Volume: 9, No: 12 ; December-2015
Hazratganj, the street of the respectable, refers to a part of a central vista which runs from the bungalows of the senior bureaucrats of the Secretariat (now housing the ministers) at one end, and Lucknow University and the Isabella Thobourn College, a prestigious women’s college, at the other. On one side of this avenue, nearly a kilometer from the Governor’s house is the General Post Office, a stately building of white cement with a clock tower. On the other side is the Allahabad Bank, one of the oldest buildings of this part of the city. This area had been created as posh shopping centre by the British.
The limits of Hazratganj in those days extended from the Capital Cinema directly facing the GPO to the Mayfair Cinema and the Lucknow Cathedral. There was no Halwasiya Market then as that building was constructed only in the fifties. There was also a huge life like statue of King George VI in a park facing the GPO building, which was removed in sixties due to a country wide movement led by Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, a socialite.
At the time that British glory was at its peak, Hazratganj was off limits to Indians. At certain hours of the evening, they were not allowed to enter the street. In case they did, they could only walk along a lane parallel to the main street. However, this ban could not have been continued for long. As a child growing up in Lucknow not far from Hazratganj, I have vivid memories of the celebrations marking the victory of the Allied forces in the Second World War. Huge crowds flocked to Hazratganj and greeted the British soldiers passing through the street. They were surrounded and cheered by crowds and could only make quick escape by tossing chewing gum to the crowd.
Lucknow had also a small population of Anglo-Indians and Indian Christians, most of who lived in Hazratganj. The Anglo-Indians were largely dependent on the administration and worked as guards, drivers and ticket collectors in the railways. Their women worked as nurses or as secretarial assistants in the government offices. Their interaction with Indians was extremely limited. They usually kept to themselves or associated with British officials, with whom they identified closely.
These Anglo-Indians had a visible presence in Hazratganj during the days of British and for sometime thereafter. The men, in dark suits, and bow-ties and girl dressed in flimsy blouses and dark skirts, converged daily on Hazratganj and paraded up and down the street demonstrating their somewhat stand-offish attitude towards Indians. Apart from the Railway Club close to Charbagh Railway Station, the Lucknow Club closely was their principal meeting points. After the British left, the Anglo-Indian were taunted and blood for their earlier stand-offish attitude and their proclivity to consider themselves the natural heirs and successors to the British. Gradually they stopped visiting Hazratganj. Many eventually left for England.
In 1947 departure of the British was accompanied by partition holocaust and the large -scale migration of Punjabi, Sindhi and Sikh refugees. Lucknow enjoyed a reputation as a city where peace prevailed even during the worst post partition violence and rioting. A very large number of Punjabi refugees came to Lucknow and eventually made it their home. This had a most dramatic impact upon the city, including Hazratganj.
On one hand, the influx of a refugee population, which was seen by local inhabitants to be aggressive, boorish and unsophisticated, affected the polite forms of language which had been a treasured heritage of Lucknow. On the other hand, it brought about a significant shift in the makeup of the ownership of the shops in Hazratganj. A number of shops owned by Muslims who had left for Pakistan were given to refugees under the Evacuee’s Property provision.
Another change which accompanied the influx of refugees was a steady increase in the number of the restaurant and eating houses. There were only a few restaurants in Hazratganj during the British rule. After Independence, due to largely changing clientele a number of restaurants of different types and ratings came up in Hazratganj.
The third significant change which came over Hazratganj in the years following Independence was the growth of tiny kiosks in the verandah which ran right across the street in front of the impressive stores. This was largely a consequence of the shift in the clientele. As an increasing number from the middle class now flocked to Hazrastganj not so much to shop as to enjoy a leisurely stroll. These did brisk business in the cheap cosmetics, costumes jewellery and similar items which this new clientele could afford. Thus, in effect, Hazratganj had two worlds. On the one hand, there were the exclusive stores where one peeped in or mustered up enough courage to enter and ask the price of a thing one could not afford, and on the other hand, there were the kiosks all along the verandah where cheaper and affordable items were on display.
Today spending a few hours here in the early evening until the establishment closed at night had become such a habit amongst some, that those looking for them could be reasonably certain where to find them. Later this became popular under a tag of Gunging.
‘Gunjing‘ as a word of common parlance came to acquire popularity in the context of these sea changes brought about by the democratization of the clientele. Step by step, it came to denote a compulsive urge to go to Hazratganj for a couple of hours in the evening as an act of personal recreation. It was a common sight to see horders of youngsters walking up and down, cracking jokes, chatting and engaging in mild taunts with similar other groups.
Tea & Hazratganj – Tea drinking was relatively unknown even around the end of the world war. The Lipton Tea Company was trying to popularise its brand among Indians and Lipton’s mobile vans were stationed at convenient locations in Hazratganj to distribute cups of free tea to Indians. Even if the entry of Indians was prohibited at some time in the past, it was.
In post independence era many tea points exclusively came up in the area and were patronized by senior politicians and journalists and renowned professors of the University who gathered there in the evenings to discuss current affairs and create networks of the social relations.
Leading socialist leaders like Acharya Narendra Dev, Ram Manohar Lohia and Sucheta Kripalani, renowned academicians such as N.K. Sidhantha, D.P. Mukherji and D.N. Majumdar, and writers like Yashpal, Amritlal Nagar and Bhagwati Charan Verma, who dominated the political and cultural scene of Lucknow during the fifties, made it a point to come and spend a couple of hours at these tea point.
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.