I came back from Lucknow few days back. As usual was in a depression for next 24 hours. I have heard about Kolkata that if you can survive the initial shock of it, you will fall in love with the city..but that never happened with me. This “Much admired, much abused- always wonderful” city failed to impress me. In fact, the moment I land at railway station/airport, the sight of old dilapidated unpainted buildings put me off. The bumps in the roads, the crowd and the harassed, anxious faces of people on street make me feel run back to my hometown.
May be it’s not the fault of this oldest and now most dense metro. May be for a small town person like me the ingredients of “good life” are essentially non-metro like. High-rise buildings and number of five star hotels is far less important than knowing names of all the trees of the campus and knowing when each one will bloom or shed leaves. Every time I visit Lucknow, I feel a part of me is left behind in that lovely house my parents built so painstakingly. No one lives in my parents house these days. Career compulsions forced all of us sisters out of the city and after my father’s death we can’t leave mom alone there.
But life is still the same over there. Neighbors meet frequently, are expected to know about each other. Youngsters address elders (even remote acquaintances) as chacha-bua-mausi-mami( various forms of uncle and aunts) . Language is much more polite and respectful even coming from rickshawwallas or shopkeepers. Though the ambition of making it big is catching on there as well, the hurried rush, the rude talk, and the unnecessary aggressiveness is still not there.
I miss the friendly talks of neighbours comparing each others gardens and lawns, families taking pride on the home grown guavas and papayas, shopkeepers remembering your first name even after years and many such things. Just drop in a middle class family house in the evening, you will be treated with home baked cake tried out from a recipe book by a teen age daughter…or may be some traditional sweet prepared after hours of preparation by the lady of the house…if nothing else one boy will be dispatched promptly to get some particularly famous kulfi/sweet/snack from the shop round the corner. Perhaps no other city can match the unique culture of Lucknow, a city with almost equal Hindu and Muslim population. A city which never saw the Hindu muslim riots in first four decades of Independence. I find it strange that in non-Muslim families in other cities Eid goes unnoticed. I can’t recall a single Eid when we did not had siwaiyyen: at our home and at friend’s . It was only when I came out of Lucknow that I realized that the language I speak is not Hindi but ‘Hindustani’ as it has equal number of Urdu words too. The ‘tehzeeb’ with which we are expected to behave and the famous mannerisms of Lucknow are considered “too formal and artificial” in other cities.
And here in Kolkata , at times in late evenings I lookout from my balcony on 5th floor and wonder if the creatures down there on the street are worried about the maid not turned up or may be the person just missed the last bus to home and had to shell out a lot of money on taxi or they are thinking about another tiring weekday tomorrow. My life here can be summed up in very few words: Getting up, getting ready, breakfast, office, cooking , TV, sleeping. I get to see the colours of evenings only in weekends as by the time I come back from work it is already night. And I am not alone in this kind of life , most others are slogging like me too …even worse , if you take into account those youngsters working in IT companies. They don’t even know what pleasures they are missing of that leisurely life. Even weekends offer no respite for them. For me weekends are meant for numerous works piling on for days plumber/electrician , compulsory social calls and yes, that is only time when I have to do my shopping for the coming week.
Talking of shopping- one of life’s great pleasures, I miss that too over here. You don’t get the feel of bargaining unless it is done in your mother tongue and that handicap in this foreign land makes me feel miserable. Even otherwise, shopping from mall is no fun. Even after three years I keep confusing names of everyday utilities in the grocery shops, there is no concept of ‘trusted’ shopkeeper –as almost all shops are new for me . Getting to a place itself takes so much time that you don’t feel like shopping with full spirit. Traffic jams, parking regulations, occasional bandhs-political rallies and the old weary congested look of most old markets make me cry for my city of nawabs , which still maintains its love for leisurely, laid back and yet exceptionally hospitable attitude—despite hordes of politicians and business men corrupting it . The city may be now in news for all the wrong reasons but on a micro level it is a very happy very livable city . The most wonderful part of the Lukhnavi culture is that it will embrace everything modern but will give it a tinge of its own colour. Long back someone explained to me that why it is called Ganga-jamuni culture….its not only that it is located in the delta land of the two great rivers but also that like Ganga and Yamuna (Jamuna for localites) it is a mixture of two very different colours---take that for Hindu or Muslim or for new and old , hindi and urdu or may be for liberal yet conservative attitude. Today when I enter in a very modern look ,Air conditioned Chikankari shop in famous Hazratganj and am greeted by the traditional “ Aayiye bitiya aayiye, tashrif laiye ..” I know I have come home.