My visit to Lucknow was on occasion of SAHAYOGs annual retreat. SAHAYOG has been working in the area of women’s health and gender equality in the community for more than 20 years. Along with learning about SAHAYOG, the retreat was a good opportunity to learn about the challenges and nitty grittys of work in the civil society. The issues of partnership, networking, funding, internal teams, vision and mission for the next few years were being discussed. While for the participants, having the retreat within the office posed the interesting challenge of artificially divorcing their minds from the pending work on their tables; for me it was the best possible situation as it connected my thoughts to their real time environment and actual work and confusions of daily life in an organisation.
Delhi is usually referred to as being a historic city and Lucknow also has its culture of Nawabs and while I was expecting some history in Lucknow, I had completely forgotten the role Lucknow played in recent Indian history. While being taken around the city, I saw Hazratgunj and was told about Begum Hazrat Mahal and her speech at the time of the Revolt and the linkages between the Revolt and Lucknow. Sometimes not knowing too much about a place adds to how much you like it later. I was quite taken in by Imambara and its Chinese room, the Baoli with its very frightening flight of stairs around each bend and the Bhool Bhulaiya. The guide at the Bhool Bhulaiya expertly led the way through the numerous corridors in the maze and kept filling me with interesting tales. Then he told me that he would leave me alone in the maze and let me find my way out. I was up for the challenge, except when I started retracing my steps, nothing was where it should have been. To complicate things, the guide kept returning back from all directions- sometimes I would meet him when he was in front and within a couple of second he was behind me and then again, sitting on a bench just ahead of me. It led me to wonder that while working in IT and on computers, we feel that new generations are getting smarter and are very capable. In places like Bhool Bhulaiya and Baoli, with their complex architectural calculations, one wonders how unskilled we have become over time.
The visit to Residency was also attempted in a race against time. My workshop session got over around 4pm and I had time only till 7:30pm. As I entered the compound, the air was so clean and fresh and I was completely taken in by the monuments. I read about the Revolt and saw the marks made by cannons on each building- on the Banqueting Hall and Treasury also. I saw Dr. Fayrer’s House and it was so reminiscent of all the English period films I had seen and I did actually imagine Dr. Fayrer running up those stairs to enter his large house. Also, with the Independence struggle having been fed to us all our lives, it was a different experience to see the grave of Maj. Henry Lawrence and how important he seemed for all the people in the Residency. In front of the treasury, I liked the way the names of the Indian people were written- Shivcharan Singh was Seuchurn Sing! Delhi has its glorious Mughal monuments but Lucknow opened me to the Revolt of Independence of 1857 and the history of India’s struggle with the British for Independence. This is a part of Indian history that was so touchable in Lucknow and it seemed as if it was just from yesterday.
Other experiences continued. There was so much to learn in Lucknow. SAHAYOGs journey was shared in Bhimtal and now it was again a part of me and I a part of it. The rooms in Indira Nagar opened up to more rooms and the office was endless- another Lucknawi Bhool Bhulaiya! The food was delicious, including two fabulous lunches and dinners and lots of kebabs. Some confusions remain in my mind, especially around organisational journeys, around people’s personal journeys in organisations, around how an organisations’ history affects people inter-generationally.
This is what the Guide from the Bhool Bhulaiyya said to me when I failed to find my way out- There are around 500 doorways. People have got lost in the maze and even died. The Government has now made it mandatory for tourists to be accompanied by guides and several paths are now not open for the public. There is a way to get to the top, by climbing a separate set of stairs which takes you straight to the roof while avoiding the maze completely. However, if you do get into the maze, then to get out of the maze, you have to leave the comfort of the outer periphery. To get out of the maze, the guide said, you have to actually go deeper into it, where it is darkest, where you lose all reference of the world outside– for it is when you get to the core of the maze, only then will you find the way out.
Should I accept the challenge?
By Lavanya Mehra, in Lucknow during 21-22nd March 2013