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A city on the death row
By Obaid Nasir, Lucknow

Population explosion, air and noise pollution, broken roads, concrete jungle, mushrooming temples and statues of known and unknown personalities on every conceivable piece of government land and road, unmanageable traffic, sky rocketing crime graph, selfishness, indecent and vulgar language, communally surcharged atmosphere is how the city of nazakat, nafasat (decency), sharafat (nobility), famous for its Ganga Jamuni tahzeeb (composite culture), capital of UP Lucknow of today i.e., Indian Prime Minister’s constituency can be described.

The Nawabs and other nobles of yesteryears’s Lucknow will be wailing in their graves and samadhis on present state of affairs of their beloved city Lucknow, city known every where for the sweetness of its language ,mannerism, tolerance, cuisine and clothes particularly chikan, zardozi etc. 

Hindu-Muslim unity was another hallmark of Lucknow during the Nawabi era who were secular par excellence and never differentiated among their subjects on religious or any other ground and gave every section of society their rightful place in administering the kingdom. Here Raja Tikait Rai the finance minister constructed Masjid and Imambara and Begam Aalia mother of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan constructed the Hanuman temple of Aliganj with crescent on its dome. Now the situation of Atal’s Lucknow is that the Lucknow University’s gate has been named after Bhao Rao Deoras of RSS who has never even entered the university campus. Statues of known and unknown Hindu personalities have been erected at every possible place on the road without even slightly considering the already pitiable traffic conditions. So far as the matter of communal approach of present day rulers is concerned this could well be understood from just one example. The government illegally took over a vast piece of land belonging to Wakf Azeemullah Khan, a freedom fighter of 1857 war of independence, and constructed a hospital and named it after Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, another freedom fighter of the same war, so much so that inspite of the best efforts of the Mutawalli and other prominent personalities not even a ward of the said hospital was named after Azeemullah Khan. 

However the greatest casualty are the memorable buildings ,their art work, calligraphy, Naqqashi (engraving) and Pachchikari.The people’s negligence and government’s antipathy are the main causes behind near extinction of these art pieces which the Nawabs,and other nobles of that era constructed with great love, affection and sincerity.
The pain and agony of Lucknow which was known for its tahzeeb, nazakat, nafasat, gardens and buildings has aptly been described in the following couplet by renowned poet Wali Aasi:

Mujh se subho sham shikwa kar raha hai Lakhnau
Dekh kaise dheere dheere mar raha hai Lakhnau

(Lucknow is complaining to me morning and evening see how this city is dying gradually)

Actually the process of death of Lucknow started with the defeat of nationalist forces in the first war of independence i e 1857.The victorious British forces not only crushed the mutiny with all possible atrocities but destroyed the beautiful buildings and gardens in revenge. The defeat led to the wanton destruction of buildings constructed by the rulers of Awadh, their ministers, officers and nobles. According to a rough estimate about two thirds of the buildings were immediately brought down and later in the name of the expansion of the city. Britons however, were to some extent careful in maintaining the beauty and art of those buildings which were left and were handed over to loyalists of British government.

The buildings which were not destroyed were taken over by the British government to accommodate their officers, workers and loyal zamindars, taluqdars and other so called nobles to reward them for their role during the first freedom struggle. These taluqdars were given these buildings with the precondition that their originality will not be changed, altered or deshaped.

With the abolition of zamindari after independence the situation aggravated further as it became impossible for these nobles to maintain these buildings as their source of income was snatched by the government. They were compelled to rent out major portions of these buildings to make two ends meet and were not able to spend on the maintenance of these buildings out of this income.

The irony is that the state and central governments also did not take any major interest in preserving these art pieces as most of them were religious in nature i.e., mosques, Imambaras. Even though some of these structures are under state or central archaeological departments as protected monuments, the emphasis on conservation of art work, particularly calligraphy of Qur'anic verses contained therein is not to that extent as required .The mere maintenance of structure and keeping them intact is considered to be more than enough. The condition of those buildings which have not been taken over by the archaeology departments is very pitiable. Restoration of damaged art work is seldom taken up as it required heavy amount of money and expertise which these mutawallis lack.

The voice to protect these historical buildings and their unique art work has been raised time and again but plaster and white washing was the only response. The government has never shown any interest to protect these monuments which are unique in their art work, calligraphy, Pachchikari(mosaic work) and naqqashi (engraving). The trusts and the mutawallis too did not take any pain to preserve them . Their only interest lies in getting as much money as possible by constructing shops and markets over vacant land adjacent to these monuments. In old Lucknow there are thousands of such buildings which, because of neglect, are on the verge of collapse and extinction.

Syed Anwar Abbas a retired engineering lecturer who has always taken keen interest in preserving these buildings and monuments through his public awareness movement by writing articles in papers and periodicals has done a great job by writing a book named "Wailing Beauty". He has included about 30 such buildings which include mosques, imambaras, temples etc. The historical background of the monuments, their locations, speciality of structure, art work and other relevant details together with photographs particularly from arts angle have been included in the book. All these photographs were taken by Anwar Saheb himself who as an amateur photographer has always used photographs snapped by himself for his articles which appeared in different national dailies. He also organized an exhibition recently in which these photographs were displayed and the public response was overwhelming. 

Anwar is actively involved with government organizations and NGO’s for the preservation of monuments .He has presented audio visual shows and papers at seminars and has delivered lectures for creating public awareness in the cause of saving the heritage .His illustrious father late S. Kalbe Abbas was a prominent lawyer of his time who devoted his full energy and wealth for the welfare of the community.

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