Sehba Ali’s ink spills Aminabad’s Memories

Dr. Sehba Ali

Aminabad, the major and most popular shopping centre in Lucknow can also boast of having at least two locations which have hosted some great historical as well as contemporary events. These are : Jhandey Wala Park and Ganga Prasad Memorial Hall.

Jhandey Wala Park was once the biggest park right in the heart of Lucknow , surrounded by shops and less expensive hotels. During India’s struggle for freedom, it was the hub of political activities. A large number of the freedom-fighters and other eminent political leaders delivered powerful speeches here against the illegitimate British occupation of our country. Huge crowds gathered to listen to their leaders and took inspiration from them. Besides political activities, many cultural, religious and social events also used to take place in this very central place in the city. It is a matter of great shame how ruthlessly the modern Lakhnavis have treated this important historic place. As somebody rightly put it : ” The place which was once stained with the blood of our brave freedom-fighters is now stained with the spits of paanmasala.” It is. time, some patriotic government or organizations or individuals with means, give the Park its due attention and try to restore it to its past glory.

I have a very cherished memory of attending an unforgettable literary event in this park in 1957 : A Tamseeli Mushaira: ” Dilli Ki Aakhri Shama” which was written in the form of a drama by (Late) Mirza Farhatullah Beig. For those who are not familiar with this kind of Mushaira, in a Tamseeli Mushaira talented artists play the role of the poets from the gone-by era, by imitating everything about them and recite their poetry mimicking their style.The poets presented in this Mushaira were: Ghalib, Zauq, Momin, Tishna, Burq Dehlvi, Yakta Dehlvi Mirza Akhtar Ali Beg “Nazneen” , an Englishman, Alexander “Aazaad” and Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poetry was recited by his eldest son, Mirza Fakhru.

We learned that Great pains were taken and it took several months to prepare and rehearse for this event to present it with perfection.

It was worth the effort and time as all the actor-poets were superb. For the younger crowd, the most fascinating of them was “Naazneen” whose ghazal was in Rekhti – a genre in Urdu poetry in which male poets use women’s language, idiom, speech and accent, as well as feminine mannerisms. This was an innovation of a particular literary cum socio-cultural ambience of Lucknow in the 19th century. But it did not become popular among the poets and very few wrote in Rekhti. There used to be one or two “Rekhti-go” in the Mushairas and they were considered merely entertainers. However, they were appreciated by the fun-loving audience. In our times, they were no more Rekhti-go left so it was a unique experience for us.

All the “Aadaab-e-Mushaera” (Etiquette for Mushaeras) were observed by the audience. Applause was in Lucknow style : “Wah Wah” and “SubhanAllah” and not by clapping as it is done today. .”Mukarrar Irshaad” was the request for an “Encore”. No hooting or impolite remarks were heard either. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

The Mushaira ended in the early hours of the morning when the last poet, Ustad Zauq was reciting his last couplet and the Azaan – Fajr (Call for morning prayers) was heard.

From our vicinity, three Mushaira-enthusiast families had gone together.: Professor Waheed Mirza’s, Chowdhry Faridul Haq’s ( ours) and Misra’s. The elders returned home by cars and the youngsters who had gone by Rickshaws ventured to return on foot although the distance was considerable. But it was great fun. When we entered the Monkey Bridge, the gently flowing Gomti down below, the majestic Chhattar Manzil on the left Bank and Lucknow University in front of us had never looked so beautiful during the day. All the way we imitated the imitations of the poets reciting their poetry and in no time we reached our homes, just in time for our morning tea. Did it really happen or if I had a dream? I often ask myself.

Another important location in Aminabad which hosted some important historical as well as contemporary events is Ganga Prasad Memorial Hall. This place is also centrally located facing the Jhandey Wala Park. This Hall has always been a popular place for various activities: political, cultural, literary, social, religious and educational etc. It has a theatre, an auditorium, conference halls and a good library. I gather now there is a restaurant as well? Some of the significant historic as well as contemporary events that took place in this Hall are as follows:

  • The All India Congress Committee met here in 1928,
  • The All India students’ federation ( AISF) was founded here on August 12th1936 and its 75th anniversary was also celebrated in this Hall on August, 12th 2011.
  • National Convention of People’s Political Front took place here on March 2-5 , 2009.
  • The meeting of Swachkar Mahila Abhiyan People’s Voice took place here on February, 2015.
  • ” Kya Waaqiyaey Karbala Naguzeer Thha”, a programme on “Hussein Day” was held here on Feb. 7, 2011
  • And a conference on the Quran organized by the Quranic Society of Lucknow recently took place here.

My most unforgettable memory associated with Ganga Prasad memorial Hall is another literary event that took place in December, 3-5, 1955. An Urdu Convention of Students had been organized by the Lucknow University students, mainly: Sharib Rudaulvi, Aalia Askari, Arif Naqvi and their friends. Professor Ehtesham Hussein and Sajjad Zaheer were the patrons. They had invited a number of poets and writers such as: Ismat Chugtai, Dr. Mohammad Hassan, Sahir Ludhyanvi, Sardar Jafri, Dr. Abdul Aleem, Baqar Mehdi, Niazi Haider from out of town and many local poets and writers were also there. The inauguration of the convention by the Governor of U.P.and Vice chancellor of the University, K.M. Munshi was in the Baradari in adjoining Qaisar Bagh on December 3 but the main Convention on December 4 was in Ganga Prasad Memorial Hall in Aminabad.

All the poets and writers attended the sessions. This was the first time we younger students had seen and even met some famous poets and writers and we took their autographs. (After High School I had joined Isabella Thoburn College to study Psychology but unfortunately, there was no Urdu as a subject. This convention prompted me to leave I.T. College after Intermediate and join Lucknow University where I could study Psychology as well as continue my studies in Urdu literature.) In the afternoon, on Jan. 4th, there was a group photo session in the courtyard of Ganga Prasad Hall in which apart from the poets and writers, the students and many other participants were also included. The poets and writers were seated in the chairs, the boys standing behind them and the girls were seated on the floor. I was asked by the photographer to sit at the feet of Ismat Chugtai. I felt greatly honored and hoped that I would be infected by some of her writing germs but unfortunately it did not happen!

The day’s programme ended after the tea to resume the next day. On December 5, the programme started as scheduled and was well on its way but unfortunately it was disrupted by a heart-breaking news : Majaz was in a critical condition in Balrampur Hospital! All the sessions were closed.

The audience were requested not to crowd the hospital. Only his close friends and the organizers rushed there. The poet breathed his last later that evening and was taken to his home “Darul Seraj”.The next morning, the whole crowd which was at Ganga Prasad Memorial Hall was at Majaz’s residence along with an unprecedented number of mourners. They all took him on their shoulders to his final resting place in Nishat Ganj cemetery.

The irony of the fate was that in the Mushaira on December 3rd, the last couplet of Majaz’ ghazal was:

“Majaz ek baada-kash tow hai yaqeenun
Jo hum sunte thhey voh aalum nahi(n)hai”

And this was true. Two years earlier, after the untimely death of his sister Safia Akhtar, he had drastically cut down on his drinking.He was staying more at home and taking care of his sister’s two young boys!

Writer is an Applied Linguist and a freelance-writer.

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 2 Issue 14, Dated 05 May 2015)

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