Of Lucknow and its famed “tehzeeb” - Notes from a reporter’s diary
As UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath completes 100 days in office, Poulomi Banerjee travels to the state capital, Lucknow, to see how the city has taken to the new head. Here she recounts her experience of discovering a city that she had heard much about, but never been to beforeindia Updated: Jun 30, 2017 19:20 IST
“Coffee begum ke samne wale table pe rakhiye”. (Put the coffee on the table in front of the lady). I was charmed by my hostess’s instruction to her domestic help. Not only because this was the first time in my life that I had been referred to as “Begum”, but also by the polite respect with which she addressed her help. I had seen the same well-bred civility in one of her friends the day before. When I had handed my mobile phone to my driver so that she may explain the location of her house to him, she had first greeted him with a Namaste, before conversing with him. When I mentioned this to my hostess, her only reply was, “This is Lucknow”.
I had been excited about my first trip to Lucknow. Not only because of all the culinary delights which my colleagues had been telling me I must sample - first and foremost of which was, of course, kebabs from Tunday Kababi – but also to see how the capital of Uttar Pradesh had taken to its new chief minister, Yogi Adityanath. And I was eager to experience firsthand the famed “tehzeeb” of Lucknow.
I spent three wonderful days in Lucknow – fleeting between the old city and the more recently developed areas such as Gomti Nagar. Nothing is far in Lucknow, definitely not farther than a 15-20 minute drive – only those who have to brave the traffic chaos of Mumbai and Delhi on a daily basis can truly appreciate the advantage of this. Imagine not having to calculate whether to start for an 11am meeting at 9am or earlier! And while apartments have started making an appearance, the city still boasts of some beautiful sprawling kothis, complete with lovingly-tended gardens – a sight fast disappearing in bigger metros.
“Even 10-15 years back when you stepped into a Delhi-Lucknow Shatabdi you could immediately make out the difference. The language changed. People were more polite,” said one Lucknow old-timer. Another remembered the old Urdu language and the beauty that conversations once had. “When I was in college paan shops would have a little board on which would be written ‘Paan kehta hai ki main sookh ke mar jaunga, aye labhe yaar agar tune na chooma mujhko’ (The betel leaf is saying that it will shrivel up and die if it doesn’t get to kiss of those lips). Or kulfi sellers would call a potential customer with, ‘Kulfi le lo, aapke yaad mein ghuli ja rahi hai’. (Get a kulfi. It’s melting in your memory). You don’t see such use of language and poetry in daily life now”.
And what of Lucknow’s famed “Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb” – that culture born of the blending of the traditions of different communities and that allows these communities to not only live together in peaceful co-existence, but to also be a part of each other’s lives? Does it survive, or like other relics of a bygone era, is it something that inspires nostalgia but has no place in the current discourse. That, after all was the story that I was trying to find in Lucknow – how a city that prided itself on its secular society had taken to a chief minister who is a serving mahant and is viewed by many as a poster boy of Hindutva? Are people wary of his ways? Has religious discourse entered politics? And have interpersonal relationships between those of different communities been impacted? What I learnt of the spirit of Lucknow, and its people, is the subject matter of another story – one that I will narrate this weekend. But there’s more to the city than can be explored in a single visit. And both the journalist in me and the traveller will await the next trip to Lucknow.