Sunday, May 25, 2008

Insipid in Lucknow

Having realized that the love of my life had relegated me to some derelict corner of her affections, I finally decided to affect something substantial with/in my life. I had initially decided to mope about the fateful episode and, in a fitting finale, jump over the edge of a cliff. But wisdom suggested that “The Plan” was not that substantial after all. Junta might have ended up happier or worse still, better off. So here I am, effecting something much more tangible (or not) and writing on a subject that had so far eluded my exceptionally fertile (and potent) imagination. It has a lot to do with a city that has engaged me in a love-hate relationship for the past thirteen (unlucky already?) years. Why the sudden drastic shift in loyalties? Why a monologue about a city hardly anyone talks about? You would ask. I have no concrete answer. Maybe you should blame the Gandhinagar municipality. They don’t have a single cliff in the city. Talk about public interest. Humph.

But be warned! This is neither a tourism advertisement for some godforsaken city nor an egoist passage by a self deprecating android. It’s a bit of both, with a little bit of Chemical X thrown in for special effects. Baah. I will let you be the judge. Let’s get on with the story for the time being.

For the uninitiated – Located in the industrial belt of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow is a city that is almost as famous for its adaband tehzeeb as it is for the kattatoting university politicians. A city that reeks of filth and sweat during the day but still manages to smell nice (of water melons) if you happen to take a stroll along the Gomti in the night. A breeding ground for politics, where one would find more ambassadors with red beacons than traffic policemen in their ancient jeeps. A culture that totters on an edge, as it blindly embraces an alien cosmopolitan look, while desperately trying to retain its wildly romantic medieval identity. A town that still boasts of chaat shops in every nukkad and kebab counters in every second one. A city that almost managed to kill me on one of its generously potholed roads when I was trying to run away from it. A mentor that has, in return, nurtured my sharp intellect and managed to turn me into a raving psychopath.

Let’s start at the beginning. It’s always the easiest. Hmmm. It’s ironic that my family was never supposed to be in this sleepy town in the first place. Transfer from Bhutan had translated as a posting in Jaipur, a familiar place with familiar faces. However, the government machinery, it seems now, had not been greased properly by means of some liquid assets. So the kunbafound itself searching for familiar grounds in an unfamiliar Lucknow. The buildings were thrice as tall as those in Samtse and the people half as friendly. I hated the place from the very onset. Didi and I had to drop in early so that I could get admitted into some school before all the prestigious ones closed their shutters. I remember Mummy sweating it out, making her pilgrimage to almost every school in town, trying to prove the worthiness of her wretched son by means of all the numbers she could imagine. Sweaty rickshaw rides, arrogant principals, neglected report cards, a flustered mother, an indifferent ass, and the tormenting June heat. That was my first intercourse with the town. It seems a futile exercise NOW. Anyway, I managed to scrape into a decent institution, but only for a year. When the family settled down into a rhythm, I was shifted to a place closer home. Fortunately and unfortunately, it would personify education for me for the next eight years.

My earliest impressions of Lucknow are those of moped (Luna Super to be precise) rides, clinging like a baby langur to my mother’s back. The city, it seemed, had shrunk to the route we followed from home to school. Everything else languished in an alien planet. On-the-way stationary shop (Modern Bookstore) and the friendly-uncle-wallah grocery store encompassed my map of the city. As the moped got promoted into a Kinetic Pride, and then a Kinetic Nova, the routes multiplied exponentially and my purview expanded to include the congested lanes of Daliganj and Dandaiyya, the bustling markets of Aminabad, the glitzy malls of Gomtinagar, the coaching district of Ashok Marg, and the glitterati of Hazratganj. Ironically, the stationary shop is still there. So is the friendly grocer. They obtrude like relics of yore. So I try avoiding them, lest a reverie start. Strangely enough, through their lingering presence, I have managed to see the town evolve from a lumbering leviathan into something more alive, agile, and lively. Pardon the cliché. It’s an old habit, both figuratively and literally. On we go.

It is usually a bit difficult playing the part of the quintessential bookworm. But I handled the responsibility reasonably well. It generally comprised of thinking that all girls got good marks because of favoritism, managing to get a full score in Sanskrit every time, and sucking spectacularly in practically every thing else. Naturally, school years went by in a blur of exams, unit tests, and CW (Class Work dummies). There was just one “Games” session in the week and I vaguely remember gearing up for it from a day before. I looked the part of PT Usha, dressed in my white uniform and shining canvas shoes. Unfortunately, despite the elaborate arrangements, I could score just one goal in all my school years in Lucknow. That was the pinnacle of my athletic achievements. It’s been a downhill ride ever since. (I’ll call it symbolic of my relationship with the city. For the time being.) On all other days, the time table primarily consisted of waking up way too early, gorging on breakfast, classes, recess football session, more classes, home, TV, and HW (Home Work man). One did not have the time and patience to indulge in poetic endeavors and life was, as Floyd would say, comfortably numb. Lucknow had been aptly disguised as the cover of an erotic magazine, intended to be drooled over but never meant to be perused in public.

Summer vacations were a welcome respite from the hectic schedule – time meant to be utilized reading National Geographic in Papa’s library or completing summer projects while watching Power Zone on Cartoon Network. The trivia that I accumulated by means of these banal activities served me in good stead. That is because quizzing was the only extra-curricular activity I excelled in. Apart from sucking royally in the annual day parade that is. I could have won a medal for that achievement on ANY given day. So much so, I was regularly pulled out of the ranks and made to march with the rest of the losers. But we digress too much. Fast forward to other things.

As the famed and dreaded board exams loomed on the horizon, all pretences were shed quickly and tears shed in copious amounts. Life revolved more and more around books and any kind of distraction was considered a taboo. (It’s another story that my adolescent mind found quite a few attractive ones, Elsa Benitez being one of them.) Amidst almost violent trepidation, the monster spared me an untimely death and I lived to see the light of the day. But I was to realize that it was just the beginning. The remaining part of my existence (roughly four years?) in the city was confined to mostly two rooms in two different houses. My “brief flirtatious fling” with Lucknow was in one of these. Secret escapades to the video parlor, splurging indecent amount of money on boy bands, and day dreaming about distant horizons became a part of routine. It was probably then that I began to think on a different scale and frequency and my geography somewhat assisted the subtle changes seeping in. Friends became a lot more important than I gave them credit for and very importantly, a journal became a boy’s best friend. Writing gained precedence over reading and a considerable time was spent in imagining the consequences of a Lucknowite apocalypse. Even girls, in flesh and blood, were considered humane for sometime. Romance, as I see it and as few of you might, was the latest buzzword. But let’s not get mawkish already. There’s an anticlimax coming up (Y).

The last two years in Lucknow were terribly lonesome, and replete with nightmarish fears. Competition, competition, and more of it had consumed every aspect of my already negligible social life. The only discussions that mattered were the ones which had something to do with the direction of tension in pulleys or the IUPAC names of organic chemicals. Support, the kind I desired at least, was hard to come by. Few people consoled. Others inspired. The remaining reprimanded. I tried living up to the expectations, more theirs, less mine. Or so I have led myself to believe. I never got to know whether I met them. I have been asking ever since. Every time, I visit home, I get to know the questions afresh, strengthening the unseen bond I share with the city. It’s immaterial whether I want to shrug it off. It’s as much a part of me as I am hers. And so, as of now, I am trying to resist the temptation.

This sluggish town does not embrace you with open arms. It tries you. Then tests you. And when you have failed in all of your ordeals, it smiles benevolently before letting you cross over to the other side. I had my fair share of such trials and tribulations. And so did some of my friends. It made us saner people, if anything. I still remember one my friends pouring his heart out on a fateful summer night. Kids we were. Boys we had become. Ha ha. One would wonder what role a sleeping town played in the evolution of boykind. But what’s a city if not its people, their ambitions, their fears, and the tale of their triumphs? Someday, in between all the cursing at unrelenting traffic jams in fifteen inch lanes, while snapping at the nearby scooter wallah for drawing in too close, and haggling with the vegetable vendor over a kilo of baingan, I must have realized that I had become such an integral part of the other, that it had begun to affect changes in me. It was precisely at that moment that I contemplated falling in love with Lucknow, hoping my love for her would change me (and her in turn) for the better. There was something pale, prosaic, and insipid about her. I sighed inwardly. The moment passed.

Lucknow has been home for the past thirteen years. The city personifies a lot of things for me. My parents. My first victory. My numerous failures. My solitary soccer goal. My thirteen orange bars. My only crush. My several romances. My best friends. My silent afternoons. My fall from grace. As a foregone conclusion, my story is my city’s as well. It lives and breathes in my toil, tears, and dreams. It has been a witness to my evolution, the wrenching out of all my desires, and a miracle of co-existence and acceptance. As both of us stake claim to an unknown future, we realize these bonds were forever meant to last. For each one of them has sculpted a facet of my personality, distinct and yet a part of the whole. I have, in turn, played my role in contributing in the smallest of ways. Like all of hers, I feign nonchalance and think of moving on to greater and better things. But I shall remain hers, as before. And these invisible ties will keep me coming back, just like the prodigal son, no matter how much of the world I have seen.

Now that I have narrated this strange tale, I would call upon certain unwilling souls to do the same. I, therefore, tag Piper, Banter, and Reader Anonymous. Ha. Ok Pinky. You can write too. But make sure it’s comprehensible.


  1. I would like to clap clap this post. (Senti)mentally interesting. CW and HW man! I remember how one had to write H.W. on the page and I used to always wonder what would happen if I didn't.

    "Let’s start at the beginning. It’s always the easiest." That was good. And of course each city is made up of her people, like the character of a person, a city breathes her people. I enjoyed this one though was plesantly surprised that it ended in a tag...can't wait to write about sadi dilli :D

  2. I'm not saying the obvious.

  3. I second the clap clap motion.

    my exceptionally fertile (and potent) imagination. - You bet Mr. Lal !!

    Really a nice post this was.

    P.S. Eagerly waiting for a nicer one: banter-speak on Delhi.

  4. Woman. Thankyous. Btw, the post is inspired by a book I am reading these days. Breathless in Bombay. You might want to have a look at it. For obvious reasons :)

    Mister Piper. Neither am I.

    A-Fan. So, you're back. I hope you don't get any scolding this time (Y)
    Oh, I noticed. Like Yoda you speak. Nice it always is.

  5. Its the season of misters I see
    Mr. Piper and Mr.(!)Lal I read in glee
    A-fan waits for a banter on my city
    A scolding? Marvin stop trying to be witty.

  6. 3 things......

    1) You have been overusing Samarkan
    2) Most of Elsa Benitz's pics dont show her face ;)
    3) You have lost it completely now....profoundly obvious that is.

  7. Woman.

    From rhymes sadly I must digress
    They never come so easily to me
    I huff and puff, to fit my words
    Where's the fun? Forget the glee

    Mister Piper will dearly remain so
    Why did he say he hated the name?
    Banter is done, over is *his* wait
    Scolding? Pray give it to me straight.

    Reader Anonymous

    The mention of Samarkan narrows down your identity to a selected few. I hope you realized that.

    Trust me. When I fell in love with her, she showed a lot more than just her face.

    I had lost it a long time ago. Ever since, I have been picking up the marbles.

  8. Ab ..what can I say. Bade bade people commenting on this badi badhiya post. Ok one thing which I could do is to imitate them.

    1. Some general comments - Nicely written
    2. Some will banter - "Gaaah!! Look who's talking about lucknow. 'Dash' loser, go get some life. Earlier, reading your blog I got a feeling like standing admist of blueline bus junta, not able move a inch and some demented humpty dumpty uncle coming straight after hogging from 'sukh sagar' restaurant and doing its aftermath at your nose (farting .. you moron). Baaah. Now, with all blessings of holy soul low IQ me, you are getting better. Some blah blah lines were good. Ya. You got them this time. But who cares. Why such hullabaloo. "
    :grin grin:
    3. Some garbage man - "Arey Buddhau **** off, when i say the obvious it is always like...ass never lay eggs.
    Is it picked up from some travel agent's guide to lucknow? Are you getting what I mean."
    4. Some (read and guess) - "Boodhe not just the gomti flows, all the rivers are made to flow. Even the mighty falls, so does the river from the apex of mountains. The luscious pie turns to poisonous cyanide if not eaten for several days, and human nature follows the same. So in brevity be audacious and explore new cities."
    5. Some C's - " Frst u stole ma phto for ya blog now ya stealing ma idea to write on ur cty. Budhau saale"
    6. Some Anonymous fans - a) " It happens when you are old",
    b) "Nice work, keep it up buddy",
    c) "Are you happy merry and Gay"
    7. Ahh... and me...what could I say. These type of 'bhaari bharkam' comments from 'bade logs'leave no words for me. From all 'burai' to 'tareef' to 'non-sense' they cover.
    Par bole to good likha :). You should have elaborated more on your first crush :P

  9. u forgot to mention the purchi u used to keep in ur geometry box..and also the mantra above ur printer..nothing about playing cricket with frenz??

  10. hmm..whimsical, self depreciating humour and with more heart than one can care to read about.

    very well written, and I relate totally on the considering falling in love with a city, mostly it's never worth it, and thankless.

    ps - love the whole marvin theme, he's quite the cherry , but then again having a brain the size of a planet can get trying..

  11. a new reader. hmm... that's certainly more interesting than the post.

    i choose ignore the words of praise. they can get the better of me for i am often susceptible to it.

    as far as the theme is concerned, there is one quote that aptly sums it up.

    "Whoever despises himself nonetheless respects himself as one who despises."
    -Friedrich Nietzsche

    and oh yes, marvin's been a source of inspiration in more ways than one.

  12. There's very little more endearing than a man who thinks nothing of himself.

    :shakes head and nods finger: clever, clever.

    it's like picking music over football because the girls are more into it. :D

  13. i liked your blog.Especially the title. Will come back and read it fully and add some real comments . Now best wishes...