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
**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 !!