Published in the Indian Express 2006, the article takes the reader to ‘Regiment Bazaar’ in Lucknow Cantt
Huddled a kilometer away from the Army Public School in Lucknow cantonment, is “The Regiment Bazaar”, recently rechristened as the “V C Bazaar”, the “Veterinary Corps Bazaar”. The name is attributed to the regiments that were based in the area. A little further is “Topkhaana Bazaar” which is now called “RA Bazaar”, or the “Royal Artillery Bazaar”, home to the royal gunners. Another little settlement on the Rae Bareilley road is referred to as “Laal Kurti”, deriving its name from the red cavalry uniform of the British soldiers that resided there.
The cantt bazaars are home to some of the oldest shops in Lucknow, “We’ve been living here since 1885, we’ve seen regiments come and go but it’s the British ones we remember the most,” says Ganesh Gupta. His brother Dinesh and he own the local sweethouse in regiment bazaar. “This lane used to be called Johari lane and was lined with neat shops, there was a cycle shop here, some goldsmiths there and right opposite our shop was where the barber ‘Bauu’, Qasim Ali used to have his shop”, points Dinesh. The lane now is lined with houses, Bittu, a housewife feeding her cows says, “the old people have all re-settled now. Jangat Khan, who had a shop around this corner left with his family for Pakistan. Lalla Madan Lal, has been here since the British times, his ration shop is more than sixty years old.”
Remembering the days when the British soldiers would come to their sweetshop, “We used to have three servants who would attend to the shop. One sold milk. The other sold sweets and the third would guard the shop, the soldiers were a rowdy bunch, they never paid for what they ate!” laughs Ganesh, who was in school at the time. His father Mahadevi Lal and great grandfather were the most famous halwayyis in the area. “The British soldiers were extremely fond of our dudhiyaa barfi, that was a very milky and sweet mithai, we’d sell kilos everyday!” remembers the halwayyi. It’s been five years since the Guptas decided that a sweetshop wasn’t enough. “We started our PCO, it’s the only one in the bazaar. People don’t buy sweets everyday! The dudhiyaa barfi isn’t even made anymore”, Dinesh replies.
Around the corner Manvir Singh, the local rickshaw puller is drinking his third cup of tea. With his worn out green cap, titled to the left, the sixty six year old cheerfully remembers how colorful these streets once were, “The Britishers would walk down here and always create some chaos, I was a little boy at the time and my father was a hawaldar in the Police.” He pulls out his ration card to show a picture of himself clean shaved. “The most popular shop here other than the Gupta sweethouse is the barber’s, Gore-Nawab urf Usmaan Ali.” His brother Bauu urf Qasim Ali, was famous for shaving the British soldiers beards at 4:00 a.m. while they were half asleep. He did it with such precision that the sleepy British soldier wouldn’t even notice he was done!
Gore Nawab, who is eighty years old, sits in his yellow tarpaulin roof with two ancient wooden chairs, a basin that is fifty five years old. “Earlier, the troops would come to have their hair cut and for a shave at 4:00 a.m. before their parade, but these days, the soldiers come after their parade at 6:30 a.m.”, states the barber who earned his ‘Gore Nawab’ title because he shaved the British soldiers. “I had to shift from the salon as we didn’t have enough money to pay the rent, I don’t have many customers these days… young men prefer long hair and styles that I don’t know or want to give!” he exclaims.
Looking at the empty lane, Gore Nawab, says, “Iss 70 saal ki yojana ke hum bhaagi hain…” He sits waiting for customers that don’t come anymore, staring at a lane that isn’t crowded with red cavalry jackets and boisterous soldiers eating fresh barfis from the Gupta sweethouse.