Monday, December 20, 2010

200 Years Of Lucknow Should Be Planned Creatively

200 Years Of Lucknow Should Be Planned Creatively
Saeed Naqvi

The development route to popular governance appears to have infected UP’s capital as well. Mayawati plans to make Hazratganj look brand new – underground cables to replace overhead wires, all hoardings removed, fresh paint, that, familiar pale yellow of the Hazratganj of our memories. All for the fabled avenue’s 200th anniversary.

But will it all be ready by December 26? The scene today is reminiscent of those nervous weeks before the Commonwealth games. The games did take place, rather spectacularly. Is Monsoon Wedding an apt metaphor for the way we do things?

The real Lucknow, the city’s core, had, with the winds of change, enclosed itself in Aminabad, Nakhkas and Chowk, distancing itself in that order from Hazratganj’s partly Anglo-Indian veneer.

In the old city the saying was “gandi galiyan; saaf zubaan” or “dirty lanes but elegant speech”. Hazratganj did not live in the confusion of this past. It was one broad avenue, lined on both sides with shops, some of which were institutions like Kazim and co, the watch dealers, a sort of rendezvous for Lucknow’s declining aristocracy.

Transaction at no shop or business was possible without a brief conversational interlude. This was particularly true of Ram Advani’s civilized book shop, where to be seen was to be literary,

When I was a boy, the best pastry shop in the world was “Benbow’s” at the big chauraha which has given way to a garment outlet. I remember longingly watching the pastries, scones, chocolates from the pavement outside. Yeat’s description of Keats literally describes my circumstance.

“ I see a schoolboy, when I think of him;
his nose pressed hard against a sweet-shop window.”

Across the street from “Benbow’s” was Lucknow’s intellectual hub, the Coffee House. Precocious lads we must have been, because the faces of those around each table are etched on my mind. I was generally escorted by a communist uncle, a socialist cousin, and that moody cousin with an intellect like a basement junkyard of ornaments. Not to be forgotten was my “Aunt Agatha” who rubbed shoulders with the finest minds in the coffee House with a twin purpose – pursuit of knowledge and compilation of a catalogue for name dropping.

There, in that corner sits communist leader Dr. Z. Ahmad and Dr. K.M. Ashraf (author of the History of the People of Hindustan). At the adjacent table, Ram Manohar Lohia holds court. Amritlal Nagar and Prof. Ehtesham Hussain are all ears as Ananad Narain Mullah recites his ghazal. Then Majaz, Lucknow’s most beloved poet, winds his way between the tables with his sidekick, Salaam Machlishehri. Majaz pacing up and down Hazratganj was a constant – witty, sensitive, always stone broke and in search of a drinking host.

Ironically, Majaz wrote the anthem of Aligarh Muslim University, his alma mater, and died this month forty five years ago in a Lucknow country liquor shop.

His epitaph:
“Phir iske baad subah hai, aur subhe nau, Majaz.
Humpar hai khatm shaam e gharibane Lucknow.”
(There, a new dawn breaks. The evening of Lucknow’s dispossessed ends with me)

And how can the story of Hazratganj be complete without that brilliant vagabond, Safdar.

When Safdar reached home in the early hours of the morning, his father was asleep. When the father was up to spread out his Aminabad pavement bookshop, Safdar was slumbering. “For forty years we have not seen each other”, Safdar boasted. He generally washed his face in Kwality’s (another institution) and ate breakfast at Royal Café, across the street. There were always people vying with each other to host him for his wit and conversation.

Outlook editor Vinod Mehta, a contemporary, summed it up succinctly: “He doesn’t know where his next meal will come from: all he knows is that it will be a terrific one.”

The 200th anniversary is a great idea, but why this hurry? Hazratganj will not be ready by December 26. Let the very best in the land choreograph a show to remember nearer March in time for Holi. We can even consider a grand Sound and Light show, pulling together all the marvels of Lucknow on this occasion.

Since the concluding cultural event on December 29 will be at the Residency, we can fall back on the 1857 siege of that address. In situations of war, there are tragedies on both sides. An evocative recitation can be from the pages of “A Lady’s Diary of the Siege of Lucknow”. It can be a gripping show with proper lighting – December’s cold will not help. March will be perfect.

As for the Mushaira, one can suggest to the invited poets that a quartrain, sestet or a ghazal be on the theme of Lucknow or Hazratganj.

One of Lucknow’s theatre groups can contemplate a skit or a play at the coffee, bringing to life its memorable past.

And a bust of Lucknow’s most lovable poet, Majaz outside the Coffee House. An entrepreneur with imagination can transform the Country Liquor Shop near Lalbagh, where Majaz suffered the stroke which killed him, into a compelling port of call for the creatures of Bachus, a pilgrimage for Sufis who resonate well with the meaning of Majaz. A film director can picturize Majaz’s masterpiece, Awara.

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