I became aware of my Lucknowiyat when I lived abroad. Thoughts of Lucknowiyat conjure up images of inclusiveness. Living abroad provided me that distance to figure out what it means to be born and to be brought up in Lucknow and to practice Lucknowiyat in different parts of the world.
For a while I made Vienna my home. Vienna is the former imperial capital of the thousand-year-old Hapsburg dynasty in central Europe and the birthplace of Dr. Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis.
The city allowed me to become aware of my id, ego and super ego and to observe how I dealt with life’s challenges.I found myself radiating habits and faith that I did not see practiced by anyone else around me. I found myself extending certain courtesies that sometimes caused me misery and, at other times, much merriment.
The adjustments and compromises I forced myself to make in order to hold on to that essential lust for life in a city with a climate, culture, and courtesies so different to Lucknow must be what Lucknowiyat is all about.
I imagine Lucknowiyat to be the art of receiving the other without prejudice and to cultivate a genuine interest in the way of life of other human beings without judgment. When I find myself celebrating virtues of charity, tolerance, generosity, good neighbourly conduct and interest in spirituality inspired by concepts like insaane-e-kamil, or perfect human being, it is not my Muslimness that leads me on but the more wholesome view of the world of Lucknowiyat.
For it has got to be Lucknowiyat that has made me shed tears on certain occasions and helped me survive with a smile on numerous other occasions in different parts of the world. What gives me the confidence to even intuitively pick up a diverse group of friends, practicing cultures and religion so different to my own, if not Lucknowiyat?
Having said that, I also notice that I thrive more in the company of people born and brought up in Lucknow irrespective of religion. For example, linguistic and cultural differences between my weltanschaung and that of a Punjabi Muslim may prevent us both from baring our soul to the other. Every time I find myself brimming with alternate feelings of attraction and repulsion for another human being, it must be Lucknowiyat that rescues me from drowning in confusion, fear, and hatred.
To understand Lucknowiyat, I return to almost a millennium ago when the first Muslim must have struggled to make a home in South Asia. What a formidable clash of cultural adjustments and compromise that must have been to sow seeds of mutual tolerance and understanding, that eventually blossomed into deep rooted courtesies seldom practiced by such a diverse group of people any where else in the world. However, much before Islam came here, Arab and Indian traders, cruising on the waters between the Indian sub-continent and the Arabian peninsula, had already befriended each other much much before Muhammad, the prophet and founder of Islam, became the twinkle in the eye of Muslims.
Persians and Indians were already exchanging jokes, stories and money at different posts on the Great Silk Road that originated in China several centuries before the birth of Christ to connect the Asian continent with Europe. Islam in South Asia was brought by the same combination of merchants, missionaries, and warmongers.
It was Turkic warriors and Afghan soldiers who chose to make Delhi their home in the thirteenth century. A handful of Sheikhs and Pathans were perhaps the first Muslims to make Lucknow their home in the midst of a majority population so different in food habits and religion. The challenge for the minority population of Muslim warriors was how to lord over a majority Hindu population without losing more human lives.
How Muslims succeeded in both ruling and befriending local populations is the start of the story of the Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb or a way of life inspired by the confluence of the Ganga and Jamuna, two of the region’s mightiest rivers.