Where Has My Lucknow Gone?
I was born and raised in Lucknow in the early 1950s and always lived in the Hazratganj area. In the early 60s I went to IIT Kanpur and then to the US for higher studies. After my return to India in 1981, I joined an NGO in rural Maharashtra. However, I would frequently visit my parents in Lucknow who used to stay in a flat in Lal Bagh opposite Basant Cinema.
In 2006, after my father’s death, we gave away our rented flat to the owner and so the physical attachment to Lucknow was gone. However, emotionally I am still attached to the green and beautiful Lucknow that I remember as a child and while growing up.
After 2006 I went to Lucknow in 2016 and was horrified to see the pollution and congestion in Hazratganj and other parts of the city. I wrote about it in a longish essay.
Last week I revisited Lucknow on my way back from Prayagraj where I had gone to give a TEDx talk.
I and my wife opted to stay in a hotel near Halwasiya market since I wanted to retrace my memories by walking in Hazratganj and nearby places as I had done from my Lal Bagh flat. The experience was not a very happy one. After going on our customary morning walk to the beautiful garden of the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), we got caught up in a traffic jam in front of my school, St. Francis College.
I studied in that school from 1958 to 1966 and it used to be a breeze to walk to it from our Lal Bagh house. In those times most of the children came to the school either walking or on bicycles. There was hardly any traffic of motorized four or two-wheelers.
But nowadays all the students come either in cars (including huge SUVs), two-wheelers or small school vans and all these vehicles are parked on the road in front of the school, thereby creating a traffic jam. So, it was impossible to walk on the road during school time which was necessitated by practically non-existent footpaths. I also found most of the students chubby and felt sorry for them since the parents or drivers do not allow them to walk but insist that they be left at the gate of the school.
The whole chaotic traffic scene was exacerbated by continuous honking of the cars and two-wheelers. So, all the peace and quiet that one felt while walking in NBRI garden was lost in the din, noise and pollution of the traffic. Similar was the scene whole day in Hazratganj and Lal Bagh areas.
Once upon a time
My aged parents would walk daily in Hazratganj either to go to the school (my mother was a teacher in Bharatiya Balika Vidyalaya on Shah Najaf Road, Opposite St. Francis School) or to Coffee House where my father went twice a day. The footpaths were broad in those days and there was not too much of a traffic. Today the footpaths in Hazratganj have been fenced with railings and one cannot enter them from the road. Only at one end of the footpath can one enter them. Thus, I feel that Hazratganj is no more elderly friendly.
Also, at lots of places, the footpaths are used for parking two-wheelers and for vendors to sell clothing and trinkets. In many places the footpath tiles are missing, resulting in gaping holes. Thus, it is difficult to walk on the footpaths. There were no dividers in the broad Hazratganj road in the 1970s. But with increased four-wheeler traffic they have been put now. These dividers stretch all the way from one end of Mahatma Gandhi Road (Hazratganj) to the other; thus crossing the road has become very difficult.
Also, at many places in Hazratganj the footpath spaces have been taken over by Metro stations. Metro Rail has also changed the complexion of Hazratganj and nearby areas partly by narrowing the roads.
There used to be a broad road from Halwasiya to Hazrat Mahal Park all the way to Chattar Manjil (former Central Drug Research Institute building). This time I tried to go on that road, but it has become narrow because of Metro rail path, and in the absence of footpath it was impossible to walk on these one-way narrow roads.
All these building activities and tremendous increase of cars and SUVs have increased the temperature of the city, since the green spaces of Hazratganj and its surrounding areas are gone. Besides, the small by-lanes of Lucknow have become car repair shops! Thus, in most small by-lanes I found full-fledged car repairing and it was impossible to walk in these lanes since one was afraid of being run over by the vehicles.
One good change that I saw in Lucknow was the introduction of e-rickshaws. According to guestimates, there are about 5,000 such e-rickshaws plying on Lucknow roads. They provide a point-to-point economic mode of transport, are slim so can easily go into narrow by-lanes and are non-polluting. Besides, they provide employment to poorer section of the society.
Their numbers need to increase. What is needed is proper charging stations all over Lucknow for them. Presently, it is quite difficult to charge them. Also, the mechanism for their battery disposal needs to be regulated so that they do not pollute the environment.
As somebody who pioneered these e-rickshaws in India in 1990s, I feel happy that their numbers are increasing. So, if I have to give a small piece of advice to the powers-to-be in Lucknow; it will be that the Hazratganj area should be closed for all cars/SUV traffic. Only e-rickshaws and cycle rickshaws should ply and to a large extent it should become a walker’s boulevard. This single step will reduce the noise and air pollution and will bring back the glory of “ganjing” again.
I have visited many great cities of the world – all major cities of the US, as also Madrid, London, Amsterdam, Zurich, Basel. They are all characterized by huge parks and green spaces. They provide the green lung to the city and balm to the citizens’ eyes. Sadly, Lucknow of old which was one of the most beautiful green cities of India is all but gone. How I long for the green Lucknow of my childhood!
(The writer is Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Phaltan, Maharashtra. Views are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)
(Published under an arrangement with South Asia Monitor)