I am often asked why I did not attend Lucknow University, since Lucknow is where the grand-maternal family is based. It sounds better, at any rate, than Maharshi Dayand Saraswati University, which gave me my B.A. eventually...
In response, I tell them this tale from long, long ago... oh, maybe eight years or ten - but that's a long time in the news world.
Sunil (who runs an NGO called The Ant, in Assam, along with his wife Jenny) told me this story, and he in turn was told this story by a certain gentleman who rues the day he had to show his face in Lucknow University. Let's call this gentleman Ajay Bhaiya.
Now, Sunil had been speaking in glowing terms about Lucknow - the land of culture and tehzeeb. The land of pehle aap and Tunde kebaab. Ajay Bhaiya snuffled, snorted and retorted - 'culture? Well, let me tell you this....'
Ajay Bhaiya had a younger brother. Let's call him Vijay Bhaiya. This lad had just been admitted to Lucknow University, once known to be an esteemed institution that gave us many progressive poets and freedom-fighter-barristers.
One night, Ajay Bhaiya got a phone call asking him to come to Lucknow immediately. He said he'd come the next day, if it could wait.
It could not wait.
It turned out that Vijay Bhaiya was in deep shit. He'd been taken away to be 'penalized' by the local university daada.
Young Vijay was a soft, idealistic, romantic type, it seems. And soon after he joned Lucknow University, he fell head over heels in love . The object of his affections, unfortunately, turned out to a dainty lass whom the university daada had his eye on. It went without saying that no one, but NO ONE, so much as looked at her.
Vijay, being smitten and new to Lucknow University, did not know of this rule. Daada's goons thought it fit to acquaint him with these rules. I suppose they were nice, in a manner of speaking, for they did begin by simply talking.
Vijay (Uff! Blind, blind lover), instead of quietly letting go, decided to fight back. He spoke of the sanctity of emotion, the power of 'love', and the fact that it was a free country and he and the girl cared for each other. Foolish, foolish loverboy.
Word filtered back to Daada.
Daada ordered, 'the boy must go'.
Which is not as bad as it sounds. He was not about to be killed. But Vijay Bhaiya was asked to leave Lucknow University and, if he liked his health, the town.
Ajay Bhaiya was summoned to the University, then. He was politely escorted to a dark, dingy room within the campus. There was a table. There were henchmen all around. There were guns being playfully fondled. And there was Daada, sitting at the table in a spotless kurta-pajama.
Ajay Bhaiya was asked to take a seat ('tashreef rakhiye') and then told summarily to take his brother and leave Lucknow.
Ajay Bhaiya began to plead on his brother's behalf. "He is a child. He is naive. Give him a chance."
Daada very politely said that he understood but Vijay Bhaiya must leave the university.
Ajay Bhaiay tried once more. "It's a matter of his studies. His years will be wasted. Give him a chance."
Mistake, that one... It was not a matter of studies, but of life and death.
Daada kept his cool however and said, "Look, we (hum) are not in the habit of raising our voice. Please take the boy and leave. He can't remain on this campus...." and after a pause, added, "After a few years, when our temper has cooled off a bit, we might allow him to return to finish his degree."
Ajay Bhaiya, ignorant man himself, continued to plead; perhaps he was encouraged by the quiet manners of the goon. "Please, Daada. He is a child. His life will be ruined..."
Daada finally stood up and picked up a round object, held it up for Ajay Bhaiya to see. "Look. We have these bombs here. These boys are very playful. They love playing with these things... We are telling you, go while you can."
Ajay Bhaiya, we assume, went while he could. And Daada, we suppose, must have cooled off with time. And though I can't be sure, I doubt whether Vijay Bhaiya ever went back to Lucknow University to finish the degree.
And oh yes, there is also the little business of Farhad, my friend Saira's schoolmate.
Farhad got through to the medical course in Lucknow, it seems. But he didn't make it on merit alone. He promised to pay a 'donation'. But after joining college, he couldn't (or didn't) cough up the entire amount within the stipulated time frame.
One fine morning, a motorbike with two guys on it, vrrroomed close, and passed by Farhad.
He'd been shot in the head. And that was the end of his education in Lucknow.
Lucknow... my once-gentle city. Sigh! Oh well, the daada-log at the university are rather soft-spoken, I hear.