Wednesday, February 2, 2011

याद लखनऊ

एक य़े भी मकान है, एक वो भी मकान था.
वो घर से भी प्यारा था कई मायनों में... (वो शहर भी तो कुछ ख़ास था)

य़े मकान तो कितना बड़ा है, वो तो बस एक कमरा भर था.
उसी में वो आतंक मचाते थे, दिन भर, नींद ख़राब होती थी
मगर मुझे जागते देख उनका सहमा हुआ चेहरा...
कई बार सोते रहने का नाटक किया... (उनकी शैतानियाँ भी तो कुछ ख़ास थी)

वो पैर घसीट के आना, वो कांपती प्लेटें,
छलकती चाय, सब्जियों से भीगते पराठे.

यहाँ कोई करता नहीं शोर-गुल. नींद फिर भी जोरो से आती नहीं
रेंट तो तब भी दिया था, बस किरायेदार अब ही बना हूँ.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

More than just a walkway

Who says a leisurely walk in a bustling city is too much to ask for? Hazratganj has given you just that and much more and, in the process, gone back in time.

I never was a beat ka pakka reporter but spent time walking down that famous street.

Mostly alone.

Amid chaos.

All my kaam ki cheejein were there: the offices of NE and NR, DM's and Commissioner's offices, plus some more. I discovered (and now miss) several exotic food joints.

When I came to the city first, I was put up at the Halwasia guesthouse. I stayed there for months. The caretaker, who would wake me (and the office thought I was on the beat!) in the afternoon after bringing kulchhe from downstairs, still gives me buzz. He himself was once a small-time reporter and almost bored me to death with his stories. (This is true with all journalists. Why blame him?)

I never saw the old Hazratganj (how could I?) but it’s nice to know it’s changed for the better; that even cities such as Noida are thinking on those lines of makeover. (don’t miss reports on the sector 18 market plans here!)

When the makeover had barely begun I was in Lucknow. The commissioner’s office was one of my beats. He, along with many other officers, and the media played a crucial role in restoring Hazratganj to its pristine glory. From ensuring uniform facades of all multi-storey buildings to removal of hoardings and encroachments — beautification of the historically famous lane remained a top priority for many.

For months.

We even brought out a special edition dedicated to Hazratganj. The commissioner was never press friendly. (all commissioner office reporters also covered the DM’s office and, thus, manage information) I was suddenly told to interview him. Surprisingly, he agreed to speak and spoke at length.

We saw hoardings being removed (these were Anupam’s dear copies), power and data cables shifted underground, benches set up. Facades were resorted and painted uniformly. Traders agreed on a uniform colour code and size of signages.

I was particularly attached to the three-storey building housing the Northern Railway DRM (Lucknow) headquarters. Also being a railway correspondent, I often ventured into this one of the several architectural masterpieces in Hazratganj. Incorporating the best of British and Mughal styles, it harmonises with the architecture unique to structures of the Nawabi era.

I was surprised by the enthusiasm shown by DRM JS Sondhi. He helped immensely in putting together an article on the building for the special issue. He lamented the majestic structure, like several others in the famous lane, lost parts of the glory and grandeur to mindless commercialisation over the years.

He can rest easy now.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Of Dada, dreams and a village boy

Fans are angry. They even burnt KKR's principal owner Shah Rukh Khan in effigy.

Why did Kolkata Knight Riders or the nine other IPL franchisees choose not to bid for Dada? Some term it a "political conspiracy.” Others say they will boycott KKR matches in Kolkata.

Reputation did not count.

Nor did emotions.

It’s plain business.

It’s all about money, honey.

It’s not only about his being too big for the team’s comfort. It’s not about his being not fit enough alone. Let’s not get into reasons, for once. When something of this sort happens, dreams are dashed too, much beyond the immediate surroundings.

Miles away from Kolkata, Sahara, a nondescript hamlet off the Agra-Fatehpur Sikri road, must also be disappointed. In 2009, it had suddenly found a new name — ‘Pawan Sharma Ka Gaon. This happened after a class IX dropout hopped on to a crowded general compartment of a train to Howrah to meet Ganguly.

In Agra for launch then, I went all the way to his house and met Pawan. I so wanted to know the story. He told me, “I hung out outside Dada’s residence in south Kolkata’s Behala locality for days. I finally spotted him in his car and called out his name. He got down to meet me.”

“After listening to me, he asked me to join the ongoing KKR camp at the Eden Gardens. He wanted to see me bowl at the nets,” Pawan said and added, “I troubled some of the best in domestic cricket. Dada kept a close watch and liked my bowling.”

Pawan was invited for the next camp to show his prowess.

He had hopes for a possible IPL ‘look-in.’

True to his name, Pawan clocked 140 kmph — a great achievement for a youth of his age. With milk and curd his favourite food items, he left a number of local batsmen battered and bruised with his raw pace.

While admitting to the fact his story is fascinatingly akin to the critically acclaimed Bollywood movie ‘Iqbal’, the 19-year-old lanky fast bowler said, while feeding cattle at his house, “For me cricket is the only reason to live. I have harboured just one dream — playing for the national side.”

Pawan’s spirit to conquer against odds and his flight towards destiny in cricket — inarguably the most idolized sport in India — got me a couple of good stories for the launch edition. I “commercialized” the fact his four brothers were all unemployed and his father worked in a Delhi factory. He had to drop out of school because of financial constraints.

I could not keep track of his progress. Last year, I called him up. He said would tell me first if “anything” happened. I never thought of him even once, till Dada went unsold for two days.

During our meeting, a shy Pawan said, “I was straightaway made a member of the Barisa Sporting Club and also given token money for encouragement.”

Though there was no word on guarantee, Pawan says Dada hinted hard work could get him into good teams, the KKR included.

Any regret? "I could not bowl to Dada. He was overseeing the ongoing pre-season camp.”

He never would.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A wait too long

So much has been written and spoken of this case, yet the curiosity never dies.

If people had begun getting the grotesque speculations off their heads, the closure report has once again enlivened the case in public domain.

Then working in Ahmedabad, I had come to meet a friend in Delhi when I first heard of the twin murders. I laughed at that annoyingly screaming TV reporter who was cursing the police for sending a team to Nepal while the servant’s body lay on the terrace.

Despite several claims to have “solved” the mystery “for the first time” with contrasting theories, we still have no clue as to WHO and WHY. Now friends in Noida tell me how the task of ensuring round-the-clock “live feeds” from “ground zero” meant “excitingly taxing” for dozens of journalists.

The madness was controlled a bit after a court gag.

The other day some officers were at my place for lunch. We could not help discussing the issue. They said they were never in doubt. But then there was no concrete evidence.

A local reporter, who managed stuff for the lunch, said his only wish in life was to “crack” the case before the police or any other agency could.

Now working in the same city, I have been around the locality, chiefly meant for retired naval and air force staff, several times. It does make you uneasy. You want to know WHO and WHY, partly because of the kind of people, who “may have been” involved in the case.

The sheer fact that the killer(s), who slit the throats "either like a butcher or a doctor", is roaming scot-free, possibly in the vicinity, is frightening.

A lot has happened during these two and a half years. The beating that the two agencies’ image has taken all this while has been one of the most pronounced developments.

The parents are free, but not cleared. The three helps have almost been cleared, but their life ruined, beyond repair. Their lawyers are now talking of defamation and compensation.

I have no hesitation in admitting to the fact that I am, unlike most people in the city, no expert on this case. Though it’s been written and said a million times, it’s actually ridiculous that officers suspected the “missing” help immediately and went on to announce a reward of Rs 20,000 for information on him while he lay dead on the terrace.

Precious hours were lost, sealing the case’s fate. Later, heads rolled. Helps, drivers became suspects one by one. Several scientific tests were conducted. All inconclusive. Their lives ruined, they have been cleared. The parents were, and still are, suspected.

A lot of irresponsible comments have been made by the police, the press and the public.

Not getting to the motive is very disturbing.

I actually shudder to think the killer(s) is amongst us, either smoking a “bidi” or driving a car.