Sunday, July 30, 2006

Lucknow's Gasolinas

And I'am happy with the article for Once!!!!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

College and coffee friendly Lucknow..

So what does a college going hosteler do on weekends? In gomtinagar, “We catch a movie at Wave, a bite at Pizza Hut or Mc Donald’s, a stroll through patrakar puram in the evening and a coffee at the new Café Coffee day there,” chirps Shriya Sengupta a third year student of journalism at Amity. It was never better for the college crowd in Lucknow, coffee shops, restaurants with special concessions, eighty rupee morning movie shows and malls…is this really Lucknow?

Mr. Anwar Rizvi, a forty year old entrepreneur, fondly remembers how as a student at LU, his gang would hang out at “The India Coffee House”. But for a cup of coffee, a frappe, a sundae, a grilled sandwich, some granitas or maybe just an iced tea, all you need to do is step into a Reliance World. “I often browse the net as I have an account at R world, and sip my caramel cold coffee from the Java Green which is conveniently located inside the R world itself,” says Hemendra Dhar another student. Lucknow can now boast of a rampant coffee, lounge and mall culture. A boon to college goers, who can enjoy a movie at PVR or Wave and a coffee at their local café.

In fact this summer, most guests at Ashika Agarwal’s house find themselves being taken to Saharaganj instead of the Imambaras. “Saharaganj has everything! Every time my relatives come over from Allahbad, Jhansi etc they want to spend an afternoon at Saharaganj. It’s so convenient for us as hosts too, initially we had to plan the same old Lucknow tour, but now we can step into Saharaganj and enjoy everything in one place”, explains nineteen year old Ashika who spent her summer vacation entertaining guests and relatives. Gearing up to leave for her university at Allahbad, she laments the dearth of coffee shops and movie theatres in her “university town”, expressing jealousy when her best friend Bushra says, “You’ll miss Pirates of the Caribbean then, wont you?” Bushra, a student at Integral University, is one of the lucky Lucknowites who enjoy all four weekends every month.

Mint and Ultraviolet are two favorite weekend haunts for the college crowd, “Cappuccino blast has great junk jewelry and the exhibitions are a great place to pick up eclectic stuff for your room while sipping a cool strawberry shake”, laughs Harshita who is a regular at the coffee shop in Mall Avenue. While Cappuccino blast and ultraviolet are located in Mall Avenue, Mint in Arif Castles is a popular hangout for the music and food loving Lucknavis. “I just love the ambience here, perfect for a get together. While I was a student at NIFT Mumbai, we’d pay through our noses to party over the weekends, but in Lucknow it’s affordable to eat out and entertain,” says Preeti a freelance anchor who visits Mint at least twice a month.

Café coffee day Kapurthala, is another space for the college crowd, “I like the location, and like Hazratganj, this one is next to the Universal bookstore too and one just needs to hop across and browse through some books, or sit over a hot chocolate fudge with your best friends”, suggests Madiha, digging into a sizzling brownie fudge. Her friends lounge around on the sofa talking about everything under the sun: the broadcast bill, Shashi Tharoor’s canidature and Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. A scene straight out of a Delhi college dream, “We have it all here now. PVR, Wave, Saharaganj, coffee shops, even the college courses…it isn’t boring being a college student in Lucknow anymore”, declares Fatima, biting into Madiha’s sizzling chocolate fudge.

I refuse to acknowledge what was published in the Indian Express as my work

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Chaval and Phool waali galli...

The Chaval and phool walli galli…

Near bhola nath dharamshaala, Chowk, was a board that said “Army men not allowed beyond this point”. Why? Because ahead of that point lay the notorious “Chaval wali galli”, famous not for basmati but for the “Kothas”, brothels for the “aam admi”. But in a lane adjacent to the chaval wali galli is the fragrant “Phool wali galli”, home to Lucknow’s flower sellers for over a century. “We would stare at our toes as we walked down this lane, before we turned left for the phool wali galli”, says Hamida Bano, a sixty six year old resident of Lucknow who remembers buying seharas from the phool wali galli. “The kotha waalis would throw money down at the singers or performers who would cross the chaval wali galli, this place looks incomplete without the colorful curtains and music”, remembers Hamida.

Lucknow’s phool waali galli is a narrow passage with shops built four feet above the ground. It is here that the flower weavers make flower jewelry for Muslim weddings, forty kg seharas that cover the groom from head to head to toe and garlands for temples as well as flower sheets or chadars for mazaars. “We’ve been here for over three generations, initially our forefathers used to weave only seharas and make flower garlands etc. but now we decorate cars and mandaps as well,” explains Rajesh, a flower weaver. Displaying an album full of “samples”, he points to an intricate jaimala which cost six thousand rupees.

The galli was always famous for the “phool mandi”, where one could purchase chandni, gulab, bela, juhi and marigolds on wholesale prices. These flowers would come from baghs outside Lucknow. The mandi has now been relocated to the nimboo park and talks are on for further re-location to Gomtinagar. “There used to be no foot space here! Now it looks more desolate than ever….those were colorful and fragrant days when we girls used to come here to buy seharas and gajras. The flower weavers were a naughty lot, they would give extra flowers on some occasions too”, remembers Hamida.

Two little boys, Kaleem 9 and Ahmad 12, call out to customers asking if they’d like roses or bela this morning, while their nimble fingers make delicate garlands for the mazaars and temples of Lucknow. “We get flowers early in the morning and keep them wrapped up, we have to hurry up and make these garlands so that the Gods and Goddesses can enjoy fresh flowers!” says Kaleem. The boy learnt how to weave flowers when he was six, from his uncle and now he quickly makes basketfuls within an hour. “I love decorating big bright cars for weddings,” says Ahmad smiling as he shows a photograph of himself sitting on the bonnet of a decorated Scorpio.

The phool and chaval wali gallis of Lucknow are no longer what they used to be, once buzzing with merchants and women and flowers they are somehow emptier without the phool mandi and the old women who peeped from behind golden curtains. But Awadh remembers the days when these streets were filled with music and laughter and the fragrance of nightflowers.

In the express---

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Talaab Tales

Talaab Tales

Three kilometers away from the hamlet of Khurdai, in village Maran Mau is a pond that dates its origins to the Mughal period. “The Shahi Talaab”, is where over four generations of farmers as little children have learnt to swim and dive. Every summer the skinny brown boys who take their cattle out to graze, like their fathers did, in the surrounding fields, find solace in enjoying mid afternoon and early evening swims in this talaab. “There are seven wells under this pond and it is about thirty feet deep, the water level can be observed by the number of steps it covers”, explains forty six year old Sageer, a mechanic whose family has lived in Maran Mau for over three generations. “When we were little children, we used to start running from that mango tree and dive into the water, I learnt to swim here and so did my sons and little daughter”, says Sageer pointing at a nearby mango tree.

Walking up to the talaab’s edge he elucidates why the talaab is divided into three zones. “The area on the right which is a little covered by bamboo foliage and the wall is meant for women, the central portion without stairs and a slope is meant for cattle whereas this area to the extreme left is meant for men and boys.” Standing on the edge of the stairs is a group of four friends, the tallest Sohail, a fifteen year old who works as labor, takes lead and jumps of the highest stair with a loud splash, the other two, Arvind and Virendra who say they are twelve years old and don’t go to school, jump into the talaab with their clothes on, leaving only dusty blue slippers near the stairs. The youngest boy, Mahendra, who works for Sageer and goes to school screams a lyric of a popular song and jumps in after them, “Look at me! I am swimming backwards!!” everyone laughs at the little boy.

Oddly, in the women’s quarter is a mazaar of “Syed Ali Baba”, it is said that he was the caretaker of the pond. Bathing her four year old son in the water is Sumitra, watching from the stairs is her father in law Ram Swarup who says, “He is my only grandson, the doctors say his mental illness is incurable, and he cant even walk, but we bring him here every Thursday to bathe.” The child smiles sweetly as his mother distributes Prasad to everyone, the little boys who dive line up for their share. Sageer enlightens us on the medicinal properties of pond water, “People with skin diseases and rashes come to get cured with this water, pond water helps cure those diseases and every Thursday, patients with ailments such as arthritis and mental or muscular disorders come here to bathe and offer Prasad at the mazaar”. Soon enough, a line of believers, women with little children, old men and young boys descend upon the Shahi Talaab to cure themselves. Ram Swarup says, “It’s cheaper than visiting doctors, my grandson responds well to these baths and is always happy to come and spend a evening here.”

The Shahi talaab acts as a community pond for fish rearing as well, the poorest villagers can avail from free fish here! According to the locals, the pond is incomplete because the gentleman who was making it died soon after the construction of one half of the pond. The other end has a slab or two for washer men. “This pond has been part of our lives for as long as I can remember”, says Sageer, staring at a black snake bird dive for a silver fish as everyone silently watches the ripples subside.

This is the crap they published in the indian express:--- i strongly recommend you AVOID it.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Mahesh the one armed milkman and his German grit…

He cycles 44 km back and forth from Maran Mau village to distribute milk in Lucknow everyday, plays a bansuri which he made for himself, writes poetry and eats a ball of surreptitious looking leaves which cost five rupees. But there’s something about this five foot three inch 26 year old bachelor, his dirty red cap which he wears turned backwards, disheveled hair, unshaved face, piercing black eyes and the stump which is all that he has for a right arm, make Mahesh the milkman more, than just another dairy hand.

In an accident in 1993, Mahesh Kumar Gautam’s right fore-arm was sliced away in a fodder cutting machine, all that remains is a stump till above the elbow, he survived in

spite of the immense blood loss. “Time stopped for one hour, the other laborers didn’t know what to do, then Pappu unwound the blades and tied the remains of my arm with his towel and rushed me to the hospital”, he says, shivering in the memory of the pain and the recuperation that followed. After months of nursing, he was reduced to lifting handfuls of hay at the farm.

His mother, fondly called “Neta” because of her vociferous ways, thought it was all over for her youngest son, “What can a mother do when she sees her brightest son disintegrate?”. But inspiration was only a story away, Mahesh’s employer, Late Brigadier Pritpal Singh could not stand a young man wasting away. Mahesh lights up as he remembers him, “He is the reason why I can look the world in the face today, I had wasted away because I thought I was a lesser man, just one arm. What work could I do? But I did have a little spirit, to continue working and earn for myself, Sahib noticed this”.

Mahesh who had passed his 8th standard had dreamt of joining the armed forces one day, had always been in awe of his “Badde Sahib”. Brig Singh took it upon himself to change this man’s helplessness and insisted he work like a young lad and not a “cripple”. He was made to clean the cow sheds, feed the cows, cut fodder-again, and face his fears. Today as he travels the distance between the village and the city he has an air of confidence and purpose in him. Today he is just like any other bachelor from the village, “I make friends on the road and take my time cycling back and forth between the village. Sometimes I stop at the tea stalls and play my bansuri, they often serve me free tea and love to hear my poetry”.

He remembers how a local village lad had inspired him to play the bansuri, “Bajrang used to play the bansuri and I was always in awe of him because the school girls and the girls from the local tailor’s workshop used to be friends with”, he laughs. “I taught myself how to play and make my own bansuris, my mother doesn’t like bansuris because she doesn’t like my Romeo image in the village! So I hide the bansuri in my friend’s house every evening before I return home.” Smiling he plays with the bansuri and looks around at his admirers, a group of young children who want to learn how to play the bansuri from “Bansi walle bhaiyaa”.

“Badde Sahib related to me a story about an angrezi pilot, he had lost his leg in the war and he continued to fly for the army, he played sports and even climbed mountains.” The angrezi pilot Mahesh innocently remembers is the famous German pilot, Hans Ulrich Rudel, who flew 2,530 combat missions which is a world record, being shot and force landed (often behind enemy lines) 32 times yet somehow always managing to escape capture despite Stalin himself putting a 100,000 rouble bounty on his head. He went on to become the most decorated soldier in Germany and wrote two books “In spite of Everything” and “Memoirs of a Stuka pilot”. As Mahesh sits on his cycle playing his bansuri, people stand and watch this one-armed fighter trudge through life with the grit of a German pilot who once said, “"Lost are only those, who give up themselves".

In The Express:-