In Malihabad- A Home from Shah Jahan’s Time

Hello to all of you !

I wanted to let you know that my book, ‘Rehaish—At Home in Lucknow’ was published by Sanatkada in February this year. It is a coffee table book with stories and pictures of 28 old, beautiful houses of Lucknow. Should some of you be interested in getting it- and I hope you will be- I will give you the link to the book shop that stocks copies in my next post. They will be happy to mail them to you.

The last house I went to record for my book was in December last year. So about 7 months passed till I went to see the latest old house. This one is really old and in Malihabad, near Lucknow.

My dear friend, Yasmin had long promised me a trip to her cousin, Yusuf Kamal’s house and mango orchards in Bakhtiarnagar in Malihabad.  This materialises at about 9.30 am on a day that the monsoons have decided to break. The skies are overcast with promise and it has started to drizzle delightfully as we drive towards this place. I love the countryside anywhere, but the Utttar Pradesh countryside is what I am familiar with. It fills me with yearning and nostalgia. It took a day such as this one for my father, a busy Allahabad doctor, to take time off in the afternoon and drive with us in his shiny black Ambassador car to our farm in Naini, near Allahabad to eat roasted bhutta or laiyya/chana and drink hot, sweet tea or  go on a long drive to Phaphamau, also near Allahabad, where a roadside dhaba, next to the Ganga, made the nicest langcha and samosas. The monsoons of North India, in case some of you missed the point, are an event to be celebrated !

In the countryside of Uttar Pradesh on the way to Malihabad- a temple and bridge built around 1787 across the river Baeta by the Wazir,Tikait Rai, in the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-daula

 

Malihabad, 25 kilometres from Lucknow, is not only the birthplace of the poet, Josh Malihabadi(to whom Yasmin is related) but also the mango producing belt of Uttar Pradesh. The road snaking through mango orchards finally leads us to the village, Bakhtiarnagar, to the house of Yusuf Kamal and the gentleman himself.

The ruins of an old haveli next to that of Yusuf Kamal’s.

The building is very much a sprawling haveli. You enter it through a large wooden gateway, set in an unimposing wall, a characteristic of a haveli, which opens into a courtyard.

The main doorway of the haveli set , in characteristic haveli style, in an unimposing wall. Thin, lakhauri brick used for the building clearly visible. In the picture are Yasmin, Matloob and Schiraz Khan

A single jamun tree stands at its centre and is loaded with large jamuns, many of which lie on the ground, whole or squashed, staining the earth around purple.  Hens and chicken squawk and move around. They have just laid a couple of eggs( Yes, these are the desi variety !) in their coup and have been released into the courtyard.

A couple of steps lead you to the main house. In a large room, seated on jute-string woven charpais the kind of which you don’t see in our cities anymore, Yusuf Kamal tells us that his ancestor, Sarmast Khan was sent as Nawab of Malihabad by the then Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan. Malihabad, he says, was an important town on the route from Delhi to Lucknow. The route was paved with the thin, strong lakhauri brick which, he says, still exist under the more modern tarmac. 1000 villages were placed under Sarmast Khan’s jurisdiction. His headquarters were in what is now the locality of Aliganj in Lucknow. It was his grandson, Muqarim Khan who continued as the Nawab and built this haveli around the late 1600s at the centre of his extensive mango orchards. The entire structure is made of the thin lakhauri brick, the kind that were used in many buildings in India from the 16th to the 19th century.

The room we are in is actually one long room, leading into another through open dars or doorways with scalloped arches. The high ceiling has wooden beams. The fact that there are no doors makes the room airy and feel spacious. In the first room lie the charpais to sit or sleep on.

The first of the two main rooms of the haveli with its open ‘dars’ and wooden beams in the ceiling. In picture, left to right,Schiraz, Yasmin, Matloob Khan and the owner of the property,Yusuf Kamal.

The second has a more modern addition of a dining table and chairs. Doors open into smaller rooms, one of which is the kitchen. In the past there were no doors even to these rooms. The kitchen is filled with the aroma of mangoes that jostle for space in the ‘niamat-khana’ (a wire-meshed, stand-alone cabinet meant for keeping food) that lies in a corner. Garibe, Yusuf Kamal’s man Friday and a lady from the village who is here to help, wait in the kitchen and smile warmly to see us. There is something touching about the genuine happiness and welcome extended to us by people who seem untouched by the artifice that city life can sometimes generate.

The second room with its ‘dars’ leading to the inner courtyard. The floors are of brick.

The second room leads through dars into a large inner courtyard. Yusuf Kamal shows us the pigeon house on the far end of the courtyard. He asks Garibe to release the dozens of pigeons that he keeps as pets. They come out of the door, flutter up in groups, gutur-gu-ing,  and then they descend to strut around the courtyard.

Pigeons have always been kept as pets in this household. These are called the ‘Girabaz‘ pigeons, Yusuf Kamal tells me. They are the kinds that fly high , unlike the ‘Gole‘ pigeons that fly low and are used for ‘Kabutarbazi,’ a sport. His collection has quite a few varieties of pigeon called, ‘harey,’ ‘amber-sarrey‘ and ‘kalduma.‘  ‘They provide companionship and look beautiful. In the cooler months when they are released they fly away but always return home either at dusk, the same day or a day or two later,’ says Yusuf.

The two doors at the far end of courtyard lead to the pigeon house. The released ‘Girabaz’ pigeons on the far left of courtyard.

A doorway at the far end leads us out of this section of the house to an open area where, on a mound, is a grass roofed shed. ‘My grandfather and father would spend most of the day under this shed meeting people and watching over our mango orchards,’says Yusuf. He points to a few graves and a maqbara( a mausoleum)which lie on one side and says they were found on the property when the house was being built. A small mosque that stands next to these was built later. He respects how old these structures are and has done his best to preserve them.

The grass-roofed canopy under which Yusuf Kamal’s father and grandfather spent most of their daylight hours.

The ancient maqbara, now painted green, the small mosque and the graves that were found on the property

A doorway in the wall of an adjoining building opens into yet another courtyard with rooms on two sides. This was the mardan khana or men’s quarters in the past. Now it is used for housing cattle.

A section of the separate traditional building which was the mardan khana in the past

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A row of traditional squat toilets in the haveli

Yusuf Khan himself spent 15 years in the United Kingdom where he worked as a chartered accountant. His father, finding it difficult to manage the estate all by himself, asked Yusuf to return to Lucknow and Bakhtiarnagar to look after their property. Those were still the days when children obeyed their parents-no questions asked- and Yusuf found himself here plunged headlong into the matters of this area. He soon became very popular among the people because of his genuine desire and ability to help them and, in 2015, got elected as the Pradhan or the headman of their village.

Yusuf Kamal reclines on a charpai

Back in the house, Yusuf Kamal expertly peels off  a mango. He then slices it into ‘phanki and guthli.’ A shiny, scrubbed old aluminium tashteri (a small plate) receives the fruit which he then passes to us. ‘Try this one,’ he says, ‘ It is the Khas-ul-khas.’ The flesh is a sunshine yellow. It is sweet, juicy and has characteristic fragrance. Then he picks up the famous Dusehri from an assortment of mangoes soaked in a bucket of water. ‘ Do you see how the skin is a uniform pale yellow and the flesh perfect and not over-ripe from the inside? This is the Dusehri of Malihabad!’ he says with understandable pride and continues, with a hint of derision, ‘ What you usually get in the markets are Dusehris with green skin and the flesh is almost always over-ripe. That is the kind grown in Barabanki and other places.’

‘Any indigestion caused by the overeating of mangoes can be soothed by eating two pieces of jamun,’ says the owner of the orchards

Earlier in the morning I have asked Yusuf Khan about the ‘Malihabadi safeda’ mango which my husband Debashish remembered eating as a child but could never find in local markets since our return to Lucknow. He says he has them in his orchards. Just when we are about to leave, Garibe, under instructions from his employer, quietly brings a large bag full of these safedas and puts them in the boot of our car for me to take back.

On our way out, more jamuns are collected and handed to us as are the two desi eggs. Yusuf Kamal has been giving all this to us with so much pleasure that it humbles me. My faltering faith in a gracious world has revived.

Thank you Yusuf sahib for sharing your beautiful house with us and for showing us that grace still exists. Thank you, Yasmin, for so kindly arranging this trip.

If you liked what you just read please do share the post. It could help if more people became aware of old houses around them such as this one !

I look forward to hearing your comments. To post comments click on the box that says ‘Comments’ and follow the simple instructions.

Hope your days ahead are happy !

‘Bye for now.

 

 

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The House in Lucknow Built by Walter Burley Griffin

Hello All !  Yes, time does fly and it has been long since I wrote !

My husband ,Debashish, would, once in a while, talk of a Dr.Bir Bhan Bhatia and his house that was designed and built by Walter Burley Griffin. Well, I found the house and here is a post  on it that I wrote sometime back-

When the British decided to expand Lucknow they had looked beyond the river Gomti, not that they could have visualised the area which is almost another city today, Gomtinagar ! In 1921 they built the University of Lucknow in what was Badshah Bagh(originally a garden house of Nawab Nasir-ud-din Haider) adjoining the Gomti. Then on its shores, towards the east, the localities of Old and New Hyderabad were set up. University professors, doctors and other professionals were allotted large tracts of land to construct houses. One such person was Dr. Bir Bhan Bhatia, an eminent doctor, a pharmacologist, at King George’s Medical College.  Bir Bhan Bhatia had two houses in Lucknow. One was on Ashok Marg and the other that was constructed by the well-known American architect, Walter Burley Griffin. I had never seen that house but knew it was located in New Hyderabad.

A chance, very enjoyable meeting with Dr. Thapar, a retired professor of architecture at Lucknow university and his daughter, Sumita led to a conversation about Walter Burley Griffin and my discovery that they knew the daughter-in-law of Dr. Bir Bhan Bhatia. Over a fabulous pineapple upside down cake made by Sumita, she told me that she would arrange to take me to see the house built by Griffin, possibly the only one remaining in India !

The large road that lies perpendicular to the Gomti on which the house built by Griffin stands came as a pleasant surprise. The kerbs were wide. The monsoon rains had worked their wonder and made the area very green. Large trees, now sadly rare in Lucknow, dot the area. Then you spot the long, low boundary wall of the house with large trees in the foreground. And beyond those, in the distance is the house- a low lying, not very remarkable, cubic structure with an interesting jaali running along its facade.

 

The boundary wall of Dr. Bhatia's house, named 'Shanti Sadan.'The gate posts have an interesting linked pattern designed by Griffin.

The boundary wall of Dr. Bhatia’s house, named ‘Shanti Sadan.’The gate posts have an interesting linked pattern designed by Griffin.

We walk up the driveway and notice a wall that runs perpendicular to the house, dividing the house and its large garden into two. The half we are visiting today belongs to Bir Bhan Bhatia’s third son, Dr.K.B.Bhatia and his wife, Asha, also a medical doctor. The garden is lush with exotic plants and trees, gifts of, I am told later, Bir Bhan’s good friend and neighbour Mr. Kanjilal, who was a conservator of forests in the 1940s. Mr. Kanjilal was also my grand-father-in-law’s good friend, my husband had told me, and I am excited by this connection!

The single storeyed bungalow at the end of the driveway

The single storeyed bungalow at the end of the driveway

I can visualize the veranda of the Bhatia house in its un-truncated form, running the entire front of the house. It is in polished cement with art deco patterns in black. These patterns are placed far apart and break the monotony of the grey-green cement.

THe polished cement veranda. The black motif was also designed by Griffin

THe polished cement veranda. The black motif was also designed by Griffin

We meet Asha Bhatia on her side of the verandah. She is dressed well in a cream sari with a maroon border and has a brisk air about her. She tells us about her own life and then of her illustrious father-in-law’s. ‘I fled Burma during the second World War amidst fears of a Japanese invasion. I was thirteen years old. With Japanese bombers diving deep to bomb, I fled to India with my mother and brother, leaving my father behind at his work with the education department.’ They finally wound up in Lucknow where she went on to study medicine at the King George’s Medical College. This is where her teacher and mentor, Dr. Bir Bhan Bhatia, chose her as his future daughter-in-law to marry his son.

A photograph of Dr. Bir Bhan Bhatia that sits on a dresser in a room.

A photograph of Dr. Bir Bhan Bhatia that sits on a dresser in a room.

Bir Bhan Bhatia was an eminent physician at King George’s Medical College, Lucknow. He returned from England in 1928 after becoming a Member of the Royal College of Physicians and started to teach and practice at his alma mater, finally becoming its principal in 1946 till his retirement in 1960. He was charismatic, skilled and could recognise talent. So when he found the by-then-well known American architect, Walter Burley Grifffin staying in Lucknow, he met him and persuaded him to design his house.

Walter Burley Griffin with his wife Marion

Walter Burley Griffin with his wife Marion

Walter Burley Griffin had arrived in Lucknow in 1936 after his tender to design the library of Lucknow University was accepted. He had earlier designed the Australian capital Canberra(though was unable to construct most of it) and many prominent buildings in Chicago. Asha Bhatia recalls that on being approached by Dr. Bhatia, Griffin had told him that he was fully occupied with the Library and a trade fair in Victoria Park in Lucknow that he was commissioned to design. On being pressed further, he said that the only time he could spare him was during his lunch hour. Since Dr. Bhatia’s place of work, the Medical College was quite near Victoria Park where Griffin spent most of the day, Dr. Bhatia immediately agreed.  Asha says that her husband, then a seven year old, would be first picked up from school by his father then driven to Griffin’s office. ‘K.B. would be thoroughly bored with long discussions between his father and Griffin on the plans of the house’ Asha laughs.

The house in New Hyderabad, on a large plot of land, was completed in 1937. Work went on for two years. Asha Bhatia says that Griffin used inventive roofing for this house. It is made out of inverted concrete troughs, allowing space for air, creating good insulation against the searing Indian heat. She points out faint outlines of the troughs on the roof. The walls, too, have inventive brick work called ‘Rat-trap bonds’ also made for insulation.

‘This was one of the first houses in Lucknow to have concealed wiring’, Asha says, ‘People would line up to see this unique method of wiring and roofing that this ‘gora’ architect was implementing !’

Griffin, sadly, died suddenly in Lucknow in 1937 of Peritonitis. He had not completed this house. It was his wife, Marion Griffin, also a renowned architect, who oversaw the completion of the house as well as of the Pioneer building in Lucknow. Walter Burley Griffin was buried in the Christian Cemetery in Lucknow. Sadly, most of the Pioneer building has been pulled down by developers.

The rooms leading from the front verandah are spacious. The floors are of beautifully polished cement, in its natural grey-green and the crimson of red oxide. The drawing room with its red oxide floors has a border in black terrazzo with a swastika pattern in the four corners, all designed by Griffin. The design of the ventilators as well as the pattern on the doors with mosquito netting were also designed by the architect himself.

The drawing room in Asha Bhatia's portion of the house. The floors are of polished red cement. The swastika pattern was put in by the architect

The drawing room in Asha Bhatia’s portion of the house. The floors are of polished red cement. The swastika pattern was put in by the architect

The geometric pattern, inspired by nature, on the door created by the architect

The geometric pattern, inspired by nature, on the door created by the architect

When Asha Bhatia tells me that Mr. Kanjilal’s house still exists and is just up the road, I go out, walk up the road and try to peer into Mr.Kanjilal’s house. What was once a beautiful garden is fully overgrow with wild shrubs and weed. The low lying house is obscured from view.   ‘He would come to our house almost every day at 6.30am for a cup of tea with my father-in-law. The days he would not come, someone from our house would be sent to enquire and ask him over!’ says Asha Bhatia. ‘Later in the day and evening there would be queues of patients waiting to consult my father-in-law!’  A room in the house, now Asha’s drawing room, was the consultation room and benches would be put outside for the patients to sit on. She spent about a year in this house before Dr. Bir Bhan passed away and it is a time she cherishes. He was not only a skilled doctor but also one of the nicest human beings she met, she says.

The house, slightly changed from the original, has an interesting linked grill pattern running along its roof.

The house, slightly changed from the original, has two rows of interesting linked grill pattern running along its roof.

The lush garden, many plants of which were gifted by the well-known botanist, P.C.Kanjilal

The lush garden, many plants of which were gifted by the well-known botanist, P.C.Kanjilal

Dr. Asha Bhatia

Dr. Asha Bhatia

It is time to go yet I feel like lingering. Asha walks us to the gate, up the beautiful tree and shrub lined driveway. I look at the house from the driveway and think this is how Griffin must have seen it. He must have stood about here and supervised its construction, making sure every brick was laid correctly! Not sure if he is watching from up there, but if he were, he would see his legacy in Lucknow, perhaps the only one of its kind in India, alive and beautiful !

Thank you, Dr.Thapar and Sumita for making this visit possible. Thank you, Dr.Asha Bhatia for opening your home to us !

Hope you liked reading this ! Do put in your comments and stay in touch !

 

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The Home of Dr. Sultan Ali Sadiq in old Lucknow

Two years ago I met Dr. Sultan Ali Sadiq for the first time in Ram Advani’s book shop. Mr Advani had told me that Dr. Sadiq was an orthopaedic doctor and his friend. Also, that he lived in old Lucknow, was a direct descendant of Wajid Ali Shah and owner of a couple of original paintings from that time.
Now, two years later,Mr. Advani is no more, yet as my daughter, Geetika and I make our way through the narrow gali where Dr. Sadiq’s home is situated, I remember Mr. Advani and cannot wait to see what lies behind the unassuming frontage of the home of his friend. A bit earlier, we had waited at the gate of Lucknow Christian College, an old college established in 1862 on the grounds of Inayat bagh. Dr. Sadiq, in a grey bush shirt and trousers, his white hair brushed neatly back had arrived with his assistant to receive us and now our little entourage was making its way to his house on foot.The lane, like many others in old Lucknow, is narrow and cars cannot drive through.

The gali (narrow lane)with Dr, Sadiq's house on the right

The galli (narrow lane)with Dr. Sadiq’s house on the right


We enter the doorway and through the dark passage I see what I was hoping I would: a large open courtyard , elegant arches lining it leading to open verandahs and rooms beyond. The courtyard is full of green plants. A sense of nostalgia hits me—I am transported to the homes of my father’s friends and patients in Allahabad-the home of Choudhary Hamid and of Tej Bahadur Sapru where my parents’ friend Mr. Qudrat Ali lived for a few years. Those are all gone but here I am, in a similar home and this one happens to be very much alive !

A view of the cortyard from the entrance passage

A view of the courtyard from the entrance passage


Dr Sadiq’s sister,Sahro who is visiting from the United States, is waiting for us in the verandah, lending the house feminine warmth. The verandah to the left that we are in is full of signs of life. A collection of clocks under which are cane-backed arm chairs in a group, is obviously a place you are tempted to sit in as you pass to and fro. From this kind of vantage point no teenager or servant can sneak in or out without being noticed !

A view of the verandah to the left of the entrance, walls decorated with portraits, clocks and stag horns

A view of the verandah to the left of the entrance, walls decorated with portraits, clocks and stag horns and a cupboard full of trophies won by Dr. Sadiq for tennis

Dr Sadiq takes us to his personal picture gallery which is the first room on this verandah. Copies of oil paintings are arranged on three walls. They are all portraits of his ancestors. Some original paintings stay away from most people’s eyes in Dr. Sadiq’s office. On the left wall is a portrait of the very recognizable nawab, Wajid Ali Shah. Then that of his eldest son, Prince Hamid Ali or ‘Wali Ahad’ from his very first ‘nikahi’(formally married)wife, Khaas Mahal.Then his son, Mirza Quratul-ain-Bahadur. His son, Prince Sultan Hassan Mirza. And finally, his only child, Dr. Sadiq’s own mother, Samar Ara Begum.

Portraits of his ancestors with Wajid Ali Shah's on the middle line,extreme right and his mother's on the middle line, left

Portraits of his ancestors with Wajid Ali Shah’s on the middle line,extreme right and his mother’s on the middle line, left of the picture


This beautiful house itself was built in 1923 by Nazir Hassan Khan, the father of Dr. Sadiq’s daadi. When her son was five years old and her husband died, Dr.Sadiq’s daadi, Kaneez Fatima Begum, moved into this house that her father built with a substantial’wasiqa'(amount incurred as interest)of Rs.700.Thereafter the house came to be known as ‘700-wali kothi’. Nazirabad, the locality adjoining Aminabad in old Lucknow, and where my daughter and I make regular trips to-to buy chikan-kari or have bags repaired, was once owned by and is named after the very same Nazir Hassan ! I felt good to have established a bond with Nazirabad !

A few samples from Samar Ara Begum's 'dibiya'collection

A few samples from Samar Ara Begum’s ‘dibiya’collection


Kaneez Fatima Begum's gold-rimmed glasses with elegant clip-on shades, it's metal case and a Belgium-made pistol

Kaneez Fatima Begum’s gold-rimmed glasses with elegant clip-on shades, it’s metal case and a Belgium-made pistol


A wood box meant to hold a liquor and water bottle and a glass while travelling and a round tin box with starched cotton collars(all belonged to Dr. Sadiq's father)

A wood box meant to hold a liquor and water bottle and a glass while travelling and a round tin box with starched cotton collars(all belonged to Dr. Sadiq’s father)

‘ I remember there were guests invited frequently to this house- both by my daadi, when it was all women, and by my father, when it was men and women.There were huge amounts of entertaining done and we children used to be excited.’ Dr. Sadiq’s father was in the then Awadh-Tirhut Railways and worked with ‘gora sahibs’.So entertaining of both English and Indian guests happened both in the courtyard as well as in the drawing room.

The verandah leading to the drawing room

The verandah leading to the drawing room

An old brass samovar in the verandah

An old brass samovar in the verandah

The drawing room with chandeliers from Belgium and cupboards full of interesting collections of old bottles and glasses

The drawing room with chandeliers from Belgium and cupboards full of interesting collections of old bottles and glasses

A view of the beautiful courtyard from the drawing-room side

A view of the beautiful courtyard from the drawing-room side

Since Dr. Sadiq’s own parents were posted in different towns, their children stayed in Lucknow with their grand parents so there could be continuity in their school and college.The two brothers got a lot of freedom, Sahro says. They not only attended school and college but also played a lot of tennis at the Gymkhaana Club , won many trophies and were allowed to go out in the evenings. But, although the two sisters were allowed to go to Loreto convent and wear skirts, their daadi would not allow them to go out after school or play tennis. In fact, she disliked the idea of them showing their legs in skirts and would insist that a chaperone accompany them to school. So, their old servant, Bagreedi , with a few missing teeth, would sit in between the two sisters on their rickshaw, accompany them to school, sit and wait outside with his own water bottle and lunch and accompany them back !

Dr, Sadiq(seated), his sisters Sahro(standing left)and Nasreen(standing right)

Dr, Sadiq(seated), his sisters Sahro(standing left)and Nasreen(standing right)

Dr.Sadiq shows me three objects that his mother inherited that actually belonged to Wajid Ali Shah. Twin hookah bases in blue glass,probably from Belgium and a small, painted china vial to hold ittar. He takes them out and we hold them with amazement and the reverence they deserve!

Wajid Ali Shah's objects, blue glass hookah bases, painted with gold flowers

Wajid Ali Shah’s objects, blue glass hookah bases, painted with gold flowers

Dr. Sultan Ali Sadiq seated under his collection of clocks

Dr. Sultan Ali Sadiq seated under his collection of clocks. (This and all other photographs are by Geetika)

Dr Sadiq retired as Principal, Aligarh Medical College in the year 2000 and now takes pride in living in this beautiful old house. It is full of many elegantly displayed objects and he is knowledgeable about most. What strikes you is that everything is very clean and well maintained. When he takes out objects like his father’s liquor or collar box to show us, he first wipes the dust away with care. He and his sisters are self-effacing and their manners are impeccable.
Dr. Sadiq walks us back to our car and stands till we are out of sight.
It is in these gestures that you see refinement that comes with inheritance and legacy.

We have been seeing so much and talking so much that I have forgotten to ask to see some of the original paintings. Which is just as well ! I will take that excuse to visit Dr. Sadiq again !

Hope you enjoyed seeing this house and meeting some of its members.
Thank you, Dr. Sadiq and Sahro for your kindness and patience in sharing your beautiful home.

Thank you, readers for stopping by and reading ! Do share this post with your friends ! And please write your comments in the ‘Comments’ section.

‘Bye until the next time.

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A Nawabi- Era Private Imambara in Lucknow

Hello All,

Alright, it IS very hot. But it is also time for the fragrant bela and Chameli to bloom. My own three pots have started to yield four or five blossoms a day.My mother-in-law insists on offering them to her deity so I whisk away two and keep them on our dining table and delight in the wisps of fragrance as I pass by ! No wonder Indian women in the past wore gajras (decorative, thick garlands for the hair made of fragrant white flowers)-you could smell them all the time !

Away from gajras, coming to old homes, my dear friend Yasmin Khan and I had talked about a house in Lucknow that was old and that she had visited long ago. A phone call or two later, thank God for graceful people like her and the recipient of the call, our visit to this house, on a hot April afternoon, came about.

A bit about the house and the people that make it home-

Iftikhar Ali Khan’s marriage was arranged with Saeeda when he was 22 and she 18. Saeeda lived in the home of her maternal grandfather, the Raja of Salimpur. Although Iftikhar often visited this house he never saw her even once. The first time he saw the beauty was when he brought her home after marrying her seven years later.
‘Khakan Manzil’ where he brought his new bride to was not just a house. It was really rooms built around a monument worthy of pride, a monument meant for congregations, called Ada Khaana or more popularly, Imambara. It is in such Imambaras that Shia muslims gather also to mourn during the important period of Muharram. It is these very structures that the Shia Nawabs of Awadh built, structures of great beauty, that Lucknow is known for.
Entering the sehan or the courtyard through an old wooden gate, it is the Imambara that you see before you. A yellow and white, interesting-looking building with pillars and a Palladian style triangular top, it has extensions on either side that sit a bit uncomfortably with the stately structure. The extensions are colonial style and, turning at right angles, continue their journey as barracks on either side until they fully enclose the courtyard with the wooden gate making up the fourth side of a rectangle.

The compound of Khakan Manzil-the Imambara in the centre and its wings on either side.The water body(now tiled) also in the centre of the compound

The compound of Khakan Manzil-the Imambara in the centre and its wings on either side.The water body(now tiled) also in the centre of the compound. (Photo by Geetika Chakravarti)

A view of the Imambara from the roof of the left wing

A view of the Imambara from the roof of the left wing

The fascade of the main building with delicte plaster work, now almost obliterated with years of lime wash. The doors are of Burma teak and panes of thin, galvanized metal-all original.

The façade of the main building with delicate plaster work, now almost obliterated with years of lime wash. The doors are of Burma teak and panes of thin, galvanized metal-all original.(Photo by Geetika Chakravarti)

Seated in his drawing-room in the left extension, Iftikhar Ali Khan gives us a lesson in elegant Urdu vocabulary. I hastily add it to my meagre repertoire. He is himself a picture of elegance—a crisp white kurta-pyjama, a paan held on one side of his mouth and a peek-daan (spittoon) by his side. A classic nawabi imambara, he says, would have the ‘Naubat khaana’ on either side of the gate. A Naubatkhaana would house musicians who would play music—shehnai or nagaara-to welcome guests. Then you would find the ‘Ghulam gardish’, quarters to house ‘ghulams’ or servants. You enter the ‘sehan’ or main courtyard which would have a ‘nehar’ or water body. Then a ‘chabutra’ or raised platform. And on it, finally, the ‘Ada khaana’ or imambara. There would be ‘sehanchi’ or small rooms on either side of this main structure meant for members of the family or guests.
It is in the sehanchi that his own mother and paternal grandmother before her lived.

The outer and inner halls of the Imambara. The pillars and mehrabs have fime plaster work(now under layers of lime wash)

The outer and inner halls of the Imambara. The pillars and mehrabs have fine plaster work(now under layers of lime wash)(Photo by Geetika Chakravarti)

The inner hall with windows on the right opening into the special room that houses tazias(replicas of the tombs of Hassan and Hussein, grandsons of the Prophet, martyred at Karbala, Iraq)

The inner hall with windows on the right opening into the special room that houses tazias(replicas of the tombs of Hassan and Hussein, grandsons of the Prophet, martyred at Karbala, Iraq)(Photo by Geetika Chakravarti)

An  intricately worked tazia made of paper and wood strips. The plaster on the step has chipped off,exposing 'lakhauri bricks' used in Nawabi-era buildings

An intricately worked tazia made of paper and wood strips. The plaster on the step has chipped off,exposing ‘lakhauri bricks’ used in Nawabi-era buildings

A closer look into the dome of the tazia--a frame is made out of wood strips. Paper is molded over.Made by craftsmen of chowk, Lucknow.

A closer look into the dome of the tazia–a frame is made out of wood strips. Paper is molded over.Made by craftsmen of chowk, Lucknow.

On this hot April afternoon,Yasmin, who introduced me to Iftikhar Ali and to their interesting home, my daughter Geetika and I are taken on a tour of the imambara by Iftikhar Ali’s son, Murad, daughter-in-law, Samar and son-in-law, Ilyas. They are all welcoming and interested. Even Geetika who usually wilts in hot temperatures has not noticed the heat.
‘Ise sambhalta hi jaa raha hoon’, Iftikhar Ali has told us. ‘Ek,ek karke chatein girti jaa rahi hain’.( I have been continuously trying to save this place. Roofs keep collapsing one after the other). He has replaced quite a few.
Seeing the roof of the main hall, I can see what a feat it must be to keep it in one piece, especially if it is your private funds you have to use and you have other things to take care of as well.

It has been the tradition to white wash the building before Muharram, Murad tells us. He points out the layers of whitewash that all but obliterate what was once beautiful stucco work on all the doorways and pillars. Attempts to remove the layers of whitewash have resulted in the plaster decorations crumbling—so it is not a situation where you can win.
This Imambara was built around 1820 for Khaakan bahu, Nawab Muhammad Ali Shah’s elder son’s wife. The son died in his father’s lifetime. His younger son, Amjad Ali Shah became the nawab later, and his son, the famous Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Awadh, succeeded. Khakaan bahu, the elder son’s widow, was given this imambara and, as iftikhar Ali discovered later in government records, a ‘kharcha-e-paandaan’ or pocket-money of Rs. 1500. It is here that she spent the rest of her life in prayer and in bringing up her children. Hence the name, ‘Khaakan Manzil’.
The buildings were, later, inherited by Nawab Noorjehan begum and her children, the eldest being Iftikhar Ali Khan or ‘Huzoor mian’ as he is called.

As a boy and young man Iftikhar Ali Khan’s world was within the walls of Khaakan Manzil and his school, St Francis in Lucknow. There was, however, another different world that existed for Iftikhar and that he loved- that of two Anglo-Indian homes. Every day, after school, the young Iftikhar was taken to the home of Mrs. John to be given lunch, then a nap and finally private tutoring before coming back to his own home. In the last years of school he would go to the home of another Anglo-Indian gentleman, Mr. Jacob, the director of the United States Information Service, where the schedule remained similar. He got acquainted to a non-traditional, westernized world through these homes. After passing out of school, his mother refused to let him go to study on scholarship to Ibadan. She, however, let him go to Aligarh Muslim University to study Science. There was a phase, he says, when he used to dress in suits stitched at the famous Haridas in Hazratganj and haunt the Mohammed Bagh and Gymnkhana Clubs of Lucknow. But the day he married, he says, he gave that up and concentrated on his beautiful wife and home, instead.

A sehanchi adjoining the hall.Iftikhar Ali's grandmother lived here and had it remodelled in 1940 with mosaic  on its floors and fireplace.

A sehanchi adjoining the hall.Iftikhar Ali’s grandmother lived here and had it remodelled in 1940 with mosaic on its floors and fireplace.

Iftikhar Ali stands framed by a doorway

Iftikhar Ali stands framed by a doorway

Back in his drawing room Iftikhar Ali tells me that he intends to hire craftsmen at some point to first take ‘khaaka’ or impressions of the plaster patterns on the walls of the imambara and then work on reconstructing them. I admire his will to preserve. We are offered tea, biscuits and pineapple cake. His eldest daughter Sheeba has just come back home. She is a well- spoken young lady who teaches in a local school. Her husband, two brothers and their wives and children live together in the same house. The young children with their respective maids wander in and out. Iftikhar Ali’s younger brother and his own family also live in a different part of the extension.

Members of the family, each, go out of the four walls to the world outside to work or visit. And when they return it is as if they are absorbed into the sehan, sehanchi and the ada khaana. They love the place and take pride in it. The Imambara , the main body with a throbbing heart extends its arms- its two wings, and seems to embrace them. It is as if it is a world all on its own—the mother, and in her arms, her children.

Thank you, Iftikhar Ali sahab, Sheeba, Ilyas, Murad, Samar and the other members of this family, for sharing your beautiful home with us ! I am delighted to have seen a different world !

Thank you, dear Yasmin, for arranging this visit– waiting to see Salimpur and Malihabad soon !

And thank you all for stopping by to read !

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