It is one hour to a Saturday midnight. I am still dug half into pending work from office and other half into my insomniac self that has kept me deprived of sleep for last three days. This week has been exceedingly busy and the weekend seems to promise no respite.
While I am almost about to lose my head into an array of official data working on my desktop at home, my friend (who incidentally also happens to be my partner-in-crime ever since we got married) insists that I take a break and grab some breather. Even before I could make up my mind for a consent or refusal, he puts forth a compelling argument – “How about a mid-night binge on biryani?” The very thought of aromatic, saffron tinged, mutton rice, suddenly brought a midnight zombie to life. Grabbing a shrug to put it over my knee length night-dress and slipping my feet into comfortable flip-flops, I set exploring the city’s night life with Priyank.
It has hardly been a year since we moved to Lucknow and I have already fallen for the purani roohaniyat part of the city that dwells in its rich art and culture. While a part of it is at a fast modernizing pace with the rest of the world, a quiet part of it lies as it is – serene, vintage, preserving the best from the past and not letting go of its ageless pride. The part I had fallen in love with!
Crossing the Gomtinagar over bridge, suddenly, Priyank stops the car. The entire stretch of the overbridge, which is otherwise full of street vendors selling chaat, momos, dahi vada and local delicacies during the day, is restfully occupied with just one to two trolleys selling ice creams. A serene Gomti river quietly flows underneath us, the colourful lights adorning reflection on its miniscule waves, thus, making a spectacular sight. We step out of our vehicle to let the soft, cold breeze run through our hair and body, washing away the fatigue of a day’s long mundane routine. The cleansing effect is therapeutic!
Feeling far more refreshed, we grab an ice candies from one of the stalls and head further towards exploring the enigmatic midnight streets of Lucknow.The city is mostly dim lit except the famous Hazratganj lane which still glows with fairy lights even at such fag hours. At a temple near the market, a lone rickshaw puller is singing a sweet melody while also preparing the day’s last supper on an open stove. Everything else is sleeping, beautifully quiet. By now, I have given up on the idea of getting to eat anything plateful, let alone a delectable biryani. Disappointed with hunger, when I thought the chase would no longer bear any further fruit, our vehicle entered into the old bazaars of Lucknow. To my utter disbelief, the bazaar was still buzzing with noise, lights, chatters and life, as if it had lost trace of clock. At hardly ten meters from where we stood, I could see huge rustle bustle of people surrounding an illustrious food place.
‘This is overwhelming! Is that the famous Tunday’s?’ I sprung on my feet in glee, almost convincingly awaiting a positive reply.
It obviously could be no other. The iconic shop serving agless kebabs, biryani and sheermaal to probably anyone and everyone in Lucknow! Celebrities, tourists, students, gourmets or residents, you didn’t know Lukncow if you didn’t know the Tunday, it is said.
A little too late for the biryani which got finished just minutes before we’d reached, we ordered for a plateful of gilawati kebabs and some firni. Kebabs which were nothing but balls of mutton kneaded in aromatic Indian spices and a tingle of drumstick, softened with such dexterity that it would melt the moment taken in mouth. Every bite of food was like a piece of culinary art personified. Heavenly! The exploration was quite worth a midnight effort. It was time for us to go back home, having treated both our appetite and our senses to refreshment. Just then, we heard someone call for us from ten metres away at the top of his voice.
“Stop, STOP!’ he insisted.
Taken by shock, we turned our glances to an old man in mid-sixties running hurriedly towards us, jostling through the crowd and almost panting.“Sahib, you left this wallet behind. Too careless, haan? Looks like the day has been way too tiring for you.” he said, handing us over our wallet which contained not less than ten thousand green cash, apart from important identity and credit cards.
We looked at him in disbelief. Not just the man’s honesty but his keenness to return the wallet to us without wasting any time, just to save us a night’s worry, is what moved us to bits. While we thanked him profusely for his kindness, his words spoke of what used to be the city’s oldest dictum – “Why do you think you would have lost your precious things here? This is Lucknow, sahib. The city returns you doubly.” He bid us goodbye, gradually vanishing into the humdrums of the noisy crowd waiting for his services.
It had got way too dark by the time we were returning home. The breeze blew stronger than usual. I rolled down my car’s window to feel the wind rub my face. I was returning home with a generous savour of kindness, integrity and concern showered upon us by a stranger. Brushing past the quiet byways and lanes, through shadowy buildings and dim corridors, the old man’s kind words kept ringing in my head – ‘This city returns you doubly.”
Could I be any richer? I smiled and closed my eyes. My hunger, quenched.
(Writer, Blogger, Storyteller)