Ye Sheher Muskurata hai!

“I am going to buy Chikankari today itself”, I told myself, almost making it sound like a project, taking all the joy of shopping out of it. In another couple of hours, I was in Lucknow, waiting outside Dastarkhwan along with 20 other people. There were a variety of Kebabs, around me, happily marinating, placed on food stalls inside the premises. On the opposite side of the road, there were many shops, boutiques & showrooms, lit as always, waiting for customers. I was hungry. It was a late afternoon in the month of October, and I was now cursing the choice of my clothes. My Black synthetic Kurta & long hair were annoying me. In irritation, I booked the appointment for a haircut with my stylist, while waiting for my turn for lunch. My mood was way better when I was served food inside the overcrowded restaurant. And hence, I decided to stick to the original plan – shop for Chikankari as if there’s no tomorrow. That evening, I spent a lot of my hard earned money while the sales guy earned easy commissions. He just had to say, “This piece is looking gorgeous on you.”, and it was sold. 

With 10 heavy bags in my hands, I stepped out of Ada Chikan, and started walking towards my hotel. White Building & Roundabouts – Hazrat Ganj was much like Connaught Place, with its crazy traffic & even crazier people who jumped in front of racing vehicles to cross roads. My hotel came in another 15-20 mins., and I decided to take my dinner there. I was happy & wanted to spend some time going through the pieces of exquisite handcraft, indigenous to Lucknow – chikankari.

The next day was reserved for sightseeing – Rumi Darwaza, Imambara, Museums, Food walks & the Park. And like most of my travel plans, I witnessed a divine intervention in this one too. Imam Bara wasn’t open for public as it was the last Sunday of the month of Muharram. The great hall of Imambara was reserved for mourning & I suddenly had nothing to do. Those of you who read my blog regularly would know that I am always talking about my weight over cups of chai. So, I decided to add on to my weight. And hence, that Sunday, I explored Lucknow’s gullies and lanes on foot, with occasional rickshaw rides. I was probably fighting with my friends over the next stop when a group of guys went past saying, 

“Muskuraiye ke aap Lucknow me hain! (smile for you are in Lucknow)”

They were right. I was in Lucknow – the city of Nawabs, the land of Kebabs & the capital of my state. Growing up, we read about Lucknow when they talked about freedom fights, revolts against British rule, and our beloved, ‘Asaf-ud-Daula’ – the Nawab who influenced the artistic culture of the eclectic city, Lucknow. You would find many stories about the Nawab, and watch him being mentioned in many movies. I knew he was the heart & mind behind the architectural marvel – Imambara, and I craved to visit the place even more, which won’t open till tomorrow morning. I was disappointed but not for long. The city’s too alive to stay upset & thus I began my unplanned food trail beginning with Basket Chaat & Kachoris. I went to taste the Faluda and Kulfi in Aminabad & then came back to town to taste the malai paan in a shop that’s been around for more than a century now. It’s said that Malai Paan was invented because Nawaab lost his teeth. So, he couldn’t chew a betel leaf paan any more and yet he wanted one after meals. And hence Malai Paan was invented that melts in your mouth & leaves you satiated like you have gotten everything you ever wanted. 

It was already evening & I haven’t been to the Tea Stall & the Thandai shop yet. My travel companions now wanted to taste some Kebabs. There were so many available – Tunday, Galouti, Shami & Seekh. They tried one each with ulte tawe ki roti & sheermal. I ended the day with a really heavy stomach, and a heart that was craving to visit Imambara.

Imambara looks like any other architecture from Mughal period until you entered the great hall. It is one of the largest halls in the whole world, with no supporting beams. Oh yes, Uttar Pradesh has more than one wonders of the world. There’s also a bhool bhulaiya when you reach the top of the building. Our guide kept playing with us in the labyrinth. He would quickly hide in one of the passages & would call for us, “Idhar aayiye (come here)”. We would hear his voice but won’t know where to look for him. Every time, I would address someone as ‘Tu’, he would correct me and say, “Tu nahin aap, Lucknow me hain aap.”

There’s also a stepped well in the premises, and yet I don’t have a single good picture of the place. Why? I was bloated like a balloon. Had eaten so much a day before and it showed up as bloating & pimples that morning. Before leaving Lucknow with tons of Chikankari for me & my friends, I visited one last place – Sharma Tea Stall & had Chai, Bun Maska & Potli Samosas. In another five hours, I reached home. Everyone in the family loved their gifts. My favourite of the lot was a White cotton, Chikankari kurta that I wear on special occasions only. When my friends ask where I got this kurta from, I tell them about the shop & somehow the conversation always reaches a point where we start discussing the greatest Nawabs of all time – Asaf-ud-Daula who put Lucknow on the map for its indigenous craft, royal food preparations & architectural marvels.

किया तबाह तो दिल्ली ने भी बहुत ‘बिस्मिल’

मगर ख़ुदा की क़सम लखनऊ ने लूट लिया


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