The realization that it was time to go came like the moist, peach-golden sunshine soaking the cottony fog over the settlement of Hussainganj. Lucknow wasn’t a difficult city to explore, but far from the more glorious margs, the gargantuan gateways, the imambaras and heritage complexes, the naked brick saucer that held my blues was Hussainganj.
The settlement paints the image of that old man from my neighbourhood in North Calcutta, clad only in a lungi, yawning and scratching his bare stomach.
All of the houses have only one wall painted vibrantly in colours like mint green, mustard yellow, pink or lilac. From a roof on the seventh floor, they joined into a broken, uneven matrix the colour of spilled coffee.
And there were so many kites. The late afternoon sky over Hussainganj was pilfered with kites. Young boys, with woollen sleeves up to their wrists, would pull at the strings as though they were orchestrating the wind. Sometimes they would have a grandfather seated cross-legged on the charpoy, head inclined to the skies and so involved in the sky-fight of colours that he wouldn’t notice that his fez cap had fallen off. Babies, coccooned in wool, would be laid out on mattresses in the deepest pool of sunlight. Sarees and kurtas would glisten on the clothes lines. A cricket ball would land from one roof to another, at the feet of the goats with bells around their necks.
Minars rose from in between the cluster of brick, lights, clothes, sun and plaster, and the afternoon azan would waft in from somewhere in the heart of the settlement, a prelude to heavy sighs and furious writing. I was no more than a silhouette of the grander mosques near the bazaar, surrendering to the fog on the horizon – or the trail of a white pigeon lost sometime after its initial fluttering flight. Yet they made me feel involved in the burnt amber picture of their lives, so involved that I felt lonely, and the next best thing I could do was write – just stand in the midst of the deliciously chilly winds, hum a little Sufi, and write.