Honouring Legends of Lucknow : Awards at LLF

Ashita Kulshreshtha

Lucknow, the city renowned for its adaa and tehzeeb has nurtured some of the finest personalities, most of whom went on to make a name globally. Some, however, continued to be unsung heroes working behind the scenes to carve their niche. Lucknow Society in its third edition of the Lucknow Literary Festival 2015 bestowed four eminent personalities with awards for excellence in their respective field. These awardees belong to Lucknow or have some kind of association with the city and brought it glory. They might have migrated to other parts of the globe but nevertheless they remain proud possessions of Lucknow and both city and they are proud to be a Lucknowite. Though the award is just another number for them as they have already been conferred with numerous accolades previously, nevertheless we hope it boosts their enthusiasm and serves as a token of appreciation for them.

Lucknow Literary Festival bestowed Wajid Ali Shah award to legendary Kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj. Named after last Nawab of Lucknow, the award was bestowed to Maharaj ji as he has made a great contribution in order to keep the art alive. He was born as Brijmohan Mishra to a noted Kathak exponent, Jagannath Maharaj, popularly known as Acchan Maharaj. His father served as a court dancer in Raigarh princely state. Trained by his uncles, Lachhu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj and his father, Birju Maharaj exhibited his talent at the tender age of seven and became a legend in the Lucknow gharana of Kathak dance. Credit goes to him for taking kathak to its previously unattained zenith. Pandit Birju Maharaj served as the director of the Kathak Kala Kendra for several years. He took to teaching kathak at a very young age and later founded his own dance school, Kalashram which imparts training to aspiring dancers. Though kathak remains his first love, very few know that he is trained in Hindustani classical music too. He has composed the music, and sang, for two dance sequences in the Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj ke Khilari, and choreographed the song Kaahe Chhed Mohe from the 2002 film version of movie Devdas. The Government of India conferred on him the Padma Vibhushan Award, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Kalidas Samman. In 2012, he was bestowed with the National Award for Best Choreography for the film Vishwaroopam.

The Lucknow Literary Festival and so its audience was indeed fortunate to have been graced by Pandit Birju Maharaj. The presentation screen at the festival showcasing old video clips, which showed him dancing and imparting kathak lessons to audience evoked a sense of nostalgia and pride among his fans. In the heart-to-heart interaction with the audience, Pandit Birju Maharaj said he was overjoyed to have won the award. He also expressed his desire for the revamping of his old ancestral home Kalka Bindadin Maharaj ji ki Dyodhi at Lucknow into a heritage spot. It is relevant to mention here that the government of Uttar Pradesh has ordered a grant for the restoration of his ancestral property in Lucknow. Pandit Birju Maharaj wishes to establish a kathak training school at his ancestral home with due support from the government. He also expressed concern at the eroding tehzeeb in Lucknow and stressed the need to revive performing arts in the city.

Besides Wajid Ali Shah award, the Pride of Lucknow awards were conferred on three distinguished luminaries.

The Pride of Lucknow award for the contribution to Hindi literature was bestowed on author Shiv Murti. Born on March 11, 1950, Shiv Murti is one of the leading voices in contemporary Hindi fiction. Hailing from humble background, his life was full of struggle. But the best steel is made when iron is passed in hottest temperature. This holds true for author Shiv Murti. A person of few words, he let his works do the talking for him. His first story ‘Mujhe Jeena Hai’ followed by ‘Paanphool’ was published when he was studying in 12th standard. Thereafter he never looked back. His works depict the plight of rural folk in true light. Caste politics, power politics, poverty and Dalit problems form the theme of his works. One of his best novels ‘Triyacharitra’ portrays the life of a young girl who is false implicated for having an illicit relationship and as a consequence has to bear the brutal punishment handed out by gram panchayat. This novel was later made into a movie by Basu Chatterjee. Since his works paint a picture of rural life in true fervor, his fans consider him as second Premchand. But he brushes aside this compliment saying: “Premchand is Premchand. I can never replace him.” His other novels are Trishul and Tarpan. Keshar Kasturi is a collection of stories authored by him. Now his fans should gear up for the re- release of his novel ‘Akhiri Chhalang’. Shivmurti has won Kathakram and Hans award in the past. Though he is satisfied with the kind of Hindi works produced today, he expresses concern at the youngsters losing interest in Hindi literature.

The Pride of Lucknow award for excellence in women empowerment was bestowed on Madhvi Kuckreja, a social worker and founder of NGO Vanaangan. Humbled to receive the award, she considers herself fortunate to have won it though she had shifted her base to Lucknow only few years back. She has set up a shop, Sanatkada here that sells handicrafts, functions as a café, a book club and a film club, all rolled into one. Madhvi has supported numerous women-led, grassroots-level organizations to emerge as transparent, vibrant entities that are sensitive to women. Internationally, she has worked on building opinion against women being subjected to violence in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka and Sudan. Before moving to Lucknow, she was earlier working in Bundelkhand for alleviating the problems of Dalit women, who are entangled in triad of poverty, caste discrimination and gender subjugation. Though they have been financially independent for long, Dalit women are subjected to discrimination and violence in all forms manifesting itself through rape, public humiliation, or honor killings. Another common punishment for breaking community rules that is also used simply for vengeance is public stripping and parading of women. Violence can also take an extreme form with lynching of women labeled as witches or dayans. Domestic violence however, cuts through religious, caste and class boundaries-dowry related death caused by “accidental” burning of women thrives in the state. Moreover, when women gain property rights-usually after being widowed-they become targets of violence by members of the family or community. Therefore, instead of being economically empowering, property is itself a reason for violence against women. She expresses satisfaction that Due to the collective efforts of her NGO, knowledge levels among Dalit women have increased and they are assuming leadership roles in the village community.

The third Pride of Lucknow award was conferred on noted Urdu author Anees Ashfaq. His work ‘Dukhyare’ highlighting his close relationship with elder brother carries the undertones of declining affluent culture of Lucknow. Elated though to receive the award, he considers ‘Qalam’ as his biggest award. “My writings are useless until they fail to strike a chord with genuine readers,” he said on his felicitation. So what make him pursue writing in Urdu? “I was an avid reader at the age of 18-19. Credit goes to my mother for imparting me lessons in Urdu and shaping my language as it is today.” He expresses concern at the declining habit of reading in today’s youngsters and their overriding ambitions to become stars overnight. He, however, lauds the initiative of Lucknow Society and stresses such rendezvous should be encouraged as they serve as a platform to bring genuine writers together and instills awareness among people. His writings reflect genuine critical analysis of the contemporary scenario. He believes that writings on Lucknow today are not portraying it in true light. With his desire for cultural revival of the city, his upcoming next novel is also set in Lucknow.

With conferring of these four awards, honouring of the dignitaries at the festival came to an end. We at Lucknow Society are thrilled to award best of talent in the city and will continue to reward blossoming excellence in the years to come.

Writer is a Freelance Journalist and a student of Journalism

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 1 Issue 12, Dated 05 March 2015)

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