Lucknow: Fire of Grace is the first, full-length, historical and contemporary narrative account of one of the most fascinating cities in the Indian subcontinent and covers a time span of more than 250 years, from 1722 till the present day.
At a time when the Mughal Empire was breaking down and British hegemony was not yet established, a wazirdari arose in the Mughal suba of Avadh which later developed into a kingdom. Led by Mughal officers and adventurers of Persian origin, this wazirdari marked a break in world culture. Symbolising the iron-and-rose gesture of Asiatic capitalism, it guided the Indo-Persian impulse of Empire building, n operation since 1206, a revolutionary culmination. Combining power, aristocracy, grace , freedom , science, subterfuge and stule an Indian modern secular renaissance, a Ganga-Yamuna itehzeeb arose from the depths of a fierce Thakur-Brahimin-Sheikh-Sayyid-Mughal-Pathan-Ahir-Pasi society. Ram, mohammed, Krishna, Ali, Akbar, Tulsida and Wajid Ali Shah become one . Avadh was last kingdom to be annexed in 1856 and Lucknow offered the fiercest resistance to the British in 1857 . The city was destroyed in the aftermath of the great revolt as it presented a gestural, political, economic and alternative modernity. Despite paying lip service, the India of Gandhi and Nehru moved away from its legacy. The living symbols of the past were allowed to die down. 6 December 1992 appeared as the final blow. But Lucknow is do not wallow in an existential crisis. Beaten in many ways , they are still stoically defiant about their achievements.
The book gives a mnemonic shock as it redefines the Indo-Persian, Lucknowi way of beauty, politics , cuisine , Fashin, architecture, money –making, sensation , “ada”, ‘Zeban’, honour and culture as authentic indianess –in opposition to Hindutva, Jinnah’s two –nation theory, and Nehruvian ‘pseudo’ – anglicized secularism. In the light of Indian society’s contemporary crisis, brought upon by external pressures and internal backwardness, this is also showcased as the way to a new future where a modern national character speaks the language of hard-boiled Hindustani passion and ideas, and gathers courage, one again , to shake the world.
Amaresh Mishra is a freelance writer, historian and poet and has a PhD in Modern History from Allahabad University. He is a political columnist for the Economic and Political Weekly of India and contributes regularly to the Times of India. The contemporary photographs featured in this book are by Ravi Kapoor, a prominent photo artiste of Lucknow with a special interest in architecture and heritage.
Right from colonial times, the privilege of shaping India's destiny was grabbed by the giant port cities. Norms of progress and civilisation were set by them even after the end of the British rule. For decades Calcutta remained, as of now, the quintessential city of the Indian 'renaissance'. Similarly, Bombay, now Mumbai, carried the caste mark of an Indian city of wealth, opportunity and 'gold'. Situated at the far end of the peninsula, Madras, now Chennai, seemed to combine a provincial reproduction of the two. She led the laid back intellectual ambience of the East and the dynamism of the West into the passionate embrace of an ancient, regional impulse. The urban landscape of India mushroomed within the east- west-south triangle formed by these sites. Economic growth, middle class formation, modern values were seen, first, to take shape in their environs. The LA, Paris, Milan of India, they mirrored, in native eyes, images of a Western culture ascendant in South Asia at least from the latter part of the last century.
But there is something more to India, perhaps a paradox, manifest in the wide chasm between the apparent and the real. Logically, the metros ought to. constitute the mainstream in politics, culture and social life. Influences emanating from their portals should have set the tone of contemporary happenings. And yet, this has not been so. The region which defines the socio-political agenda of the country is located further up north. Stamped forcefully on the heart of India, it is better known as the Hindi-Urdu belt of the Indian subcontinent. Comprising, roughly, the four states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, • Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, this area has traditionally formed a solid, turmoil ridden bastion of the status quo.
Known in common parlance as Hindustan, it provided an indivisible cultural-political identity to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of Afghanistan before the onset of British rule. A zone of power, the Hindi-Urdu belt provided, in the medieval as well as the ancient past, the fertility, resource of men and material and the socio-political context to sustain major Empires. British power consolidated only after a series of conquests and re-conquests of the area from 1764 to 1858. Anti-British nationalism of the twentieth century became a political threat only when it reached the Hindi-Urdu heartland. And for decades after independence, Indian political elites drew their mandate to govern the country from its Indo-Genetic core of Uttar Pradesh. Recently, a battle for caste based reservations and 'social justice' in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar raised the issue of status quo change at the national level. Around the same time, the demolition of a medieval mosque by right-wing Hindu groups focussed world attention on South Asia.
The incident came close to toppling the constitutional regime in India and took place at Ajodhya, just a few miles from the medium sized city of Lucknow, the present capital of Uttar Pradesh. The~ very fact that it held the vaziriet of Uttar Pradesh for over fifty years, running back to the time of the United Provinces of British India, makes Lucknow the next most important political centre of the north after Delhi. But the city's historical identification has been with something different: for generations it has occupied a pre-eminent position as the cultural capital of north Indian society. The Urdu language acquired its baffling vazan, phonetic nuances and suave perfection in Lucknow. Here the most recent, and arguably the most advanced, of all the classical Indian dance forms, the Kathak, took shape. The origins of the mass popular Parsi theatre, whose basic structure was taken over by Hindi films in the twentieth century, are traced to the Urdu theatre of Lucknow, as also modern innovations in musical instruments like the table and the sitar. Inadvertently, Lucknow is the land savoirvivre: the place where indigenous. etiquette and manners were' sculpted in baroque. It is also, surprisingly, the den of savoir /aire.Bred on a mixture of tact, responsibility and polish, the 'pehle aap' tehzeeb of the city once startled the conventionally minded. It reflected the competitive ideal of the Indo-Persian gentleman vis-a-vis his European rival: a person steeped in refined manners, unassuming sophistication, love for poetry, ideas, wit and letters, but equally well versed in subterfuge, valour, scepticism, spunk, style, wanderlust, and the Asiatic gesture of' emotional power'. The ideal was once the preserve of all sections of the society. But even after the cultural inroads of British colo- nialism, it surpassed sectarian loyalties-to spruce up the elite corners of Muslims, Hindus, 'Sikhs and Christians across the subcontinent. Lucknow's richest spoil, however, is its 'composite culture': that cultural strain which, for centuries, welded together diverse com- munities, religions, ways of life and thought to finally showcase an idea and praxis of 'Indianness'. Ironically, the concept of composite harmony, projected by Indian ruling elites as the basis of national unity and secular temper, found an echo in the Indo-Gangetic plain, a perceived centre of religious discord.
The 'Indo-Persian' legacy of the area, nurtured by centuries of Mughal and the earlier Delhi Sultanate rule, embodied the cosmo- politan face of 'composite culture'. Uniting elements drawn from the high society of West Asia to the folk culture of the Indo- Gangetic plain, from Perso-Arabic legends to Hindu mythology, it produced an entirely new, turbulent and awe-inspiring synthesis. The cultural movement of the new ruling classes unleashed a grand experiment of social engineering and change which displaced old forces. Radical humanist ideas were encouraged introducing the day of enterprising individuals, suppressed social forces and women. A professional-entrepreneurial ethic combined Islamic-Turkish-Af- ghan-Mughal traditions with living Brahmin-Rajput-Vaishya-Shudra conventions, and the Arthashastrian-Mauryan-Gupta etymology of secular, ancient India, to transform social values. Landmark achievements in accountancy, medicine, astronomy, astrology, chemistry, mathematics, political science and philosophy altered, for good, the normative picture of Hindustan.
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