LUCKNOW: It is said that you may take a Lucknowite out of Lucknow, but you can never take Lucknow out of him. This holds true especially for Mehmood Mehdi Abdi, a lawyer in Mumbai, who has brought Old Lucknow, or ‘khaas Lucknow’ as he prefers to call it, alive through his hilarious anecdotes and stories about myriad characters that define Lucknow’s soul and its traditions. Through his mellifluous Urdu, he has the power to transport you back to the past.
Abdi, who spent his childhood in Golaganj area if ‘Khaas Lucknow’, which was then the heart of Lucknow where bureaucrats and lawyers used to stay, belongs to a Kashmiri family and left Lucknow for Mumbai in 1997.
However, the long hours that he spent with the elders in hisfamily, especially his grandfather who was a freedom fighter, helped him develop a keen sense of perception and make him a highly skilled as a story teller. Later, he started a YouTube channel on Lucknow, called ‘Culture Bazaar’, during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“My stories are not bookish. I would like to write a book on my work, which is based largely on the city’s oral history, anecdotes and information to which I had direct access. If you see, most books about Lucknow end at 1857. Lucknow becomes a fossil after that. ‘Lekin humari zubaan mein Lucknow abhi bhi zinda hai’. Its food and language are part of its living culture. Mahalon ka culture mahallon mein aa gaya (The culture of palaces has seeped into the culture of colonies),” Abdi says.
His stories range from Lucknow’s ‘Taksali zubaan’ to ‘Lakhnawi mizaj’, customs and traditions of Mathurs and Kayasthas, Awadhi weddings, stories about Nawabs, Begums, curfew wali Dulhan, the city’s food habits, an old lady’s tryst with elections and the city’s famed ‘mehemanawazi’, which saw a Lucknowite in Pakistan host someone for a month without knowing who he was, only because he had also come from Lucknow. “It is not easy to talk about things I have only heard about. For the episode of Mathurs, I had to read a lot and speak to many people to understand their culture and traditions,” he said.
Any conversation with Abdi on Lucknow becomes a story within seconds. His own family’s past and their arrival in Lucknow seems to be a tale straight out of a book. His ancestors moved to Lucknow during the time of Mohd Ali Shah. “The prime minister was Haqim Mehdi Ali Khan, also a Kashmiri. The Golaganj community also played an important role in the Uprising of 1857,” he said, adding that things were very disorganised then and people were fighting on their own. “Residents of Golaganj, which is next to the Residency, helped them a lot. Munawwar Shah, commander of Begum Hazrat Mahal, was an ancestor of ours, and led the siege of Residency. He died there fighting. There is an Imambara in the Residency and it is our family tradition to light up the Imambara during Moharram in Shah’s memory. There is an MN Abdi Marg in Golaganj, named after my father,” he narrates. Another interesting anecdote he relates to is about railway stations and how platform tickets came about. “A train arriving at a railway station used to be a grand event, an occasion for an outing for the English women. Before the arrival of the train, there used to be a band and proper tea. People from far-flung places used to come to Lucknow to see the train. Police had to shove all Indians into waiting rooms till the trains arrived.
The Taluqedars found this insulting and petitioned to the Governor, asking for entry to be made ticketed so that they could pay and enter, instead of being manhandled. This is how the practice of platform tickets started. “In 1860, the first Darbar was held in Lucknow and tickets were sold for it. Munshi Newal Kishore bought a ticket for Rs 5 to attend the event.
Abdi’s following on social media has provided him with more fodder for his of stories. Many of his listeners have become friends with whom long discussions over phone have thrown up more anecdotes and personal experiences.
People have called after a show to tell him how the day’s story was about their father or mother or aunt and how they relived their past through his storytelling.

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