Awadh comes to Delhi with all its niceties, subtleties. Courtesy Ebrahim Alkazi.
Some 25 years ago, "Umrao Jaan", Muzaffar Ali's poetry on Lucknow on the celluloid did wonders to the audience. It reminded them of Awadh and its glory. J.P Dutta's made-up "Umrao Jaan" couldn't recount that magnificence again. But it inspired many to think of Awadh one more time. These were, however, films - a larger than life medium to showcase Awadh through the eyes of filmmakers.
This time, taking the viewers, including Ali himself to a nostalgic and realistic journey called `Lucknow, Splendour and Decline' is the doyen of Indian art and theatre Ebrahim Alkazi. The man truly reflective of the old-world chivalry, through his age-old Alkazi Foundation for the Arts has presented an exhibition of prints of rare 19th Century photographs and paintings from the Nawabi court of Awadh at Shridharani Gallery and Alkazi's own Art Heritage. The prints chosen by Alkazi sing praises of Awadh's architectural splendour and urban design, especially well known buildings/monuments as viewed through the lens of 19th Century photographers like Thomas Daniell, Samuel Bourne, Felice Beato, John Edward Sache, Robert Tytler and Harriet Tytler, Edmond David Lyon and many unknown photographers. The buildings which find special mention The Husainabad Imambara, Husainabad Bazaar gateway against the backdrop of Jama Masjid, the Punj Mohalla Gate, Macchi Bhawan, Rumi Darwaza, Asafi Masjid, Qaisar Bagh, The Company School and many more. While amazing paintings include royal ladies and rulers of Awadh like Ghazi-ud-din-Haider (who reigned from 1814-27), Nasir-ud-din-Haider (r.1827-37), Muhammad Ali Shah (r.1837-42) Amjad Ali Shah (r.1842-47) and Wajid Ali Shah (r.1847-56). One of the most interesting paintings is famous Cock Match organised by Colonel Mordaunts. It's a narration in itself about the importance of such a match among the local people. It was also the venue for subtle politicking, womanising, spying and lobbying between the British aristocrats and local people. While the portraits of the royal ladies have a few features in common; their rounded features and body structure, innocent looks coupled with profound eyes. Most noble men are plump, chubby, still but sport an impressive moustache all the way. With Shahryar's poetry from "Umrao Jaan" forming a perfect backdrop at the venue, this evocative journey, says Alkazi, is a tribute to Lucknow of the past that was reduced to rubble during the First War of Independence in 1857. "Lucknow is an epitome of culture. It was devastated methodically during 1857. When the British were systematically levelling the whole city, William Harvard Russell who was very popular among Indians, cried and wrote heart-rending phrases on it," says Alkazi while taking you fondly through the hair-raising phrase mounted in the gallery. "For me, mounting this exhibition is like resurrecting the past as well scrutinising it objectively," he adds. The exhibition is on view till November 30.