Eyebrows raised at some youth’s youthful ways,
on a broken armchair
half-stalled, coughing, old, this Lucknow.
To the Coffee house, Hazratganj, Ameenabad and Chowk*
split up in four mores, this Lucknow.


This Lucknow of a few dead-beat youths
arguing pointlessly at each point –
boring each other, but bearing each other –
running into each other, yet shunning each other –
swallowing woes and wallowing in woes –
and longing for life hither-thither.


Another Awadh* twilight –
took two hours to take in and spell out
a trifle needing ten seconds to sort out
yoked one's untiring brain
to the rattle cart of a brainless lout
tired it out on Hazratganj streets – up, down and about,
no ends met today, made do with a talking bout
spent the evening yet again, like a fated rout.


Bazaars –
where wants run out of breath fast,
Bazaars –
where an epoch of crowd strolls past,
Streets –
with no space to name,
Hustle and bustle –
with no cause or aim,
just a come-and-go so dreary,
this is – the town’s haberdashery.


Like a tomb of dead magnificence,
like some widow's forbearance,
propping up a canopy
of sad Awadh twilights
atop domes turned rickety,
Like a courtesan’s song and sway,
each tomorrow like yesterday,
Lucknow, like a hunched nawab,* bowed,
like courtesies and greetings bestowed,
amidst ruins, the lament of some princess echoed,
like delicacies embroidered on a delicate dress,
the city’s frail finesse,
like quawali-singing* poise
to entice some fickle head
in the decadent graces of princely stead:

Longing for a new life like some patient,
the Lucknow of Sarshar and Majaz,
the Lucknow of connoisseurs and alas of bores:

This is Lucknow, Sir,
ours and yours.

Translator's Note: *Coffee House, Hazratganj, Amīnābād and Chowk: Lucknow landmarks with their own cultures, each the subject of the poem’s subsequent four parts. *‘Awadh’ (Oudh) evoked a whole way of life epitomised as much by refined food, art and peace as by leisure, decadence and profligacy. Mughal kings in north India promoted this culture. Later, in the 18th c., its centre moved from Delhi to Lucknow, where music and poetry thrived. *‘Nawāb’ was the title adopted by independent Awadh rulers; one of great wealth or standing. *‘Quawālī’ is a form of Sūfī devotional music with forceful rhythms and improvisations to induce euphoria in listeners. *Sarshar and Majaz were Urdu littérateurs of Lucknow.