Volume: 9, No: 11 ; November-2015
Chowk and Nakkhas have many a splendid tale to tell some old one and some new ones. There are many who survive even today, willing to recall the former glory of this area which was indeed colourful. This used to be a big time entertainment and food district. Food continues to be its mainstay and shopping too.
Interestingly, in the former days, the sons of wealthy families were sent to Chowk, to the kothas, salons of courtesans, to learn the art of civilized social behaviour from experienced tawaifs. There was a category called dereydar tawaif, who was at the top of the hierarchy – a woman who was kept by one man and was not available to anyone else during the contracted period.
It is rumoured that a liaison between one such wealthy scion and a tawaif called Mushtari Bai in Faizabad produced the beautiful Akhtar whose unique style of singing and magnetic personality created a huge fan following. At one point in time, Begum Akhtar’s generous patron gave her a house, which was right next to the house of the person who was telling us this story. He whispered, “He even gave her a huge Packard car, a gold paandaan (betel nut box) and a large diamond nose stud. This was some time in the early ‘40s.”
The kotha tradition began to die out after the Zamindari Abolition Act of 1953 brought to an end the last phase of this dying culture. Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan is a depiction of this social institution.
The ravages of time have left its mark on Chowk, the oldest street of Lucknow and a major market, but a walk through the street is still a memorable experience because of the series of unfolding scenes. The rhythm of hammers beating silver into paper to make warq (Edible Silver Foil), shoppers lingering at attar shops, bargains taking place for the best of chikankari work, the aroma of roasting meat at a kebab shop, driving one insane.
Through the lanes and by-lanes of Chowk one glimpses of old Lucknow. The tehzeeb or mannerism is still prominent and a topic of great appreciation. This is a city that continues to speak the language of aap-janab and the dictum of pehle aap (After you) is still a part of everyday life for a true Lucknavi.
Aadaab, the salutation has its own sophistication and style. The beauty and popularity of chikan – the intricate and delicate hand embroidery, still rules and you see many wearing clothes embellished with chikankari. Lucknow is in fact among the few cities that truly understand the grace of the dupatta which is worn so elegantly. All this and more you see in the crowded Chowk area.
Chowk offers you famous Tunday-Mian-ke-kebab, the eatery which serves just thesegalawati kebabs. The place is now in its fourth generation and still as popular. The other legendary name on the block is Ram Asrey. You have to enter a very narrow lane to reach this shop, and nobody leaves town before buying Ram Asrey’s malai paan and lal peda. The proprietor told us that it was from his shop that special sweets went to Jawaharlal Nehru’s house in Delhi. Even Indira
Gandhi used to like their mithais, he added. We have no reason to disbelieve him. We tasted quite a few of his special sweets and found them to be outstanding.
Situated in the Ram Asrey lane is also another unique shop selling what looks like coloured powder. This is used by the locals to colour their clothes. In boiling hot water, they dissolve some of this powder and the clothes to be coloured. This man must probably be the most photographed man on the street. His USP is also the ancient ‘fish’ weighing scale he uses.
There is food galore at Chowk at every step of the way. At Gol Darwaza, there is nimish, flavoured by the early morning dew. It is like swallowing a tiny, fragrant, piece of fluffy cloud. Opposite, is another tiny shop selling gajak, rewdi and petha. And next door, is the shop selling the best samosas on the block along with jalebis being fried day and night. There is also the well-known lassiwala–Shri Lassi Centre.
Nowhere in Asia will you find a city so in tune with its culinary sense! The food culture of Lucknow truly has no parallel at all and this is very apparent when you visit the old parts of town.
As for shopping at Chowk, the main concentration of chikan work is to be found here. Besides chikan work you can also buy zardozi and kamdani work. These hand embroideries with gold and silver thread are done on sarees, dupattas, lehengas, cholis, caps, shoes etc. From time immemorial, Lucknow has been known for its jewellery, gold and silver.
Exquisite silverware like bowls, tea-sets, salt cellars with patterns of hunting scenes, snakes and roses are very popular. The bidri and zarbuland silver work of Lucknow find expression on excellent pieces of hookah farshi, jewel boxes, trays, bowls, cuff-links, cigarette holders, etc. Then there is attar, the perfume introduced in India by the Muslims.
From the 19th century, the Lucknow perfume makers experimented and succeeded in making attar with delicate and lasting fragrances. They created these from various aromatic herbs, spices, sandal oil, musk essence of flowers, and leaves. The famous Luckhnavi fragrances are khus, keora, chameli, zaffran and agar.
Another craft that has reached a high level of artistry in Lucknow is kite making. Although kite making is popular throughout India, this activity attained perfection only in Lucknow. Under Nawabi patronage this form of art flourished and different types of kites and flying strings were developed. Besides these, craft like gota weaving, dyeing and calico printing, silver varq making, woodworks and tazia making are also outstanding. Beautiful tazias of zari, gold and silver paper are made by master craftsman to mark the solemn occasion of Moharram. Lucknow is a shopper’s paradise.
Through Chowk, past Akbari Gate, the road leads to Nakhas. It was a wide avenue in Old Lucknow, once famous for its elegant town houses. Families residing here were so wealthy, they loaned money to the Nawabs and rajas of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. They did not count money – they weighed it.
There were houses where the kitchen area consisted of several rooms having their owndaalaan (courtyard). The spread on the dastarkhwan which would be called a banquet in any other town was only an intimate dinner for 10 or 15 close friends. Dessert changed with the seasons – Andarsey ki goli in the monsoon and lawki ka lachcha in summer. In summer sherbets made of khus, gulab or kewra essence whipped into cold, sweetened milk would be served all day long, by retainers.
Today, it is a crowded, jostling place where colourful glass bangles, quixotic junk on pavements and exotic birds locked in cages are sold – pigeons and ‘fighting cocks’. While cock fights are now banned, the antiques bazaar still continues to flourish.
LUCKNOWLEDGE is an initiative by Tornos. We do not intend to intrude your privacy and thus have an automated UNSUBSCRIBE system. At any point you may unsubscribe to our e-column or subscribe to it again through a link on our website. The above article is shared and in no way intends to violate any copy right or intellectual rights that always remains with the writer/publisher. This e-column is a platform to share an article/event/update with the netizens and educate them about Destination Lucknow.