As we enter Lucknow, we pass large hoardings for, first, the "American Centre for Language"; second, the "British Centre for Language"; third, and appropriately enough, the "Global Centre for Language". All three in a stretch of about 50 metres, all say "Learn to Speak English".
There are a lot of people wanting to speak English, clearly.
The next day, we pass a fluttering banner for the "Egg-on English Speaking Institute." Thought-provoking, that one.
And high on a building in a Lucknow circle is an illuminated sign that I hope, for the sake of the students at these Centres and Institutes, was not made by one of their graduates: "Boys Hostel Best Fooding and Loading."
In fact, I also hope the students at these Centres and Institutes are not taking rooms at this Boys Hostel. Unless there's some connection between "Egg-on" and "fooding and loading."
In Lucknow, you've got to visit Bada Imam Bara. For the magic of the Bhul-bhulaiya, certainly. Who dreamed up the idea of turning solid walls into this intricate, confusing and exhilarating maze? Deserves a prize.
But it's also worth a visit for the green signs that grace the place.
Kindly put off your shoes here: Well, I keep trying, but I can't find the switch. What next?
This is your ancestral and cultural heritage, kindly don't insult it by spitting. And similarly, This is a historical and religious building, please don't spit. Very good. Only, a lot of people clearly don't feel those ancestral and cultural ties: corners coated thick with spittle are everywhere in the building. Sometimes, barefoot in the maze, I could swear I am walking slimily over the stuff. So much for insults.
To spread filth is the nature of animal. We are human. All I can say is, read the preceding paragraph, and kindly don't insult animals.
Carrying guide is must for couples. A toughie. We do our best with our guide, but the fellow – a morose and slightly hunched 60-year-old – keeps falling out of our arms. And in the narrow corridors of the Bhul-bhulaiya, we can't help bumping his head into the walls. Brings on wails of pain. Noisy guy.
We're in Lucknow on Id, and the sky is filled with kites; I mean filled to an extent that I don't remember in Bombay since the Sankrant days of my youth. There are stalls right on the road selling colourful kites and busily winding string onto colourful phirkis (bobbins, my wife translates). From our tiny third-floor hotel balcony, we look out across any number of rooftops on which bands of boys are flying the little paper squares. In the street, in the parks, more bands of boys are kite-runners, leaping and shouting happily - brings to mind Khalid Hosseini's beautiful book.
I read in a Lucknow paper that some of these kite-flyers use wires instead of string, and this causes problems which the electricity department must deal with. Why do such a stupid thing?
We are in a cycle rickshaw going somewhere, and an older man – elegantly dressed in sherwani and cap – speeds past on a scooter. Some 50 metres ahead, he stops suddenly in the middle of the road. As we catch up, we realize why: he has run into a kite-string, stretched across the road. Boys on either side are yelling instructions at him, trying to lift the string up so he can pass, so on. As we pass, he takes matters into his own hands. With a smile on his face that has the boys laughing too, he bites through the string and scoots on.
Somewhere along the highway between Kanpur and Lucknow is the "St. Acquinas Public School", run by S Srivastava. If that seems just a tad incongruous, surrounded as it is by fields and chirping lapwings, I found more saintly incongruity deep inside Aminabad in Lucknow.
Indeed: walls plastered with leaflets for classes run by Sachin Kumar and his "St. Academy of Science."
Who was this "Academy of Science" fellow and what did he do to be made a saint?
On the back of one of Kanpur's put-putting tempos, I was delighted to find this: Jinhe jaldi thi, vo chale gaye ("Those who were in a hurry are gone"). It occurred to me that this is the closest I've seen to the bumper sticker that gave this blog its name, "Death Ends Fun."