Lucknow: Culture, History 2

From Indpaedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Hindi English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish

Culture: quixotic

Title and authorship of the original article(s)

The tale of a quixotic culture

By Humair Ishtiaq, Dawn, c.2007

This is a newspaper article selected for the excellence of its content.
You can help by converting it into an encyclopedia-style entry,
deleting portions of the kind normally not used in encyclopaedia entries.
Please also put categories, paragraph indents, headings and sub-headings,
and combine this with other articles on exactly the same subject.

See examples and a tutorial.

Guzashta Lucknow: Hindustan Mein Mashriqi Tamaddun Ka Akhri Namona By Abdul Haleem Sharar Reprinted by and available with Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore. 25, Shahrah-e-Pakistan (Lower Mall). PO Box 997, Lahore Tel: 042-7220100; 7228143 Fax: 042-7245101 Email: ISBN 969-35-1827-6 528pp. Rs999

WHILE the celebrated nostalgia of those hailing from Dilli has over the years given birth to a whole lot of mesmerising accounts of what it was like in the days of yore, it is somewhat disappointing that not much of matching worth has come out from their counterparts hailing from Lucknow, even though the two happened to represent parallel cultures. In fact, there was a rivalry of sorts that marked the existence of the two.

The accounts generated by the likes of Mirza Farhatullah Beg, Shahid Ahmed Dehlavi, Ashraf Subohi, Hairat Dehlavi, Mulla Wahidi and not to forget our own Intizar Hussain, have ensured permanence to the life that revolved around the Lal Qila, the Chandni Chowk, the Jama Masjid and, indeed, the steps of the Masjid.

When it comes to Lucknow, the elegiac stuff is very much there, but is no match to what has been produced about Dilli. Masood Hussain, Nayyer Masood, Jaffer Hussain, Masood Rizvi, even Josh Malihabadi; they have all written about Lucknow and what it meant to be in the metropolis at the time, but it is mostly about the ruling nawabs and the elite. There is, for instance, no one to rival Ghummi Kababi, Mullan Na’ee, Baqar Ali Dastaan-go, Mirza Chapati and so many others who gave Dilli its distinctive aura.

In this backdrop, the effort of the publishers to once again make available Abdul Haleem Sharar’s Guzashta Lucknow is a laudable effort; laudable because, one, it is unarguably the most acknowledged work of literary and historical value on the subject, and, two, it was not available to the layreader for a very long time.

Just about the time when the West was making multi-layered inventions with one discovery leading to the other, the cultured people of Lucknow were inventing even newer ways to cook the traditional ‘pula’o’

Since Sharar had first written the text in his own periodical Dil-Gudaz, it was only to be expected that the compilation had a sort of disjointed look. The current volume has taken care of the technical flaw by giving the text a new and a more logical sequence. But this has been done without any kind of editing which means the linguistic puritanism of Sharar has remained unaffected. In its present form, the reader gets the best of both worlds, while the erudite preface and foreword as well as the glossary and published write-ups form the past about Sharar and his work come as a bonus.

Sharar’s account, remarkable though it is, remains marred by the same elitist malaise that has been the hallmark of his predecessors as well as of those who came after him. It is quite evident that the fault lies not as much with those who wrote about it as with the culture itself.

The wave of scientific inventions and the rise of rational thinking in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries that together formed the shape and contours of the modern world were phenomena restricted to the western existence. The East, all this time, was on the wrong side of the pendulum swing. It shut down on itself the doors of progress, and preferred to take refuge in a sort of narcissistic cocoon. The culmination of this psychologically flawed process was the culture of 19th-century Lucknow.

The tale, as narrated by Sharar, makes for interesting and engrossed reading — very interesting and deeply engrossed, indeed. But somewhere down the line one begins to realise why the British had such a facile walkover in Oudh. Frankly speaking, the vignettes of a decadent culture that Sharar draws in this high-profile volume give way to more nausea than nostalgia.

Just about the time when the West was making multi-layered inventions with one discovery leading to the other, the cultured people of Lucknow were inventing even newer ways to cook the traditional “pula’o” — Gulzar Pula’o, Noor Pula’o, Koko Pula’o, Motee Pula’o, Chambeli Pula’o and so on and so forth. There is, of course, nothing wrong with the ability to cook rice in several mouth-watering ways, but if that happens to be the sole purpose of one’s life — of an entire culture’s life as was the case with Lucknow — then society has to bear the consequences.

Guzashta Lucknow brings to fore the showman spirit that was the key characteristic of that culture and pervaded all fields of life, from attire to cuisine, and from social values to religion. It was a culture that had a touch of Don Quixote about it. In fact, it is so quixotic that Sharar’s account is to be read to be

Dagar Sey Hat Kar By Saeeda Bano Ahmad Reprinted by Darul Nawadir, Alhamd Market, Ghazni Street, Urdu Bazar Lahore; and available with, Fazlee Book Supermarket, Urdu Bazar, Karachi Tel: 021-2212991-2629724 288pp. Rs180

THE book picks up the strand of life in Lucknow almost at the point that marks the end of Sharar’s account. It is basically an autobiography of a remarkable woman who dared to be different and broke free of the shackles that happened to be the hallmark of that decadent lifestyle.

Bound with a narration that is lucid to the core and flows without much of an effort, the tale of Saeeda Bano takes the reader to Lucknow, Bhopal and finally to Delhi where she settled down far away from all her relations, taking up broadcasting as a full-time profession which, in time, turned into a life-time passion.

Read together with Sharar’s account, the reader would be able to have a feel of what it was like in the days of yore and what cost one had to pay for having a mind of one’s own. The account is also refreshing in the sense that though it is the life-story of a truly courageous woman who broke many a barrier, it has none of the off-putting feminist overtones that work hard to repel readers. This is perhaps one major reason why the account is able to generate respect and admiration in the hearts of the readers for Saeeda Bano. Feminists of the in-your-face variety would do well to learn a vital lesson.

Faded Glory

Title and authorship of the original article(s)

Faded Glory

By Asif Noorani, Dawn, c.2007

This is a newspaper article selected for the excellence of its content.
You can help by converting it into an encyclopedia-style entry,
deleting portions of the kind normally not used in encyclopaedia entries.
Please also put categories, paragraph indents, headings and sub-headings,
and combine this with other articles on exactly the same subject.

See examples and a tutorial.

Two cities in the northern subcontinent have enjoyed a very large following. Those who have ever lived there are for ever nostalgic about them. Lahore is known for its robustness and vibrancy, and Lucknow for its finesse and tehzeeb (a fusion of culture, courtesy and good manners). Those who think that the ‘after you’ tradition has come from the West are grossly mistaken because the pehle aap refinement was there well before the colonials stepped into Awadh. This, as the editor of Writings on Lucknow: Sham-e-Awadh says, was once an inseparable part of the Lucknow culture.

The book begins with a poem in praise of the city by Shakeel Badayuni Yeh Lakhna’u ki sarzameen, which was used as the title song of Chaudhvin Ka Chand, a movie of the ’60s that was set in what is now the capital of India’s most populous province, Uttar Pradesh.

The next page reproduces three couplets of Mirza Ghalib, where he refers to the city in uncharitable terms. But if you are aware of the traditional rivalry that existed between Lucknow and the poet’s own city, Delhi, then you won’t be shocked.

Edited by Veena Talwar Oldenburg, a diehard Lakhnavi, who lives in New York but makes regular pilgrimage to her native town, the book is all encompassing because in-between the covers are pieces from and about the city’s distant past, its recent past and its not too pleasant present.

Oldenburg contributes six pieces to the book, lamenting the passing away of the Lucknavi culture and the onslaught of English and Hindi, not to speak of the language spoken by the Punjabi refugees, on what is her first language — Urdu. This reviewer has met many Hindu and Muslim Lucknavis, who spoke in the same vein about the city’s chaste Urdu losing ground to other languages.

However, a point that Oldenburg reminds us of is that even in the glorious days of the nawabs of Awadh all was not well. While the feudal lords and their relatives lived in luxury, the artisans ‘who made up two-thirds of the population, lived on a subsistence wage in the mud and thatch huts.’

The society during the rule, or shall we say the powerless rule (since the strings were controlled by the British), was decadent. When remembering Wajid Ali Shah’s contribution to semi-classical music and the classic dance Kathak, we tend to forget the squandering of all kinds of resources, mainly money, and his endless pursuit of pleasures of different kinds. Munshi Premchand’s story Shatranj Ke Khilari, on which was based Satyajit Ray’s only non-Bengali film, aptly reproduces the nawab’s addiction to one of his favourite pastimes, the game of chess. The translation of the story done by the writer’s grandson Alok Rai is included in the volume. Rai’s effort is so remarkable that unless one knows, one is likely to feel that the short story was originally written in English.

One of the finest pieces in the volume is the one written by Vinod Mehta, a leading Indian journalist, whose family moved from Rawalpindi to Lucknow when his father, a government employee, was transferred to the capital of what was once the United Provinces.

He narrated anecdotes and wrote about some typical Lucknavi characters of the 1950s and the ’60s. The most notable character was a man called Safdar. Nobody knew his antecedents and yet he was ‘furiously sought after’. ‘People fed him, clothed him, gave him regular pocket money, took him on trips out of town all because he was superbly entertaining.’

Safdar, says Mehta, could fix an appointment with any minister and had a solution to every problem. Above all, he was fantastic company. ‘In his presence you could pass hours and hours and never feel bored.’

Mehta moistens the readers’ eyes when he writes ‘One of the most poignant sights in post-Partition Lucknow was to see an entire class on the run. Nowhere to go, the local aristocracy withdrew into their mansions… fearful of the outside. To survive, they sold their heritage, but after dark.’

Ira Pande’s excerpt from Diddi while building up the character of a Hindu lady, shows the strong sibling relationship that she develops with Sahibzada Abdul Hamid Khan who belongs to the aristocracy that Mehta refers to.

It also reflects the communal (though not always sectarian) harmony that has been the hallmark of the city. One never hears of Hindu-Muslims riots, though sadly Shia-Sunni skirmishes are not unknown in the city of Anis, Dabeer and Majaz.

Saleem Kidwai’s piece on the great singer Begum Akhtar, who spent her best years in the city; excerpts from Attia Hosain’s highly readable novel of the ’60s Sunlight on a Broken Column; and Mishi Sharan’s My Nani Remembers are among the many readable pieces appearing in a book which makes it impossible to put down. There are other major contributors, including two Nobel laureates Rudyard Kipling and Naipaul, whose pieces have also been included.


Writings on Lucknow: Shaam-e-Awadh Edited by Veena Talwar Oldenburg Penguin Books, India Available with Paramount Books, Karachi ISBN 0143102451 273pp. Rs795

Personal tools