Lucknow….The Sweetest Memories !

Kya Hai Taaqat Aasman Ki Jo Chhuraae Lucknow

“The crimson sunsets of Gomti…the sound of a ‘jugalbandi’ between ‘sandhya aarti’ and the ‘azaan’…the earthy aroma of ‘chana jor garam’…the smell of fresh but slightly dusty books, stacked on the racks of Universal Booksellers…the rich flavour of ‘State Bank Wala’ Paan….. Lucknow fills up my senses every evening. I get flashes of ‘shaam-e-awadh’ every dusk, no matter where in the world I am.

I was born, brought up in the City of Nawabs and have been it’s admirer for as long as I can remember. I loved it not just because it was my hometown or my family lived there, I loved it because I found it’s culture fascinating, it’s monuments intriguing and it’s language charming. I had to leave my beloved city, in pursuit of higher education, when I was barely eighteen but I knew it would always remain my home. I’ve stayed in so many cities eversince and liked them all for some reason or the other but none of them have ever been able to take the place that Lucknow holds in my heart. My fondness has only grown with time and distance.

Every couple of months I crave for Lucknow and by the third- fourth month, start getting restless and impatient for a visit. The moment my leave is granted and tickets get booked, a broad smile lights up my face. I don’t even need to wait to reach Lucknow, just the thought of being there makes me smile. ‘Muskuraiye ki aap Lakhnau mein hain’ (Smile! You are in Lucknow) happens naturally to me.

The moment my flight lands at the Lucknow Airport and the mobile phones start getting switched on, my Lucknow-mode also gets switched on! I automatically start addressing myself as ‘Hum’ not ‘Mein’ and start speaking in a language that hardly anyone outside Lucknow understand. ‘Chhutte paise’ become ‘Toote Paise’ and ‘Arey ghazab!’ becomes the favourite expression of amusement and sometimes sarcasm. The moment the domestic staff welcomes me and addresses me as ‘Bitiya’, I switch to my ‘awadhi’ mode seamlessly.

After relaxing at home and spending sometime with the family I always get eager to meet the city and shopping is always the best excuse to venture out and say ‘Aadaab’ to Lucknow.

The good old Aminabad is my on top of the list. It is supremely crowded and chaotic in every sense of the word. But I find even the chaos so endearing. The familiar, trusted, old ‘brands’ of Lucknow – Arora Achaar, Gaadha Bhandaar, Shukla Book Depot, Laal Khambe Wali Dukaan, Prakash ki Kulfi. Medieval facades, reminiscent of a beautiful era peeking through the dangerous mess of wires and hapharzard name boards. There is something for everyone here, you just need to find it and somehow I always find what I am looking for.

I am a Jewellery Designer by profession and have had the opportunity to see some of the best Jewellery markets of India and abroad but Gadbad-Jhala remains my favourite trinket market till date. Chaand-Baalis, Jhumkas and Chhapkas of Lakhnavi Kundan still bedazzle me with their subtle sheen and old-world grace.

Whenever I travel to Lucknow my friends give me a long list of Chikankari items that they want. Chikan is available in all the big markets of Lucknow but I prefer going to the Chowk Sarrafa first, because it gives me a chance to drive through Nakkhas and get mesmerized by the intricate carvings on the facades of mysterious kothis.

Looking closely at the fabric quality, inspecting the neatness of the shadow work, the dhania pattis, the jaalis and kangans (names of chikan embroidery stitches)…I spend hours and hours selecting the best pieces of this lakhnavi fine art, because I have to ensure that the pieces I take, live up to the reputation of Lucknow.

After Chowk Sarrafa it becomes a must to visit Janpath as some of the chikan stores there keep contemporary, designer interpretations of this traditional needlecraft, much appreciated by the younger people. The hospitality of the salesman here is also something that keeps bringing me back to them. They don’t rest until they have served you some tea, coffee or ‘thanda’. These are amonsgt the few people who are keeping the ‘mehman nawazi’ alive.

After shopping comes food! Being 100 per cent vegetarian, I’ve never tasted the world-renowned kababs, kulcha-nihaari or sheermals but Lucknow has the most delicious chaats and sweets for people like me. I indulge in food mostly during ‘Ganjing’ (a Lakhnavi slang for shopping, eating and loitering aimlessly around Lucknow’s most beautiful market- Hazrat Ganj, nicknamed ‘Ganj’). Moti Mahal’s Imarti and King of Chaat’s Dahi Batashe are my perennial favourites.

‘Ganj’ is my favourite hang-out in Lucknow and I meet up most of my friends at the Cafe Coffee Day here. Visiting the Ganj bookshops – Ram Advani Booksellers, Minoo and Dinshaw and Universal Booksellers is a almost like a ritual for me now. Buying hard copies of books is becoming obsolete increasingly and bookstores are becoming even more redundant due to the growing popularity of online shopping but the variety of hindi literature books and books written about Lucknow, that these stores keep is still unmatched.

I developed my taste for ghazals and urdu poetry while driving around the city and listening to the radio, when I was a young girl. I still like to revisit those ghazals while driving on the roads of Gomti Nagar and Cantonment. One can hear the same ghazals anywhere in the world but it is tough to explain why they sound the best only in Lucknow. The ‘ aab-o-hawa’ itself seems to have music in it.

Before leaving Lucknow I ensure that I pay my respects to the Hanuman ji of Hanuman Setu temple and Mahadev at the Mankameshwar Temple. These temples are not just places of worship but a part of Lucknow’s heritage now. The desi ghee, besan laddoos of Hanuman setu are of course and additional attraction.

The days of departure from Lucknow are always difficult. When I reach the airport with a suitcase and a heart gone heavier, I only get reminded of Awadh’s last Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and imagine what his plight must have been while bidding adieu to a city he loved so much.
I bring so much along whenever I return from Lucknow but there is so much that I also leave behind. Vermillion sunrises, saffron dipped sunsets and a few pieces of my heart…. but then I remind my self that Lucknow is not just a city for me, it is a concept, a thought, a way of life and I carry a bit of it wherever I go. This Lakhnavi may have been taken away from Lucknow but no one take the Lucknow out of her.

Kya hai taaqat aasman ki jo chhuraae Lucknow…

every dusk, I dream…even while I am wide awake…I dream of a muddy blue sky, full of colourful kites and a quiet crescent moon (a nakhooni chand or nail-shaped moon as my father calls it)…I dream of being in Lucknow again…”

Isha Priya Singh

Aminabad-Sweetest Memories

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