Yesteryears Oudh or Awadh is today’s Lucknow. I was born here and spent some precious years of childhood. I often visit now and the place is no stranger to me.
Lucknow, a city quintessentially synonymous to nazaqat-delicate and nafasat- sophistication, literature, food, art and craft.
Once a nerve center of Urdu and Hindi literature, Lucknow still has “it” in its genes which is comfortably passed to every generation. As a child growing up in Lucknow I never realized when I picked up the chaste talafuz-Pronunciation of words. It was only noticeable when I moved to Mumbai later and every one distinctively noticed the difference in my spoken language.
I reminisce to my last trip to Lucknow a couple of years ago when I took a tonga-horse ride to the old city and refreshed my memories by visiting the Imambara, Aminabadand, Chowk market. The Bara Imambara,built by Nawab Asaf-ud-daullah in 17thcentury unfolds the story of ostentatious nawabi culture and grandiose. The complex has a Bhulbhulaiya – Labyrinth which is the live example of architectural and engineering intelligence, a Bawli- Specially designed pool for queens and princesses to bathe and Masjid- Mosque to offer prayers. The architecture has a reflection of Mughal designs and influence. The opulence is further enhanced by huge well maintained green gardens that let the visitor sit, ponder and admire the beauty.
Being in Lucknow and not savoring the world famous Awadhi delicacies is certainly not justified. I did not want to do injustice with myself so made sure to visit my favorite Tunday kababi in Aminabad market. The sumptuous mouthwatering delicacies are cooked in secret masalas which have been inherited from shahi khansaamas– royal chefsof nawabs. These masalas are now the part of city’s aroma which can be easily identified by any tourist travelling from outside. I complete my meal with famous Kesar Kulfi , the traditional form of ice cream and take a stroll of the market. The old markets are partially revamped to suit modern tastes but the essence of Awadhi culture has not faded yet. The dilapidated old buildings with engravings in Arabic and English truly narrate their centuries old stories of survival. The narrow gullies that once witnessed the marching of nawabi caravans now have modern transport system bustling. But the Pehle aap- You First tehzeeb –etiquette seem to be still there in Lucknowwallahs. Be it a shopkeeper or a pedestrian on the street you are bound to be ushered first. . Pehle aap!
I get amused by the chikankari kurtas and sarees hanging on the mannequins outside the shops and decide to pick one for myself. With this thought in mind I then step in to a shop to buy some Chikankari clothes. Chikankari , the exquisite hand embroidery technique of ancient times has now become the face of modern Lucknow. The contemporary adaptation of the art has not only blazed the fashion ramps of India but also the world. The courteous shopkeeper took me through all the designs and willingly explained the different types of intricate embroidery techniques like “Bakhiya”, “jaali”, “murri” to name a few. I explored the kurta collection in pastel rainbow colors and picked one in lime for myself.
As the sun sets in I call it a day and start to drive back home. I drive back through the roads crossing Mantralaya- the power center of politics, once famous and highly reputed Lucknow University where my father studied, umpteen temples and mosques and Gomti River which is as old as this civilization. I stop by Hazratganj market, the 21st century Lucknow and dig into aloo chat and golgappa at a road side chatwallahlooking and wondering at the changing face of Lucknow. Contrary to the old city, new Lucknow is modern, fashionable and suave. The old buildings are restored and are proud host to international brands. Lucknow University’s fame is now garnered by IIM Lucknow and the erstwhile Daak Bunglows are now luxury apartments by big builders. The city continues to grow, blossom and adapt and the river Gomti continues to flow quietly and nurture its fertile lands.
Despite having spent many years out of Lucknow, even now whenever I fly in to the city and the aircraft descends at the Amausi airport, the tears of joy invariably roll down my eyes and the childhood memories vividly flash like a kaleidoscope. Lucknow…the city I lived and I still love!
—- Pratyasha Nath