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This can only happen in Lucknow

LADY LUCKNOW is aging gracefully. Despite a spurt of affluence visible in newly sprouting shopping malls and McDonald?s and Barista and multiplexes, the city?s charm is yet unsullied by money?s machinations. Lucknow makes me wonder, time and again.

india Updated: Jan 01, 2006 00:09 IST

LADY LUCKNOW is aging gracefully.

Despite a spurt of affluence visible in newly sprouting shopping malls and McDonald’s and Barista and multiplexes, the city’s charm is yet unsullied by money’s machinations. Lucknow makes me wonder, time and again.

Here “Sahara” means more than a desert — the word reminds us of the world’s largest extended family! Indeed! For me Lucknow still lives on in its polite conversations, the wispy smoke rising from roadside kebab stalls, in soft shuffle of sarees in Hazratganj and in loud political posters on the university road. I cannot but be amused at the hoarding in an apparel shop that proclaims that it is “world famous in Lucknow”. Just the other day I saw a policeman actually pay an auto-driver the exact fare after he got down from a ride in Ganj. The co-riders were pleasantly surprised. This can only happen in Lucknow! I had been invited to dinner in film maker Muzaffar Ali’s ancestral house. That house shows Lucknow in its charming best. In contrast, I went to a coffee store called Ultraviolet that would easily rival a modern cafe in downtown New York. The broad roads from the airport truly speak of a “happened city”. The Taj is indeed majestic. The Clarks, cosy and hospitable.

When it comes to emotion, Lucknowites could easily compete as being the most ‘emotional souls’ in the country. And religious too. Just count the ever increasing number of make shift temples that seem to sprout from almost anywhere in the city to know what I mean by being religious. And then count the number of heads bowing before the deities installed inside those temples to know what I mean by this.

Lucknow goes by tradition. But then it has also embraced modernity with arms wide open. You find ‘intellectual debates’ going on at roadside tea joints and then when you hear that when eminent historian Irfan Habib was speaking in Lucknow, only ten people turned up to listen him, you begin to wonder again.

It is surprising Lucknow has so little interest in intellectual life. I also wonder at times as to why they call Lucknow the Science city for the city seems bereft of ‘scientific temper’.

But, then surprisingly, I also get a 20% discount on my food in many restaurants as I happen to be an “IIM professor’. That is very cool, I think! I have lived in Lucknow for ten years now. My heart warms up to the city’s easy elegance. It is a wonderful retreat away from the delirium called Delhi. I hope in the hurry to live up to the rhetoric of Uttam Pradesh we do not convert this entire city into another shopping mall.

Yes, its language. In the last ten years, I have seen Lucknow’s tongue change its tone. But then, I am sure there are pockets, like in the old city, where the old still thrives. In the mushrooming ‘Mall’ spirit the accented youths with their grammatically incorrect and audibly harsh language are attempting to give Lucknow a metro tongue. But I still feel that Lucknow’s beauty still lies in the traditionally and hugely popular way of greeting, the warmth of spirit and the devil-may-care approach. Fine, one might argue that this approach may not be able to pitchfork Lucknow in the league of its richer siblings like Mumbai but then one cannot deny that Lucknow has an identity that is all of its own. Lucknow lads have started wearing the Indian-blue too. Lucknow, to me, is a city of contrasts. Just when you think you have formed an opinion about the city, it forces you to revise your assessment .

First Published: Jan 01, 2006 00:09 IST