You is more precious than me

Mohsina Mirza tells you why she is so appreciative of the aap and janaab culture of the city

It is rightly said that the culture of a place is reflected by the people living there. The people of Lucknow have the reputation of being the most courteous in the world, making them and their city an epitome of tehzeeb.

Lucknowites pride themselves on addressing each other with an aap rather than the more informal tu or tum. The very formal way of speaking is sometimes a subject of parody and provokes laughter amongst others but the citizens of this city influenced by an elite nawabi culture are oblivious to all the ridicule of the world.

In shorthand terminology, welcome to the pehle aap or the ‘after you’ culture of Lucknow. Ratan Nath Sarshar, in his famous novel, Fasana-e Azad, writes in the second half of the 19th century of two noblemen who go to the railway station to embark upon a train journey. The engine is hissing and puffing steam at the platform. The whistle is blown announcing that it is time for the train to go. The two friends are still on the platform, bowing and gracefully gesturing towards the door of the compartment repeating, pehle aap after each other. For in Lucknow, it is considered discourteous for the likes of either of them to first take anything for themselves in life. It is always the other who comes first in this city. While they politely try to coax each other to board the train first, the final whistle is blown and the train slowly chugs away, leaving the two Lucknowites to fulfill their respective formality.

There are similar cultural taunts that are heard only in Lucknow. Like a young man propositioning with, aye haseena zara idhar toh dekhiye may be replied by the blushing lady being propositioned with, janab hamein pareshan naa keejiye.

The vegetable vendor is often heard poetically hawking his goods with, Laila ki ungliyan aur Majnu ki pasliyan le lo or buy my kakdi, (Armenian Cucumber) as soft as Laila’s fingers and as crisp as Majnu’s ribs. Smitten by the ways of Lucknow, Bollywood has produced memorable films against the background of the city whose culture and manners are described not only as delicious but also as delicate as a rasagulla that is peeled before it is eaten here.

Signs of Lucknow’s unique culture, is most obvious in the city’s market place. Most shopkeepers invariably address their customers with an affectionate aap, helping to keep alive the very precious aap and janab way of life that exists nowhere else except here.

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