Hi and hi again ! Yes, it is incredible how I, and, no doubt, you, can get caught up in everyday matters and allow things that you actually enjoy doing take a back seat ! I love writing these posts and being in touch but just look at the time this one took !
Amidst visits to Delhi and Dhanbad, defying my doctor brother’s advise to not eat out during the monsoon season–he has himself just recovered from typhoid- I have been eating out at or getting food from fabulous Muslim dhabas or ‘hotals’ as they are called in old Lucknow. The idea is to completely ignore the setting and concentrate fully on the food. The nihaari (cuts of meat(nalli)cooked all night on a slow fire), pasanda and kulcha are heavenly.And yes, you get tiny galawat kababs-the kabab of Lucknow–beef ones for all of Rs 3 and mutton ones for Rs 8 each ! How satisfying is that ! And all this while our house repairs are carrying on and on..
I have made a few trips to the Uttar Pradesh countryside and loved it. Some days back I made a trip to Gadia, near Barabanki, about 45 km from Lucknow. Here is the account of the trip and the house that I went to see-
The countryside of Uttar Pradesh, actually the region of Avadh, as we drove along, was exactly how I remembered it from many years ago. My father, a well loved doctor, would set up medical camps in villages at Hathgahan or Naini. We would accompany him sometimes- usually during the monsoons- a season that is special- and stop in Phaphamau for Langcha, delicious, elongated gulab jamuns or roasted bhutta that one found pretty much everywhere during the monsoon season. The countryside this time–on our way to Gadia, near Lucknow was lush green. It is, of course, the monsoon season. Fields were filled with rain water, cattle egret languished, and mango orchards cast pleasant shadows on the countryside.
From Lucknow the road to Gadia, Faizabad Road, sadly, had been denuded of its enormous tamarind and neem trees that used to line it. Instead, haphazard buildings, large and small, have mushroomed, almost completely obliterating views of the countryside beyond. This seems to be the ‘development’ that the state government has undertaken !
A while later, however, after a turning and a railway crossing appeared the countryside that I knew and loved–there is ALWAYS the silver lining !
The railway crossing beyond which lies Gadia-
A mango orchard–filling my heart with joy-the famous Dushehri crop had just finished so you cannot see mangoes on them-
I had heard about Sehba Hussain from my husband and our dear friend, Urmila Singh. Urmila Singh is a person who knows many people in Lucknow or if she does not-then she knows someone who does.She is also extremely generous and invites people–including me–to meet other people who she thinks might like each other. What a knack ! And a delight for someone like me who loves meeting people ! So here I was with Urmila Singh and Sehba–driving in Sehba’s car to see her NGO at work. The huge bonus was that she had set this NGO up in her family’s village, Gadia and Gadia had a huge mansion built by her ancestors. Once I had heard this mansion still existed-I jumped at the chance to see it ! And also the NGO. You know, two birds with one stone,etc…
Most people associated with Lucknow know about the illustrious Kidwai family–Talukdars of Gadia. Sehba’s mother was from the same family.It was Sehba’s ancestor, Sheikh Zainul Abedin who was appointed Talukdar. The Mughal kings and later, the British, appointed eminent people as Talukdars, making them responsible for administering a number of villages from where they collected taxes, maintained law and order and provided military supplies and man power to the provincial government.
Sehba had been a UNICEF professional- both in National and International capacities. Along with another interesting Lucknow personality, Runa Banerji, she founded an NGO, SEWA, to benefit the fine art of Chikankaari of Lucknow, organizing the underpaid craftswomen, raising the standards of chikankaari and finding them suitable markets. After she retired, she did what she always loved to do—start another NGO, BETI–Better Education Through Innovation- again organizing and teaching underprivileged women in the region of Lucknow and Barabanki to become self sufficient. Sehba is elegant, self-effacing and has many stories to share. And no matter what anyone might say, dress does leave an impression, at least on me. And I liked Sehba’s graceful salwar-kameez in grey and green–the green matching the colour of her eyes– and a silver pendant offsetting the colours perfectly.
In a small room with an adjoining courtyard, Sehba has just set up a unit to grind fresh, good quality spices to be sold in markets. At the inauguration of the unit a simple, beautiful ceremony was organized. Muslim children read verses from the quran-
-while Hindu women participated in a short puja and havan.
The inauguration of the simple grinding machine-Sehba feeding oats into the machine-
Through the ceremony my eyes kept straying to what was across the small road–the large mansion ! The caretaker was sent for. He unlocked the gate and through rainwater puddles we drove into the enormous compound of the mansion and to its beautiful frontage-
This house was built in 1860 with locally made bricks. A combination of molasses, straw and mud was used as cement and masons and other craftsmen were brought to work from Barabanki and Lucknow.
Below is a picture of Sehba, Urmila and the caretaker’s wife, Zubeida-an affectionate lady who has been with the family for a very long time.Her traditional, chuna hua (crinkled by hand) cotton dupatta bordered with thin zari was again something I remembered from the past.
My father’s patient, a lovely lady from Meja used to wear similar dupattas when she came to see him and my mother. My father called her’amma’ and she called my father ‘betwa’ or son. She would make trips to Allahabad on ekkas (horse drawn carts)at the time of year when one of her two cows had calved. In villages of North India, milk from calving cows is considered nourishing. It curdles almost as soon as it is heated. It is reduced and then sweetened with gur and eaten as a dessert. She would carry a small pot with this milk and bring it for her betwa. We had this dessert once almost every year. It is strange how so many memories flashed by on seeing Zubeida and her crinkled dupatta !
The elegant arches with an urn –
A view of the front yard from the verandah-I absolutely adore the way brick has been laid to make the floor- this is what many buildings,including the Mahomed Bagh Club of Lucknow had but got removed because silly people wanted ‘shiny, new- looking’ floors! They have characterless white Kajaria tiles now !
A large carved divan dominates the room. There would have been a mattress covered with a white sheet and bolsters all around. You can visualize the talukdar reclining on the bolsters, smoking a hookah and entertaining his guests-
An adjoining bedroom with large teak wood beds-
Sehba recalls coming to this house with her mother and family for their holidays. She remembers with fondness the tradition where the village women would collect the first baur or mango flowers and present them to her grandmother. Mirasans, traditional classical singers, would often accompany these women and sing raags(classical compositions) appropriate for the time and season.
We moved outside –here is the beautiful side wing–straight out of Tapan Sinha’s 1960’s classic Bengali film,’Khudita Pashan’-you imagine the main protagonist, the handsome Soumitra Chatterji wandering through this part of the mansion-
The locally made bricks that were crafted to make columns-
Sehba distinctly remembers the taste of Rasawal, a local dessert which was made by the village women–fresh sugar cane juice cooked with a handful of rice, reduced to a creamy, kheer-like consistency. I have made a note to try and taste it !
Two of the solid iron’tijori s’ or safes used for collecting taxes-
Zubeida standing by a door looking out –
A brilliant green pot beside the base of a column-
The very long verandah running down the length of the house-
On the way back, we stopped at Sehba’s family cemetery, in their beloved Gadia countryside, where her mother lies. Seeing the beautiful plains of this countryside, shaded by large mango trees, it is not a surprise that this spot would be chosen by the family for the departed to rest in peace.
Just to complete the picture–I visited Sehba’s cousin,Shahid Mushir Kidwai and his son, Iqbal a couple of days later in their modern, new home in Lucknow–in complete contrast to the rambling mansion in Gadia. They own parts of the talukdari and are full of charm and humility. They are storehouses of knowledge of talukdars and Lucknow history–it was a pleasure to meet them ! Here they are-
Hope you liked this post ! Do put in a comment–that is the way we can stay in touch ! And do pass it on to your friends !
Hope you have a wonderful week ahead and ‘bye until next time !