When S suggested a few weeks ago that we plan a trip to Lucknow, I balked. Who goes to Lucknow? (Ok...am not quoting any facts or anything here...I am sure lots of tourists go to Lucknow, but nobody I know has ever gone there on a holiday. Except all of my relatives I think, who visited when we lived there for a few years back in the 80s).
Anyway, I don't like to revisit places that I've been to already. Life is way too short for that. The only and most honourable exception would be New Zealand (and I have a 10 year visa - yaaay!!). S insisted. "But there must be many places to see in Lucknow." Sure, there are. There's the Bada and Chota Imambaras. There's the British Residency. Oh wait, there's also Kukrail Reserve forest which has the Kukrail Ghariyal Conservation Center, of particular interest now that Ads has dived deep into Crocodilians. There's shopping, especially for exquisite Chikanari work. There's pigging on aloo tikkis at Hazratganj market, though I wasn't sure my stomach could take it now.
Come to think of it, I had very distinct memories associated with Lucknow. We moved there when I was around 9, the age from which onwards my memories of places, people and events is reasonably sharp. I remember many of my teachers in the two schools I studied in those three years. I remember being in 7th grade and begging my parents for a bicycle to ride to school, which they bought without a fuss. I remember being horribly embarrased when my dad deputed his peon/attendant from the bank to accompany me every single day to school. Guddu would follow me on his cycle as I meandered through roads broad and narrow to reach my school. At the age of 11-12, it was mortifying to have a bodyguard! Looking back though, I am amazed at my parents' guts in sending me to school like that. I wouldn't do it with Ads or Y! Perhaps the world was a better safer place then?
It did not seem that way in 1984 when Indira Gandhi was assassinated and the anti-Sikh riots broke out. I remember being shut up at home, being acutely and miserably aware that it was rioting outside, and that people were being beaten and killed outside on the streets. I am sure my parents were extremely tense. Armed mobs were barging into every house, demanding to know whether the families inside were harbouring any Sikhs. Amma told me to open my diary and write Sri Ramajayam as many times as I could. It was a smart way to distract a frightened child - I wrote pages! I can't imagine how I would handle a similar situation without losing my head completely.
My happiest memory of Lucknow is án incident which I doubt my parents will even remember. Even if they did, they would not imagine that it figures as one of my happiest memories ever. Strange isn't it? I often wonder what my childrens' happiest and saddest moments so far would be. Is it what I think they are or is it something else entirely, which I had paid scant attenton to? My father had been travelling. I think he had been to Calcutta and perhaps he had been to the Calcutta Book Fair. It's hard to be sure. Anyway, he had picked up something for both me and my brother (I think it was a gift for my having stood 1st in the final exam - something like that anyway), and my parents decided that it would be a nice touch to give me a surprise. One of them shaded my eyes with their hands. That gesture in itself was a dramatic flourish quite uncharacteristic of them! I can even now hear my mother's voice saying "Look at her face." They uncovered my eyes and what do I see - a brand new omnibus of the entire short stories of Sherlock Holmes. I was thrilled, overwhelmed, over the moon! a) I loved reading. b) I had recently got hooked on Sherlock Holmes. c) One did not get fat and obviously expensive books every day. And both mom and dad were grinning away, their pleasure magnified by my gratifyingly surprised and ecstatic reaction.
That book (I still have it) has given me hours of reading pleasure to the extent that it is sadly dog-eared, frayed and almost falling apart now. I keep meaning to get it bound now but have not got around to it yet. There have been many books gifted to me after that, but this one gift will remain really special.
Lucknow sure has some strong associations in my mind! We are going there soon and I am sure it has changed beyond recognition. We'll go look at my old school. We will go to Kukrail where we had so many picnics. I'll shop for chikan. Maybe, just maybe, I'll see or smell something that will bring back more memories!