Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lucknow and imbibing secular values: Vinod Mehta turns nostalgic, recalls his association with the City

Eminent journalist Vinod Mehta has written quite a long piece in the Outlook, fondly reminiscing the Lucknow of yore.

Titled 'How I became a pseudo-secularist', the Outlook Editor recounts his childhood and youths in the City of Nawabs.

He writes about 'Kazim and Co' and its owner Nasir. 'Nothing exemplifies the clash of civilisations better than what happened to Kazim and Co.

It will come as no surprise that Kazim and Co soon closed down as customers began drifting away to the neon-lit establishments of the Sikhs and the Sindhis who had come as refugees after partition.

However, Nasir went down honourably: he did not put up a fight.' Safdar, who survived on his wits., knew the family history of every person worth knowing in the city, was intimately familiar with the geography of the entire town, a self-styled poet and patron of the arts, he carried both delicate and indelicate romantic messages efficiently, frequently adding his own masala.

He could fix an appointment with any minister, he had a solution to every problem. Safdar died tragically on the street in Hazratganj. Or Giani Bhai, the magnificent wise and gentle Sikh who looking at the crass commercialisation of Lucknow courtesy the refugees, had sighed: "Saale Sardaron ne Lucknow ko tabaah kar diya [These Sikhs have destroyed Lucknow].

Mehta writes about the psychological blow to Muslims in Lucknow after partition and the loss of land holding which resulted in situation:

One of the most poignant and instructive sights in post-Partition Lucknow was to watch an entire class on the run. They had nowhere to go. As a result, they withdrew further and further inwards, locking themselves up in their crumbling mansions, fearful of the outside world.

To survive they did the only thing they could: they sold their heritage. Cars, land, chandeliers, paintings, old books, havelis and furniture. Some asked possible buyers to come after dark because it was too shaming to sell during daylight hours.

But the most important part of the story is how Mehta got his first lessons in secularism. 'Lucknow bestowed on me one invaluable gift. It taught me to look at the human being rather than his religion or his caste or the colour of his skin.

My so-called pseudo-secularism, which I wear as a badge of honour, comes directly from the experiences and the environment of my early years—years which shaped my personality and character. 'Call it serendipity, but at La Martiniere I made a wonderful chance finding. I located three chums—two Muslim, one Hindu. 

That made us two Muslim and two Hindu. This politically correct, equal opportunity co-mingling of faiths had a profound social, cultural and intellectual impact on me besides providing space for copious and sustained laughter. So the bottomline is that nothing is more vital than inter-religious interactions.

You may be emerge a leftist, a rightist, a secular or a pseudo-secular but the friendships override every other thing. If you have close friends belonging to the other communities, this softens you up even if you are in RSS or in Jamaat-e-Islami.

Some of the most communal leaders, manage to speak in abusive language towards other community because they hardly had any social interaction with members of the other religious community. Ghettoisation is a big problem.

Unlike 30-40 years ago, our Cities are now more divided. But this shouldn't stop us from reaching out to the other communities and discovering the joy of friendship. Here you can read the Article Online. Mehta's book 'Shaam-e-Awadh Writings on Lucknow' has been edited by Veeenta Talwar and published by Penguin.