There was a toss up between Ludhiana and Lucknow, while writing this post.
Ludhiana, where I spent first 22 years of my life and where I keep going back for few weeks every year. Barring 2016, I have been to Ludhiana every year since I left my home there. But most of the posts in this April Challenge have been about stories from Ludhiana, so I chose Lucknow for this post.
I had spent a year and a half in Lucknow from January 2003 to June 2004. Though half of that time I had spent travelling to smaller towns of Uttar Pradesh. Long time back, I had written a post about my time in U.P. It was a strange land and an even stranger time for me. (You can read that post here.) I bet lot has changed in last 12 years. I have been there for work several times since then, but never felt that sense of belonging.
My time in Lucknow was very different than any other phase of my life. The four L's that define this phase are:
Loneliness - This was one of the most difficult times of my life. For a long time, I had no friends in Lucknow. It was only time in my adult life when I wasn't in a steady relationship with any girl. The long distance relationships rarely work. And that was a time, when mobile connectivity was still not like it is today. It was a struggle for very long, staying in a very small room where the bathroom was in the landlord's garage. Also I had to travel to mofussil towns and I witnessed things which I wasn't mentally ready for. I used to stay in really shabby hotels. There was no one to talk to. Later I discovered company of NS. He was 11 years senior to me. Never a colleague, always a friend. He had a house with garden and a balcony. I was truly myself with him. Almost every other night, I was sitting in his balcony drinking a beer and singing songs off key and out of tune. He was a good listener and that helped. I learned to enjoy my own company during this period. I think I was a good company to myself. Till date, I need some alone time to keep my sanity.
LML - As it was my first job, my father had gifted me a LML bike. I think having a bike helped a lot. It gave me mobility literally and metaphorically. The moment I used to mount it, I used to forget everything that was wrong. That bike took me to places, I wouldn't have gone to other wise. The streets of Aminabad and the roads of Chinhat (a tehsil in Lucknow). But the most important memory associated with LML is actually not a memory. I had an alcohol induced black-out after the Fish in the Pond incident. I was so drunk that when DS offered to drop me home, I declined. He told me later, that after 'Fish in the Pond' loop, I had moved to another one. I kept saying in Hindi (roughly translated here in English) "I will drive, It is my bike." He actually took a risk and rode pillion. I dropped him at his place. I think I created some ruckus there. Then I came back to my place that night. It sounds scary, but I remember nothing of it. But I am a wise man. Few months later, I decided to stop
drinking riding bikes. I never bought another bike and I never drive anything on my own, until necessary. So no drunk driving is my motto of life. Over the years though, my drinking has reduced too. It is a good thing for life and health, but very bad if you want newer memories.
Love for Movies - I used to watch lot of movies in Ludhiana too, in cinema halls. But very few middle class families used to go there. In Lucknow every class of people used to go to movies. And people used to love movies. They used to dance in the aisles, when songs played and I fell in love with movies there all over again and with this side of Lucknow. They appreciated cinema. Movies were my crutch to overcome loneliness.
Once NS and I went for a Shahrukh Khan film. I think it was Kal Ho Naa Ho, but can't be sure. It had just released, and we could only get tickets of the stall and not of more privileged balcony seats. So when NS was about to sit, he realized that his seat was smeared with "Paan Peek" (Spit / Saliva that gets accumulated in your mouth when you chew Paan or Betel leaves with lot of condiments in it). By the way, Paan and related stories about that red spit seen in every nook and corner of Lucknow can have a post of its own dedicated to it. So NS was in two minds, whether to sit and watch movie ignoring the disgusting nature of the entire scenario or to go back home. We arranged for a newspaper to cover the seat so that he can sit without trouble. I am sure he was squirming throughout.
Love for Food - No post on Lucknow can be complete without mentioning food. Lucknow is a food paradise. Due to loneliness, I discovered love of my own company. I learned to go on bike rides alone. I learned to watch movies alone and I still enjoy that. I also learned to eat alone. My favorites were well known Tundey Ke Kebaab in Aminabad and Prakash ki Falooda Kulfi. I liked Biryani at Dastarkhwaan. There was a small outlet in Dainik Bhaskar Chowk. His Boti Kebaab and Rumaali Roti were yum too. The food really kept my soul nourished. Even today, I like eating out a lot and I have been able to develop taste for multiple cuisines because of my stint in Lucknow.
Lucknow taught me to appreciate other cultures. It taught me to adapt and adjust. It taught me lot about Life.