Swim Or Sink
Was it a shark, a whale or a ship? None of those, it was a SUV floating on a busy street in Lucknow that had flooded after a torrential rainfall early this week. It is true that the SUV is a tough vehicle and designed for off-road driving but to see it bobbing up and down a flooded street in the capital city of Uttar Pradesh (UP) had made citizens wonder whether to laugh or to cry?
Every year the rains cause havoc in a city that seems ill prepared even for a few hours of a rainfall. During the Monsoon waterlogging brings daily activities to a standstill when schools are shut and business activities suffer severe losses.
As if continuous rainfall is not enough, unusual bolts of lightning and thunder terrified citizens this time. Citizens witnessed a never seen before event when a bolt of lightning was frozen in the heavens in the shape of a heart.
Soon after, social media was flooded with photographs of the heart-shaped lightning and the terrifying sound of thunder witnessed last weekend remained the talk of the town.
A sign from the heavens to those on earth to give a little more of their heart to each other, perhaps?
Some other events, billed as extraordinary at Lucknow’s prestigious La Martiniere College are said to have forced the authorities this year to cancel the traditional Founder’s Day celebrations held on September 13 each year. The celebrations are organised out of respect for the wishes of the founder, Major-General Claude Martin.
Martin is known as one of history’s greatest adventurers. He was born in 1735 in Lyon, France. His thirst for adventure made him sign up as a soldier in the French army in India. He fought for the French against the British in the Carnatic Wars and after the French lost Pondicherry in 1761, he defected to the East India Company.
Martin was distrusted by both the British and the French in India and not considered a gentleman. However, his talent as a supreme strategist and surveyor could not be ignored.
He won favours with the ruler of Lucknow the Nawab Asafudaula who appointed him head of the state arsenal. That opened up a world of unlimited wealth for Martin and eventually he was billed as the wealthiest foreigner in India.
He never left Lucknow. Instead he helped Asafudaula to transform Lucknow from a feudal marketplace to a world class imperial capital.
In 1795 he designed Constantia, a palace for himself that is described by a contemporary as part Nawabi fantasy and part Gothic colonial barracks... with the loopholes and turrets of a mediaeval castle; while, above, Palladian arcades rise up to Mughal cupolas.
Others dismissed the eccentric architecture as another Persian palace, Indo-French Baroque and Italian ornate. The building is lined with rows of statues of Greek goddesses and a pair of gigantic lions with open mouths flank its riverfront facade. Once the deep mouth of the lions had flamed bright with the glow of red lanterns.
In his will, Martin wanted his home to be used as a place of education and called La Martinière College. His other wish was to be salted, put in spirits or embalmed beneath the same building.
Over time the historic building came to look most shabby. Only a few years ago it was noticed by conservation architect Dr. Neeta Dass. With help from the school’s alumni and the principal Carlyle McFarland, the building has been put back on its feet, and it glistens once again as a jewel in the midst of the heat and dust swirling around it.
The architectural redemption of Constantia happened at the hands of Ansaruddin, who has been restoring historic buildings in Lucknow for two decades.
The reputation of Constantia as a temple of learning has spread world-wide and generations taught here look forward to meeting each other at the annual Founder’s Day that was cancelled this year.
Anglo Indian Wars
The Citizen was told by an alumni of the College that the institution is caught in a war of egos and politics between two groups within the already shrunk population of the tiny Anglo Indian (AI) community in UP. Hardly a handful of AIs are left in Lucknow today.
Along with a small population of Indian Christians, the AI culture has almost vanished in the city. Once the population of AIs was considerable with most of them working for the Northern Railways, Northern Post and Telegraph services.
The women were mostly engaged in secretarial work, nurses or teachers. After the British left in 1947, many AIs migrated mostly to Australia, Canada and England. Since most AIs have merged within the larger cultural communities, the seats reserved for an AI representative in the state Assembly have been discontinued.
The then Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad cited the 2011 Census as counting merely 296 Anglo-Indians in India and abolished the provision in 2020. This leaves the no position of power for the ambitious.
Head of a reputed institution like La Martiniere is perhaps one such position of power also with political influence. Therefore it is coveted by many. Those unable to enjoy this position indulge in character assassination, and accuse the present principal of La Martiniere who is to retire at the end of the year of financial irregularities.
The hope is that whoever takes over charge of the esteemed institution after that date will concentrate less on playing politics and more on continuing the tradition of great learning at La Martiniere.
Show of Valour
Meanwhile citizens in UP will be exposed to learning of another kind. An army of ‘dharma yoddhas’ or religious warriors are expected to branch out into different parts of the state between September 30 and October 15 to educate citizens to walk along the right path in life.
Political analysts feel that the opposition parties in UP could do with a lot more learning of how to be better prepared for the polls. It is warned that the opposition should not get carried away by the victory of the Samajwadi Party (SP) contestant in the recently concluded state assembly by-election held in Ghosi.
“The victory in Ghosi is no template for a win in 2024,” a senior journalist told The Citizen. The alliance of opposition parties is the weakest in UP, added another political pundit.
The ability of Opposition parties to join hands in the interest of the country like the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are suspect. The maturity of the opposition to talk in one voice about issues that matter to citizens like hunger, joblessness and urbanisation is also questioned.
The active role played by the newly appointed head of the UP Congress Committee Ajai Rai, and the way he has been up and about and touring key parliamentary constituencies including Amethi, is positive.
The role of senior SP leader Shivpal Yadav as key advisor to SP chief Akhilesh Yadav is another good sign. But how will the SP coordinate and cooperate with the Congress, BSP and keep on its side the numerous other smaller parties not interested in the politics of the ruling party, is a question most serious.