MEHRU JAFFER | 11 SEPTEMBER, 2016
Lucknow's Husainabad Journeys From the Emperors to The ShelterLess
The hectic restoration at a cost of more than four crore rupees of Lucknow's Husainabad complex is significant for more reasons than one.
More so, as the incumbent government hopes that perhaps this may earn it a few more votes in the coming state elections. Once restored, the premises are sure to attract more tourists.
However heritage lovers and historians look upon the cleaning up of one of the oldest parts of this ancient city as an opportunity for citizens to reclaim their collective history, at a time when attempts are being made to divide and rule people along lines of religion, caste and class.
For Lucknow is Lucknow only because it has enriched its landscape with a mosaic of people, cultures and ethnicities since centuries. Apart from the dominant Hindu and Muslim way of life that has mingled effortlessly like the waters of the mighty Ganga and Jamuna rivers into a magnificent Sangam in the neighbouring city of Allahabad, Europeans and Chinese people have also influenced people here.
In the past this fertile hinterland attracted people from all over the world for its agricultural wealth. It was transformed into a glittering urban centre from 1775 when Nawab Asafudaulah moved his capital to Lucknow, from Faizabad.
In this process of early urbanisation all sorts of people flocked here to carve their own niche. The Kashmiri Mohalla saw Pandits and Shia Muslim buildings sprout side by side. The Bania community clustered around the Chowk and Kanyakubj Brahmins occupied prime property in Golagunj close to the palaces of the rulers.
People from the hills followed Lucknow's abundant sunshine and professionals like the Rastogis who were money lenders, jewellers and shopkeepers created the Rastogi Tola neighbourhood not far from the Oswal Jains, chosen jewellers of royalty. All of them built homes and temples, sprinkled the city with their respective language, cuisine and fashions and were happy to make a fabulous career of designing extraordinary jewels for Muslim rulers and the many women in the palace.
Even earlier, Mughal emperor Akbar chose Lucknow as the seat of power of the Awadh region in 1590 after he divided his kingdom into 12 divisions. The Emperor sent Shaikh Abdul Rahman, as his representative who built his home on a hillock overlooking the river Gomti and beside the tomb of Shah Mina, a Muslim mystic from the 15th century.
Over time Chowk surfaced as the core of the old city with markets over flowing with goods, cosmetics, exotic items of decor and its mixed population of Hindus and Muslims. It was in Chowk that people sold their wares at the street level and set up homes on the first floor. In the late 18th century, Asafudaulah chose to build his home nearby Chowk, and Husainabad became a posh neighbourhood with shops, temples, mosques, residences, parks and a water pond.
By late 19th century Husainabad's skyline was overpowered by a Baradari in terracotta and a 220 ft tall clock tower inspired by London's Big Ben. These monuments were surrounded by a sprawling garden and a beautiful water body visited both by princes and the people. A bowling alley was also built for the amusement of the ruler's European friends.
The Shaikh's residence from the 16th century remained on the hill top while Asafudaulah designed Daulat Khana as his residence in the same area in the 18th century. For the public he built the stunning Rumi Darwaza in imitation of an archway in Istanbul and an amazing Imambara also open to the people.
Gushed English Bishop Reginald Heber in the summer of 1824 that he had never seen an architectural view which pleased him more than Lucknow.
“The details resemble those of Eton, but the extent is much greater and the parts much larger. On the whole it is perhaps most like the Kremlin, but both in splendour and taste my old favourite falls very short of it...”
After the annexation of Lucknow by the British in 1857, another kind of architecture came up with bungalows behind leafy compounds and a cantonment for military affairs.
The British had indiscriminately demolished a lot of Lucknow built earlier by monarchs and in the name of modernity moved away from the Chowk and Husainabad area that over time of utter neglect swelled into a frightful sight of extreme poverty and decay.
That is why it is exhilarating today to witness the clean up of Husainabad, the renovation of the majestic driveway before the Rumi Darwaza that is also in the midst of a facelift. Local residents are happy to see their neighbourhood receive the attention it deserves.
It is after a gap of more than a century that the city administration has picked up the broom in this part of the city. However it is also resented that parks and gardens are stripped of their lush vegetation. The famous lakhauri bricks are replaced by slabs of stone and the water bodies in the area have been reduced in size.
The squalor is still there and the only home that scores of homeless still enjoy are footpaths and pavements. Besides residents and shop keepers still don't know what to do with the large amount of litter, especially plastic generated by them and which is strewn all over the place in the absence of a common garbage pool and incinerator.
There are many superb suggestions of what to do next by concerned citizens. It is to immediately plant fruit bearing trees, including tamarind in all public places for the benefit of the many starving people still without shelter in the city. It is also to plant row upon row of jasmine and other sweet smelling flora and fauna to combat the stench of urine and stink from outdated drains.
Providing basic amenities on the eve of elections instead of manufacturing communal hatred to divide the electorate will win more votes for politicians, said people of that handsome neighbourhood when the Lucknow Chapter of INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) escorted a group of heritage lovers to Husainabad recently.