Maya

The great epochs of our lives come when we gain the courage to rechristen our evil as what is best in us.

~ Nietzsche

It was a chilly December morning and like every year the fog had taken the entire north India in its fold. Days had become short and the nights extended their darkness until the crack of dawn making the sun wait patiently. Back in the early 90’s Lucknow was still a small town and during winters folks ushered themselves into warm inviting quilts early in the evening. Cracking peanuts while watching their favorite TV soap or just chatting away with family members over a cup of hot tea was the favorite past time of cozy winter evenings. The “city” had not yet taken over so the mornings too were laid back and the charm of not coming out of a warm bed was a luxury that most town folk relished.

Som, however, was not so lucky. He had a job at the only 5 star hotel in town and to make the early morning shift he had to be up and about before everyone else. He had got used to it in the last 3 years but this time the winter was unforgiving and to top it, the morning fog was making things worse. There had been times when unable to see clearly he had lost his way and his bike had wandered off the road. The otherwise ordinary ride had become an adventure for Som. It was tough but his easy going spirit had no complaints.

Som was a typical Lucknow boy from a middle class family who had been born and brought up in this Nawabi city of yore. The proverbial ‘middle class’ values of hard work and taking responsibility of the family as soon as you were out of college were deeply rooted in him. While he did not feel burdened by the thought that his two younger sisters had to be married off, he knew he must help his father to save for their marriage. His father had a government job but it was the kind that did not come with any fringe benefits, so while his father could educate his daughters, he was not in a position to compete in the demanding dowry market. Everyone in the household was conscious about money yet the family was a happy and contended lot. A good education and a loving environment at home had groomed Som to be a confident young man. The only thing where Som had a difference of opinion with his parents was their religious beliefs. Som’s mother was the quintessential “pious” lady and his father too did his bit to avoid the wrath of powers that be but Som had declared that he was an atheist as soon as he learnt that it was cells and atoms that were building blocks of life and everything around it, not some religious mumbo jumbo. As per his father it was a good sign. “In a beginners mind there are immense possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few” his father used to say quoting some Zen master.

It was Monday. As usual Som woke up by buzz of his alarm clock. After lazing around in bed for few minutes, he started the grind – he shaved, brushed and took a bath. But by the time he started making his tea he felt something strange even uncanny about the morning, as if a weird feeling was begining to grip him. He knew he had to get ready and head out. There was no reason to feel depressed but his heart felt as if it was shrinking. Something had taken over his cheerful spirit and he had no idea what it was. It must be the news he had heard about Gauri few days back, Som speculated. Today it will all be over and there was nothing he could do about it. Then he shrugged the thought and concentrated at the water boiling on the burner. A cup of strong tea with buttered toast lifted up his mood and Som was ready to begin the day. He pulled out his bike on to the road to kick start it. To his surprise, even after trying five or six times, the bike didn’t start. It could have been the cold but usually it took just a couple of extra kicks to get the engine roaring. He did not want to take off his gloves to clean the spark plug so he decided to strike once more. Thankfully, he heard the familiar knocking of the Yamaha engine this time.

The fog was dense and the neon lamps were trying hard to light up the road. The dim street lights with fog around them were like evenly interspersed blobs in the sky – a host of UFO’s guiding his way to their alien abode. On clear days Som used to love watching the star spangled sky as it disappeared giving way to the faint rays of the morning sun. Today he chose to go to the alien lands instead. He had been on the road for about twenty minutes when he hit the familiar patch next to the cremation grounds by the Gomti. Som never liked this part of his journey but today he desperately wanted to avoid it. He could have taken the longer detour but since he was getting late he had no choice. As he took a sharp right turn towards the Gomti he resolved to focus on the road so as to avoid the funeral pyres which always caught his attention. It didn’t scare him but it made him think about the fleeting nature of life, about death and about the futility of it all. It wasn’t an inspiring thought to begin the day so he just wanted to avoid it. Once he discussed it with his dad and he came up with something called Shamshan Vairagya. Som had promptly discarded it as spiritual bunkum.

The headlight of his motorcycle tried hard to pierce through the darkness and the fog, but all it could afford was a visibility of less that 5-6 feet. Som wanted to raise the accelerator so he could get past the Shamshan quickly but he was cautious of bumping into something coming from the other side. As if out of nowhere, he saw an outline of a figure approaching him. As it got closer he was able to make out that it was a Sadhu- one of the many mystics who roam the Indian landscape. What was the Sadhu doing here at this time? Was he even real? Even as these thoughts gushed through his mind, the Sadhu began to wave for him to stop. With the fog and the light from the pyres forming a background, the form in front of him appeared magical.

Som wanted to avoid this sudden rendezvous but now it was too late. He would have to stop or he would have run over the man in front of him unless his bike got past through the figure as in ghost movies. Som put on the brakes and stopped. He noticed that the mystic was a lanky man with a long face and deep set eyes. He was wearing light ochre cloth that was wrapped around his upper body and a dhoti to go with it. He did not exactly have a beard but a stubble of a few days. His head was shaved and a few short hair had begun to grow on the sides and at the back of the head. But what really impressed Som was his face – it was lustrous and shining. His eyes had a twinkle that could not be missed and his forehead looked majestic with the Tripundra he was sporting. There was something magnetic and overpowering about him. The Sadhu was someone to whom you just couldn’t say no – not out of respect but out of sheer sense of awe. Smiling at Som, the Sadhu asked :

“Where are you heading?”

“I am going to work. To my office..”

“Work, Yes Sure.” The Sadhu smirked

Som did not know what to say. He knew what the Sadhu meant by his smile. He had himself thought about it many times. What work? Just going to a place in the morning, sitting there the whole day pressing keys, staring at the monitor and coming back listless, drained of life. Nothing to inspire and no passion to drive the energy within. He had questioned this meaningless existence many times when he was in a thoughtful mood but since no answers came he chose to roll over to the next day rather than stop in his tracks.

“Alakh Nirnajan! Drop me till the Monkey Bridge and then you can carry on to your work”. This time the disdain was quite clear. As if the Sadhu was on some great mission and Som was just another uninspired wreck who had no idea what to do with his life.

Som nodded in obeisance and raised his accelerator once he felt the back seat had been occupied. He noticed a very faint but very sweet smell fill the atmosphere. It captivated his senses as he drove on the banks of the river. He was not afraid anymore and was somewhat reassured that he had company for the next few miles of his journey.

“Don’t you feel cold Baba?”asked Som turning his face backwards a bit to make himself audible.

“Even you don’t feel it but since you believe that you do, you feel it. It’s all in the mind”

“How come you are here so early in the morning?”

“I had come to the Shamshan for offering prayers at the Kali Temple. Had some other rituals to perform too.”

“Oh, they have a temple of Kali here?”

“Yes there is a very old temple, a small one, it’s next to the bigger Shiva temple. There is gender discrimination here also.” The Sadhu laughed with a childish innocence.

Som was surprised by the Sadhu’s accent and impeccable English.

“Who are you? If you don’t mind me asking where did you learn such good English? We are not used to Sadhus speaking English. The pujari who comes to my home recites mantras in Sanskrit but I can bet that he understands their meaning no more than I do. I mean You don’t look like our panditji

“Because I am not. I am a Aghori. And as far as the English is concerned you can say that I am a well educated Aghori. I used to teach Physics at BHU before I took diksha.”

Som was shocked. He felt goosebumps and a bit of churning in his stomach. His mind activated the fight or flight response as his blood rushed to his heart and adrenaline started pumping in his veins. A mild sweat broke out and he could feel the moisture in his gloves. He had heard about the Aghoris on a trip to Varanasi.  He had been told that they practiced the occult by virtually living with the dead.They lived on the cremation grounds away from the civilization and hunted for freshly burnt or buried bodies so they can use them for their rituals. They were a cult for whom something as offensive as eating the human flesh was not out of bounds.

“My name is Muktanand.  And there is no need to be afraid of me.”

There was a soothing calmness in the Sadhu’s voice. It reassured Som a little bit. He wondered if the Sadhu could read minds.

“I am not afraid but when you hear things that are otherwise taboo in the society you get a little disturbed.”said Som trying to keep his voice steady.

“I can understand that. So what all have you heard?” Muktanand asked Som.

“Oh I have heard a lot of things. I have seen a few videos on the youtube as well. For instance I read somewhere that the Aghoris practiced meditation sitting on dead bodies. Isn’t that eerie? I mean how could the mind be steady like that? ”

“Well to be honest its true but it’s done only to realize the impermanent nature of life. We all know that we will die one day but do you think about it every day, each passing minute. The truth is that most people even though they see people around them dying  every day have this notion that it won’t happen to them, ever.The Aghori attempts to break that conditioning with a single stroke. Our path is a- ghor meaning not very difficult or a path that is faster, almost like a short cut.”

“What about the other practices of drinking from the skull, living off the cremation grounds, smearing ash all over the body and so on. It doesn’t look like you do all these things.”

“Ha ha. You are right. I don’t do all these things. But let me tell you that it’s not that I have never ever performed these rituals. They serve a purpose and for me that purpose is over.”

“That is an interesting point. What is the purpose to all this? I mean you had a good life.”

“Everyone has their own definition of a good life and mine was perhaps a bit different from yours. As far as the purpose is concerned I wanted to have the darshan of my Isht – Ma Taara.”

“Who is Ma Taara?”

“Out of the ten Mahavidyas or manifestations of Shakti, Taara is the second. Tara is a form of Durga . As per bhagwat, She is the one who created 1st Seed from which the entire universe took birth in the form of Lord Narayana. In your language you can think of her as the primordial energy from which everything is born”

“So did you see her? How was the experience?” Som was driving quite slowly now. He wanted the carry on the conversation.

“Yes she did grant me her darshan after years and years of practicing meditation and rituals. You know why so many mind bending rituals and such rigor of meditation is required if one wants the Goddess to manifest before oneself?”

“Ya because otherwise everyone will start seeking the darshan. Its like climbing the Mount Everest. Isn’t it ?

“That’s a very simple way of putting it. But it is also true that anyone who wishes to have darshan of the Goddess can have it. The problem is this – if she manifests herself before you will you be able to take it? Let alone the cosmic energy, the physical form is such that one can lose all their bearings and go mad. Imagine someone with blue skin wearing nothing but tiger skin appears before you. She has a garland of severed human heads around her belly with fresh blood dripping from them. Her tongue is lolling out and blood is oozing from her mouth. Just close your eyes and think about it for a second”

“Just imagining such a sight makes me shudder in fear. It is quite disgusting actually if you think about it. But I know what you are talking about.”

“That’s the trick our mind plays with us. This is good. This is bad. This is beautiful. This is ugly. The conditioning of the mind has to go. The only thing that remains is the unrelenting desire to become one with the supreme. There should not be an iota of any feeling or desire left. That is why it is essential to train under a Guru. Someone who can tell the do’s and the dont’s. You know what the biggest danger is?”

“What? There are even more dangers than this.”

“Well, it is said that when the Goddess gives you her darshan, your mind must be absolutely pure. There are two main threats – one of course is fear and the other is sexual desire as the Goddess is very beautiful and she is hardly hiding anything. If any one of these overcome your mind then not only will the Goddess disappear but you will go mad for the rest of your life. Many Aghoris who were not ready have died during the process.”

To say that Som’s head was spinning is an understatement. He was least prepared for this encounter when he started from his home today morning. It was supposed to be just another day. To read about such things or to see them in videos is different but to have a first-hand experience is another.

By this time they had reached the monkey bridge and Som stopped the bike for Muktanand to get down. The Sadhu was smiling and his face looked radiant in the first rays of Sun which were now coming up from behind the shroud of dense fog.

“You are a good human being Som. There is a lot of sanchit karma from your past lives. Not everyone thinks the way you do” the Sadhu had an earnest expression on his face.

And before Som could ask how he knew his name, the Sadhu added.

“I want you to give up this dreary existence. I want you to seek the highest goal. For this I must give you a glimpse of the reality – the supreme truth. You must know that it is not by some accident that we have met today.”

He stretched his arms out and gestured Som to hold them. As Som held his hands he murmured a mantra under his breath. He looked deep into Som’s eyes and said.

“I am going to do Shaktipat or transference of energy from my mind to your mind. Make sure that your mind is free from any desire or emotions. If you have any longing within you, it will certainly come true but you will never be able to get to the higher plain where I want you to be. I want you to take a deep breath and free your mind completely now.”

The next 30 seconds or so were perhaps a glimpse into Nirvana for Som. He felt so complete, as if he has been freed from all his limitations. Like a ball of energy he was floating in the air and even the form of his body did not offer any limitations.

When Muktanand let his hands go Som felt a bit dizzy but he was consumed with a blissful feeling he had never known. By the time he regained full control the Sadhu had already left him. Som saw him walking down the bridge towards the dry river bed. Som waited for him to disappear. He was going towards the direction of an ashram which was on an island in the river.

On the way to his office Som drove his bike as if in a trance – ecstatic and complete within himself. Within the next 10 minutes he was parking his bike. It was a usual day at the back office of the Hotel where he worked. Before starting work he grabbed a cup of coffee and checked the attendance register to see if Gauri had come in. It was her engagement today and there was little chance that she would show up but it was a habit Som had picked up over all these years. He was surprised to see her initials next to her name on the register.

Back on his seat he switched on the HP desktop. He had a picture of Mount Kailasa as the screen saver. He was used to seeing that picture everyday but today he noticed that the mountain resembled a Yogi sitting steadfast in lotus position. The mountain was an image of strength, a symbol of great character, an abode of Lord Shiva himself. He thought about the Sadhu. He was reminded of his eyes, of his confident gait, his fit and muscular body, his calm face, his soothing voice and his gentle and innocent smile, like that of a child. Som wanted to be like him. And why not? He had been blessed to follow the divine path.

Just then Gauri walked in. She was looking stunning in the silk Sari. Maroon always used to suit her. Her big eyes spoke in a thousand ways. Her long hair were tied casually at the back and she was laughing as she talked. Som’s heart missed a beat like it always did. Once again he told himself that she was the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world. There was no point in all this he thought and restrained himself by focusing on the picture of Mansarover. He had chosen a different life now.

Gauri started walking towards Som. She must be coming over to invite me for the event in the evening he guessed. But her look was not that of a friendly colleague. Her demeanor was firm and her gaze was fixed at Som. She was taking strong firm steps even though she moved gently like she always did. She came to his desk and stood there. There was silence for a few seconds, then she said “ Som I have broken up with Manu. The engagement today is cancelled.” She waited for him to respond then blurted out “Are you going to say something? Or will you just keep looking at me?” Som gently stood up and placed his hand on top of Gauri’s “What’s there to say. You know it.” They had no idea for how long they kept holding each other’s hands as tears trickled down Gauri’s cheeks. In that extended moment of time a thought crossed Som’s mind – had he traded his chance of eternal bliss for momentary happiness. Did he secretly wish for Gauri when Muktanand held his hand?

He could not recall and He did not care..

 

 

 

The Nawab’s Sword

Once upon a time in the city ofLucknow, was a Nawab named Mirajuddaula. Now nothing much could have been said in his praise except that he had inherited the riches of his forefathers ( as with most Nawabs) but if you would have dared to ask me about his credentials in his esteemed presence my obvious answer would have been – the more I tell about his majesty’s grace the little it will be.

Now that I have told you about his Nawabi Lineage you would have guessed that Mairajuddaula was far detached from the bindings of work and livelihood.However, no way does this imply that there was any dearth of business for him. After a walk in the gardens conversing with the  morning breeze and a session of massage in his personal Spa Mairajuddaula ensconced himself in his Meeting room where he took upon himself to resolve all sorts of moral and ethical problems facing the society. It’s a matter of minor consequence that no one paid heed to his advice and people used to visit him as a means of entertainment and past time. Being infamous has its share of fame and this was the guiding light for our Nawab.

And yes  ,One of the reasons for his popularity were the sumptuous Kebab’s made by his master chef – Sakhawat Miyan. It was said that the chef used to prepare for 3 days before and the elaborate arrangements consisted everything from picking up the most tender meat, to some 56 kind of exotic spices and even soaking the raw material in the moonlight for 8 hours !! Once my great grandfather had the good fortune of tasting the Kebab’s at Mairajudaula’s Kothi – since then all our generations have been bestowed with slimmer fingers than they would normally have.

To hear about the tales of our famed Nawab is not a big deal and you can hear them from any lad playing marbles in the narrow by lanes of Lucknow but the one I am going to tell you now is not only most interesting one but is also quite significant. Here its goes …..

It so happened that one day while the Nawab was on a jaunt his Buggy turned towards the direction of Nakhkhas. InLucknow, Nakhkhas was believed to be the treasure trove of antiques and other rare things. In private, the grape wine was that most of the stuff being traded in Nakhkhas was actually such which had no trace of its owners. You may want to call it a ‘chor bazaar’ but I won’t dare to.It will be blasphemous to relate theft and other such follies of human nature to a place which was often graced by the august presence of our great nawab. Chivalry might be dead elsewhere but not inLucknow. Anyways, going around the place the Nawab’s eyes fell on something that was of no use not only to him but also his forefathers and yet it was quite an interesting find. It suited his pride and his self image. My dear friends it was a Sword !

You must be thinking What’s the big deal ? but inLucknowit was and if it wasn’t it could have been made a big deal.

The money changed hands and in a jiffy the sword travelled from Nakhkhas to find itself adorning a wall in the meeting room of the Nawab’s Kothi .It was proclaimed that the sword is a most valuable and rare piece of armory which the Nawab has inherited from his ancestors. Now the Sword was of iron and the servants belonged to the Nawab so who would have said that no this is not true , in fact a white lie .The faithful servants of the Nawab immediately took upon themselves the assiduous task of informing the general public in Lucknow that the Nawab’s Kothi has the honor of housing such a unique thing that if one was to perish without having a look at it one would face the possibility of losing it out on earth as well as in heaven. Very soon the bylanes ofLucknowsaw an exodus of sorts and people in great numbers start pouring at the Kothi. It is said that the sword was not something to just see but it was something to be hear about and especially so since the Nawab himself used to narrate the greatness of the sword to the believers. It was within no time that the Sword became the Honor of the City ofLucknow. This was the sword with most precious Gems and Stones, this was the  sword with which the great grandfather of the Nawab had made many an enemy face the angels of hell, this was the sword for which the Queen of England was willing to let go of her left eye, this was the sword which had saved the grace of Lucknow many times, This was the sword which was meant to be touched with the forehead and to be kissed with the eyelids. It was therefore the duty of each and every true citizen ofLucknowto treat the sword with utmost reverence. After all it was not only a sword but a legacy of the past to be safely preserved for the generations of future.

All and all if there was anything as pious as the sighting of the Holy Kaba it was  the Nawab’s Sword and thankfully one need not travel far distances for availing this ticket to heaven.

But no one can defer destiny. What everyone had dreaded may happen , happened. The Sword got Stolen !!!!

Sleepy communities crave for sensationalism and on top of that this wasLucknow. The news of the theft travelled with lighting speed and shocked each and every inhabitant of the city. One by one folks started dropping by the Nawab’s Kothi to offer solace and to do their bit to alleviate the Nawab in his hour of grief.

The first one to arrive was Lala Ganpat Rai. He entered the meeting room with such great dejection as if he had donated all his assets to the Britishers. Now there is a way that sadness is celebrated inLucknow, unlike some other places where they will start screaming and thumping their chest at the slightest pretext. With great care one is supposed to come close to the aggrieved and then offer a ‘paan’ for upliftment of the spirit. Only when one has been done with such basic courtesies, one is supposed to take the hand of the aggrieved and ask “How did this happen My friend?”

It is because of this etiquette that’s so deeply engrained in us Lucknow Wallahs that we are forced to think of  others as uncultured, illiterate and downright naives.

Now it will take many of your generations to learn these fineries so I feels it’s better that we go on with our story.So customarily, when Lala took our Nawab’s hand in his own and asked about this great misfortune, the Nawab’s eyes got all wet. If you consider, this was a necessity from our Nawab’s side too or else Lala would have felt that there was something missing in his gestures of comfort. The Nawab stashed the Paan in a corner of his mouth and with a choked voice offered the details :

“Oh Sire When I went to sleep yesterday night the Sword was right here on the wall but when I woke up I was surprised to see that it wasn’t there…”

“Good Lord  ! That’s where you made a mistake.” Said Lala. I always thought of you as a very intelligent and erudite man but to my great  disappointment you have proven me otherwise today.You should have considered that the sword was no ordinary thing that you just put up on the wall in full show and slept peacefully. This is certainly not the way to look after your ancestral belongings ? But that’s how it is  – that which we get without deserving we are never able to value for ourselves. If only I had been blessed with this great fortune I would have kissed the sword with my lips and rubbed it on my forehead. But as they say – A monkey will never be able to know the taste of Ginger”.

Now that was just too much for our Nawab. Visibly irritated he admonished Lala “ Sire you are jumping out of your stature !!” Lala immediately retracted “ Oh my dear lord you are unnecessarily getting perturbed. I wasn’t talking of you, I meant the thief. The buffoon will sell it for some lowly price at the Nakhkhas.” The Nawab thought – well good for him and good for the sword.The God damned thing will reach where it rightfully belongs.

Anyways, after seeing off Lala as soon as our Nawab had ordered for a Glass of ‘ khas’ Sherbet Munshi Tekchand announced his arrival.No sooner had he seated himself, he gulped down the Sherbet meant for our Nawab and fired  the sleazy question “ My Lord ,How come this happened ?” The Nawab thought of telling him that “it’s Allah’s kindness that saved you and my sword got stolen , else I would have had to wash my hands with your dirty blood.” But alas this was just a thought. Grace and gentlemanliness had found its way from the Nawab’s heart to his soul and into his very being in such a way that even if he wished he could not have done away with them. Sporting a smile upon his face he said “ What to tell you Mister, bad times come unannounced for and then its my grave fault to trust one and all. The great Hakim Saheb had advised me that if I keep a piece of Iron beneath my pillow then I won’t be subjected to nightmares so I had taken this much precaution that the sword which was usually hung up on the wall, I had removed from its position and kept it under my pillow and slept..” The excuse was good and our Nawab thought at if the Munshi bought his story  he would immediately write an official note and hand it over to the servants. He would tell them that here’s your “Sword Story”  and now please do let me live in peace.

Well he was Wrong. Totally Wrong…..

The Munshi got exasperated and said “ Oh My dear Lord What a blunder you committed ! I always thought of you as the custodian of the intellectual pursuits of the people the of Lucknowbut you have completely changed my perception. Sir, even the lads playing in the streets of chowk have become wise enough to know that the ranks of servants are no more trustworthy. Those days are dead and gone when the faithful would offer their life for the sake of their masters. Nowadays if you blink an eyelid these rascals will steal your eyeshadow.And we are talking about a Sword that too ancestral –  decorated with Gemstones, Famous and accomplished, the tales of which are on the lips of every child ! How could you just keep it beneath your pillow and sleep ? If you had willed to please the wretched Hakim so much you should have asked for some knife or something from the royal kitchen or you could have just summoned this humble slave of yours. For the sake of your mental well being I would have knocked off the shoe of some weak and good for nothing half dead Horse. Daroga sahib is an acquaintance of mine and I am sure if I had pleaded for the sake of your mental health he would have most certainly obliged.” Our Nawab got utterly frustrated, he was well aware that Munshi was having a good time at his expense but what was to be done – it was after all a dual between the Sword and suavity.

The nawab summoned his servants – “ Miyan Fukkan, Munshi Sahib is not some abandoned idler that he will just stay put the whole day here. If your sluggishness has given way for you to be able to cook something then please get it for us or at least get a cup of tea that I had brought all the way from Ceylon.” Then as if trying not to get overheard he whispered “ What to say of these scoundrels. They won’t listen to anyone, and then they have no manners either of their profession or of speech.” Munshi understood that his arrow has hit the bulls eye and the Nawab is trying to ridicule him on the sly. Thinking of his life and limb he judged that its better to flag off from there. And anyways he had enough gossip with him for the Lassi shop in chowk.

Our Nawab felt blissful. By the grace of good heavens people ofLucknowhad left him alone. The truth however was a little different. The congregation of folks who had gathered in the late morning at ‘Chajju’s’ lassi shop kept itself busy till late afternoon. And you know very well thatLucknowwallahs won’t disturb their siesta even if all hell broke loose. Whatever might be the case, no one came to bother the Nawab till about dusk.

While its true that bad time comes unannounced for but even this is fair to say that when it does come it has a tendency to linger on. It was when the servants had just begun to light up the lamps that Mirza Aalam Begh from Aga Mir ki Dyodhi came along. His face which sparkled as the moon suggested that he would have laughed out loud even in his dreams. Somehow our Nawab had a feeling that the shine on Mirza’s face had its source embedded in his own ridicule. Upon seeing Mirza, the Nawab put himself on high alert mode mentally  readying  himself for an offensive as soon as he was provoked. Mirza offered a ‘paan’ upon entering the room and in an heart wrenching tone questioned “What have you done My Lord? What will become ofLucknownow ?”

Our Nawab had reached the height of his patience. For a moment he felt as if he will reach out and scratch Mirza’s face. But the very instance he put himself into action the souls of his Lucknowi forefathers started to beckon him. They reminded him of the culture that had been the hallmark of his Nawabi legacy.  They advised him to treat this episode as Mirza’s foolhardy and God’s will and assured him of a place in heaven for this gesture. As there wasn’t much choice left our Nawab got a hold on himself and said “ What to say Mirza ? Nothing happened to your Lucknow when the British forces paraded Jan e Alam ( a title of Wajid Ali Shah) in the whole city as if in some circus and we are talking of just a lifeless and unfortunate Sword here” Mirza guessed the sarcasm in the Nawab’s words but he had an incomplete task at hand so he said “ So what Happened ?”

Nawab felt a bout of Giddiness as he heard these words again – He was tired of telling the true tale of a fake sword in which he was a fool and a devil at the same time. His hands wanted to kill someone but his heart stopped him in his tracks. He summoned all his courage and said “ My dear friend I knew very well that the eyes of the whole world and especially those of my unfaithful servants were on my ancestral Sword therefore I had kept it locked in seven chains with utmost care and precaution.I am not sure from where these off springs of Sultana Dacoit have come who dared to steal it even from such great safety. I must warn you Mirza that this city is no more safe for God fearing people like you and me. You must tread with caution now onwards.”

Mirza went into a deep thought and scratching his beard spoke after some time “ Nawab Sahib if I were you then I would have never kept such a precious thing at such an obvious location.I would have hidden it in such an innovative place that the thieves would have kept wondering where the hell does the sword go after the evening. Would have kept it in the grain warehouse, hidden within a sack of rice or something.  Who would have thought that I would have kept it there. Those morons cannot think beyond the obvious so they would have gone and broke the locks of my safety locker only to find a note written by me – Mister have some almonds for the development of your brains. I keep idiots like you in my pocket and sometimes gobble them up along with other nuts.” Aslam’s face had malice written all over it. He went on –

Now since you have played marbles with me and you are quite deft at handling the kites as well I assumed that someohow even you would be as smart as me. But I was wrong – Kiddish pranks can no way help one evolve to an intellect of a high order. Anyways whatever had to happen has happened.I would like to take your leave now but I must submit that I am greatly shamed.”

If Munshi had disgraced the Nawab , Mirza had gone a step further and completely vandalized the Nawab’s vanity.Our Nawab looked at the heavens and pleaded “ O Allah will I ever get a respite from this predicament?”

The next morning someone again knocked a the Nawab’s door.The servants informed that the Kotwal wanted to have an audience with the Nawab. They would bring him over if the Nawab wished to see him. What could  our Nawab say – he knew that he wasn’t destined for deliverance yet. Very soon the Kotwal was seated in front of the Nawab posed the same old query – How did the sword vanish !!

Nawab Mairajuddaula was angel like but was not exactly an angel. All human follies had found their way into his being for example Anger, desperation, hate, even madness…..his face turned fiery and he started to give a statement in an almost taunting manner. He screamed “ Mister Kotwal it so happened that I had had enough of the sword and I therefore thought it would be good if I can kill myself with it. In the heat of the moment I forced the sword into my chest and lay down on the bed. But when I woke up in the moning I found that while I remained the Sword had gone. Would you kindly tell what should be done now ?

The Kotwal was dumbstruck for a while and then he started pondering over the matter. In an probing tone he told the Nawab “ Sir I think you made a grave error of judgment by trying to kill yourself in this manner. The thief must have come in when you were lying slayed on your bed. To figure out if you were you were unconscious or asleep he would have upturned your body only to find the Sword’s gleaming handle jetting out of your good self. Now he was no nincompoop , not aware of the value and glory of the sword. He would have judged that it’s better to get away with just the sword than to try and steel all the other petty and cheap stuff around your place. He would have pulled the Sword out and ran away thus sparing you your life.I sincerely believe that If only you would have put in a little more effort not only you would have been liberated but your ancestral legacy would have been saved too.”

Our Nawab was numbed by this piece of investigation.He felt as if everything around him had frozen in time. All he could hear was a faint voice of a courtesean from some far away place.It was probably Ghlaib’s poetry :

ये कहां की दोस्ती है के बने हैं दोस्त नासेह्, कोई चारागार होता कोई गमगुसार होता

हुए  मर के हम जो रुसवा हुए क्यों ना गर्के दरिया, ना कहीं जनाज़ा उठता ना कहीं मज़ार होता……

What friendship is this that offers just advice, would rather have someone wipe my tears or share my sadness

It would have been better if I had drowned to death, at least there wouldn’t have been a trace in the form of my coffin or grave

~ आहंग

**Someone had narrated me this incident as a joke in short. I felt that justice needs to be done to the attitude of Lucknowites and so thought of presenting the longish version. I would be glad if you liked reading it and if you didn’t I don’t really care !!

Lucknow Boy – Book review

Its been a while since I put up a book review on my blog. I was compelled by a feeling of utter disappointment to do this one. Lucknow Boy is a memoir of much celebrated Editor of Outlook Mr. Vinod Mehta to whom my alma mater Lucknow university bestowed the life time achievement award last year.

I wouldn’t say that I am a huge fan of Mr Mehta but nevertheless I have intently heard the debates on TV in which he is participating as I have felt that he is one of the few sane voices in a medium infested with the ‘ sound bite’ disease. Journalists today are the a bunch of ill informed megalomaniacs and psuedo intellectuals peddling their stale wares to an equally dumb franchisee. I thought Vinod was different till I read his memoir. I still hope that I am wrong and he was just ill advised by some of his media savvy friends in turning his observations of himself into a rant on Indian public life aka tamasha we all love to hate. What really put me off was that someone of Mr Mehta’s wit,stature and intelligence could not figure it out. The only excuse I can muster is that he himself did not bother to read the 500 odd pages from start to finish else he would have shared the disgust I was subjected to.

The book begins in Lucknow (obviously)  where the Young Vinod goes to La Martiniere  School. I must say that this was perhaps the most interesting part may be because till this time Mr Mehta was writing with a pen on his heart lost in the deep love,wonder  and nostalgia of childhood and youth. I could as would any other youngster of Lucknow identify with him perfectly. Lucknow is not only a city, it’s a character that grows on you until it becomes a part of how you Live,eat,pray and love. Lucknow Wallahs tend to create  a dream world of their own which has subtle humor, sarcasm, a laid back lifestyle, good food , great wine and lots of women ( mostly imagined). The world of a young Vinod along with the pranks and trials could be of anyone growing in a city that  defies all definition but remains charming in an odd way.

The story moves on as Mr. Mehta goes to England and is still readable and engrossing as you empathize with a small town boy finding a place in the big bad world full of intellectual Pseudisms   and societal pretensions. But this is where it was ‘ innocence lost’ and nothing gained for the young Mehta. The more He thought he found the world the more he started losing  himself.

Life is Mumbai and the stint with Debonair ( all of us grew up with it) was the last leg of the journey that warranted companionship.After this Mehta is on his own churning  a sagging tale of the various interactions he had with a milieu of corporate,business and political characters – some he won and some he lost but for the reader the plot started to dwindle to sorry little details of who drank what scotch and who screwed whom with all the soggy details thrown in.

By the time I was half away I  started skipping paragraphs.Since I did not find anything interesting especially in the context of a Memoir I will jump the details and highlight some of the stuff that Mr Mehta must take a note of. Being the Iconic editor that he is I am sure it will give him some pointers as to what went wrong :

1. Found it absolutely funny even out of place to see pages written about various celebrated personalities of India Sonia Gandhi dot dot : 4 pages, atal behari dot dot 4 Pages, Rahuil Gandhi !!!! who writes about Rahul Gandhi in his Memoir ??

The craziest thing was to try and belittle Amitabh Bachchan for his visits to temples for the good of his sons married life. Why did you do it ?? It was your memoir and I can promise you that Amitabh would never bother about a non entity like you in his Memoir. And by the way I bought the book to read about your journey not his.

I don’t know whether your wives – ex and current will bother to read what you have come up with but if they do they would be singularly disappointed to find a chapter about your Dog and not more than a line about either of them. Guess Dogs are more important than Soul mates.

Last but none the less the least and lowly was the bit about giving gyan on what to do to become a successful journalist and what not to do. Sir it is your life story not a Navneet ki Kunji for High school Exams. Passing out in third Division in arts stream from one of the most lowly ranked universities in the world If you could figure it out I can assure you that the future generations can as well do it – without your kind advice.

Agree  ?? My sincere suggestion is that you pull back all copies in circulation and rewrite the whole thing.This time all by yourself and strictly without the commercial advice of your publisher friends. You made your money, now make your mark….

Fortunately for me I picked up The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghssh on my return flight and was washed off from all my sins of the onward journey.

ये लखनऊ की सर ज़मी….

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/embed/CaMd28eEDlU“>

Ye Lucknow ki sarzameen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen
ye rang-roop kaa chaman
ye husn-o-ishq kaa watan
yahi to wo muqaam hai
jahaan Awadh ki shaam hai
jawaan-jawaan haseen-haseen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen

 

shabaab-o-sher kaa ye ghar
ye ahl-e-ilm kaa nagar
hai manzilon ki god mein
yahaan har ek rah-guzar
ye shahar laaladaar hai
yahaan dilon mein pyaar hai
jidhar nazar uthaaiye
bahaar hi bahaar hai
kali-kali hai naazneen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen

 

yahaan ki sab rawaayaten
adab ki shaahkaar hain
ameer ahl-e-dil yahaan
ghareeb jaan-nisaar hain
har ek shaakh par yahaan
hain bulbulon ke chahchahen
gali-gali mein zindagi
kadam-kadam pe kahkahen
har ik nazaaraa hai dilnasheen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen
ye Lucknow ki sarzameen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4/172 Vivek Khand….

This is about 25 years back when Life was simple without the internet and the gadgets.My world was like an episode out of  the “Wonder Years” in which life constantly presented itself  in all the myriad shades of growing from a child to a young adult.

On a chilly January evening after coming back from work, my father announced that we would be moving out of our official quarters to a new house in the suburbs.Well the very idea of leaving our home of 16 years seemed quite alien but we were excited about the fact we will be moving to a larger place with a park in the vicinity.

Once the house number 4/172 Vivek khand was allotted to us , my father started the work  for making some extra rooms and a staircase to the terrace.Sometimes I would accompany him on his Lambretta Scooter all the way to the site to oversee the work.He said he wanted me to know the ways of the world and to learn how to deal with all the contractors, electricians and plumbers.I was not sure about the idea and if the skill set ever came handy but nevertheless those trips were quite interesting , almost filling me with a sense of accomplishment each time we rode back after a hard days work. May be he wanted me to just tag along for some company.Whatever may be the case ,it kind of bonded me to my father like no other time as Fathers were tough those days unlike now.

One thing that I distinctly remember about those early trips to 4/172 is the heavenly taste of puris and salted pumpkin pudding that my mom used to pack with us for lunch.I have never felt more hungry and nothing has satiated my pallate better.I think it was the sheer pleasure of building our home to be along with the physical labor involved which created such a magical feast.

Another vivid memory is that of me and my friend cycling all the way from Nirala Nagar to Gomti Nagar taking the longest route that went through the cantonment.Cantonment was our favorite detour with its greenery ( pun intended),wide open roads  and a burger at Rover’s cafe thrown in.Cycling was our best past time and we wondered as clouds anywhere and everywhere that we could pedal to.Roaming around 10 -12 kms everyday was piece of cake.Our parents were not aware of our escapades but that’s the way I learnt most of my human qualities – being by yourself, endurance, patience , a sense of wonder and most of all companionship without dialogue.That’s the thing about living – you get your real education from things you are refrained from doing.

In a span of 6 months the house got ready and after the customary puja we moved in around the summer time.The house was nothing opulent and it would qualify as a rather humble place to live.Those days there were no fancy names to the apartments and they were classified based on the social strata they housed.We had a mini MIG which meant that the house just felt short of us being in the middle income group.It was a contradiction in terms as my father used to fall in the top slot of Gazzetted officers in the central govt. Somehow we never questioned this at that time as most of my friends had similar abodes.

Gomti Nagar was a deserted place back in 1987 and we were the 5th family to have moved in into what was pegged as Asia’s biggest colony.Later when I traveled to other parts of Asia I figured out why ? It had got nothing to do with the superior vision of the creators of Gomti nagar but it was just that the other countries had a culture of multi storied apartments structured differently to let Gomti Nagar bask in the glory. Now for the last so many years summers had been one of the most active periods of the year for us with food,friends,thums up et al.But the new house had only food and thms up , no friends.Thankfully my old friends came to my rescue and they started dropping in from the city quite frequently.Soon our house in Gomti Nagar became a destination by itself for friends looking for a drive out of the city and a quite place with lonely spots to smoke.

I have no particular memories of anything bad about 4/172 except that when my grandfather passed away.Soon after we moved in he had started feeling unwell and was keeping low grade fever for some time.I didn’t know at that time but he had been diagnosed with cancer.I was always very close to my grandfather and the memory of his body kept on the floor in front of our drawing room is still quite fresh.The place had black and white marbles placed next to each other as in a chess board and I had this weird feeling of loosing out. The smell of roses and Incense mixed with chants of the Geeta is something that got so deeply etched in my senses that to date I relate everything sacred to it.That’s perhaps the only time I have seen my father crying like an inconsolable child.I guess we grow up one last time when we loose our parents and that’s it.Now that I think of why I never took this incident as something that disturbed me is perhaps that my grandpa had lived a full life and had passed away at a ripe old age with friends and family by his side.He had his ups and down but then c’est la vie.

Life always finds newer way of manifesting itself and within a few years , the plants  in front of our house became trees.There was a Gulmohar and a bottlebrush which I particularly loved .And yes there was another Blue Bells creeper which grew so thick and lush that it covered the entire facade of our house including the balcony of the first floor and my rooms window. I would not be completely wrong if I compared my house of then to some fairy tale dwelling in the woods with blue and orange flowers hanging upside down or may be downside up.Each time my mom wanted to chop off the trees or the creeper for want of sunshine all three of us kids would stand in the way.Finally she got so flustered that she said fine if that’s how you guys want it then so be it.

4/172 had a small 10 X 10 room on the way to the terrace and I had rightfully occupied it for the convenience and solitude that my youthful experiments warranted. I had a big poster of OSHO at the back of the door which was soon given company by another one of Jim Morrison.I imagine what they would be telling each other when I wasn’t there – Jibberish ???. To this date both continue to shape my being but in those days I used to just idolize them like a stony eyed believer.Through this room opened the vast vistas of the terrace which was our own after everyone went to sleep and the doors downstairs were locked.At the pretext of “combined” studies me and my friends would stay put so we could smoke our heart out and have swigs from the ‘tadka’ beer bottle laced with whiskey so it gave a faster and stronger kick.When you are almost loosing consciousness,gazing at the infinite darkness with the stars twinkling  through represents such a twilight zone I tell you !! Most of the times we would get incoherent trying to impress each other with some half cooked philosophy of life.If rebel is the word then I was every bit of it I believe.I feel I am still quite a renegade except having been tied down to the certainties of a gathered past.

Huh ! We had the best of times and we had the worst of times in 4/172.There are so many memories of celebrating holi with our friends on the terrace – Roadhouse blues, Colors, Beer and pure madness.I am sure our neighbors too can recall those days with fondness now as the horror of seeing ghost like half naked young men running wildly has gone past.We were two of us brothers and with just a couple of years between we shared a lot of common friends.In fact when I ‘dropped’ for appearing in engineering exams we started sharing the same class for certain subjects in the University.His friends became my friends and my friends became his pals so that the dividing line became thinner until it disappeared completely.For 4/172 this was something very special as given our ‘friendly’ disposition it became the unofficial hostel of the Science department of Lucknow University. Things grew so informal that during exam time when we got completely engrossed to figure out ‘what was which’ that people would’nt even mind cooking and cleaning the kitchen when my mom was doing Puja or had gone out.Sounds of ‘ abe Chandu chai bana be’  or ‘ Pilav mast bana hai dost, thoda achar dena’ still reverberate in my head when I think of it.The phone oh how can I forget the phone ! The Black Plastic thing  used to ring just incessantly.Most calls would have the caller answer at the other end but not always.We figured out that everyone in Botany Department was not so open about their identity when it came to strangers ! My father got completely harassed with this situation  and started wondering ‘who’s line is it anyway’ quite literally !! His warning of plugging out his sources and disconnecting the phone went unheard so he finally charted out a treaty that aimed at not only bringing peace to the household but also to limit the bill to a minimum.

From the command station at 4/172, where at any given time a multitude of vehicles of all shapes and sizes were parked were governed most of the social activities for the youth of Lucknow.From rock concerts to fashion shows to youth festivals and even election campaigns were planned and executed with precision and finesse. Debates were practiced, songs were rehearsed, ammunition was smuggled in and romance was given a patient hearing …all under one roof. My room on the terrace became the nerve center of activity and after sometime our parents stopped bothering themselves with who came in and who went out.

As we passed out of  the university things became a little serious as we started to think about stuff such as jobs and a career.But they didn’t become as dull till I had to go out New Delhi in search of  work .I realized very soon that life was tougher than what we had thought and to survive in a metro one would need a little more than a golden heart and some smart chips.The innocence of childhood and the rebellion of youth  died  as they were sacrificed at the harsh and cold altar of reality.I am sure a similar transformation happened for all my friends too.As they say in hindi movies ” Munna aisa bhaga ki bhagta hi raha,bhagta hi raha….”

I feel 4/172 stopped being itself as we moved out of Lucknow even though we continued to visit as frequently as we could. Our marriages were performed, kids were born and festivals were celebrated on the fast track of limited days of leave so I could never feel the same peace of being at home and 4/172 distanced itself from being a participant to being a mere spectator of events.The nag of leaving ‘home’ that was 4/172 always lingered.I would compare it to a relationship that you know is dying either due to lack of proximity or the absence of togetherness or both.

Over the years the frequency of my visits has gone lower and the duration of my trips has become shorter, but each time I am at the doors of 4/172 I wonder how life would have been if my relation ship with it had not changed.

I guess both me and my ‘permanent address’ will have to live long enough to know the truth.Until then I guess these lines from Wajid Ali Shah would hold true :

दर ओ दीवार पे हसरत से नज़र करते हैं, खुश रहो एहले वतन हम तो सफर करते हैं…

नवाबी तलवार…

एक मर्तबा लखनऊ शहर में एक उजडे नवाब हुआ करते थे. नाम था मिराजुद्दौला. उनकी तारीफ यूं तो क्या  थी सिवा इसके कि बाप दादों की रियासत का मज़ा लूटते थे पर हां  यही बात अगर आप हमसे उनके सामने पूछ्ते तो हमारा जवाब ज़हिर तौर पर ये होता  कि साहब जितनी की जाये कम है !

अब नवाब कह दिया तो ये तो साफ ही हो गया कि कोई काम काज तो मियां मिराजुद्दौला क्या ही करते होंगे पर हां इसका ये मतलब कतई नही निकलता उनकी मसरूफियत में कोई कमी थी. नसीमो सुबह से गुफ्तगू करने और गुसल फरमाने के बाद नवाब साहब  बाकयदा दीवानखाने में तख्तनशीं हो जाया करते और शाम होने तलक कौम के तमाम इखलाकी और तम्यद्दुन्नी मसलों में दखल दिया करते. चूंकि उनकी नसीहतें ज़रा ओछी और कमतर हुआ करती थी सो  वो  आलिम फाज़िल कम किस्सा  गो  के तौर पर  ज़्यादा मशहूर हो गये थे.खैर बद्नाम हुए तो  क्या नाम ना हुआ…..

अरे हां उनकी मकबूलियत कि एक वजह ये भी थी उनके बावर्ची जैसे लज़ीज़ कबाब और पराठे सारे लखनऊ शहर में और कोई नहीं बनाता  था.एक बार तो हमारे पर दादा जान की किस्मत का तारा भी चमका था ,क्या बतायें आज तलक हमारे खानदान में सबकी उंगलियां पतली हुआ करती हैं.

हुज़ूर यूं तो नवाब मिराजुद्दौला की करामातों के तमाम  किस्से आप चौक की गलियों में गोलियां खेलते लौंडों से सुन सकते है पर जो किस्सा हम आज आपको  सुनायेंगे वो सबसे अलग और अहम है.लीजिये संभालियेगा…

तो जनाब हुआ यूं  कि  एक रोज़  नवाब साहब ज़रा हवा  खाने  को निकले तो उनकी  सवारी  का रुख    नख्खास  की  तरफ  हो गया. लखनऊ शहर में नख्खास जो था वो पुरानी और नायाब चीज़ों के लिये  मशहूर हुआ करता था. दबी ज़बान में तो लोग ये भी  केहते थे कि वहां बहुत सा मालो असबाब वो होता है जिसके मालिक का कोई अता पता न हो. आप चाहें तो इसे चोर बज़ार कह सकते हैं पर हम नहीं कहेंगे. अब जिस जगह पर नवाब साहब की आमोदरफ्त  हो उसे हम कैसे कह दें कि वो चोर बज़ार है.आखिर शराफत भी कोई चीज़  है.बहरहाल घूमते घामते नवाब साहब की नज़र एक ऐसी चीज़ पर पडी जिसका इस्तेमाल उनके बाप दादों ने भी नहीं किया था पर हां वो चीज़ ऐसी थी कि उनके रुतबे और मिजाज़ केमुताबिक थी. जी हां वो थी एक तलवार. आप सोचते होंगे कि कौन सी बडी बात है ,पर थी बडी बात और नहीं थी तो बनाई जा सकती थी.

सौदा हुआ और आनन फानन में तलवार नवाब की कोठी में आ गयी और दीवानखाने की दीवार पर सजा दी गई. कहा गया कि ये बडी नायाब और बेशकीमती तलवार है जो नवाब साहब को  अपने पुर्खों से मिली है. अब तलवार लोहे की और नौकर नवाब के कौन केहता कि नहीं ऐसा नहीं है या ये सरासर झूट है.नवाब साहब के वफादार नौकर चाकर एकदम इस खबर को मशहूर करने में लग गये कि कोठी में एक ऐसी नायाब चीज़ है कि जिसके देखे बगैर अगर अल्ला मियां को प्यारे हो गये तो समझो गये दोनों जहान से. लिहाज़ा लखनऊ की गलियों में एक वलवला सा उठ्ठा और तमाम लोग कोठी की ओर रोज़  कूच  करने  लगे. तलवार जितना देखने की नहीं उतना सुनने की चीज़ थी और वो इसलिये कि नवाब साहब खुद उसके जलवों की  दास्तान आने वालों को पेश किया करते थे. देखते ही देखते तलवार लखनऊ की  शान  बन गयी. ये वो तलवार थी जिसमे बेश्कीमती हीरे और जवहेरात लगे हुए थे, ये वो तलवार थी जिससे नवाब साहब के मरहूम दादा जान ने कम से कम सैकडों दुशमनों को  मौत से जलवागर करवा दिया था,ये वो तलवार थी जिसे मलिका ए इंग्लिस्तान किसी कीमत पर हथियाना चाहेती थीं, ये वो  तलवार थी जिसने ना जाने कितनी बार लखनऊ की इज़्ज़त और अस्मत को लुटने से  बचाया था, ये वो तलवार थी जिसे आखों से लगा कर होठों से चूमना  हर शहरी और सच्चे वतन परस्त का फर्ज़ था. ये तलवार पुर्खों की  विरासत और आने  वाली नस्लों की  अमानत थी.

बस यूं समझ लीजे कि दीदार ए काबा के बाद अगर कुछ था तो वो था दीदार ए तलवार ए मिराजुद्दौल.और इसके लिये कहीं दूर जाने की जहमत भी नहीं उठाना थी.

पर अनहोनी को भला  कौन टाल सकताहै ? वही हुआ जो ना होना चाहिये था – नवाब  की  तलवार चोरी हो गयी.

सुस्त शहरों मे सनसनी जल्दी फैलती है और ये तो लखनऊ था. चोरी की खबर ऐसी बिजली की तरह चमकी कि तमाम शहर के बाशिंदों मे करंट दौड गया. एक एक करके लोग मिजाज़पुर्सी के लिये नवाब की कोठी में  आने लगे.

सबसे पहले तशरीफ लाये लाला गनपत राय. मुंह लटकाये कुछ इस तरह से दीवानखाने में दाखिल हुए कि जैसे अभी अभी समूची रियासत अंग्रेज़ों के नाम कर आये हों.खैर लखनऊ में गम मनाने का भी एक सलीका हुआ करता है. ये नहीं कि लगे छाती पीट पीट के चिल्लाने. आहिस्ता से करीब आकर अपने पानदान से निकाल कर तम्बाक,ज़र्दे,केसर और ज़ाफरान वाली गिलौरी पेश की जाती है और जब आप बाकायदा यूं शरीक़ हो जायें तो हाथों में हाथ लेकर पूछा जाता है कि ‘ मियां ये कैसे हुआ ?’

यही नफासत है जो हम लखनऊ  वालों को दूसरो तो बेसलीका, जाहिल और गवांर समझने पर मजबूर कर देती है.

बहरहाल ये बातें सीखने में तो आपकी की कई नस्लें गुज़र जायेंगी सो हम किस्से को आगे बढाते हैं. तो लाला ने जब रसमन नवाब का हाथ अपने हाथों मे लिया और इस हिमाकत का हाल पूछा तो नवाब की आंखे डबड्बा आईं. ये भी ज़रूरी था वर्ना लाला को लगता कि हमारे हाल पूछने में वो गर्मी वो शिद्दत नही थी जो होना चाहिये थी.रुंधे गले से पान को कोने में दबाते हुए नवाब ने अर्ज़ किया:

अमां कल रात जब सोने गये तो यहीं इसी दीवार पर टंगी थी पर जब सुबह उठे  तो क्या देखते है कि तलवार गायब है.

यहीं  तो चूक गये आप ” लाला ने फरमाया.” हम  तो आपको निहायत ज़हीन और काबिल समझते थे पर आपने तो हमें अपनी राय बदलने पर मजबूर कर दिया.अब देखिये ये कोई मामूली चीज़ तो थी नहीं कि दीवार पर खुला टांग दिया और सो  गये.पुर्खों की अमानत को भला यूं संभाला जाता है. पर वही बात है कि जो नियामत इंसान को नाहक़ मिल जाती है वो उसकी कद्र नहीं समझ पाता.काश ये विरासत हमें बक्शी गयी होती तो आखों से चूम  कर माथे से लगाते .बंदर क्या जाने अदरख का स्वाद…….

अब नवाब खामोश न रह सके और ज़रा तुनक कर बोले ‘ लाला आप अपने जामे से बाहर आ रहे हैं.’ लाला ने बात संभाली ‘अरे आप तो यूं ही खफा हो गये ,हम तो चोर के लिये कह रहे थे. जाके बेच देगा किसी ऐरे गैरे को औने पौने कहीं नक्खास वक्खास में’. नवाब सोचने लगे बला जहां से  आयी थी वहीं पहुंच जायेगी,कौन बडी बात है.

खैर  लाला को जैसे तैसे रवाना  कर के अभी  नवाब  ने  एक  गिलास खस  का  शर्बत तलब ही किया था  कि  मुंशी  टेकचन्द  की आमद  हुई. आते  ही सबसे पेहले  तो हजरत ने  शर्बत पर  अपना हक़ जमा दिया और फिर  दाग दिया वही अशलील सवाल – मियां ये हुआ कैसे ? नवाब के  जी में  तो आया कि कह दें कि  खुदा का शुक्र  है कि तलवार चोरी हो गयी नहीं तो आप का कत्ल तो आज हमारे  हाथों  तय थे. पर क्या करते लखनवी  तेह्ज़ीब का बोझ नवाब के दिल ओ दिमाग से होते हुए अब उनके  वजूद पर्  कुछ इस तरह  भारी हो  चुका था कि चाहते तो भी उसे  उतार कर फेंक नहीं  सकते थे. मुस्करा कर बोले ‘ साहब क्या बताएं बुरा वक़्त बता कर तो आता नहीं  और हमारी फितरत भी कुछ यूं  है कि  सब पर  यकीन  कर लेते हैं. इतना एह्तियात तो हमनें  बरता था कि शाम को सोने से पेहले तलवार जो यूं तो दीवार पर सजी रेहती थी हमनें अपने  सिरहाने रक्खी और सो गये. हकीम साहब ने फर्माया था कि लोहा तकिये के नीचे रखने से बुरे  ख्वाब भी  नहीं  आते’. ये कह कर नवाब  ने सोंचा कि  अगर मुंशी मेरी कहानी  के कायल हो गये तो बस कल नौकरों  एक एक रुक्का लिख कर जारी कर देंगे और कह देंगे कि भई  ये रहा किस्सा  ए तलवार अब हमारी जान छोडो.

पर  वो गलत थे एकदम गलत …

मुंशी  बोले – अमां  ये क्या हरकत कर दी आपने हुज़ूर ! हम तो  आपको तमाम लखनऊ शहर की  दिमागी तरक्की  का  मुहाफिज़  समझते थे और आपने तो बस हमारा सारा भरम ही तोड  दिया. मियां इतने  सयाने तो आज  कल चौक के लौंडे हो गये हैं , जानते हैं  कि तिमारदारों  कि  कौम अब भरोसे के  कतई काबिल नहीं  रही. वो ज़माने  हवा हो गये जब वफादार मालिक की एक  नज़र पर जान पेश कर दिया करते थे. अब तो ज़रा चूक हुई नहीं कि ये लोग आखों  से सुरमा उतार लें. और् फिर  ये तो तलवार थी वो भी खानदानी –  हीरे जवाहेरात उसमें जडे हुए , मशहूर औ मारूफ , बच्चा बच्चा जिसके किस्से बयान  करते नहीं  थकता और आप हैं  कि बस यूं  ही सो गये तकिये के नीचे रख कर ! अरे हकीम साहब का दिल रखने का इतना ही शौक़ था तो बावर्ची खाने से कोई चाकू –  वाकू मंगवा लिया होता या फिर गुलाम को जहमत को जहमत दी होती.आपकी जेहनी खैरियत के लिये हम तोपखाने से किसी मरियल घोडे  की  नाल ले आये होते. दरोगा साहब हमारे जानने वालों मे शरीक़ होते हैं और हम अगर  आपकी  दिमागी हालत का वास्ता देते तो हमें  यकीन है कि वो हमें  मायूस न  करते’. नवाब बहुत झुंझलाये , समझ गये कि  मुंशी भिगो भिगो के जूती साफ  कर रहे हैं पर क्या करते तलवार और तेह्ज़ीब का मामला था.

डांट  कर नौकर तो ललब किया – ‘अमां फुक्कन मिया मुंशी साहब कोई खाली बगैर काम काज के नहीं  हैं  कि सारा दिन आपका इंतेज़ार करते रहें. अगर काहिली छोड  कर कुछ पका लिया हो तो लेते आइये वर्ना कम से कम एक कप चाय ही पेश कर दीजिये जो हम सीलोन से लाये थे’. फिर वो धीरे से बोले – ‘क्या करें सब कम्बखत मुंह लगे हैं सुनते ही नही. ना बात का ढंग है ना काम का सलीका.’ मुंशी समझ गये कि तीर निशाने पर लगा है लगा है और ये बातें नौकरों की जानिब से उन्हें सुनाई जा रही हैं. शराफत और खैरियत दोनों के  मद्दे नज़र उन्होंने ये ही मुनासिब समझा कि वहां से फूट लिया जाये. वैसे भी चौक में लस्सी के  ठेके के लिये बहुत मसाला जमा हो गया था.

नवाब खुश थे.ऊपर  वाले के करम से दोपहर के खाने के वक़्त लोगों ने उन्हें तन्हा छोड  दिया. पर असलियत तो ये थी कि छ्ज्जू की लस्सी की दुकान पर नवाब का मखौल उडाने वालों  की जो महफिल जमी वो दोपहर के खाने तक चलती रही. और आप जानते  हैं कि खाने के बाद तो लखनऊ वाले अगर क़यामत बर्पा हो जाये तो भी ना उठ्ठें. हाल फिलहाल झुटपुटे तलक नवाब को  परेशान करने कोई ना आया.

बुरा वक़ बता कर नहीं आता ये तो ठीक है पर ये बात भी दुरुस्त है कि  बुरा वक़्त आसानी से टलता भी नहीं.अभी  कारिंदे श्म्माओं  को  रौशन कर ही रहे थे कि आगा मीर की ड्योढी से  मिर्ज़ा असलम बेग तशरीफ ले  आये. उनके चांद से चमकते रुख्सार से ये साफ बयां हो रहा था कि दिन भर किसी मटरगश्ती से चूर होकर कुछ ऐसा सोये होंगे कि ख्वाब में में भी ज़ोर ज़ोर से हंस रहे होंगे.ना जाने क्यों पर  नवाब को यकीन था जो नूर  मिर्ज़ा के नूरानी चेहरे से टपक रहा था उसमें उनकें खिल्ली का कतरे खून बनकर तैर रहे थे. मिर्ज़ा को देखते ही वो एकदम चौक्कन्ने हो गये और कुछ ऐसे बैठ गये जैसे कि मिर्ज़ा के वार करते ही उनपर टूट  पडेंगे. मिर्ज़ा ने दीवानखाने में घुसते ही पान पेश किया और बहुत ही अफसोस भरी अलबत्ता रोनी सूरत बना कर कहा -‘हुज़ूर  ये क्या कर दिया. अब लखनअऊ का क्या होगा ‘?

नवाब  अब सब्र की इंतेहां  तक पहुंच चुके थे. उन्हें एक पल ऐसा लगा कि वो मिर्ज़ा का मुंह नोच लेंगे. पर इसे अंजाम देने के लिये ज्यों ही वो हरकत में आये आसमानों से उनकें लखनवी पुर्खों की रूह उन्हें सदाएं देने लगी. कहने लगी कि मिराज़ जो शराफत के पुतलों  का खिताब हमारी नस्लों को अता किया जाता रहा है उसकी तौहीन मत करो. इसे मिर्ज़ा की नादानी और अल्ला की मर्ज़ी समझ कर जज़्ब कर जाओ. जन्नत में तुम्हारी जगह हम पक्की किये रहेंगे. मरता क्या ना करता नवाब ने खुद को खुदा के लिये संभाला और बोले -‘अमां लखनऊ तो तब भी बलंद और क़ायम रहा जब फिरंगी जाने ए आलम ( नवाब वाजिद अली शाह का एक खिताब) को श्हर की सडकों पर लिये घूमते रहे जैसे कि बंदर का खेल हो , ये तो बेचारी एक बेजान , बे जबान तलवार थी.’ नवाब के मिज़ाज़ की तल्खी को मिर्ज़ा भांप गये मगर अब जिस काम को आये थे उसे तो अंजाम देना ही था. सो बोले – ‘हुआ क्या था ???’

नवाब  को ऐसा लगा जैसे वो गश खाके गिर जायेंगे – झूटी तलवार के लुटने की सच्ची दास्तान जिसमे वो आधे अहमक़ थे और आधे शैतान अब उनसे और झेली नही जा रही थी. हाथ कत्ल करने पर अमादा थे पर दिल उन्हें उनकी शराफत का वास्ता देकर रोक देता था. अपनी सारी हिम्मत तलब करके बोले – ‘अरे साहब अब क्या कहें हम तो ये बात अच्छी तरह जानते थे कि तमाम ज़माने की , खास कर कि हमारे नमक हराम नौकरो की नज़र हमारी पुश्तैनी तलवार पर है सो हमने बडे एह्तियात से मयान मे डाल कर तहखाने में  तिंजोरी में सात तालों में बन्द करके रक्खा था. ना जाने कहां से सुल्ताना डाकू के अंडे बच्चे शहर में आ गये है कि वहां से भी उडा ले गये.हम तो केहते हैं मिर्ज़ा अब ये शहर हमारे आपके जैसे शरीफों  के लिये महफूज़ नहीं  रहा. ज़रूरी है कि आप भी ज़रा संभल के रहें.’

मिर्ज़ा  गहरी सोच में डूब गये और कुछ देर बाद दाढी पर हाथ फेरते हुए बोले -‘ नवाब साहब अगर हम आपकी जगह होते तो कभी इतनी ज़ाहिर सी जगह पर इस कदर नायाब चीज़ ना धरते. हम तो साह्ब ऐसी जगह छुपाते कि सात पुश्तें भी सुराग  ना लगा पातीं कि तलवार शाम होते होते ही जाती कहां है.रख देते चावलों के गोदाम में किसे बोरी में छुपा कर. किसका दिमाग इतना चलता कि हमारी होशियारी के  आगे अपनी चला पाता. वो तो ठहरे अकल के पैदल.मुल्ला की दौड मस्जिद तक, तिजोरी का ताला तोडते और अन्दर मिलता हमारे हाथों क लिखा पर्चा – मियां अभी बादाम खाओ, तुम्हारे जैसे लौंडे तो जेब में मोमफली के साथ रखते हैं और गाहे बगाहे चबा जाया करते हैं.’ असलम बेग के चेहरे में शैतान की सूरात साफ दिखायी दे  रही थी.वो आगे बोले –

‘अब  क्योंकि आप हमारे साथ कंचे खेले हैं और पतंग बाज़ी के पैंतरे भी जानते हैं हम समझे कि आप भी हमारी तरह ही तेज़ दिमाग से सोचेंगे.पर हम गलत थे लडकपन की मुराही जवानी की मुकम्मल दिमाग मे तब्दील हो ये ज़रूरी नहीं है. खैर जो हुआ सो हुआ, हम अब रुक्सत चाहेंगे … बडा अफसोस हुआ.’

मुंशी ने तो फिर भी जूते भिगो भिगो कर मारे थे मिर्ज़ा ने तो मारे दस गिने दो. “या अल्लाह ये कैसा फसाद पैदा कर दिया.इससे कभी निजात मिलेगी भी या नहीं.”

अगले  दिन सुबह सुबह दरवाज़े पर फिर दस्तक हुई. नौकरों ने आकर बताया कि कोतवाल साहब हाज़िर होना चाहते हैं कहिए तो लिवा लायें. नवाब क्या केहते – जान गये कि अभी उन्हें जल्दी मौत नहीं  आयेगी.कुछ ही देर मे कोतवाल साहब नवाब  मिराजुद्दौला के हुज़ूर में तशरीफ फर्मा थे. सवाल वही – तलवार कैसे चोरी हो गयी !!!!!!

नवाब मिराजुदौला फरिश्तों जैसे तो थे मगर फरिश्ते नहीं थे. उनमे वो सब कमियां मौजूद थीं जो अक्सर इंसानों में पायी जाती है मसलन गुस्सा , खीज, बदसलूकी,वहशत, दीवानापन ……. नवाब का चेहरा तमतमा गया और वो  जैसे बिराते हुए अपना बयान देने लगे. चिल्ला कर बोले – ‘कोतवाल साहब हुआ यूं  कि हम तलवार से बहुत तंग आ चुके थे सो हमने सोचा कि लाओ आज अपना काम इसी से ताम किये लेते हैं. आव  देखा ना ताव तलवार को अपने सीने में घोंप लिया और बिस्तरे पर लेट गये. सुबह देखा तो हम तो थे पर तलवार ना थी. अब बताइये कि क्या करें ?’

दरोगा जी ज़रा देर तो सकते में आ गये फिर सोचने लगे. थोडी देर बाद तफतीश के लहज़े उन्होंनें कुछ यूं दर्याफ्त किया – ‘आप गलती कर गये , हुआ यूं होगा कि जब आप तलवार को सींसे में घुसेड कर औंधे पडे होंगे तभी चोर आया होगा. उसने आपको बेहोश देखा होगा और सोचा होगा कि देखें सो रहे है या जग रहे हैं.ज़ैसे ही आपको पलटा होगा उसे तलवार की मुठ दिखायी दे गये होगी. उसने सोचा होगा दुनिया भर की चीज़ें लादने से अच्छा ये बेश्कीमत नगीना ही क्यों ना हथिया लिया जाये.तलवार को मुठ पकड कर खींचा होगा और ये जा वो जा.आपने अपने जांबाज़ पुर्खों का नाम लेकर ज़रा ज़ोर और लगाया होता तो आज आप भी शहीद हो चुके होते और आपके मरहूम दादाजान की निशानी भी रह जाती.’

नवाब अब कुछ और सोचने समझने के काबिल ना रह सके थे.आस पास का माहौल सुन्न सा हो गया और दूर किसी कोठे से रियाज़ की आवाज़ आने लगी. गालिब का कलाम था शायद  :

ये कहां की दोस्ती है के बने हैं दोस्त नासेह्, कोई चारागार होता कोई गमगुसार होता

हुए  मर के हम जो रुसवा हुए क्यों ना गर्के दरिया, ना कहीं जनाज़ा उठता ना कहीं मज़ार होता……

~ आहंग

** ये किस्सा बहुत अर्सा पेहले किसी दोस्त नें एक लतीफ के तौर पर शार्ट में सुनाया था. हमें लगा कि लखनऊ के मिजाज़ के साथ ज्यादती हुई है सो यहां अपने ब्लाग पर तफसील से बयान करने की हिमाकत की है.उम्मीद है कि आपको पढ कर मज़ा आयेगा और जो ना आये तो मेरी बला से….!

200 years of Hazratganj

On my recent trip to Lucknow I was on my way to chowk for some Chikan work shopping.I decided to take the route via governer house to hazratganj and then onwards to clarks awadh hotel, residency and medical college.

Hazratganj is usually crowded in the evenings but I have never seen anything close to the legendary traffic jams of bangalore.I was surprised to see the traffic stuck at the same place for some 15-20 minutes.The reason for this snarl… Hazratganj is getting a face lift for its 200th birthday.A welcome change for all of us who grew up in Lucknow and for whom ganjing was as special as going to Time Square in NY.

Papa’s car has no music system so waiting there for the traffic to make way ,I got carried back in time when this stretch of 1 km represented all that was hot and happening. Hazratganj was not only a market place , it was something to talk about and even flaunt to the poor cousins who visited from not so hep parts of the country.

Personally I have lots of memories and a few of them are quite vivid as if they happened just yesterday. It’s difficult to rank what I liked best but yes what comes to mind quite readily is my monthly, fortnightly and sometimes weekly visits to Mayfair. The cinema hall was a craze among movie lovers in Lucknow as it showed the latest English Movies in the Morning show.You could bump into almost anyone or hope to bump into almost anyone as you put your hand into the ticket window to collect tickets of “Pretty Women’. Another favorite haunt for college goers especially from the science department in Lucknow University was the Marksman restaurant. In those days it had the distinction of serving some  of the best Burgers,Pizzas and Omelette’s.Any given day you could see youngsters pooling in for a ‘dutch’ party to celebrate the last day of exam or some equally important occasion.And yes how can I forget Rovers cafe ?? For 10 bucks you could buy yourself a hot burger with a potato pancake and a slice of onion and cucumber stuffed carefully between the bread. If you were not broke already you could ask for a fanta or a thums up to go along watching the chicks as time stood still.Janpath was another place that allowed a casual stroll and plenty of window shopping.There was a magazine shop at the corner that sold the latest issues of Debo and all my friends would make sure to have a dekko before their Ganjing trip was over. My entire collection of ‘rock’ music was put together at shop called the Rhythm centre which was on the left side as you entered the Janpath premises.They used to record @ rs 2 per song for Hindi and Rs 5 for English.I guess the bias was still there from the times of Britishers and the snob shopkeepers had found a novel way to differentiate the sahebs from the Pariah.I cared for neither.One place that I used to frequent in the evenings was the Chat stall on the upper deck of Janpath. The genesis of being and the power of free will were debated for hours till it did not make sense anymore –  I am not sure if it was the depth of the discussion or the high of Old monk but that’s what it was.

The traffic started moving and I was transponded  back from my reverie. As I sped past the DM’s residence I reminded myself to take the turn and stop by to have Paan at SBI…..somethings will never change.

And it is for these things which will remain ‘unchanged’ I will keep coming back again and again and again !