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Where Has My Lucknow Gone?

25/10/2015 8:17 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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An Indian rickshaw driver carries sacks of flowers as he rides past a cow sitting on a road in Lucknow, India, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

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Last week I visited Lucknow. What I saw was an extremely congested, very noisy and, in some places, very dirty city. How I long for my Lucknow of the 1960s.

I was born and raised in Lucknow. I did my schooling in St Francis' College (situated on Shahnajaf Road and very close to Hazratganj) and then went in 1967 to IIT Kanpur to study Mechanical Engineering. After my graduation from IIT Kanpur, I went to the US and then came back to rural India to run a small NGO.

The house in which I was born was situated in the centre of Hazratganj. It was an old British bungalow which was allotted to my father in 1947. We lived in this house till 1960 because in that year it became unliveable after the great Lucknow floods. We then moved to a Lal Bagh flat which was opposite Basant cinema. We surrendered this flat to the building owner in 2006 after my father's death and thus ended my physical connection to Lucknow.

"The beautiful parks and open spaces are now all converted to high-rise apartments. A manifold increase in traffic and deafening noise pollution complete the picture."

I had a great love for parks and the outdoors and I vividly remember going quite regularly to the National Botanical Garden (NBG) to sit and study under a tree. The NBG is part of National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) and is on Rana Pratap Marg and close to Hazratganj. In the 1960s the garden used to remain open the whole day and was peaceful and very few people came during day time. After coming home from school, I would have my lunch and then take my books and go to NBG.

Since we lived in Lal Bagh near Hazratganj -- a mere kilometre from the park -- it was very easy to go there. Also the road to NBG, which passed through Hazratganj and Shahnajaf Road, used to be deserted during the afternoon save for the odd cycle-rickshaw or Ambassador car.

Nowadays, the NBG is closed during the day. It opens only in the morning or evening for daily walkers and the crowd is so heavy that sometimes it is difficult to walk on the paved pathways.

When I recently visited Lucknow and went to see our flat, I was shocked to see the horrific traffic. It was impossible to cross Lal Bagh Road since it was completely choked by two wheelers which were parked three layers deep! Also Shahnajaf Road on which St Francis' College is located is now completely jammed with cars, motorcycles and rickshaws. When the school gets over in the afternoon it is impossible to even walk on the broad road.

Similarly I remember very vividly that in the morning I used to go for long walks starting from our flat in Lal Bagh, going through Lucknow Zoo (called BanarsiBagh), passing along the side of the lovely golf course, through La Martiniere College and ending at the Shamshan Ghat (Cremation ground) in Dilkusha Garden. The return journey would be via Loreto Convent School, Raj Bhavan and General Post Office (GPO). The total journey of about 8-9km was done in about 1½ hours.

Recently during my Lucknow visit when I tied to retrace this route I got lost after crossing BanarsiBagh (Lucknow Zoo). Because instead of the small tree-lined road going to La Martiniere College there was this four-lane highway going towards Faizabad! La Martiniere College itself has become a gated campus, so the open, tree-filled environs have altered irrevocably.

" I wonder what impressions will be left with the children growing up in this polluted, noisy city. How I wish they could have in future the green Lucknow that I grew up in."

The same is true all over Lucknow. The beautiful parks and open spaces are now all converted to high-rise apartments. A manifold increase in traffic and deafening noise pollution complete the picture. Gomti Nagar, a new upscale colony, boasts the Ambedkar Park, which boasts about 125 stone elephant statues! During the summer months this whole area is like an oven since it bakes under the sun and with hardly any trees the whole place radiates absorbed solar energy at night.

After passing Indian School Certificate Examination in 1966 I joined Colvin Taluqdar College. This old college, with beautiful buildings from the Mughal era, is located across Gomti River and from our flat in Lal Bagh would take about 10-15 minutes by bicycle. I would carry my younger brother, riding pillion, to the college. The journey was very pleasant, with Monkey Bridge over the Gomti River nearly empty - there was barely any danger of meeting with an accident along this stretch.

Today it is impossible to go over the bridge due to traffic jams, and two-wheelers and bicycles traverse it at their own peril.

Similarly, it is now impossible to cross Hazratganj Road in the evening since the automobile traffic is unbelievable - the lack of parking facilities exacerbates the problem. With all this traffic I am sure the quality of air in Lucknow must be really horrible.

A great city is known by its open and green spaces. I have visited famous cities all over the world and they are all characterised by beautiful parks and gardens. Unfortunately in India we do not value these things and with rampant corruption and an unholy nexus between politicians and builders many once-beautiful spaces are destroyed by ugly high-rise buildings. This has made most of India's cities unliveable. And Lucknow is no exception.

My memories of park-laden Lucknow are now only that, with the reality being very ugly. And I wonder what impressions will be left with the children growing up in this polluted, noisy city. How I wish they could have in future the green Lucknow that I grew up in.

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