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Lucknow Boy – A Memoir

Lucknow Boy CoverFor somebody coming from Lucknow, the title of Vinod Mehta’s book in question is itself quite appealing. ‘Lucknow Boy – A Memoir’ by the veteran journalist is an honest account of his rather adventurous life.

The book traces Mehta’s journey from a school going boy in the city to an editor of repute in Bombay and Delhi. His lack of experience in the trade makes his story all the more more fascinating. It also throws light on the way journalism works in India or elsewhere.

The author’s father was transferred to Lucknow five years after his birth in Rawalpindi. Here he attended the reputed La Martiniere College. The city had a big impression on him. It was also here that Mehta made a few life long friends.

His account of Lucknow of the 50s and 60s is lively, more so for the person he was and the people he befriended. From ‘a small time raja’, C.P.N. Singh, to the ‘quintessential aam admi of the 50s’, Safdar, his acquaintances are a good reflection of the interesting times he spent in Lucknow. He also credits the city for teaching him ‘to look at the individual rather than his religion or caste or the tongue he spoke’. You can’t help admiring his secular credentials.

On an old friend’s insistence Mehta went to England in the early 70s. This was also the time when his life long affair (not to mention his other flings) with news and books started as he survived on odd jobs. It would serve him well during the years in Bombay and Delhi, when he slowly and surely establishes himself as an editor of some repute.

Mehta’s editorial ventures, be it Debonair, The Pioneer or Outlook, offer an interesting perspective on media functioning. All is not rosy, but if one is better prepared then he’ll survive seems to be the advice of the book. He shares quite a few incidents about the nexus between the politicians, businessmen, and journalists.

Journalism, Mehta acknowledges, is a high pressure job that involves both glamour and risk. The risks increase as you climb up the ladder, so much that sometimes ‘the professional environment you function in is so vitiated and underhand that you are tempted to throw in the towel’.

It’s the ego which journalists needs to check, advices Mehta. The basic premise is to create awareness about relevant issues. Journalists have to remember that all they have is ‘the best seats in the match’. They don’t run the country in any way.

Mehta’s candid observations on certain subjects and people do not go down rather well with me. I particularly find the reference to Firaq Gorakhpuri’s homosexuality quite disgusting. The talk about Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ‘strange domestic life’ was also uncalled for. There’s also an air of pompousness about the work he did. But you forgive him for this as he pokes fun at himself with equal measure.

His book may not go down as a literary masterpiece, but certainly as one written with brutal honesty. I’m sure he won’t have many friends left after this one. Overall the book offers an interesting commentary on the way news travels through the pages and the players involved.

The Phantom: The Ghost Who Still Walks

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Enter the Phantom

Leon “Lee” Falk was born on April 28, 1911 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. While at college, he developed the idea for a comic strip featuring a caped stage magician, which developed into Mandrake. He sold the rights of the strip to King Features Syndicate, NY. Mandrake – The Magician premiered on June 11, 1934, when Falk was just 23 years of age.

Soon after, Falk developed another idea for a masked crime fighter, named The Phantom, which debuted on February 17, 1936. He drew the strip himself for two weeks, after which the artwork was left to Raymond “Ray” Moore and the strip was again syndicated to KFS. On the other hand, Mandrake was drawn by artist Phil Davis. During the Great Depression in the US, such adventurous comic strips became popular for their morale-boosting appeal among common folk reading the daily newspapers. Falk had created a winner.

The Mythos

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The unique features of the Phantom as an anonymous, masked crime fighter developed over an extended period of time. The Phantom’s debut story was The Singh Brotherhood, an epic of a story, which featured many conflicting features of the character, as Lee tried to pick up the best from fiction around the world and give a unique twist to his creation. Geographically, the Phantom lived in Bengal, India, fought Chinese pirates who wore turbans and had the title of “Singh”, rode about with tigers and elephants, stayed with pygmies but had European descent. Now, this strange but exotic amalgamation brought inherent contradictions to the character, which Falk ironed out gradually – by moving the Phantom out of India to Africa, thereby retaining the pygmies and jungle, and making the Singh Pirates fade into oblivion; the beloved tigers he explained as being due to a shipwreck near the African coast; since the ship had been carrying animals from India, these entered the African forest and multiplied there. Quite ingenious!!

The Ghost Who Walks

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The origin of the Phantom is described as being due to a pirate attack on a merchant ship off the coast of Africa. A young boy who saw his father being murdered by pirates, took the oath of fighting against piracy and furthermore, his sons, and their sons would follow him. This oath continued for 20 generations, over a period of 450 years; the present Phantom being the 21st of his line. The Phantom, after accepting the mantle from his dying father would never show his face again, except to his wife and children. Whether in his cowl and costume, or out of it, crime fighting would be the primary aim of his existence. He would also intervene in social problems, filial problems and other problems, including financial (and even health) problems which humans face from time to time. He would be fair, upright and moralistic always. He would never touch alcoholic drinks and in general be the epitome of proprietary. In the present context, he would not be a “Dark Knight”. His goals and his lifestyle were pre-defined for him, as decided by his forefathers, 400 years ago. There was no question of deviations or re-boots. The Phantom – the Ghost Who Walks would be there, if you called out to him for help.

The present Phantom continues to live in the Skull Cave of his forefathers, inside the Deep Woods, protected by the Bandar, or pygmy poison people. He is married to his childhood sweetheart, Diana, who works for the UN. He has twins, Kit and Heloise; it is a matter of conjecture who will succeed him as the 22nd Phantom. Devil, the fearsome mountain wolf, is his faithful companion, and Hero, the stallion, is his favorite steed. The Phantom is the ex-officio, secret Commander of the Jungle Patrol, a para-military organization, which guards the Bengalla jungles. He is on friendly terms with Dr Luaga, the President of Bengalla. In addition to his home in the Deep Woods, he has several other hide-outs, equally exotic; these include Keela Wee, a beach with golden sand and a Jade Hut. Eden is an island resort, where all animals live peacefully, subsisting on fish and vegetables. The Phantom has a hideout in South America, atop a mesa, called Eyrie. He also has a hideout in Romania, in the form of a abandoned castle. He maintains a menagerie of animals with him, most of whom are house-trained and rather cute. These include Joomba (an elephant), Kateena (a lioness), Baldy (an old gorilla), Hzz and Hrz (prehistoric cave monsters, who eat only mushrooms!!), Solomon and Nefertiti (dolphins), Bobo (a chimpanzee), Fraka (a falcon) and Stegy (a stegosaurus).

The Phantom likes to move out to the cities from time to time like an ordinary man as Kit Walker (for the Ghost Who Walks), wearing a fedora, sunglasses and trench coat, accompanied by Devil. He is a menacing figure for evil doers; he is a favorite of children, beautiful women and royalty. In short, he is a human being, without any superpowers – yet his persona ensures that no other masked superhero can even come close to his charisma.

The Phantom in India

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India was first introduced to The Phantom in the 1940s in The Illustrated Weekly of India which carried Phantom Sunday newspaper strips. The first regular series of Phantom comic books in India were published by Bennet & Coleman as Indrajal Comics from March 1964 to April 1990. A total of 803 issues were published, after which the publishing rights were picked up by Diamond Comics and Rani Comics. In June 2000, Egmont Publications in collaboration with Indian Express (later Egmont Imagination), launched a new series of Phantom comics, reprinting few (pretty mediocre) stories created by the Scandinavian publisher, Egmont. Today, The Phantom is published in several languages in a vast number of Indian newspapers and magazines.

Although the Phantom debuted in the US, it remained confined as a comic strip; it could never achieve the success of a comic book hero, although Phantom comic books were brought out from time to time by publishers such as Gold Key, Charlton, DC, Moonstone, and more recently Dynamite. In contrast, the Phantom enjoyed immense popularity in India, through The Illustrated Weekly and Indrajal Comic reprints. One of the reasons could be that readers in India were exposed to original Lee Falk stories, amply illustrated by Wilson McCoy and later, the legendary Seymour “Sy” Barry. On the other hand, the US comic books mentioned above had their own authors and artists, and despite their best efforts, they just could not match the charismatic output of Falk and Barry. In India, the Phantom still enjoys a phenomenal cult following, and entire generations, irrespective of age or sex still go wildly enthusiastic over the charms of the GWW, as evident in a discussion in FB recently.

The Phantom in Other Countries

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The Phantom also proved to be very popular in the most unlikely of geographical locations, and got translated names according to the country of publication. For Italy, it was L’ Umo Mascherato, for Brazil, it was Fantasma, for Sweden, it was Fantomen, for Denmark, it was Fantomet, for Spain it was El Hombre Enmascarado, and for France it was Le Fantome. In Finland, he was called Mustanaamio and in Turkey, he was Kizil Maske. The Israeli Phantom was simply known as Phantomas, the Yugoslavian avater was called Fantom, and the Indian Phantom was known as Betaal.

Movies and TV Serials

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Compared to the likes of DC and Marvel characters who have starred in very successful and extremely expensive Hollywood productions, the Phantom, again, has been quite unfortunate in this aspect. He first appeared in a movie serial, The Phantom, in 1943, with Tom Tyler in the lead role. The 240-minute serial in fifteen parts, remained faithful to the character, despite its limited budget. A 1996 Hollywood film, The Phantom, Slam Evil from Paramount Pictures starred Billy Zane in the title role. It was a box office disaster.

Two animated series, Defenders of the Earth (1986) and Phantom 2040 (1994) were also produced for TV; these were hits, but primarily meant for young children. In 2009, SyFy Channel released a 4-hour, mini-series in two parts, called The Phantom, starring Ryan Carnes in the title role. It took too many liberties with the character and mythos, and was heavily criticized by Phantom fans (=Phans). Other Hollywood projects on the Phantom have been announced from time to time, but none have materialized till date.

The Present

With Sy Barry’s retirement in 1994 and Falk’s death in 1999, the character of the Phantom took a nose-dive, with artists and writers of different hues trying their hands in re-creating the Phantom. Commercial interests dictated that the strip should continue, as it still does, but the charisma slowly faded. While Scandinavian countries with well-established machinery for creating new Phantom stories, continued their output for a dedicated readership, Frew in Australia, continued picking up several of these stories and translate them into English for an enthusiastic Australian Phan base. However, current writers and artists for KFS, USA seem to be unable to match Falk even remotely in continuing the strip, which seems to be slowly becoming trivialized and diluted. The menace and the mystery has diminished; often the Phantom appears to have an identity crisis; sometimes he is made to act like a buffoon and act against the very tenets that made him so lovable in the hands of his original creators.

No doubt the Ghost Who Walks still walks on, but he doesn’t seem to be going too far these days.

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Asrar-ul-Haq Majaz – A Journey of Love, Hope and Nationalism

THE year was 1935. The union hall of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was brimming with students and the atmosphere was electric. A young man in sherwani stands up. He runs his hand through his long locks, and recites his poem ‘Inquilab’ in his own inimitable style –

“KohsaaroN ki taraf se surkh aandhi aayegi
Ja-baja aabaadiyoN meiN aag si lag jaayegi
Aur is rang-e-shafaq meiN ba-hazaraaN aab-o taab
Jagmagaaega watan ki hurriyat ka aaftaab”

[A red storm is approaching from over the mountains
Sparking a fire in the settlements
And on this horizon, amidst a thousand tumults
Shall shine the sun of our land’s freedom] (1)

The hall reverberates with a thunderous applause. Asrar-ul-Haq Majaz was destined for greatness!

The poetic journey

Majaz’s poetry first made its mark in the culturally alive AMU during the early 1930s. His poems ‘Noora’ and ‘Nazr-e-Aligarh’ established him as a popular poet. The girls just loved him.

“NahiN jaanti hai, mera naam tak woh
Magar bhej deti hai paighaam tak woh
Ye paighaam aate hii rahte haiN aksar
Ki kis roz aaoge biimaar hokar”

[She doesn’t even know my name
But still she writes to me
Her letters keep coming to me
“When will you fall sick and visit again?” she asks]

AMU had other great poets, like Ali Sardar Jafri, Jaan Nisar Akhtar and Jazbi, during this period, but Majaz’s popularity overshadowed all his contemporaries.

Majaz finished his graduation at AMU in 1936. The same year Professor Ahmed Shah Bukhari, popularly known as ‘Pitras’ Bukhari, calls Majaz to Delhi. Bukhari made him join the then newly formed All India Radio as the editor of a journal. Majaz named it ‘Awaaz’ and managed it for a while.

Their relationship soured for some reasons and Majaz left the station.

This was also the time when the door of the married woman Majaz loved, closed on him. She was the only woman he ever loved. It left a permanent scar on his psyche. He became a compulsive drinker.

His personal grief merged with his rebel ideas. The result was ‘Awara’ – a masterpiece of the era.

“Shahar ki raat aur maiN naashaad-o-nakaara phiruuN
Jagmagaati jaagti saDkon pe awara phiruuN
Ghair ki basti hai kab tak dar badar maara phiruuN
Aye gham-e-dil kya karoon aye wehshat-e-dil kya karuuN”

[This nightfall in the city, and I wander aimless and sad
On the awake and glittering roads, my aimless wandering, O
How long in the alien city from door to door I go
What do I do, O sad heart, my mad heart] (2)

The poem became an anthem for the revolutionary youth of the time. The word Awara suddenly meant more than just troubled and jobless-

“Le ke ek changez ke haathon se khanjar toD duuN
Taaj par us ke damakta hai jo patthar toD duuN
Koi tode ya na toDe maiN hii baDhkar toD duuN
Ai gham-e-dil kya karoon aye wehshat-e-dil kya karuuN”

[I shall snatch the sword from Changez’s hand and break it apart
The glittering stone in his crown I must hit
Some body else may or may not, but I should break it–
What do I do, O sad heart, my mad heart] (2)

Heartbroken, Majaz came back to Lucknow.

A nationalist to the core, Majaz along with his friends Ali Sardar Jafri and Sibtey Hasan, took out the progressive journal ‘Naya Adab’ from Lucknow. It was established with funds from the CPI in 1939 under the auspices of UPWA (Urdu Progressive Writers’ Association). The journal was the most influential progressive literary monthly of the period, so much that its first three issues actually laid the theoretical foundations of the UPWA movement. (2)

Naya Adab ran for a decade. After its closure, Majaz joined the Harding Library at Delhi as Assistant Librarian. There he collaborated with Fasihuddin Ahmed in editing the literary journal ‘Adeeb’. (3)

Knowing the man

Majaz was a fragile soul, one who could be easily hurt. Being the nice guy he was, Majaz kept quiet even when friends misbehaved with him.

“Awara-va-majnu.N hii pe maukuuf nahiN kuuchh
Milne haiN abhi muujh ko Khitaab aur zyaadaa”

[They have not stopped at vagabond and rogue
More praises are on their way for me]

Majaz had a great sense of humour. Once somebody’s poetry didn’t go down well with him. He had this to say – “Don’t worry, when your poems are translated in Urdu then people would recognise your talent.” (4)

Majaz was a rebel poet. His anger against the capitalist system provided the basis for Awara and his hope for a better tomorrow, born out of the socialist ideology of the Soviet Russia, is expressed in the poem ‘Khwab-e-Sehar’-

“Yeh musalsal aafaten, yeh yorishen, yeh qatal-e-aam
Aadmi kab tak rahe ohaam-e-baatil ka ghulaam
Zehn-e-insaani ne ab ohaam ke zulmaat meiN
Zindagi ki sakht toofani andheri raat meiN
Kuch nahin tau kam se kam khawab-e-sehar dekha tau hai
Jis taraf dekha na tha ab tak udhar dekha tau hai”

[Such struggle, such suffering, such heinour carnage
How long has man been to superstition a slave
Human mind has at last awakened from its heavy sleep
In the stormy night of life, in the superstitious deep
Has at last dreamt a dream of the golden dawn
Looked at last towards the East, where none before had glanced] (5)

The woman in Majaz’s poetry was more than an object of beauty. He wished to see them as crusaders who could revolt against exploitation and injustice.

“Teri neechi nazar khud teri ismat ki muhafiz hai
Tu is nashtar ki tezi aazma leti to achha thaa
Teri maathe pe ye aanchal bahut hi khoob hai lekin
Tu is aaNchal se ik parcham bana leti to achha thaa”

[Your lowered gaze is itself a protector of your purity,
If you now raise your eyes and test the sharpness of it, it would be good.
The cloth covering your head is no doubt a good thing,
But if you make a flag out of it, it would be good] (6)

Majaz was also faint of heart. In the 1946 sectarian riots, Majaz saw a man being killed in Bombay and couldn’t eat for three days. He ran out of the science class the first time he saw a frog on the table. The poet left science altogether after the episode.

His drinking and poetry provided him the vent to his heartbreak. Once Jigar Moradabadi asked him to quit drinking, to which Majaz replied – “You left it just once, I left it several times.” (4)

Josh Malihabadi once said about Majaz, “He wants to capture the entire beauty of the world in one single glance and to drink all wine of the world in one gulp.” (4)

“Is mahfil-e-kaif-o-masti me, is anjuman-e-irfaani me
Sab jaam-bakaf baithe hi rahe, hum pee bhi gaye chahlka bhi gaye”

[This gathering of fun and frolic, the erudites all around
All merely sat with the goblets, but I drank to the full]

But who could know the man more than he himself. Majaz the poet summarises the man in his poem ‘Ta’arruf ‘ –

“Khoob pehchaan lo, asraar huuN maiN
Jins-e-ulfat kaa talabgaar huuN maiN
Ishq hee ishq hai, duniya meri
Fitna-e-aql se bezaar huuN maiN”

[Look at me, recognise me well, for I am Asrar
I seek love and longing
My world comprises love and just love
I know not the devil of the intellect] (7)

Path to self-destruction

By the early 1950s Majaz’s mental faculties started deteriorating. His drinking further compounded his misery. It was sheer genius that he still managed to pen poems like, Khawab-e-Sehar, ‘Shaher Nigaar’, and ‘Andheri Raat ka Musafir,’ which reflects on his last ditch attempt to turnaround his messed up life.

His poem ‘Aitraaf’ was his swan song. Majaz lost hope and accepted defeat-

“Wo gudaaz-e-dil-e-marhoom kahaaN se laauN
Ab maiN wo jazba-e-maasoom kahaaN se laauN”

[That tender heart, long dead, beats no more
That innocent passion, long gone, excites no more]

In 1952 Majaz went to Calcutta with Doctor Saifuddin Kichlu to attend the All India Cultural Conference. He was just a shadow of his old self. Sardar Jafri gave him five Rupees every evening for a drink. The rest of his drinking sessions were sponsored by visitors at the bar. One day he asked for ten Rupees. When Jafri tried to reason with him he said, “Sardar you’ve a family, a house, and you do poetry. What do I’ve? Now you don’t even allow me to drink!” (4)

Majaz landed in Ranchi’s mental asylum the same year. The poet who never wrote a weak couplet now struggled with verses. This verse recovered from his belongings tells a lot about his mental state – “Woh regzaar-e-khayal me hai kabhi kabhi humkharaam meri.” [That wasteland of thoughts is walking alongside me] (7)

The end

Jafri recalls seeing him last in the December of 1955 when he arrived in Lucknow from Bombay to attend a Student Cultural Conference. Majaz met him at Hazratganj and showered the same love and affection on his old buddy-

“Humdum yahi hai, rahguzar-e-yaar-e-khushkhiraam
Guzre haiN laakh baar isi kahkashaN se hum” *

[This slow pace, this path of bliss has been my companion
I have passed this galaxy a million times]

They then went to the conference at Baradari in Qaisarbagh together. Majaz the poet, and person, seems to come alive that night during the mushaira. He recited the following couplet several times to an eager and appreciative audience-

“Bahut mushkil hai duniya ka savarna, teri zulfoN ka pech-o-kham nahi hai
Ba-ise-sayle-ghamo-sayle-hawadis, mera sir hai ki ab bhi kham nahi hai”

[I wonder if my life gets sorted out, the way your entangled locks do
A sea of sadness surrounds me, somehow I’m standing tall]

The next day it was 4th of December. Majaz stayed with Jafri and Sahir Ludhyanvi at the hotel. Sahir bought a bottle of fine quality whisky for Majaz. He was made to promise that he won’t drink in the day and won’t go out with his friends. They even locked the bottle inside the almirah on Majaz’s own suggestion. As if he had a premonition of things to come, Majaz told Jafri twice to spend more time with him as he seems not so sure of the future.

Jafri and Sahir reached the hotel late as they had to attend a tea party after the conference. Majaz left during their absence. They searched for him in vain.

Majaz didn’t turn up for the conference on the 5th of December. At five in the evening the fears proved real. Somebody broke the news of Majaz lying faint in the Balrampur Hospital. The conference was postponed. Everybody rushed to the hospital. Majaz had an oxygen mask on him. Doctors showed little hope.

It was the result of a wild night. Majaz’s friends took him to a tavern in Lalbagh where they all drank on the rooftop. One by one they all left. Majaz stayed back into the cold winter night. The next morning the owner informed the police about Majaz. He was taken to the hospital where the doctors diagnosed a brain hemorrhage and pneumonia. He was just 44.

A female fan sharing the name of his beloved sat next to him when Majaz passed away that night. The poet was at peace finally.

Majaz often reached home late or not at all. Aware of this habit his old mother used to leave his food, a packet of cigarettes, and fifty paisa, next to his bed. The rickshaw-pullers of the city, who knew Majaz well, dropped him home and took the fifty paisa coin.

That night everything changed. Majaz’s mother was waiting on the floor next to his bed. Her son was coming back never to leave again.

“Ab iske baad subah hai aur subah-e-nau majaz
Hum par khatm shaam-e-ghareeban-e-Lucknow”

[Tomorrow awaits a new dawn
With me ends the darkness of Lucknow]

Like a shooting star, Majaz, in his self-destruction left behind a trail of brilliant compositions that forever illuminates the firmament of urdu poetry. Every time the students and alumni of AMU, like me, sing the university song, at their campus and elsewhere in the world, Majaz comes to life.

“Ye meraa chaman hai meraa chaman, maiN apne chaman kaa bulbul huuN
Sarshaar-e-nigaah-e-nargis huuN, paa-bastaa-e-gesuu-sumbul huuN”

[chaman: garden; bulbul: nightingale; sarshaar: overflowing, soaked; nigaah: sight; nargis: flower, Narcissus; paa-bastaa: embedded; gesuu: tresses; sumbul: a plant of sweet odour]

And so the great poet lives on, the way he always did – as the cynosure of all eyes!

* Ali Sardar Jafri used this couplet as the title song of his famous television series, Kahkashan, broadcasted on Doordarshan during the early 90s.

(Based on Ali Sardar Jafri’s account in ‘Lucknow ki Paanch Raatein’.)

NOTES

1 Kuldip Sahil, A Treasury of Urdu Poetry From Mir to Faiz: Ghazals with English Renderings (Delhi: Rajpal & Sons, 2009), 114-119.
2 Geeta Patel, Lyrical Movements, Historical Hauntings: On Gender, Colonialism, and Desire in Miraji’s Urdu Poetry (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 111
3 Abida Samiuddin, Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Urdu Literature (New Delhi: Global Vision Publishing House, 2007), 387
4 Ali Sardar Jafri, Lucknow ki Paanch Raatein (New Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2010), 25-58
5 K. C. Kanda, Masterpieces of Patriotic Urdu poetry (Delhi: Sterlings Publishers Private Limited, 2009), 323-339
6 “Ghazal as a form of Urdu poetry in the Asian subcontinent”, accessed December 5, 2011, http://www.ghazalpage.net/prose/notes/ghazal_urdu.html
7 Rakhshanda Jalil, email message to the author, December 8, 2011.

Impromptu Year-End Picnic of LBC

I was on a short visit to Lucknow during the last week of December 2013, and I had a chance to personally meet many of the LBC members, and that too in a picnic coordinated single-handedly by Missy!! The venue was Friends Rosery (Nursery), near Itaunja, Sitapur Road, The date was 26th December 2013, time was 2.30 pm. The nursery of Mr Agarwal had an awesome collection of ornamental plants and cacti, 2 lovely dogs and Mr Agarwal himself, was the perfect host, enthusiastically supported by his son, Zubin.

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As the members trickled in, I could recognise many of them, from their pictures seen earlier on FB. The surprise arrival was of Dok Sb (Dr Manoj Singh), who had earlier expressed his inability to attend the get-together.

A lot many members brought along snacks, including cakes, patties, cookies, eclairs, so-much-so that the food was in excess of the members present. Thumbs Up and tea was also available, together with teeny weeny morsels of exotic fruits from Mr Agarwal’s nursery.

The waning sun, the extensive greenery, the amiable and cheerful atmosphere and the hospitality of Mr Agarwal formed the perfect back-drop of the impromptu picnic, organized so thoughtfully by Missy, so I that could meet some of the folks of LBC in person.

Thank you, Missy, thank you LBC.. it was wonderful making new friends with all of you. Life becomes a whole lot easier when friends keep meeting and friendship keeps blossoming.

Wishing you all A Happy New Year 2014!!

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HAUNTINGS IN LUCKNOW: FACT OF FICTION? Part III

This article was published in The Lucknow Tribune (19th – 25th October 2013), unfortunately titled: THE GHOST WHO WALKS IN LA MARTINIERE GIRLS’ COLLEGE.

The Dilkusha, circa 1860s

The Dilkusha, circa 1860s

Satyajit Ray in The Duel of Lucknow describes how an Indian bachelor living alone in Lucknow (during colonial times) comes across a pair of dueling pistols at an auction, and fascinated by them, bids the highest, to buy them. Shortly afterwards, he is visited by an Englishman, who says that a duel was fought near the Dilkusha, two hundred years ago, at the end of the 19th century, on 16th October, at 6 am, between John Ellington, a portrait artist and Charles Bruce, an army officer, for the affections of a girl, Annabelle Hudson. A government official, Hugh Drummond, had arranged for the pistols and had agreed to be a referee of sort for the duel, although it was a foregone conclusion that the artist, John, stood no chance against the army officer. Due to the tragic circumstance, the scene was re-enacted every year at the site of the tragedy, on the anniversary of the duel.

The stranger then invites the bachelor to the site in Dilkusha on its anniversary day, and in the eerie shadows, the bachelor does see the duel being re-enacted in the dim, early morning light. He is accompanied by the stranger. However, contrary to expectations, two shots ring out and both duellers fall to the ground. At this, a waif-like figure comes running out of the ruins, calling out, “Hugh! Hugh!” The stranger, who now begins to dissolve in the fog, says that he was Hugh Drummond, and actually it was Annabelle, who had shot both Ellington as well as Bruce, because she did not love either of them. Her true love was Hugh. The bachelor is chilled at this revelation and returns home, where he finds the duelling pistols to have the distinct smell of freshly discharged gunpowder. Dilkusha has another ghostly tale attached to it by the local populace. It is said that on every Thursday night, around 9 pm, whomsoever ventures into the abandoned ruins encounters two British officers, in full regalia, accompanied by a Labrador. One officer walks the dog and the other asks for a light. Once the light is provided, both the officers and the dog vanish.

The Butler Palace in Lucknow was built by the Raja of Mehmoodabad in the year 1919. The foundation of the palace was laid in 1915 by the then Deputy Commissioner of Lucknow, Sir Harcourt Butler, who also used it as his official residence. It is said that a guardian spirit or Brahmo Daitya permanently dwells on a peepul tree in the premises. A wooded forest initially existed in the area, situated beside the Gomti river, and when the palace was being constructed, many of the trees were cut down, resulting in the displacement of the tree spirits of the forest. The most powerful of them, the Daitya, refused to leave, and took abode on the peepul tree, to keep a watch over the area. “An old wives’ tale”, one may mutter. But in fact, a small Shiva temple has been erected to pacify the spirit living on the tree. It is also said that the palace itself is haunted and in some nights, one can see a female figure gliding down the stairs, before jumping into the nearby lake within the premises.

Similar tales abound the exotic building Constantia, the creation of General Claude Martin, which houses the La Martiniere School for Boys since 1845. Often dismissed as old schoolboys’ tales, the students, more often the boarders, claim that they are sometimes pushed around by an invisible force inside the building, particularly so near a round marble structure, which apparently used to be a punishment zone for boarders during the early days of the school. It is also claimed that on dark nights, one can see a shadowy figure on the embankment, which separates the school premises from the river. It is conjectured that during the flash floods of 1971, one of the school guards was swept away at night during duty. Although his body was never found, his restless spirit still continues to keep vigil over the river for the safety of the school.

Khurshid Manzil was so named by Nawab Saádat Ali Khan after one of his favourite wives, Khurshid Zadi. Built during 1800 – 1810, it was a double-storied, castle-like manor, with six turrets at irregular intervals and four entrances – which were originally draw-bridges over a deep moat. This building, housing the La Martiniere School for Girls since 1869, is replete with similar legends. Straight out of Polidori’s writings, there is the Victorian Lady in Grey haunting the dormitories on dark, moonless nights; the unseen ‘thing’ clanking its chains up the stairs. Certainly even today, many students will not go to the loo in the turret at the far end of the terrace alone at night for fear of running into ‘something’. Everyone believes that there is safety in numbers! And the famous ‘haunted’ Turret Room continues to remain vacant, as no teacher is willing to occupy it.

to be continued..

HAUNTINGS IN LUCKNOW: FACT OR FICTION? PART II

This article was published in The Lucknow Tribune (12th – 18th October 2013) titled: A SPIRIT IN SEARCH OF MAKKHAN ROTI

Kothi Hayat Baksh, circa 1860s

Kothi Hayat Baksh, circa 1860s

Lat Kallan ki Lat is an old British cemetery in Aminabad, named after the Resident of Lucknow, Col. John Collins, who was buried there on 18th June 1807, and an obelisk or “lat” erected in his honour. Parveen Talha writes in her book, Fida-e-Lucknow, that till the 1950s, people would avoid the area as they believed that the ghost of the colonel loitered around in the night, begging for makkhan roti!! With increasing encroachments and land-grabbing in the area, resulting in the complete overshadowing of the lat, the ghost of Collins appears to have moved to quieter pastures.

Kothi Hayat Baksh, later christened as Major Bank’s House and presently Raj Bhawan is reportedly haunted by the ghost of Major William Hodson. Hodson earned notoriety after he arrested Bahadur Shah Zafar and his family from Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi on 20th September, 1857, which he followed up massacring the unarmed princes in full public view, the next day. Hodson’s nemesis awaited him at Lucknow, however, when he was fatally wounded during the decisive battle at the Begum Kothi on 12th March 1858. Sidney Hay in Historic Lucknow writes that Hodson was carried to Kothi Hayat Baksh, where he died in great pain early next morning. His khaki-clad ghost is supposed to still stalk the house and walk through the rooms. Hodson’s melancholy grave is extant today in the grounds of the La Martiniere School for Boys.

The Noor Baksh Kothi, present residence of the District Magistrate of Lucknow has a similar sinister reputation. Again Sidney Hay writes that within the kothi are some Muslim tombs in a room under the main staircase. It has been reported by other guests of the Kothi that the room containing the graves is reportedly opened and cleaned every Thursday, followed by lighting of incense sticks, in a bid to pacify the restless spirits in the room.

The original British cantonment of Lucknow was situated in Madiaon (present day Aliganj area). The cantonment was abandoned at the first sign of sepoy unrest on 30th May, 1857 and the residents were hurriedly shifted to the Residency. The then Chaplain of Lucknow, Rev. Henry S. Polehampton resided in a bungalow in the Madiaon cantonment, with his family. The bungalow in question, called Beechy Sahib Ka Bangla was reputedly haunted by Mr Beechy, who had originally owned the bungalow. In one of his letters, Polehampton wrote that the house had an ill-reputation, and only a priest could survive in it. The Polehamptons had a tragic end in the events of 1857. It is not known if the malevolent spirit of the bungalow was responsible for this turn of events.

The Shahi Baoli or step-well, which we see in the Bada Imambara complex has a similar sinister reputation. This baoli was part of an immense palace complex, the details of which are sadly not available today, but is said to pre-date the adjoining Bada Imambara. It was still luxurious enough to have accommodated Warren Hastings on his visit to Lucknow during the time of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula. The baoli is reputed to be connected to the Gomti river through underground channels, and hence could never be drained. Its dredging was considered important at one point of time, because it was rumored to contain a large amount of treasure which had been thrown into it before the imminent re-capture of the city by the British.

Attempts to dredge the baoli met with failure every time. Not to be outdone, and on the advice of some local British sympathisers, a venerable Muslim mendicant was identified, who examined the premises and promptly announced that the baoli was under the protection of an extremely powerful and malevolent guardian spirit, and any further attempts to disturb the baoli would have tragic effects on the persons involved. To prove his point, the mendicant applied oil on the nail of his right thumb, so as to make it shiny and uttered some incantations. An image appeared on the shiny surface of the nail – the image of the guardian spirit, standing resolutely by the well in a guarding posture. The mendicant muttered few more incantations and ordered the spirit to sit down (baith jao). The spirit sat down beside the baoli (all images appearing on the shiny nail), but with a malevolent glare, refused to leave the premises. Finally the mendicant announced the proceedings to be over and stated that there was no way the guardian spirit could be dislodged. There are no further reports that there were any subsequent attempts to get the baoli drained.

(to be continued)

Translation of Sahir Ludhianvi’s famous nazm, “KABHI KABHI”.

Sometimes I wonder
what would life have been
under the soft shadow
of your tresses;
this darkness lost
in the sparkle of your eyes.

Oblivious of pain
I would have lost myself
in the contours
of your beautiful body.
The nectar of your lips
the answer
to the bitterness of the world;
your tresses
to its scorching heat.

But this was not to be
And now there’s neither you
nor the pain of separation;
not even the need
of a companion.

Embracing the sorrows of the world
I have travelled
through strange territories
with engulfing shadows coming closer.

Aimlessly I grope in the darkness
to be lost in this void
one day.
I know, my love,
but still
sometimes I wonder.

HAUNTINGS IN LUCKNOW: FACT OR FICTION? Part –I

This article was published in The Lucknow Tribune (28th September – 4th October 2013) titled: THE SPOOKS WHO HAUNTED LUCKNOW.

Bulrampore Hospital, circa 1870s

Bulrampore Hospital, circa 1870s

It is not unusual that Lucknow – a city with a tragic history of wars, massacres, mass executions and hurriedly buried dead bodies, (often without proper rites or graves), has several accounts of supernatural haunting. At least three sites in the city saw heavy casualties on both sides, that is, the British soldiers and the Indian freedom fighters in 1857 – 58. These are, the Residency, the Sikandra Bagh and the Begum Kothi.

The Residency was the site for an estimated 2000 deaths and the Sikandra Bagh was the site for the deaths of about 2200 Indian freedom fighters and 72 British soldiers. After the fighting was over, it is said that the British dead (including the dead from the loyal native Punjab Infantry) were buried in a deep trench in the Sikandra Bagh garden, but the bodies of the freedom fighters left to rot in the open. Rosie Llwellyn Jones in her book, The Great Uprising in India, 1857-58: Untold Stories, Indian and British, maintains that the Begum Kothi had a casualty figure of around 600 – 700 Indian freedom fighters, whose bodies were rolled into a ditch, which still lies under the traffic of present day Vidhan Sabha Marg. Actually, the number of dead amongst Indian freedom-fighters is hard to pin-point, since they were an irregular fighting force; hence no records of their presence or deaths are available. In short, they were faceless beings, who were simply obliterated off the face of the earth – no one knew who they were and or where they went. It is therefore no surprise that Lucknow has several famous haunts and stories of disembodied spirits roaming the killing fields of 1857 – 58, or otherwise. Some of these accounts, which have been published or narrated word-of-mouth, will now be re-told here.

A scary story was described by one Mr Sovan Banerjee as published in The Sunday Pioneer, 29th June 2003, about the haunting in Oel House, the former residence of the Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University. Oel House was originally the Kabootar Khana Kothi of Wajid Ali Shah, and was the scene of heavy fighting in 1857. Apparently a well in the compound of the kothi had been used to stuff the bodies of several dead British soldiers. The restless spirits of the dead continued to haunt the well and the house, and were finally raised because of the VC’s carriage driver’s teenage son, who had developed a nasty habit of throwing stones into the well, just to hear the faint wails emanating from it. The errant son was eventually possessed by the vengeful spirits, leading to his untimely death, although the then VC had tried to take appropriate steps to have the well exorcised.

The Statesman, Calcutta, had earlier published a story on 17th December, 1995, describing the haunting in the railway quarters in Lucknow by the vengeful ghost of a Bill Turner, Chief Engineer of the erstwhile Oudh Rohilcund Railways. This colonial house, nick-named “Turrets”, had been occupied by Turner, who had had a late marriage. Unfortunately, his young wife developed affection for a British army officer, and finding them in a compromising position one Christmas Eve, Bill shot them both, and later committed suicide. It is not known whether or not “Turrets” still exists in the present Railway Colony of Lucknow.

An endearing tale is related by Parveen Talha in her book, Fida-e-Lucknow, about the origins of Balrampur Hospital, the premises of which, was located in a plot of land originally belonging to the Residency. Along with the land also came several British graves, which remained hidden behind bushes, so as not to disturb the patients of the hospital. It so happened that a young Indian lady was admitted to the hospital one later winter night, suffering from severe appendicitis. By the time the surgeon reached the operation theater (those were the days without telephones), he had resigned himself to the fact that the patient might have died due to the delay. But he saw the patient being wheeled out, her operation already over!! The patient recovered in due course of time, but her operation was a mystery as no surgeon of the hospital had operated on her on that cold and wintry night. The nurses were unable to pin-point the mysterious surgeon who had conducted the operation since he had worn a surgical mask. It was no coincidence, however, that there were graves of two young British doctors adjoining the back wall of the hospital’s operation theatre.

(to be continued)

HAZRATGANJ – A PEEP INTO THE PAST

The Begum Kothi, 1858

The Begum Kothi, 1858

(A truncated version of this article appeared in the Lucknow Tribune on 12th August 2013)

Lucknow in the times of Asaf-ud-Daula was a medieval city, with magnificent Nawabi structures, interspersed with squalid habitations of the general populace. While the Nawabi buildings were concentrated along the Gomti and its environs, it cannot be said that the citizens of Lucknow had similar access to a reasonable civic infrastructure. In due course, Asaf-ud-Daula moved out from the medieval Machhi Bhavan fortress, to his Daulat Khana complex, which consisted of a series of palaces, few of which are extant today. He, of course, was responsible for the immense Bada Imambara complex, which consisted of the renowned Imambara, the Asafi Masjid and the Shahi Baoli Palace, together with the Rumi Darwaza. His successor, Wazir Ali, had short innings, and ultimately, it was Asaf-ud-Daula’s half brother, Saadat Ali Khan, who was coerced by the British, to occupy the Oudh masnad, as the next Nawab Vazir.

The Nawabi Period

Saadat Ali Khan had spent his youth in Calcutta; he was thoroughly westernized, with a sincere admiration for Colonial architecture and town planning. One of his first appointments was that of Sir Gore Ouseley as his aid-de-camp, under advice from the British Resident. It was Ouseley who conceptualized the Dilkusha kothi for the Nawab; the kothi was inspired by Seaton Delaval, a country house in Northumberland, England. Possibly based on his experience with Calcutta’s Chowringhee, Saadat Ali realized that a proper arterial road was necessary for his capital city. Without disturbing the older buildings, this new road would cut across the city and connect Dilkusha to the recently re-located Residency. This arterial road was to form the nucleus of the Hazratganj we know today. It was an ambitious and far-sighted project.

Historical accounts of this new road of Saadat Ali state that there had been two impressive gateways at its two extremities, with markets at right angles of the road, and a chowk or crossing in the middle. Adjacent to the new road were the cruciform Chaupar stables on the north side and the Shifa Khana (Darul Shafa) on the southern side. No details or photographs available on the physical appearance or even exact location of these two gates. Perhaps they resembled the Rumi Darwaza; perhaps they resembled the later-to-be-constructed Hussainabad Gateway of Mohammed Ali Shah. The Gates were reported to have had a Grecian front on one side and a Moorish one on the other. Today, we can only conjecture about these magnificent gateways, now lost forever.

It is often conjectured by the un-initiated that the name “Hazratganj” is in honor of Begum Hazrat Mahal, for her contribution to the Uprising in 1857. This is far from the truth. In fact, Ghazi-ud-Din Haidar and his son Nasir-ud-Din Haidar concentrated their energies on the Bada and Chota Chattar Manzils – the ambitious road of Saadat Ali Khan terminating abruptly at these palaces, instead of reaching the Residency. Under the rule of Amjad Ali Shah however, there were significant developments, including the establishment of a grain market in the area. (Incidentally, Amjad Ali’s Chief Minister, Amin-ud-Daulah, is credited for having founded the Aminabad market).

Amjad Ali Shah was also responsible for building the Sibtainabad Imambara (popularly known as Maqbara nowadays). Due to his pious nature, he was commonly known as Hazrat. In all probability, the name, “Hazratganj” came to be adopted after Amjad Ali was buried in the Sibtainabad Imambara, after his death. Amjad Ali had also erected the massive Begum Kothi for his first wife, Malka Ahad in this area. The Begum Kothi was an immense complex, comprising of many palaces, a mosque, tombs, imambaras etc., and stretched right up to the Sibtainabad Imambara. With the ascent of Wajid Ali Shah, Nawabi building activity was at its prime; in the tradition of his predecessors, he abandoned the palaces occupied by his ancestors, and built a magnificent palace complex called Kaisarbagh or Caesar’s Garden. He, however, took special care for the care and maintenance of his father’s mausoleum in the Sibtainabad Imambara at Hazratganj.

The Uprising and its Aftermath

During 1857 – 58, Hazratganj stretched right from the Begum Kothi, and if we go further east, till the Kothi Hayat Baksh (now Governor’s House). It did not extend till the Dilkusha, however. In the west, it extended upto the Chattar Manzil complex, where it was cut short, instead of proceeding straight to the Residency. Hence it was only an abbreviated version of Saadat Ali’s road. The Begum Kothi itself extended till the Sibtainabad Imambara, which occupied the area followed by the Kothi Nur Baksh (present DM’s bungalow), then the Cheeni Bazar (today’s China Gate).

On the opposite end, the first important building that one encountered after the Chattar Manzil complex was the Taron Wali Kothi (present day SBI) with the Khurshid Manzil (now La Martiniere School for Girls) and Moti Mahal behind it. Further east would be the Ainon Wali Kothi (present day Hindi Sansthan), followed by the Kankar Wali Kothi (present day Post Master General’s Office, Habibullah Estate and Halwasiya Court). This would have been contiguous with the Chaupar stables (today’s Lawrence Terrace and Lucknow Club).

The Kankar Wali Kothi, 1870

The Kankar Wali Kothi, 1870

After the British took control in 1858, they cut large swathes across the city, smashing through palaces, gateways and natives’ quarters alike, under the supervision of Colonel Robert Napier of the Bengal Engineers, who had earlier carried out a similar exercise in Old Delhi. Palaces, kothis, even royal gardens, or “enemy property” were declared as nazul, and taken over by the British for themselves, or simply sold / auctioned off at throwaway prices. For example, Badshah Bagh (now Lucknow University), which has been laid at the cost of Rs 53 lakhs, during the times of Nasir-ud-Din Haidar, was auctioned off for Rs 35,000/= . It was indeed a sorry state of affairs and a black period in the history of Lucknow. In the Hazratganj area, the ire of the British was naturally directed against the Begum Kothi, where they had suffered maximum casualties. The boundary walls of the Kothi were demolished; the main building of the Kothi started functioning as a post office and the Kothi Inayat Sultan within the complex, was bought by Munshi Nawal Kishore for establishing the offices of his publishing empire. Nawal Kishore also built his own house in main Hazratganj. This building, with a clock tower, now houses the premises of the Central Bank of India. The Chaupar stables were demolished, to make way for low-cost housing for Anglo-Indians (Lawrence Terrace). One arm of the Chaupar, however, survived as the Lucknow Club, maintained by the British for their non-gazetted officers. A new road started from the Gomti, cutting across Sikandra Bagh (now part of NBRI). This road, christened as Outram Road (now Ashok Marg), continued as Abbot Road (now Vidhan Sabha Marg), which cut across the Begum Kothi compound. New roads viz. the Lawrence Road (now Nawal Kishore Road) and Oliver Road (now Sapru Marg) were laid parallel to main Hazratganj.

The Anglican Church (now Christ Church) was consecrated in 1860, in the memory of fallen British soldiers in the 1857 insurrection. The St. Joseph’s Church was built in 1862, which later metamorphosed into the great St. Joseph’s Cathedral we know today. A portion of the Begum Kothi compound made way for the offices of the Oudh Rohilkhand Railways (now DRM, Northern Railway’s Office) in 1862. The outer boundary walls of the Sibtainabad Imambara, had been earlier razed to the ground, to make the area more accessible, as well as to establish shops and housing units for Anglo-Indian families. In 1871, the Commissioner circulated a blue-print for the design and layout future shops to be built in Hazratganj, which was being gradually built in the form of a Civil Lines. Hazratganj was to be a commercial hub, on the ruins and remnants of old kothis and palaces, which had earlier lined the road. In effect, the British had actually revived the arterial road laid earlier by Saadat Ali Khan, when they cut across the Chattar Manzils, so that Dilkusha and the erstwhile Residency were once again connected directly. It was an irony of sorts.

(to be continued)

PERIPATETIC SOJOURNS II: OF BOOKS, COMICS AND CITIES

With a hunger for books (and Phantom comics) since my childhood, developed by the likes of Hobby Corner, Soochna Kendra and British Library, Lucknow, my fascination for the printed stuff, with its delicious aroma and ability to take me off to far-off places and times, continued in later life too. But priorities changed, cities changed, availabilities changed. So let me describe my experiences in some other cities of India. It may serve as a guide to book-lovers who visit these places at some point of time. Of course, since my ramblings are spread over a considerable period of time, it’s possible that the places / availability I describe no longer exist presently. And of course, other, better outlets may also exist. I describe my own experiences.. not a Google Directions search. The focus is mainly on second-hand books.

Lucknow: Other than the outlets being discussed all the time, a pavement seller in the Central Bank Building, Hazratganj, and a shack in the Capitol Building do keep gems sometimes. Once I picked up a huge lot of comics from the CBI Building seller.

Delhi: The much publicized Daryaganj Sunday market is a haven, but one should have the patience, dedication and money to squander in here. Booklovers swoop in early, and grab their poison, even while the sellers are opening their gunny bags and cartons. The stuff displayed on the pavement later on, is for the not-so-well-informed or connected. By connection, I mean readers have their connections with the sellers, and much stuff does not reach the pavement at all, being ‘reserved’ for a particular long-time customer. Other than this, a pavement kiosk in Janpath Market (surrounded by sellers of counterfeit jeans and tees) is recommended. The rounded all-glass shop, opp. Indian Oil Bhavan, Janpath, is also good. It used to be better in the past. Pavement book sellers in Parliament Street (Regal Building), CP, were uprooted sometime ago. They were a good option.

Calcutta (Kolkata): Another much publicized, overrated market is College Street. More of college books, less of light reading, unhealthy bargaining and a not-so-very pleasant experience. Language issues might be there (not for me though), for non-Bengali speaking customers. More gems can be found in New Market area, especially Mirza Ghalib Street (Free School Street). Area opposite Jadavpur University gate also has good bookshops.

Madras (Chennai): Not many options. Mount Road (Anna Salai) had some good pavement sellers. These have been mostly uprooted now. Try Parry’s area. I have been informed that Poonamallee High Road has some interesting bookshops, but I have no personal experience.

Bangalore (Bengaluru): Explore MG Road / Brigade Road area. The famous Higgenbotham exists here. Book World in Kemp Gowda Road is awesome (for new books only). Upparpet is a good bet.

Bombay (Mumbai): The pavement booksellers in and around Flora Fountain (Kala Ghoda) and Fort have been dispersed long ago. But they re-appear with amazing persistence. Mahim is a good bet, but one has to ask around. Other areas of promise include Kalba Devi, Bandra and Andheri (W). Being huge areas, better get your logistics clear before-hand before venturing forth. King’s Circle, Matunga is dotted with booksellers, selling books and magazines from footpaths and tiny shacks.

Hyderabad: A second hand book market is permanently located near the boundary wall of the Osmania Medical College at Koti. Walk down the entire Abid’s Road, and you will come across makeshift shops selling second hand books in kiosks, pavements etc. Turn towards Koti (via Troop Bazaar), and explore Koti area. There is a Sunday book market at Abid’s, or so I have been informed. But I have not explored it in person.

Poona (Pune): Manney’s (Clover Center, Camp), is a traditional-type book store in Pune. Shivaji Nagar Market has books sellers operating from pavements and shacks.

Chandigarh: There used to be a vast second-hand book market opposite the Punjab University Gate, but I am not sure whether it still exists or not.

Allahabad: There used to be a Universal Book Shop in Civil Lines area, but its been eons since I last went there. Old Chowk area also used to have hole-in-the-wall bookshops, but again, I am out of touch with that area.

Nainital: There is a second hand bookshop mid-way in Mall Road, which has a rather good collection, if a somewhat cynical attitude. I don’t blame the shopkeeper though, perhaps tourists of all hues walking in and bargaining, without buying anything has made him this way. But I could be wrong.. perhaps he was born that way..

Nagpur: Explore the vast Seeta Berdi area. If you are lucky, you may come across something of interest. Ambazari is another good bet.

Ranchi: There are several bookshops down the entire stretch of Main Road (MG Road), from Firayalal Chowk to Sujata Chowk, including the now tottering: Good Books. There was a time when Good Books was a favorite of the ho-polloi of the city. A hole-in-the-wall shop, behind Urdu Library, Main Road, has an impressive collection of old books and comics. An impressive second hand book market starts from Karbala Chowk (the Muslim quarter) and ends near Albert College, a Christian seminary. This market proudly boasts of a huge range of college books, engineering and medical text books, fiction, and comics. Pretty impressive, if one can ignore the sordid surroundings.

To conclude..

A second-hand Bookshop

The sunlight filters through the panes
Of book-shop windows, pockmarked grey
By years of grimy city rains,
And falls in mild, dust-laden ray
Across the stock, in shelf and stack,
Of this old bookshop-man who brought,
To a shabby shop in a cul-de-sac,
Three hundred years of print and thought.
Like a cloak hangs the bookshop smell,
Soothing, unique and reminding:
The book-collector knows its spell,
Subtle hints of books and binding
In the fine, black bookshop dust
Paper, printer’s-ink and leather,
Binder’s-glue and paper-rust
And time, all mixed together.
`Blake’s Poems, Sir-ah, yes, I know,
Bohn did it in the old black binding,
In ’83.’ Then shuffles slow
To scan his shelves, intent on finding
This book of songs he has not heard,
With that deaf searcher’s hopeful frown
Who knows the nightingale a bird
With feathers grey and reddish-brown.

– John Arlott
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