Hello to you all ! I feel the change in the weather–and yes, I can smell Harsingar flowers everywhere–oops, correction-some places- in Lucknow. Makes me look at the positive side of things–much needed when I tend to veer towards the negative seeing the condition of Uttar Pradesh ! India’s successful mission to Mars makes me happy, although my sense of happiness would have been enhanced had I been abroad. As far as your country is concerned, you tend to see only the bold print when you are abroad. The finer print like pot holed roads and netas in large SUVs with beacons seem far way, don’t they ?
A few days ago I visited a home situated on a typical potholed, builder’s rubble-d lane in Lucknow. It was huge. Inside, it had a curving staircase of Italian marble, an equally large, glittering crystal(modern?)chandelier and velvet sofas.There was a ‘German’kitchen with cabinets of orange and white molded plastic. Split air conditioners, four to the large room we were in, blew soft, cold air. Electricity shortage ? Forget it ! Outside was, among other cars, a large Nissan Duster, a BMW 7 series and three chained dogs. Poverty ? What’s that ?! This is one part of the new India .
The old one, as you and I have found, is shrinking but still exists–in small pockets, tucked behind buildings, on narrow lanes or hidden behind shops. And some of us hold onto it with love and pride !
Amresh Singh was my husband’s class mate in school. Ever since we returned to Lucknow we had been trying to meet each other but it had not happened until now. He is from the family of the talukdar of Khajurgaon and was given the city home of the talukdar, the ‘Khajurgaon palace’, as his share of the family’s properties. And what a beautiful structure it is ! And what pride Amresh takes in maintaining it as does his beautiful wife, Abha and his two children, Indrani and Shivraj. It is Shivraj who will inherit this palace. Thank God there are no other share holders !
The pretty sounding Naka Hindola, in old Lucknow, where the Khajurgaon building is situated, is anything but pretty. It is the wholesale market in Lucknow for electrical goods. Shops- tiny and large- cram the road and adjoining lanes. In them, switches, bulbs,exhaust fans, salesmen and customers jostle for space. As you walk up this busy and noisy road, a space between two shops suddenly opens up- and through this gap, like a waft of fresh, cool air from the split air conditioners of that house from new India, you see the beautiful Khajurgaon palace.
Many years ago, Amresh recalls, they found my husband, Debashish, sitting morose by the fountain in the month of May, at 2 in the afternoon after he failed to make it to the Civil Service on his first attempt. Amresh’s father spotted him, asked him in and upon being asked by Debashish, much to Amresh’s surprise because he was expecting a reprimand, gave him fine tobacco to chew and a cigarette to smoke! Things, I imagine, must have looked up after that..
The main door embellished with painted stucco-
Just after the mutiny in 1857, Amresh’s ancestor, Rana Shankar Bux Singh built this palace, incorporating both Avadhi and British elements. Lucknawi craftsmen, adept in the art of stucco, provided embellishments, painting the work in natural stone colours.
The talukdari, Khajurgaon, is in district Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh, at a point where a rivulet, Loni, meets the river Ganga. Apparently a khajur(date palm) grove used to exist where the village later got established- hence the name, ‘Khajurgaon’.
A view of the beautiful sitting room where the men of the family and their guests congregated-
A balcony runs around the room. Elaborate, elegant decorations cleverly used under the projected sections-in cerulean, aquamarine, white with small bits of crimson–what an exquisite combination of colours-
The floors are of sandstone from Mirzapur, cool and tactile under your feet.
We had made our way to the chaotic Naka Hindola in a hired, battered Tata Indica car. It’s saving grace had been a fully functioning air conditioner. This way, I have discovered, you are cool and driven(!). But as you sit in the main room of palace–what hits you is that it is completely noise-free. Whether it is the barrier provided by the shops that border it or the architecture itself one does not know–but an oasis it is !
A bedroom at the back of the house- the arch in front frames the room elegantly-
This was previously the dressing room adjoining a large bedroom next door.
Windows on the staircase letting in light-
In the past the first floor used to be the zenana area or the part where the women and children of the house stayed.
There are rooms all around with each of them opening onto the balcony which runs around the sitting room on the ground floor. Old Calcutta houses have similar balconies running around the house but look into courtyards rather than rooms. Take a look at one of the Calcutta houses with such a balcony I had written about by clicking here.
The sitting area, almost as it was in the past-
The armchairs are in Art Deco style–beautiful samples.
Before you start to ask–let me tell you ! Abha had just finished her annual cleaning of these seldom used quarters upstairs-so I was lucky ! In the past, she says, there were about 40 servants to do this job. Now it is she and she and, alright, one help ! And she deserves to be congratulated ! Because it is spotlessly clean and, for the tenth time, beautiful !
Then, of course, as you step onto the balcony, you have a fantastic perspective of the sitting room below-
Amresh and his six brothers and sisters would pack into a maroon and yellow Willy’s station wagon and head to school- La Martiniere- everyday. They would have lunch and dinner on the dining table with their father sitting at the head, Amresh’s mother across and his step mother on his father’s right. The children were free to sit wherever they wanted. His father was an excellent cook, spending up to three hours to cook one of his delicacies. Meat, and they all loved meat, was always cooked in a separate kitchen outside the house. The main kitchen , where only pure vegetarian food was cooked, was presided over by a ‘Maharaj’ or a ‘bramhin’cook.
–which opens out, surprisingly, onto a courtyard-
Looking at the courtyard it is hard to imagine that you are on the first floor. A few Hindi films like ‘Bullet Raja’ and Muzaffar Ali’s ‘Raqs’ have been shot here as well as in other parts of the house.
A photograph of Amresh’s father in all his finery-
A photograph of Amresh at his wedding- all his jewellery is ancestral-
His pretty bride, Abha – sorry for the scratchy photograph. The light was low and I did not use a flash-
Over tea we catch up on many stories–they are endless. It turns out Abha and I went to the same school in Allahabad.
And I go out onto a balcony to take one last look at an adjoining garden-
and the fountain below-
While Shri Modi continues to fast and drink only water and lemon juice during Navratri- I feel an utter pig as I gorge on puris and dum aloo or khichri and bhaja as part of the bhog during this time–Durga puja for us !
Good wishes to all of you for Navratri, Durga Puja and Eid !
Hope you have a wonderful time with family and friends ! ‘Bye until the next time !