“Aap kay paaon ke neeche dil hai/ Eik zara aapko zehmat hogi” (The heart lies under your step/ Please remove, I regret for your trouble) is the sentiment which only a true Lucknowite can fathom. This sentiment came up in the last century, one which might as well have been imbibed from the life of Urdu poet Meer Anees, who had once said, “Khayal-e-khatir-e-ahbaab chahiye har dum/ Anees, thais na lag jaye aabgeeno ko” (Every moment an upkeep of friends has to be taken/ Anees, may there not be a slight touch to the water bubble). That was when the last king, Wajid Ali Shah, was in Lucknow. The king himself would stand and physically fan Meer Anees as he addressed from the pulpit at Baradari, or the Qasrul-Buka (Palace of Mourning), during Muharram at Qaiserbagh, Lucknow.
Such acknowledgment was the essential element of living in Lucknow. People were the centrestage of governance, and nawabs and sultans, to the best of their efforts, tried to make Lucknow a preserve of all civilisational citadels. They brought in miniatures and replicas from across the world. Lucknow was, therefore, a monumental delight, and, perhaps, the historians in their verdict gave their findings too. It was the Constantinople of Asaf-ud-Daula, the Kremlin of Saadat Ali Khan, Alexandria of Ghazi-ud-Din Haider, Babylon of Muhammed Ali Shah, Paris of Amjad Ali Shah and Sheeraz of Wajid Ali Shah. The small tenure (1722-1856) was enough for the British to call it the Garden of Eden on Earth.
Lucknow inherited all the ingredients of secularism from the Mughal Delhi, and became an emblem of Ganga-Jamuna culture, one that, otherwise, was a synthetic melting pot of modern India. The city also remained the prime minister’s constituency three times. However, after 1947, Lucknow underwent such a rapid change that today, it bears not even a semblance of its glorious past.
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Apart from being a reservoir of monuments, many of which were destroyed in the aftermath of 1857, Lucknow was (and still is, to an extent) a citadel of Urdu. It reflected in each of its verve. “Kahte hain agle zamane mein koi Meer bhi tha (It is said in the past there was a Meer too),” Mirza Ghalib acknowledged Meer Taqi Meer, who lies buried below a railway track at the city station. This, however, is disappearing. Not long back, even during a street brawl, one would hear, “Agar aapne ye andaz nahi badla to main aapki ma ki shaan mein gustakhi karne ki jasarat kar doonga (If you don’t change your ways, I might take the audacity to be impudent in context of your mother).”
There has never been any communal trouble in Lucknow, not even in 1947, notwithstanding some incidents here or there. Lucknow blended a Kayastha, Brahmin, Khatri, Shia or a Sunni in an indistinguishable taksali zubaan. Even a mehter or a mehterani were undecipherable by their language (Mehter is used for scavenger, but also a Persian word meaning highest and exalted). “Aapki inayat, aapka karam, maula ka ahsaan (Your favours, your benevolence, maula’s gratitude)” was once their lingua franca. “Laila ki ungliyaan lay lein/ Majnu ki pasliyaan lay lein/ Hari hari kakriyan lay lein (Carry the fingers of Laila, the ribs of Majnu, and these green cucumbers)” was the cry for selling cucumber, while chaman kay moti (for grapes) and bagh kay pere (for guava) was the lexicon of other fruit sellers.
The peak of eloquence came from the like of Meer Anees, Mirza Dabeer, Aatish, Nasiq, and Insha, which percolated into the next century for Josh, Yagana, Majaz, Manzar, Sahir, Aziz, Saqib or Siraj Lucknowi. Then we had Adab, Muaddab or Muhazzab — all of whom were great poets. Muhazzab wrote the renowned Urdu dictionary. Urdu poets such as Pandit Daya Shankar “Naseem”, Pandit Ratan Nath Dar “Sarshaar” and Pandit Brij Narain “Chakbast” are engaging PhD topics for research scholars from across the world. Today, this legacy is being forwarded by giants such as professor Naiyyer Masood (also known as the Kafka of Lucknow), professor Khan Atif (a great Persian speaking historian) and the one who just left us, Mudra Rakshas.
The pure Lucknawi is outnumbered to the extent of extinction. The Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act (1952) wrecked the backbone, followed by the majoritarian brand of politics, coupled with riots and an incessant flow of population. Has Lucknow gone beyond redemption? Perhaps, the distinctiveness of Lucknowi dialect should be conserved the way ancient monuments are protected. Let it be glorified in celluloid, and have films like Palki, which featured the song, Ain sheher-e-Lucknow, tujhe mera salam ho, or Chaudwin ka chand, with Ye Lucknow ki Sar Zameen. These may as well be the last cry, or else the ominous words of Kaifi Azmi — “Yahan par chalti hain churiiyaan zabaan se pahle/ Ye Meer Anees ki Aatish ki guftugu to nahi/ Ye koi aur jagah hogi Lucknow to nahi (Here, knives run before the words/ This is not an expression of Meer Anees or Aatish/ This must be some other place, not Lucknow) — might come true. Lucknawi poet Asrar ul Haq Majaz (1911-1955) gives a glimpse of the everlasting succour when he wrote, “Ab iske baad subah hai aur subah-e-nau Majaz/ Hum par hai khatam Sham-e-Ghareebane Lucknow” (Now it will be morning and a new morning/ The dark night of toil ends on me). Will Lucknow move for a recoup? Will the new dawn occur?
The writer is UP State Information Commissioner.