Lucknow’s megalomanic mahout
Lucknow is a city beseiged by the blue elephant of the Bahujan Samaj Party and its mahout, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Behen Kumari Sushri Mayawatiji. She has taken over a mammoth portion of city land, on both banks of the river Gomti, and upon which gigantic memorials are being built. Scorning all hindrances (such as Supreme Court of India and High Court stays) and opponents (they are fewer and more feeble now) construction is proceeding steadily on a variety of monuments.
It is a landscape based in stone (judging by the delicate pink colour, it must be an expensive stone). There is not a square foot of grass to be seen amongst all the stone acres of Ambedkar Park – whose ‘official’ name is the more impressive Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal. There is not a tree to be seen in the dusty acres relieved only by dry hot stone columns and pillars, stelae and towers. The scale makes no sense whatsoever – it has no relation at all to the densely packed residential neighbourhoods of Lucknow that this stone landscape has been robbed from.
The kilometres of stone wall – clumsily ornate – that suround the giant Sthal are edged by a pavement it is impossible to walk on because the struggling saplings embedded in the pavement are enclosed completely by a tight orb of metal caging. To look at this immense folly is to see the senseless diminution of nature, the callousness to humans and a complete insensitivity to a wonderful city’s brocaded history.
Today, the mahout hovers over every chowk in Lucknow like a gorgon, bedecked with multiple rows of blue BSP buntings that line every single street and galli and avenue (except in the cantonment). What has this insensate throwback to pharaonic glory cost the state of Uttar Pradesh? In early 2008, this is what a report in the Indian Express had to say:
“Uttar Pradesh has an urban population of 34.5 million with a need for 320,000 every year. But consider this: in 2007-08, the government has spent 65% of the Housing department’s budget — meant for housing and urban development projects — on Chief Minister Mayawati’s statuesque tribute to Ambedkar, the Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal. In the present fiscal, 40% of the department’s budget has been earmarked for this colossal project. A close study of the Housing department’s budget shows that there are only two schemes in the budget of 2008-09 under the Urban Development Scheme — the Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sthal and Ramabai Park, which is now part of the Sthal. Of the other 13 schemes, under the head of Urban Development, seven are memorials or parks in the name of Kanshi Ram and Ambedkar, which are being built in the state capital.”
The mahout with the dinky handbag has unhoused the poor and needy of Lucknow to construct her messianic stone dreams. What of the Gomti and its heritage-rich landscapes? To begin to understand what has been, as the Americans say, paved over, you should read Chinki Sinha’s description, an extract of which is:
“Squeezed in between the river bank and the Dariya Wali Masjid and across from the King George’s Medical College (now called Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University), this was where kite fliers of repute would tug at their strings and fight fierce and colourful battles in the skies. Jafar Mir Abdullah would often stop by at the ground on his way home from La Martinere, where he studied at the time, to see the spectacle. Kan kauwe bazi or kite flying was a favourite sport in Lucknow. As a 10-year-old in 1952, he loved looking at the horizon that was painted in different hues in the twilight hour, the war cries resounding for miles. He loved watching the kite runners as they ran through the labyrinthine streets to grab fallen kites, raising dust as they sprinted.”