Down the Memory lane
After a long gap I had come to my native town, Lucknow, to meet my relatives and friends. Much had changed in the city. The streets and buildings were looking different. The dresses, faces and the habits of the people had changed. The language and the accents were different. Also the mutual relations had changed, the areas which remained deserted earlier, were full of new and beautiful buildings and the parks and historical buildings which used to be pride of Lucknow, were full of rubbish and filth and had turned into ruins.
Every evening I went to meet my relatives and old friends and in the day time visited old monuments and historical places. Sometimes visiting Big and Small Imambaras of Hussainabad and Residency and sometimes going to the Old Cofffee House in the fashionable area of Hazratganj or walking through the markets of Hazratganj, Aminabad, Nakkhas and Chowk. The Old Coffee House in the posh area of Hazratganj, where formerly people laughed over the jokes of Israrul Haq Majaz and appreciated his poetry and enjoyed the verses of Anand Narain Mullah, one could now listen to the filthy conversations of the people sitting over there and see the thick layers of dust on the tables.
In the tea houses of Nakkhas, where Siraj Lakhnavi, Nihal Rizvi, Sharib Lakhnavi and other local Urdu poets used to object to the minute mistakes of each others’ verses, were now lying deserted. Sometimes I went to a restaurant of Nakkhas and looked at the faces of the people sitting over there, thinking that there might be any known figure among them, but in vain. It made me nervous, those sitting over there, dressed in Kurta and Pyjama and having a typical Lucknow cap (Dupalli Topi) on their heads, stared at me with strange eyes. As if they wanted to know, how this animal in pant and shirt, carrying a handbag has entered their restaurant. Several restaurants in Aminabad and Nazirabad, where we used to plan our literary and cultural activities and listen to the verses of Hazar Lakhnavi, Saim Saidanpuri, Shaoor Barelvi, Dil Lakhnavi and Abdul Rasheed Qamar, were now turned into cloth stores. Now the beautiful Urdu verses are not appreciated there, but the loud beckoning of the shop keepers to attract the customers.
“Brother, take your water bottle with you” said my cousin sister, Sabiha, with whom I was staying at Aliganj, while giving me a plastic bottle. It had filtered and boiled water. “You should not drink outside water. Don ́t eat in any ordinary restaurant. Your stomach is weak.” She quietly uttered some Quranic ́Surahs` and puffed at my face and remained worried until I was back home.
The burning heat of noon had slightly died down. The sun was now hiding behind the `Ashok` trees. While passing through the street of `Chakbast Road’, I stopped at the gate of the `Bungalow Number 1. This Bungalow was situated in a formerly posh area of Lucknow on ́Chakbast Road ́, named after a famous Urdu poet ́Pandit Brij Narain Chakbast ́. In the same Bungalow I had spent my childhood with my uncle Syed Misbahuddin Naqvi, Chief Executive Officer of Lucknow Municipal Corporation, after the death of my father when I was a small child. Another gate of the Bungalow opened at the `Raja Nawab Ali Road. On the right hand side of the bungalow was the office of Zila Parishad with its garden, where we used to pick oranges and pumpelmuse after climbing the small wall standing between our house and the garden.
At the front side, across the road, was the girl’s college, Nari Shiksha Niketan. The girls of this college, in colourful college uniforms entered very often chatting into our front garden and picked roses and Gerbaras in their handkerchiefs and shawls and before we could stop them they ran away saying: “These are for pooja”. Not far from our house, on the other side of Chakbast Road, on a big ground was a courtyard for several courts for criminal proceedings. In front of its entrance one could see many innocent villagers surrounding the jugglers. The jugglers demonstrated their arts and cheated the innocent villagers by making interesting tales to sell their home made primitive medicines.
Behind the Bungalow, at the back of the servant’s quarters, was a small ‘nala’ (canal) adjacent to an American Missionary School, Centennial. Whenever I got up late and delayed in reaching the school in time I jumped over this canal or climbed over the boundary of the school to attend the class in time. Just a few hundred meters away from this school, near the Gomti River, were the ruins of the Residency. During the War of Independence in 1857 the British force surrendered there in the fort by the Indian army of Oudh under the leadership of Begum Hazrat Mahal. Even today the marks of heavy shelling of the Indian army are visible on the walls of the ruins. The boys of Centennial School used to go quite often to the gardens of the Residency to play and create mischief, climbing on top of the trees, collecting red and green tamarinds and enjoying the abusive words of the gardeners.
Quite close to the Residency, at the end of Chakbast Road was Balrampur Hospital, where on 5th December 1955 I had seen the popular Urdu poet Israrul Haq Majaz taking his last breaths. On the other end of the street, behind a big historic but broken gate was the White Baradari of Qaiserbagh which is said to have been used by the ruler of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah, for the performances of his musicals, although some people believe that the Marsiya (the poetic funeral notes in commemoration of Imam Hussain) by the poet, Anis, were recited here. On the right and left sides of Baradari were the two beautiful parks and at a short distance from there were the old palaces which were reserved for the Begums of Oudh and are now known as Mahmoodabad House and Saleempur House.
During our studies in Lucknow University many of my close friends such as Sharib Rudaulvi, Zaki Shirazi, Ashahad Rizvi, Shahid Rizvi and Ammar Rizvi used to come there from their towns to stay. Quite close to Mahmoodabad House was a primitive tea store of a man called Ahmad Ali. We often sat there and planned our literary activities. Just about a few hundred meters away from there was the big Begum Hazrat Mahal Park, named after the great fighter of the First War of Independence of India. During the British colonial rule it was called ́Victoria Park`. During my young age I used to play cricket in that park.
I looked once again towards the Bungalow Number.1 of Chakbast Road. The decently arranged flower beds were now replaced by the large dry grass and straw. The boundaries of the Bungalow were broken here and there. Many small shops of betel and cigarettes, and Aaloo Chholas were standing in front of the boundaries and street-barbers were shaving the villagers. The name plate of my uncle had already been removed from the gate.
For a while I stood under an Ashok tree near the boundary of the bungalow. The fresh breeze coming through the leaves gave me a strange relief. My eyes were getting closed, the beds of flowers became fresh. The colourful flowers were now smiling. The little white flowers of ́Raat Ki Rani (Lady of the Night) had covered the ground. The atmosphere was filled with fragrance. The birds singing in the trees were chanting louder and the ripe tamarinds were falling from the tree.
“Please don’t spoil the flower beds!”
This was ́Chowdhry`, one of the gardeners of the Bungalow. With lot of care he used to plant new plants in the garden and gave them water with affection. When he cut the bushes, it looked as if a barber has placed a little boy on the chair to cut his hair. And when he entered the flower bed to remove the straw, it looked as if a mother was searching lice in the hair of her child. Every day he prepared a bouquet and decorated the writing table of my uncle and on Eid and Baqreid, presented beautiful bouquets to my aunt and received rewards. My uncle helped his wife to get a job as a gardener in the ́Women’s Garden` of the Lucknow Municipality and allowed her to stay in the servants quarter of the bungalow. Their little, plump son, Bhagwandin, came very often to us and watched us play with marbles and tops.
The old memories began to revive: I was a small child, my father had brought me and my mother from Hyderabad to celebrate Eid in Lucknow. We were staying with my uncle, Syed Misbahuddin Naqvi. This bungalow was allotted to him by the government. Several brothers were living there together with their families. Still a major portion remained vacant. There were big lawns in the outer and inner portions of the house. Several gardeners were employed to look after them. Behind the inner lawn were servant’s quarters and a stable for horses. Many kinds of flower beds and bushes and fruit trees as well as a big Gulnaar tree with its thousands of red flowers had graced the lawn. In summer, the beds were arranged in the inner lawn for sleeping, they were covered with mosquito nets and we could hear the buzzing sounds of the mosquitoes and see the glow-worms flying in the garden. During the day time when all were sleeping, we children used to run here and there in the garden, plucked the tamarinds, caught the butterflies and prepared traps with horses’ hair in order to catch the chameleons.
Now much has changed in the city. Chakbast Road and Bungalow Number.1 have also changed. Our family is scattered in many countries. My mother, aunt, uncles and some other relatives and many old friends are also no more. Whenever I come to Lucknow and stay with my cousin sister, Sabiha, in Aliganj, she boils even flltered water for me and says: “Bhaijan, don’t eat in any ordinary restaurant. Don’t drink outside water!”
Suddenly the bell of `Nari Shiksha Niketan ́rang and the Rickshaw drivers rushed towards the gate of the girl’s college. Some policemen were carrying two prisoners from the side of the court, tied with handcuffs and chains on their feet, which were clanging on the street.
I looked once again towards the Bungalow Number.1. My heart was weeping on the ruins of its garden. I wanted to shake the gate of the bungalow and shout loudly. But then I realized that I am now a stranger here. People will regard me as mad. They might suspect me as dangerous. The drops of perspiration appeared on my forehead. I wanted to run away from there.
Suddenly a voice caught my attention: “Bhaiya, you?” asked a young , healthy, dark coloured man. His black moustache was shining. This was ́Bhagwan Din`, son of our old coach-driver, whose mother was employed in the ladies park of Lucknow Municipality with the assistance of my uncle ‘Misbah Chacha’. Bhagwandin was now working in the U.P. Government Secretariat.
“Bhaiya, would you not come to our house?” “Where?”
“There, near the nala (small canal), in the servantsquarters.”
I was sitting in the quarter of Bhagwandin. His wife, covering her face with a corner of her sari, served the food in a brass plate.
“Bahuji aur Bitiya ko sath nahi laaye.?” (Why didn ́t you bring your wife and daughter along with you?)
I was drinking the water from a metal glass, which she offered me, forgetting what I was told: “Bhaijan, don’t eat outside. Don’t drink water without filter and without boiling.” Bhagwandin ́s eyes were glittering and I was getting a strange spiritual strength.
Author is a celebrated authority on Urdu
(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 1 Issue 11, Dated 05 February 2015)