Muddatein guzari, teri yaad bhi aayi na hamein, / Aur hum bhool gayein hon tujhe, aisa bhi nahin
(It has been ages since I remembered you,/But it’s not as though I have forgotten you either)
This verse best expresses my feelings for Lucknow.
They say a Lucknowi can toss out a couplet for every occasion, event and feeling. That’s because, not too long ago, it was a centre of Urdu poetry and tehzeeb. Though people see Lucknow only in ‘pehle aap’ (an Urdu phrase meaning ‘after you’ denoting Awadhi courtesy ) terms, it is a place with a great sense of history and culture. Lucknowis have grace and sophistication. They interact with each other with warmth and bonhomie and with a sense of humour and irreverence. They also enjoy the finer things in life—I still have a fondness for good food.
Lucknow is an example of a truly secular city. Hindus and Muslims have peacefully co-existed for years. There has never been a communal riot. The idea that a place can be so safe and secure has stayed with me. I used to travel to school in a rickshaw and never once felt a sense of fear or insecurity. The concept of street fights and violence was alien to us. It was a wonderful town to grow up in.
When you are a young man, every city looks like Paris. So did Lucknow. We lived near the Charbagh station area. I still go there whenever I can and end up running into a thousand relatives whose faces I have forgotten. But they haven’t forgotten me.
My father, a mathematician, encouraged and led us to develop an independent way of thinking. People around us were very open and generous with their knowledge. At home, there was a culture of books, poetry and politics. All these early experiences helped me later in my work as a filmmaker.
Why did I make a film about Naxalism set in the 1970s and call it Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi? For two reasons: Lucknow and a man named Mirza Ghalib.
What has Ghalib got to do with Naxalism? Ghalib shaped my worldview. I borrowed his way of looking at relationships, love and the world, and how to go beyond that world.
Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi could not have been possible if I was not from Lucknow. In Khoya Khoya Chand, the character Zafar comes from Lucknow. I based him partly on my father. That film is a love letter to Awadhi tehzeeb.
Lucknow reflects in my work, the way I talk, the way I walk and the way I live my life. The ideas of home, homeland and identity manifest themselves in your habits and behaviour, no matter which part of the world you live in. To twist a famous phrase, ‘You can take the man out of Lucknow, but you cannot take Lucknow out of the man.’