Thereafter a long drawn shower, taken directly under the bamba, he dressed up smartly with all the teem taam required by a rangbaaz, which included an ample dose of dhansu lotion splashed all over the face, kanpati and underarms. This odorous routine was followed by a qamar-todh introspection in front of an ill-accommodating mirror loosely hung over the wall. Consequently, he caught hold of the cuff of his shirt sleeve and rubbed it against the lakhota buckle of the belt going through the pulthroo of his trousers. Dressed taap-o-taap, in his own estimation, he stepped down the khambe jaisi staircase of Chaubeyji’s first floor flat located behind the ramparts of Bandariya Bagh and unlocked the Atlas cycle, his time-being prized possession. (Lucknow fellas have such a fetish for gardens and monkeys that even the zoo is called as such) He was on way to the house of his langotiya yaar Shehzad Ali, who stayed in Martin Purva, adjoining La Martiniere College.
Shehzad Ali had been extremely underweight since birth. He was fair in complexion but his withered-early skin and frail structure had earned him the bedhub sobriquet of Dagha Hua Kartoos. Moreover, he could not withstand cold weather and, as such, his Nehru jacket was like a second skin which grew on him around September and peeled off by end of March. Shehzad was pursuing a diploma course in sculpture at Arts College, but his main interest and expertise was in engines; anything and everything about engines ignited his dimaghi fitoor.
The call for today’s do sitaron ka milan was not any kind of tafreeh or seetiyabaazi, but for the materialisation of the dream of one of the Stars, at least Rangbaaz thought so. On reaching the time-withered planked door of the courtyard of Shehzad’s house, he called out loudly, “Abey Kartoos!”
Shehzad hurriedly came out, wearing a polo-necked sweater and his customary jacket, and he exasperated in anguish, “Why do you bum chick so much?”
Then he looked up Rangbaaz and smirked, “Where did you get this gumma-cut hairstyle?”
A broken-hearted Rangbaaz sheepishly conceded, “Ab ka batawen, jhapki aa gawee aur sasura Nakku haath saaf kar deyis.”
Shehzad went around his inspection and continued to drill, “I feel like giving you a kantaap on your guddi.”
Now it was Rangbaaz’s turn to repair the damages before Shehzad went overboard with his tirade “Holi has gone. March is almost over, yet you are still posing as a lulu bakas.”
“And your nqashebaazi has not receded,” retorted Dagha Hua Kartoos.
Taking off his sunglasses Rangbaaz said, “Okay now cut out the bukhraati and listen. Skoda must have arrived today at Latif Mistri and we have to get it into funnekhan condition.”
Shehzad resignedly said, “Ek toh thay aap burey uspar dekhein khawab aur burey. Anyway, let’s go.” Skoda was the antique convertible so it was of Shehzad’s interest too.
Latif Mistri’s garage was situated after Medical College on the road going up to Patanala drain, and as such, it was a long way off. By the time Rangbaaz had pedalled up to Beligarad aka Residency with his load of Kartoos on the front bar, his breath had become lahu luhaan and his rangbaazi ki reydh lag chuki thi.” In a hoarse voice he puffed, “Khal gayee yaar!”
Shehzad couldn’t stop chuckling, “This is what happens when teen tang ki gadhi ho, nao mann ki ladni ho.”
Latif had done schooling till class five, thereafter, he had worked as helper in various garages till he acquired the daon painch of a motor mechanic and had then set up his make-shift garage. He was street smart and had an uncanny gift of the gab which was interspersed with the most appropriate phrases in Hindustani.
When Rangbaaz finally reached his destination with his jodidaar, Latif was bent over the raised bonnet of a car in his jhapadh jhalla pyjamas. He stood up when he saw the boys from the corner of his eyes and wiped his soiled hands with an already soiled piece of rag. Rangbaaz parked his cycle and stood admiring the new signboard which was calligraphically proclaiming ‘Five Star Garage’.
Rangbaaz quickly tried to impress the owner, “Latif Bhai, your signboard is lallantaap!”
Latif replied barjasta, “Ji janab; chappar per phoos nahi, darwaze per naqqara.”
Rangbaaz smiled and enquired, “Has Skoda arrived?”
“Yeah, that sir jhaadh munh phaad has been dumped in the backyard,”
Rangbaaz immediately proceeded towards the back of the garage and he was followed by Shehzad. What he saw over there grievously fractured his dream and, subsequently, put on hold several other dreams associated with the main one. The only thing that he could possibly make out to be part of a four-wheeled vehicle was a chassis perched over two pairs of spiked wheels with tyres in tatters. These pairs were extending out of rust laden axles, and leaning over this awful contraption was a heap of rusted metal sheets which were the ruins of what once was the body of a prestigious convertible made in Germany. Another set of folded frame was resting against the garage wall and only a genius could have figured it out to be the collapsible frame of what once may have functioned as the hood.
While Rangbaaz stood pale-faced, Latif came from behind and quipped, “Did you get this tabeley ki bala in cash or in kind?”
Rangbaaz had no words, but Shehzad wanted to know, “Where’s the engine of this jhaeen jhap?”
Latif pointed his finger towards a cemented platform in the interior and said, “It is over there.”
All of them walked up to the engine which seemed to have been wiped clean recently. Shehzad put both palms on top of the engine and needlessly tried to shake it. “At least this looks to be fine.”
Latif replied, “Only if the head and gasket are sahi-salamat, otherwise iska fateha padh lo.” Continuing further he spoke out, “Abey Tillo, will you get us chairs to sit?”
Tilloo was the twelve years old orphan who stayed in the garage and did odd jobs for Latif Mistri. He scrambled up two chairs and a stool. Latif waved his hand with a flourish and said to the boys to sit, “Pehle aap!” Then he majestically sat down on the stool.
Soon after, Rangbaaz wanted to know, “Latif Bhai, will this car become chaloo?”
Prior to committing anything, Latif unabashedly said, “Lagat ayegi,” and then he queried, “Unti mein nama hai?”
Rangbaaz replied, “I can manage about a thousand rupees.”
Latif raised his eyebrows and quipped, “Wah beta! Taat ka langota aur nawab se yari!”
Shehzad sensed trouble brewing up, so he chipped in his bit, “Heeng lage ya phitkari you have to somehow do the jugaad to make it sateek. We’ll look into whatever unnis bees is there.”
Latif took out his Panama packet and lit a cigarette and that gave Rangbaaz the chance to ask him, “Did they give you the keys?”
“The car keys.”
Latif guffawed and then shot back, Amaan, iske khandaan mein kisi ke pass tala nahi and you are talking about keys.”
Just then a gleaming Royal Enfield motorcycle came sputtering right inside the garage on which was stride a bloke with drooping moustache and Clint Eastwood kind of hairstyle. All of the guys, including Tilloo, were observing his tan coloured high-heeled boots which were grounded while his posterior was still resting on the saddle. The sputtering had stopped and the stillness of the moment was broken by the guy’s rasping voice, “How are you, Latif Bhai?”
“By God’s grace, I am fine. What brings you here?”
“Silencer and brakes need to be adjusted. Now! I’m in a hurry.”
Shehzad whispered aside to Tilloo, “Ko hai?”
A wide-eyed Tilloo whispered back, “Douglas dacait howen; baat baat per lapadhiya deyth hain.”
Latif took a drag and with smoke billowing said, “It will take time.”
But Douglas was adamant, “You don’t understand Latif Bhai, I have a tabadh todh meeting with Bakshi Dada.”
Rangbaaz could no longer remain a mute spectator and he countered, “Bhai saab, our work is also going on.”
Then Douglas finally got off the bike in a flamboyant manner and pointing his finger towards Rangbaaz, he drawled, “Hey mister, you don’t interfere.”
Rangbaaz, too, got up and taking off his goggles, glared, “YOU do not do.”
Douglas continued menacingly, “Ever heard of Bakshi Dada?”
The atmosphere had now become lethal and it was Shehzad’s turn to poke in, “Who is Bakshi? Lur ke bhai Fatehpur!”
And Rangbaaz added, “Ever heard of Rangbaaz of Narhi?”
Douglas stroked his moustache and replied, “If Dada hears this, you gonna had it man.”
Shehzad was frail in body but not in spirit, so he shot back, “Abey, give this geedadh bhapki to your chamchas…itni goliyan chalengi petal batorne waley crorepati banjayenge.”
Douglas had to now reveal his full credentials, “My name is Douglas and I am right hand of Bakshi Dada of Naka Hindola. He is coming to Maqbara to have drinks and dinner with me.”
Rangbaaz turned towards Shehzad and smiled, “Lapayte jao!”
Shehzad sprinkled salt on the wound, “Let me take out the aerial, oonchi ja rahi hai.”
“That’s not funny; I’m warning you, stop playing the fool with me. You Chokra boys of Narhi, wouldn’t know what hit you.”
Rangbaaz didn’t like that, so he retorted, “Bakaiti of Maqbara will not work here…tumri jhooli mein ghaas nahi, sarai mein dera.”
Douglas started rolling up his sleeves and Rangbaaz took off his goggles and handed them to Tilloo and then he clenched his bracelet in such a way that it could work as a deadly weapon. But before things could worsen, Latif Mistri got up and raising his hands he tried to pacify, “Will you guys put an end to your bouriyana; khamakhan ki chirahind yahan na kato. If you have to fight it out, go to Emergency gate of Medical College.” Continuing further he called out, “Arey Tilloo, get four teas and give one more stool.”
While Tilloo brought one more stool and then rushed off to get tea, a buxom sweeper with massive hips appeared on the scene and called out, “Mistri, Bade Babu had said to keep your taam jhaam within limits or else they will take away your chappar.”
Latif heard the instruction and muttered, “This sasuri bum police is full of chirkuts who want rokad every second day.”
Rangbaaz couldn’t understand, “Bum police?”
So Latif explained, “Oh those muncipalty wale.”
The sweeper kept standing because she still had a demand, “Where is my Holi ki tyohari? Abke baar chandi ki baaliyan leyba.”
Latif smiled cynically and replied, “Sabut nahi hain kaan, baaliyon ke armaan. Buzz off, tame naahi.”
She was not the kind to let pass that humiliation, “You have only one job – aag khana, angare hugna,” and with a grotesque jerk of her robust hips, walked away.
The aab-o-hawa in the garage had dramatically changed by the time the tea in tiny plastic cups had gone down the parched throats of the men at loggerhead. Latif had got busy with the engine and one of his assistants was adjusting the brakes of the Royal Enfield. Douglas, by now, had realized that the making of an antique convertible was in the offing. He visualized himself sitting at the steering with Bakshi Dada beside him, entering the huge gate of Maqbara in Hazratganj to stun the gaping spectators of his neighbourhood, many of whom were of the fairer sex.
He humbly requested, “Rangbaaz Bhai…”
“You may call me MLC,” Rangbaaz interjected before Douglas could complete.
So Douglas continued, “Okay, MLC Bhai, when the car is in chaloo condition, could you please lend it to me for a day?”
Rangbaaz’s instant reaction was, “Ghuso!”
However, Douglas persisted with hands folded, “Please MLC, only for a day.”
Then Rangbaaz thought for a while and said, “On one condition.”
“What is that condition?”
A poker-faced Rangbaaz replied, “If only you put an end to your lantarani.”
And Douglas smiled back, “In that case I will keep it for two days.”
Salad Days in Hazratganj
‘The German soldier crossed the Rhine…’
After going through many pieces written on ‘Memoirs of Ganj’ and published in Times of India, I could not stop myself from writing down my bit on The Hazratganj that I started frequenting from the early 1970s. My very first run of ‘ganjing’ was actually in the form of a march past which started from my alma mater La Martiniere College and halted at Mayfair Cinema Hall. The incident that I am going to relate would not only explain the reason behind the march past, it would also give an insight of the strict regulations and discipline that was followed in college.
The regulations in college did not permit hair length to be more than two inches at the forelock and no more than a quarter at the nape. And the texture of my hair is such that I was always a borderline case as far as hair size was concerned. It so happened that we were in the midst of pre-board exam of ISC of the year 1971 when the exam fever and the forthcoming ‘hols’ had combined to divert our attention from hairy issues and as luck would have it, Mr Carver, one of the strictest Bursars in Mart history, got the golden opportunity, from the first floor, to observe the heads of students frantically filling up the answer sheets of English Literature paper in Spence Hall. To his immense glee, Mr Carver found a lot of heads with hairs gone far beyond the prescribed limits. Before we could get inkling of what was forthcoming, Carver got the skates on and was merrily clipping away a goodly bunch of hair from the very roots of all the culprits who had dared to let down their hair beyond the borders. Believe me, Mr Carver was an absolute disaster in dressing up the hair because what he botched up was quite depressing for the casualties. Later in the evening when I went to A.N John Hairdressers on Ashok Marg for some remedial treatment, he just said, ‘Oh, you too?’ Apparently some of the scalped guys had already visited him for rectification. So now the only choice left to make things even was to get a clean shave, as had been done with other blokes who had seen John ahead of me.
With the exams getting over, the disgruntled clean heads, who had not forsaken the brutality or the ignominy, got together on the last day of the school session, formed a squad of forty odd sufferers and then smartly marched from Mart to Mayfair to the beat of the naughty marching song, ‘The German soldier crossed the Rhine…’ Strollers in Ganj and cinema goers at Mayfair were aghast by this unique protest by the clean-heads. The movie that was running at the theatre was ‘Solomon and Sheba’ and the boys sat down in the front rows of ‘bhattas’ class to find solace with the legendary Hollywood beauty, Gina Lollobrigida.
Regular ‘ganjing’ started in the company of my dear friend, Habbu. We started ‘ganjing’ together but somehow he already knew what Ganj was all about. Let me clarify that when we speak of the good old glory of Hazratganj, we connect to not just the buildings and the shops. The real ethos of the place comprised of an amalgam of the attitude, etiquette, wit, affability and the leisurely pace of the people who formed the core gang of Ganj and these were the ones who quite easily intermingled with the amicable shop-owners who were ever ready to exchange pleasantries.
If these folks were the life-blood of Ganj then the soul of the marketplace was Royal Café, the restaurant with the aging live band, called Souza Lobo. During the 70s, Royal Café was at Halwasiya Court and was owned by Mr Bahadur, and Jagdish, the ‘smart alec’ in blue suit was the manager. It was here that we met and became friends with Dularey Bhai, who was a latecomer to Ganj culture but amazingly became a thoroughbred in no time. He hailed from Mohaan and had got so fascinated with Hazratganj that eventually the counter at Royal Café also became his cupboard for a change of clothing. There are many interesting stories connected with Royal Café and Kwality’s restaurant which was in Mayfair building across the road. Here I am relating a few of them.
One day, Habbu, Dularey and yours truly were sitting at a table in Royal Café. The cutlery had been laid as the order had been placed. Dularey was needlessly fiddling with a fork and, strangely enough, it broke. The waiter was signalled and was asked to replace it. He picked up the broken pieces and quietly went back to the kitchen to replace it. However, Habbu had doubts, for he couldn’t believe that a metal fork could break so easily. So he picked up the fork in front of him and applying a little pressure on it, said, “How can it break like this?” But viola, that too broke! The waiter was called again and suppressing embarrassment he was told that two broken forks had been laid. He again picked the broken pieces and went back to replace it, but this time on the way back he did inform Jagdish about the damages. After the second fork was replaced, I could not contain myself and picked up my fork to try out. And to our amusement the damn thing also broke. By now the embarrassment had turned into humour and all broke out into laughter which included the waiter and Jagdish who had by now come to our table.
Another episode that lasted for more than three months was that when Dularey joined our company, he was a bit reticent in opening up with our other friends and acquaintances, so to cover up his shortcomings in urbanity, he started pretending to be hard of hearing. Except for a select few, all thought him to be stone deaf and in their ignorance started passing nasty comments on his ungainly demeanour taking advantage of his supposed handicap. It goes to the credit of Dularey that he acted his part for months and heard all kinds of humiliating remarks with an absolutely straight face. What had started on the spur of a moment carried on for three months and when Dularey finally broke his act and his silence with a four-letter expletive, it sent all of the cheeky fellows scurrying for cover. However, after some days all was well and how well the act was appreciated could be seen in the friendly repartee that followed.
Prior to the opening of Clarks Avadh, Kwality was the only classy joint in town. During the late 70s it had undergone renovations of the interiors from a ‘mirror, mirror on the wall extravaganza’ to a ‘confusion in modernistic art’. Nevertheless the décor, their steaming patties were mind blowing and the kidney on toast would finish off by afternoon. I wonder why Mr Avtar Ghai, the proprietor, couldn’t keep some extra kidneys in the fridge. Besides these delicacies, the triple-layered stand of pastries and patties was a unique feature of Kwality. One could eat as many as one wanted and the billing was done as per what was actually consumed and not for the entire lot. But this aspect of billing was not known to all of the newbies and much later I became a victim of this tempting stand of patisseries.
I had somehow managed to remain single till 1989 when my aunt brought an end to the extended luxury by arranging a suitable match for me. During those days I was posted in Delhi and had telephonically fixed up a date in Lucknow with my would-be wife. Kwality was fit for the occasion and so at the appointed time I reached there in my Sunday best. I had asked for the pastry stand and was anxiously waiting for her arrival when to my surprise I saw her younger sister and kid brother walking in. For a moment I thought that I had been trapped in the act and now everything was going to be over. Alas, that was not the case. The young sister explained that the impending wedding was too close for the comfort of the elderly ladies at home so the elder one was not given the permission to venture out. With no other option, I started conversing with the good looking sister while kid brother pounced on the pastries and chicken patties probably thinking that would-be brother-in-law was a large hearted guy and had ordered a hearty bonanza for him to relish. Within thirty minutes he had polished off the two upper layers and was eyeing the third when I hastily called for the bill. Imagine my plight; I came all the way from Delhi to get jilted and ripped-off simultaneously and the lucky kiddo got a solid taste of the bliss that lies in ignorance.
My maternal grandfather used to tell us that the system of pastry stand was initiated by Benbows Restaurant which was at the corner of the main crossing in Hazratganj. According to him, till 1940s entry in Benbows was restricted only for the elite and the sailors (Please don’t ask me how they came here) and a combo of a pot of tea and the pastry stand was worth Two Rupees which was hell of a lot of money.
In 1973, Hazratganj underwent a uniform colour scheme for the first time when my father was the Divisional Commissioner and the brilliant R.R Shah was the Administrator. My father could never figure out the value and purpose of ‘ganjing’ but he had the aesthetic acumen and the foresight to shift the makeshift stalls at Lovers’ Lane to a more solid and authorized market named Janpath which was especially constructed by Lucknow Development Authority to accommodate them as well as new entrants. But the stall-owners were, initially, not willing to budge from their illegally acquired places. As it was a period of Governor’s rule the administrative machinery taking advantage of no political interference, dismantled the stalls under heavy police ‘bandobast’. Finally, they did relocate their shops to Janpath and the value of those shops have escalated several folds since then.
The other memorable landmarks associated with Hazratganj were of Madras Mess, which served the best dosas in town; Simson, located in Capitol Building was the first Chinese restaurant in Lucknow; a cinema hall existed at Prince Complex. It also had a namesake restaurant which was as big as a football field. There was a South Indian restaurant by the name of Annapurna in what is now Sahu Building. It used to open at 7.30 am and my friend, Zafar Mehmud, was one of the ingenious early birds to take advantage of the solitude of wintery mornings to fix a blind date with a sweet voiced telephone operator of BSNL, which, unfortunately, turned out to be a fiasco. Because when she entered the restaurant, all covered up in a long coat and a monkey cap in place, it took a couple of minutes for Zafar to understand that under woolly covers was a woman nearing retirement age.
Capoors Hotel also had the only bar and there was also a neeche paan ki dukaan upar gori ka makaan of the Kapoor clan. One of the most distinguished landmarks of Hazratganj which continued to occupy its pristine position till 2017, was Ram Advani Booksellers. I feel privileged to have had a long association with the literary gentleman and his son, Rukun Advani, who was my classmate.
Any memoir of Hazratganj which is closely associated with my salad days would be incomplete if I don’t mention the contribution of the young and not so young ladies in adding charm and grace to the prevalent scenario of that era. Just like the guys, these ladies, too, could not do without visiting Ganj for the lamest of reasons. Jabbar, the cold drinkwala at Lovers Lane, was the luckiest guy to get their unstinted presence on a daily basis. No wonder he always had a smile plastered on the face and an ample dose of surma in the eyes.
While on the subject of the fairer ones, I have to add an analysis of a keen and expansive observation. In almost four decades I have never seen as many and as beautiful ladies as were in town during the decade of 1970. Probably this beauteous abundance had something to do with the prolonged celebrations post-Independence. I reckon freedom gives wings to creation and when it comes after a long struggle it breeds beauty in abundance. That may sound corny, but in the absence of any other explanation, this should work.
In the end, I can only do some justice to the memory of Hazratganj and the people associated with it, by borrowing some couplets from a ghazal of Jigar Moradabadi. This ghazal was quite often recited by Dularey and was painstakingly learnt by heart by Habbu and me.
Jaan kar minjum laye khasana-e-maikhana mujhe
Muddaton roya karenge jam-o-paimana mujhe.
Nang-e-maikhana tha main saqi ne ye kya kar diya
Peene wale keh utthe ya pir-e-maikhana mujhe.
Hazratganj was the ‘maikhana’ and ganjing folks were the ‘saqi’ and I just could not explain that to my dear Abba. May his soul rest in peace. Amen!