Lucknow is living abroad in heart & mind of a British lady. London based historian has unique passion for Lucknow. Infact she is a belief that how dedication can lead to positive results. She has written number of books on the city of Nawabs. Her latest book on Wajid Ali Shah has been launched recently. The Lucknow Observer interacted with her during her visit to Lucknow. Excerpts from an interview :

Atif Hanif

How you inclined towards Lucknow and when the journey started ?

I came to Lucknow first time in 1972 and the obvious reason was to explore Lucknow as i was learning Urdu through a program of London University and the Guzishta Lucknow by Abdul Halim Sharar was an important part of the same. Monuments in Lucknow attracted me as i found the European influence also in the same. Nobody at that time was available to let me know about the details and the available literature was also very rare. When i returned back to London, research on Lucknow was the next step. The result was my Ph.D. thesis on Lucknow and it was published as book, Fatal Friendship in 1985. As it was friendship between Britishers and Nawab; it was fatal, as finally Awadh was annexed in 1856.

What are the various languages in which you are proficient and do the research work ?

I am comfortable in both Urdu and Hindi. Although, i cannot speak these languages fluently but i can understand and read them without any problem. For all the sources which are available in these languages, i can explore them very easily. For Persian sources, my friend Mr Saqib Babri who is working in British Library helps me with the translations. He is very much interested in these aspects and proved to be very helpful for me !

Why you have chosen to write on Wajid Ali Shah ?

Number of books have already been written on him in Hindi and Urdu. Book by Prof. Masood Hasan Rizvi is very prominent on this subject. But any book in English language was missing from Britisher’s perspective. My intention was to explore and put on paper the various facts which were missing in previous books. It is unfortunate how Wajid Ali Shah is little appreciated even as Lucknow continues to promote itself as a city of Nawabs.

‘The Last King in India’, why you have called him so ?

1856 was the end of Wajid Ali Shah’s reign and 1857 was end of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s reign. Later was Emperor of Delhi and more particularly confined to his fort; he died in 1862. Wajid Ali Shah was King in all aspects and lived till 1887 in Kolkata. Although, he was victim of British policy but he was truly a Kind and that too last in India. Secondly, the title of the book has to be attractive and this one justifies the subject.

What is your observation about Wajid Ali Shah ?

He was very learned person and his contribution to culture is enormous. He was infact very romantic person also. He contributed a lot in architecture, music, dance, theatre and literature. Britishers never gave him chance and projected him as very bad administrator. But it was all strategy to malign his image so that they can annex Awadh.

Have you explored his life in Kolkata ?

Yes, i have visited Kolkata to explore his life over there. Infact, his life can be divided in two parts. First one is mostly highlighted and which was in Lucknow. His stay in Kolkata is equally important and i gathered every information so that a complete research can be done. Actually, i was more interested about his life in Kolkata which is otherwise less studied.

What your research says about wives of Wajid Ali Shah ?

The common figure in 365, but actually he had 372 wives and even more. The exact figure is not known. Although, some Indian Historians do not believe this figure and says that it is only exaggerated figure. But these wives were at different time and some were not official wives. He was not good towards his wives and it is a documented fact.

Are you a member of Indian History Congress ?

No, i am not the member of Indian History Congress. However, I am member of Royal Asiatic Society and Royal Society for Asian Affairs. Honorary Secretary of British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA). I am also editor of ‘Chowkidar’, the Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia and have contributed articles and reviews to Asian Affairs since 1977.

What you are focussing in your next book ?

My next book is focussed on the changes brought by Britishers in India. It will deal with every aspect like Railways, Canals, Telegraph, Architecture, etc. How it changed the Indian landscapes and social structure across India. Lucknow will a part of this book as the scope is pan India in this project.

What is your message to the people of Lucknow and the authorities ?

You have a wonderful city…just cherish it. Love your monuments and preserve the same. Appreciate and promote your culture. Lucknow is decaying since long and it is the responsibility of the people of Lucknow along with authorities to work for its preservation. No other city across Globe has such charm which is in every aspect of Lucknow !

Writer is marketing professional. Being a freelance writer, Lucknow and Urdu are his passions

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