The train passes through lush green fields and small towns with walls painted with advertisements of quacks and tantriks, who claim to have an antidote for everything, ranging from bad jobs to failed love. I really do not know why I am on this train, bound for Lucknow. But gradually I figure out. Back home, in Delhi, the Internet is not working and the service provider is behaving like Dickensian Uriah Heep. My desktop gets restarted after every fifteen minutes. A local courier has not reached even after three days have passed. The electricity is playing truant. I feel like joining the Gestapo. Instead, I run away to Lucknow.
I have been to Lucknow many times before and if you really ask me, I have never ventured anywhere barring an old bookstore in Hazratganj market that has in offing a decent collection of Hindi literature. But this time I know something which was previously unknown to me. Just few metres away from the book store is an old hotel that has been renovated recently and turned into a huge banquet hall. But on its rooftop it carries a burden of history from which it cannot be absolved. It is the Capoor Hotel.
Raaste mein ruk ke dam le lun, meri aadat nahi
Lautkar waapas chala jaun, meri fitrat nahi
Aur koi hamnawa mil jaaye, ye kismat nahi
Eiy Gam-e-dil kya karun
Eiy vehshat-e-dil kya karun
(That I should stop and take a breather is not my habit
That I should turn back and return is not my nature
That I should meet a co-traveller, I am not that lucky
What do I do, my sorrow-filled heart?
What do I do, my grieving heart?)
These lines were written by Asrarul Haq Majaaz, who is known as the Keats of Urdu poetry. He was very famous among poetry-lovers. Ismat Chughtai recounts that girls used to take out lottery in order to decide who among them would marry Majaaz. They used to sleep with his photograph under their pillow.
Majaaz was a progressive poet who believed in the equality of women. He wrote:
Tere maathe pe ye aanchal bohot hi khoob hai lekin
Tu is aanchal se ek parcham bana leti to accha tha
(The scarf on your head is fine
Only if you could turn it into a flag)
Many of Majaaz’s friends made money by writing film lyrics. Majaaz never belonged there. So he spent most of his life in taverns of Lucknow. It is said that after drinking, Majaaz would wander on the streets of Lucknow. His fans would take him home, make him drink more and make him recite his poetry till he collapsed. Then they would ask a servant to drop him on a bench in a park or in a railway station.
It was on a chilly December night in 1955 that Majaaz was taken by some of his fans to the rooftop of Capoor Hotel where they left him alone after drinking till midnight. In the morning he was found unconscious and was then rushed to a hospital where the doctors said that he had died because of severe cold which had damaged his brain. He was 44.
Bohot mushkil hai duniya ko sanwaarna
Teri zulfon ka pecho-kham nahi hai
(It is very difficult to simplify this world
It is not the tangle of your tresses)
What else is there to write? About Lucknow? About anything else?