I belong to Allahabad, or as one would say back there,
‘I belongs to Allahabad.’
This makes people assume that I speak impeccable Hindi, I have met Amitabh Bachchan, and I know where all the holy places in the country are.
Some of it is almost true – yes, my Hindi is really good, and once, much before my father was born, my grandfather, a colleague of Dr Dr Harivanshrai Bachchan at the University of Allahabad helped source a good doctor for Teji ji. But, sadly in those times, there were no cell-phones to enable my grandfather to click a selfie with great poet, for keepsakes.
Maybe, take two or three selfies to ensure that at least, in one, they both looked good, no blackheads showed, and the play of light hid the double-chin. Of course, in this process, Teji ji would have flung the vase in their direction, and depending on its trajectory, I may have never come into their world, consequently.
But, let’s say I had a photo to prove that, I would be, right now, sipping green tea with Aishwarya bhabhi and discussing our respective mothers-in-law. Sigh!
I love telling people that I am from Allahabad. But, back in those days, when we were teenagers, it was not so hip to say that.
Delhi was the happening place. Our cousins from Delhi would visit us every summer to make us realize that. Within a couple of days, they would get extremely bored and quip,
‘What do we do here? It’s so boring?’
That kind of statement would be so hurtful, so stinging. So, we would resolve to give it back to them nicely by showing then around distinctive places of local pride – kutchery, company bagh, haathi parak, and patthar girja. That would keep them quiet for some days. When they whined again, we would rent the VCR for Rs 150/- a night and make them watch three movies back to back.
In fact, on one occasion, we took them to Lakshmi Talkies for a show of ‘Disco Dancer’. While the show was on, the place was swept by an ‘andhad’ (Allahabadi for dust-storm), and the seat cover of the cycle my cousin had ridden was blown off.
Without its distinctive seat-cover, it was impossible to spot the cycle. We were in tears, my cousin frantic that my dad, to whom the cycle belonged, would punch him. It was a horrifying experience – and I am not talking about Bappi da’s singing here.
Anyways, we somehow located the cycle and were back.
Day 5 successfully ‘un-bored’. What next? 25 days still remained.
Our mother advised,
‘Take them to your friends’ place – you know — those girls who have brothers.’
We prepared a shortlist and decided to take one of them to Kittu’s house one evening.
She had an older brother around the same age as our cousin, Micky. Now, Delhi boys in those days looked different from our Allahabad boys – they wore tee-shirts, jeans and sneakers. Our local boys wore sandals, grey trousers and check-bushirts stitched in Mumfordgunj with cloth that was a gift from bua ji the previous Diwali – wisely purchased from the cut-piece section of Ramji Ratan Lal, Katra bazaar.
Still, how different could they be, if one ignored the physical appearance? With this conviction, we reached Kittu’s house. The evening began nicely, with us seated in the drawing room and Kittu offering us Rasna and some nan-khatais.
Then, on cue, she called her brother, who escorted Micky to his room, for an evening of friendly conversation. We thought it was all working fine till we overheard some snatches of the conversation from the adjoining room:–
‘Aapne Sangam dekha?’
‘Haan, bahut saari picturein dekhi hain wahan.’
‘Sangam Theatre – RK Puram mein’
‘Nahin nahin, woh nahin, pavitra milap waala sangam.’
We decided that we needed to go home right at that moment.
In those days, being ‘from Delhi’ was the ultimate style-statement. In fact, I have heard amusing stories of freshers in colleges all over U.P. asking a very evidently apparent ‘bhaiyya’ –
‘Sir, are you from Delhi?’
This would make the senior so happy that ragging would be waived off for that fresher.
The years passed and a lot of us moved out of Allahabad, mostly to bigger cities. Some settled abroad. Suddenly, I realized what a lot Allahabad meant to me. I don’t mean the clichéd stuff around the city’s political heritage and so on. But, more day-to-day relatable stuff like how brilliant most folks were, the sheer, natural flair for debating, ease in social interaction, and their passion for excellence.
It is sad that the city did not get its due. It flailed, thrashed-around to survive the asphyxia induced by political apathy. And after the struggle, succumbed. Today, there are signs of festering decay noticeable as one walks down the streets.
But, the same cannot be said about the Allahabadi spirit, its people – rich, complex, nutritious. They continue to excel. I read about achievements of contemporaries and feel so chuffed.
I am proud to say,
‘I belongs to Allahabad.’