Monday, October 10, 2005


In another language, I've said before, I have a special bond with Allahabad.

This time, I discovered some of the reasons why I like Allahabad.

I like it for the way in which its crochety-yellow buildings turn black with age and disrepair, but somehow, stay dignified and upright. Like they were going to snap at you if you pointed out that they needed a facelift.

For the way in which the wooden doors in the old quarters refuse to be varnished.

For the town's refusal to be jump-started, kick-started or made-over. It is sleepy, unashamedly so, and needs much convincing before it stretches, or even turns over on its side. The glassy malls will come. But they'll come one wall at a time. And behind the glass-fronts of new shopping complexes, the backyards will often remain stolid brick.

For its resistance to impatience, for its quick tempers and imagined slights.

For chalk-notices near cinema halls, like "Cycle Stand. Rs 2. You can watch any film, anywhere."

For its butcher-shop called 'Murga Mahal'.

For the prominent notice on the railway platform saying "wishing you a safe and happy journey AT ALL TIMES" (in large, bold type)

For its old men who do not let go of a conversation, easily, because it is not polite to say abrupt goodbyes. Because you don't just walk off when there's nothing else to be said - you dither, you turn around and repeat a few things you've already made clear, you explain why, you nod in comprehension of why, you say 'yes, then, ok, I will, won't you' and such meaningless phrases a few times.

For its old men who man stores, and cannot find the bill-books because they cannot find their spectacles, and they cannot find their spectacles because they cannot find their spectacles.... And for the way in which I do not drum my fingers on the counter, seething with impatience, because it would not be polite to do so. For the way I keep my head bent, and resist the temptation to push their spectacles into their hands and tell them to hurry.... Besides, where is the hurry?

For its old hotels where they don't have telephones even in the most expensive rooms, and the most expensive rooms overlook a busy market-street.

For its snazzied-up trains, with plug-points for laptop and phone chargers - infuriating sockets that no plausible plug could ever fit into, without serious amputations.

For its STD booths where you still wait, in queue, while the young man ahead of you hogs the only STD line, cootchie-cooing away, in a low voice, back turned to your deliberate glare.

For the way in which the town lurks behind the lips of honey-cheeked girls; the way in which university students can speak unaccented English but let their mothers' accents pepper their Hindi.

For its clingy, just-short-of-slimy pujaaris, playing the caste card as often as I blink - the originals who inspired the filmi stereotype.

A town with such habits as you remember seeing only in the cinema of the 80s. A town of slow rhythms and garish tastes. A town resigned to itself...How can you not like a town whose face is as flawed as your own?


Ravi said...

Ah the old world charm! The relaxed, unhurried life. The respect (This is as close as I could get to "adab" in english. Or is it Decorum? Manners? Phew! Urdu is so hard to translate). The pride.

And most of all the polite UP behaviour. I've lived in Lucknow for two years & simply fell in love with the place.

Suhail said...

Once again, beautiful!
The way you weave a nice essay out of simple everyday events is really wonderful.

Vijayeta said...

LOL @ Murga Mahal!! Reminded me of all those little by-lanes of Ajmer that havent been commercialized yet! And I could actually imagine you (with yr crochet bag) standing at shop counter waiting for Old Uncle to find his glasses :D
R u still in Allahabad?

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of Banaras.
A lot.. though I guess I would have mentioned food there too :-)

Anonymous said...

Liked your little eulogy on Allahabad. It once used to be my hometown. If you live there now wondered if I could ask a few questions about the place?

Aali from Bangladesh

the mad momma said...

thank you for writing about my hometown so beautifully....

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