Friday, August 25, 2006

Regiment Bazaar

Huddled a kilometer away from the Army Public School in Lucknow cantonment, is “The Regiment Bazaar”, recently rechristened as the “V C Bazaar”, the “Veterinary Corps Bazaar”. The name is attributed to the regiments that were based in the area. A little further is “Topkhaana Bazaar” which is now called “RA Bazaar”, or the “Royal Artillery Bazaar”, home to the royal gunners. Another little settlement on the Rae Bareilley road is referred to as “Laal Kurti”, deriving its name from the red cavalry uniform of the British soldiers that resided there.

The cantt bazaars are home to some of the oldest shops in Lucknow, “We’ve been living here since 1885, we’ve seen regiments come and go but it’s the British ones we remember the most,” says Ganesh Gupta. His brother Dinesh and he own the local sweethouse in regiment bazaar. “This lane used to be called Johari lane and was lined with neat shops, there was a cycle shop here, some goldsmiths there and right opposite our shop was where the barber ‘Bauu’, Qasim Ali used to have his shop”, points Dinesh. The lane now is lined with houses, Bittu, a housewife feeding her cows says, “the old people have all re-settled now. Jangat Khan, who had a shop around this corner left with his family for Pakistan. Lalla Madan Lal, has been here since the British times, his ration shop is more than sixty years old.”

Remembering the days when the British soldiers would come to their sweetshop, “We used to have three servants who would attend to the shop. One sold milk. The other sold sweets and the third would guard the shop, the soldiers were a rowdy bunch, they never paid for what they ate!” laughs Ganesh, who was in school at the time. His father Mahadevi Lal and great grandfather were the most famous halwayyis in the area. “The British soldiers were extremely fond of our dudhiyaa barfi, that was a very milky and sweet mithai, we’d sell kilos everyday!” remembers the halwayyi. It’s been five years since the Guptas decided that a sweetshop wasn’t enough. “We started our PCO, it’s the only one in the bazaar. People don’t buy sweets everyday! The dudhiyaa barfi isn’t even made anymore”, Dinesh replies.

Around the corner Manvir Singh, the local rickshaw puller is drinking his third cup of tea. With his worn out green cap, titled to the left, the sixty six year old cheerfully remembers how colorful these streets once were, “The Britishers would walk down here and always create some chaos, I was a little boy at the time and my father was a hawaldar in the Police.” He pulls out his ration card to show a picture of himself clean shaved. “The most popular shop here other than the Gupta sweethouse is the barber’s, Gore-Nawab urf Usmaan Ali.” His brother Bauu urf Qasim Ali, was famous for shaving the British soldiers beards at 4:00 a.m. while they were half asleep. He did it with such precision that the sleepy British soldier wouldn't even notice he was done!

Gore Nawab, who is eighty years old, sits in his yellow tarpaulin roof with two ancient wooden chairs, a basin that is fifty five years old. “Earlier, the troops would come to have their hair cut and for a shave at 4:00 a.m. before their parade, but these days, the soldiers come after their parade at 6:30 a.m.”, states the barber who earned his ‘Gore Nawab’ title because he shaved the British soldiers. “I had to shift from the salon as we didn’t have enough money to pay the rent, I don’t have many customers these days… young men prefer long hair and styles that I don’t know or want to give!” he exclaims.

Looking at the empty lane, Gore Nawab, says, “Iss 70 saal ki yojana ke hum bhaagi hain…” He sits waiting for customers that don’t come anymore, staring at a lane that isn’t crowded with red cavalry jackets and boisterous soldiers eating fresh barfis from the Gupta sweethouse.

Three cups of tea and bony knees

Red- black sweat- dust shirt

Dry green cap

Pointing East

Steel bowl

Half a litre of boiled milk

4 slices of Gomti bread

3 tablets of yeast

Old oil in black pan

Refry the samosa

Stage fright

The Halwaayi is in haste

Blackwashed white hair


White wiry beard

All ribs

Slowly riding

Never smiling

Settling dry green cap

Manvir turns his rickshaw left

2 slices and a tablet less

Kaptain died

He lies flat on the road, only an eyeless cat face

His pretty white socks red

Ganesh fries a fried samosa

Frightened of the flash light

The second photograph in his sixty year life

Quickly asking how it tastes

Gore Nawab wears a shirt

Covers his ribs

As he gives the poet a double shave

“Salaam… I’ll wait for Sunday”

Saunter spent smiling.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dr. Irshaad Ali

Chief consultant pediatrician at the Balrampur Hospital, a 12 handicapper at golf, shayir and Sufi music enthusiast, Dr. Irshad Ali is all this and more. Having completed his MBBS from Kanpur medical college he joined the Pradesh Medical Service, “My first posting was at Malhipur, in Baihiraich. We lived in a kacchaa house, which was initially Raja Pyagpur’s stables, I was the only gazetted officer in that area,” he reminisces. It was this seven year stay at Malhipur which was the most exciting part of his career, “While eating dinner, we’d raise our legs to allow a snake to slither from under us,” laughs Dr. Irashad’s wife, Nahid. They were married while he was posted at Malhipur “Any other lady would have runaway! Nahid has been my uncomplaining companion through thick and thin,” he says.

“Snakebites were the most common occurrence in the area, I remember how a villager would come running to inform me of a victim, and I’d run back with him and usually I’d administer the anti venom shot in the middle of the field! It had to be done quickly and it was a junoon I had, that I must save every patient”, he says. It was in Malhipur that Dr. Ali’s son Arish was born. “I was an idealist when I joined the service, and the patients treated me like God. An old man once brought his dying son, saying all three children before this one had died under similar circumstances and at this age….” The doctor diagnosed it as pneumonia and rushed the child in his jeep to Baihiraich, 33 km from Malhipur, “We didn’t even have oxygen at public health centres in those days, but the child survived the journey. Whenever the child traveled to the city, his father would bring him to touch my feet before he left, this was the faith that parents and patients put in doctors,” smiles Dr. Ali.

It was his posting at Kanpur, during which he was “introduced” to the golf. “My friend Shiraz used to play and asked me to come along, I just walked with him and observed closely,” he recalls. But it was in the Mauri Bagh Club in Lucknow that he hit his first shot and took the game up, now a passionate player and owner of a Callaway set, Dr. Irshaad plays his nine holes daily. But it was also in Kanpur when he performed a surgery that saved a child with 80% burns, “We couldn’t find his vein and I decided to operate on his sub-clavian vein, something I’d only read of. The operation was successful and I can’t forget the child’s face, when he smiled, just white teeth and a black charred face.” His colleagues always warned him about the hazards of getting too involved with his young patients, but he attributes the success of his three children to the blessings that came from the parents of those whom he saved. “ Ghar se masjid hai bahut door, chalo yun kar lein, kissi rote huye bacche ko hasaaya jaaye”, recites the poet Doctor.

“What golf does for my body, music does for my soul”, states this fan of Tiger Woods and Amir Khusro. Listening to Abida Parveen sing Khusro’s “Babul”, he attributes his love for shayari to his childhood when he grew up in Maulviganj, “At the tea shop would sit poets and singers, everyone had something beautiful to say and these friends still visit me at hospital. They joke that I suffer from a disease they gave me”, laughs Dr. Ali. His days now, are spent relaxing to the ambient Sufi music and in attending Nashishths, which are small gatherings for shayari. “All it takes to be happy in life is a passion, any kind of passion”, prescribes Dr. Irshaad Ali.

In the Exptess: -

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Gatekeepers...

“They entered school in pigtails holding their parent’s hands and left fourteen years later with braids and big books in their arms. Today they are mothers and come to drop off their little ones here”, says Gia Ullah, gatekeeper at Lamartinere Girls College for twenty three years. He recognizes ex-students, their sisters and now their daughters who study in the school. Outside St. Paul’s School stands a familiar figure in his army fatigues, “Bahadur Bhaiyaa”. He’s been standing guard at the blue gate since 1984. “I feel like a child with the students, time somehow stops in school. Nervous parents, tearful first timers and the rowdy boys… I’ve dealt with them all for 22 years now!” he smiles, sitting comfortably on his ancient wooden stool.

But in Colvin Taluqdar, since 1937, has served a personage “Ram Sujitji”, the ninety two year old has been part of Colvin history for almost 7 decades. “He can’t hear too well and he talks only when he wants to, but he’s still on the pay roll and sits where he used to since the day he joined the school,” says Ram Dayal, his son who works in the school library. “All the old boys remember him and ask after him whenever they visit, he’s still the sports in charge”, states another guard. “Every independence day, since 1937, Ram Sujitji has been tying the knot in the tricolor. He does it so perfectly that with one tug the flag unfurls”, states the school bursar. Adding that, he retired in 1997, but was reinstated within a few months because the school authorities wanted him to teach the class 4 employees how to lay sports tracks etc. “Ram Sujitji knows the measurements of every court, track, field by heart,” says the bursar about his oldest employee.

Gia Ullah belongs to Malliahabad and has three daughters. The eldest is working as a teacher while the other two are in college and school. “After being a part of Lamartinere all these years, I have realized that education matters and all three daughters are testament to the fact!” Gia says proudly. He remembers how he had gone to drop of his brother who was traveling to Saudi Arabia at the airport and they had missed the flight. “While we were sitting helpless, a lady came up to us and asked me if I knew her. She was an ex-student, and on hearing our plight, she helped get my brother on the next flight…” remembers Gia. Ram Sujitji’s three sons are working, one in the railways, another in a bank and Ram Dayal his youngest in the school library. Bahadur has two children, both in school, “International armies and foreign companies now require Gorkhaa soldiers and an educated one is a bigger asset, I’m educating both my sons so they can qualify for an international job”.

These aging gatekeepers have their own worries, “School teachers retire when they are 60 years old, but for us 55 is retirement age”, mentions Gia. Though, Bahadur, from St. Paul’s isn’t too worried, “There are always jobs for security personnel but I don’t think anything will match the joy of being loved by so many children”. On being asked how children have changed over the years, Gia said “They haven’t changed at all! Still the same girls who are sweet, silly and then become serious. But they always respect us.” While Bahadur felt that, “The children do improve, there are better results and extra curriculars. But there was something about the older students, they had time more time to be naughty and themselves! This lot is too burdened, school and then tuition, they deserve some freedom”.

When old students come back to find their childhoods in some corner of their school, they often find a face from the past. He is usually a little weathered but he’s still there, smiling or frowning like he did when they were in school. The school gatekeeper, the peon, and the canteen man. They are synonymous with school memories and the only constant in an increasing flux of children and routines.

In the express :-

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Amritlal and Bilasso...

They have been walking through life for almost a century, and for 85% of it, they’ve held each others hands. Meet Amritlal, 94 and his wife Bilasso 88. Shriveled and small she sits with her glasses balanced on a cloud of white hair, red sindoor smeared in the parting and red bindi firmly set between two wispy brows. He can’t hear too well and sits right by her, in his pink checked shirt, grinning as she answers questions. “The marriage wasn’t very elaborate, he was 15 and I was 9, I got a doll and some clothes as a wedding present,” reminisces Bilasso.

“Ahead of Unnao is a village called Fatehpur, a little ahead of Fatehpur is Chaurani, that’s where I was born. My parents were farmers and we were three sisters and a brother,” says Bilasso. “Baba”, as he is fondly called by his neighbors, was born and raised in Lucknow Cantonment. “I used to stay in Khurram lal’s house, and work in the canteen when the British were here”, he remembers. But it wasn’t until he was 23 that he started working with his father in the canteen. It’s been thirty odd years since he retired. “The British looked like pahadis, they were so white with small eyes and pink cheeks,” she remembers.

Bilasso claims that she was duped into marrying him- “I came to Lucknow for a wedding and someone told us of the groom’s friend, a boy who had a tutor and had a bright future,” her parents didn’t think twice and married her off to the young scholar. “He used to study and not talk to me, but he always promised to take me to meet my parents…” recalls the old lady who’s right foot was amputated due to severe burns when she was thirty five. Bilasso is prone to epileptic fits, and was severely burnt in one such accident while cooking in a chulha. “Those were the days he learnt to cook and take care of our five children,” she chuckles at the painful memory. “Baba still doesn’t let me sweep the floor and always shoos me away from the stove,” she says.

Amritlal and Bilasso live alone, in a two room cottage; their prized possessions include a small color TV set, a calendar with pictures of Hindu Goddesses, Bilasso’s wooden walking stick which baba painted green and her favorite red saris. “My daughter in law and son gave me this one last Holi. We don’t live together by choice. It’s nice to be independent. The grandchildren come and visit everyday, they live only a few blocks away”, she comments. Their son, Gopal, lives with his family in a cottage nearby. His children deliver home cooked food twice a day to their grandparents. Amritlal and Bilasso are great grandparents too. “That small girl, is my great grand daughter Golu, she’s as naughty as her great grandmother was when she first came home!” laughs Baba who has watched his wife grow up and fall in love with him. The couple’s three daughters live around Lucknow, and the family meets every year for each festival. “I’am proud of my grandparents and their conviction to live independently, there is such a huge generation gap between all of us yet we learn to accept each other with love and respect”, says Rinku, their 26 year old grand daughter who is the principal of a school in Alambagh.

The independent and romantic Amritlal enjoys his walk down Subhash road, stopping at the crossings for a rest on the benches. He delights in reading the Urdu newspaper and drinking his pouch of desi alcohol, much to Bilasso’s chagrin. Occasionally he brings back a flower for her, which he plucks on his walk to fro his son’s house or sometimes the local bar. “I don’t like his beard, it doesn’t suit him!” quibbles Bilasso, who believes that all it takes to stay in love is, “A lot of laughter, some fights, faith, a few surprises and each other.”

In The Express--