REVOLT IN RUINS
It had been a long slumber stay at home that had forced me to travel and on top of my ‘to do’ list in Lucknow was the visit to The Residency. For those who are not familiar with it, The Residency is a township built by the Nawabs of Awadh as a residential facility for the British General, who was a representative in the Court of the Nawabs and others, who served the Queen as well, after the capital of Awadh shifted from Faizabad to Lucknow. Its construction was commenced by Nawab Asafuddaula in 1775 A.D. and was completed under the supervision of Nawab Sa’adat Ali Khan in 1800 A.D., additions were made later as well. The Residency narrates some of the very important chapters of our history since it a symbol of our first fight for independence, ‘the Siege of Lucknow’.
A Rs.5 ticket seemed menial for the elaborate history the place oozes, but being unemployed at present, I am glad. As I walked towards the small door opening, embedded inside an enormous gate, my imagination painted a million pictures for me and when I entered, I wasn’t let down either. Now, if you are expecting a scene out of some Hollywood movie depicting a post war USSR ghost town whose name you can’t pronounce or spell, where the only inhabitants are dogs and squirrels, where the mist is crawling out of every opening of the remains and debris, and your thoughts are the only words audible; I would suggest you visit The Residency during harsh Lucknow winters when the fog engulfs the city for most part of the day. So one such fine winter morning it was when I entered and was suddenly exposed to lots of ruined structures, something I don’t understand to the date why, architects crave for.
The Residency is made on a raised natural mound, which distinguishes it from the surrounding development, for gaining a vantage point during an attack. The structures inside the complex are generally enormous in size and made using thin bricks, which not only provide it with a beautiful texture, but also breaks down the geometry with its linear and non continuous nature. The Banquet Hall, built by Nawaab Sa’adat Ali Khan is a fine example of this. Some of the houses also sport a plaster, which for most part has been eroded, but has fortunately left mysterious Ionic capitals, to spark your imagination among the ruins. For those who have not seen the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, this might just offer them a brief lesson on the Arch Construction techniques, since the exposed brick arches show the making of several kinds of Arches in a rudimentary, yet neat manner. It is interesting to see, and at times imagine from the ruins, a unique amalgamation of Islamic Architecture and construction techniques meeting the English aspiration, of that period. Not only the design of buildings, but the campus, which apart from various facilities, has a Mosque, Church and two cemeteries of different character in the same compound, a harmonious composition in planning. Thus, The Residency could also be considered as an initial step towards Indo-Saracenic Revival.
As the fog cleared its way for a warm winter sun, walking around the campus I lost the sense of period I belong to. It was not just the buildings, but minute details like the Iron benches, lamp post and signage; which according to a guide have been replicated from the remains found, that sets the tone for a pre independence era experience. Part of the brick walkways have been preserved, while the rest, have been restored in the same pattern throughout the campus considering their role in complimenting the brick structures on the site. Also interesting to see were the surprisingly efficient drainage system design and beautiful memorials sprinkled over the site.
Part of the main Residency building is converted into a Museum housing a scaled model of the residency, lithograph, sketches and paintings on the first floor and an elaborate exploration into the Seige of Lucknow through scripts, weapons and paintings, in the basement. It is here in the basement of the once upon a time main Administrative office of a British colony, where you feel the spark of patriotism as you see and read about the mutiny and the sacrifices made by the mutineers who fought India’s First War of Independence. Though the mutiny was brutally suppressed, it inspired many more revolts, which we dedicate our independence to today. This is what gives The Residency, an iconic status in our history. No matter what you read or hear about the Revolt of 1857, it is incomplete till you visit the Residency where the standing structures define the might of the British, while the damage represent the effort of the freedom fighters.
Before I end this article, I would like to appreciate the effort of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in maintaining delicate ruins of our history and amplifying the story these ruins wish to offer. Also I would suggest the visitors to feel free to invade the privacy of couples, engrossed in PDA, if they happen to come in your way of living a day in Pre-Independent India.
Another piece of information to be shared is that this piece of literature was written in Indian Coffee House of Lucknow, which was established in 1958 and boasts of patrons like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, Atal Bihari Bajpai, Acharya Narendra Dev, Chandra Shekhar Singh, Amrit Lal Nagar, etc. The place sure is inspiring and economic; the Black coffee isn’t bad either.
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