WRITING STYLE: 4/5
HISTORICAL VALUE: 4.5/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 4/5
As I sit down writing this review, I am reminded of the old lanes, plush lavish gardens and once magnificent semi-dilapidated structures that still speak the saga of the bygone era that was once the ‘Constantinople of the East’, Lucknow.
As the modern day city paces fast to make its mark in today’s global era, there is little space left for the history and the old. Walking down its streets for the first time, I realized how mesmerizing the olden times must have been and how much beauty lies in Lucknow’s past.
Well, that was my first visit to the “Golden city of India”, way back in 2001, and my romance with it has never faded since then. This review is dedicated to the city and is a humble effort to popularize its forgotten past.
We have all heard of Umrao Jan Ada, if not from Urdu Literature, then surely from the way more popular Bollywood culture.
Originally written in Urdu by Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa, and first published in 1899, this book was later translated into English by Khushwant Singh and is a part of the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works and Library of South-East Asian Literature.
In the eyes of many, she was and still is, just a writer’s imagination.
But as Khushwant Singh factually writes, “The Courtesan of Lucknow was no figment of Ruswa’s imagination. She practised her profession in Lucknow and Ruswa had much to do with her life and loves.”
Umrao Jan Ada was much more than words on a paper, she was after all the beloved of the “Shiraz-i-Hind” Lucknow.
The book is written beautifully and the narrations are interlaced with translated prose from Umrao Jan’s ghazals.
The story starts when Umrao was Amiran and used to live a happy and prosperous life with her family. Engaged to her father’s sister’s son at the juvenile age of nine, she was excitedly looking forward to Rajab, the seventh month of the year when her “Nikaah” was due to take place.
But fate had its own plans for her and she was kidnapped by Dilawar Khan, the sworn enemy of her father. Having tricked her with the help of a crook named Peer Baksh, she was taken away to Lucknow where she was sold to the establishment of “tawaif” Khanum Jaan, for a paltry sum of 150 rupees.
It is from here that her life began to change, and once de-flowered, she was renamed “Umrao Jan”.
Umrao Jan Ada is an interesting one, and though interspersed with poetry every now and then, it is nowhere boring or dull. On the contrary, it is this poetry which gives life to the book and imparts its colour.
It is a must-read for anybody who has a thing for history, as it definitely is an inseparable piece of our history.
“Even while dying I thought not of death,
But recalling her ways to the last of my breath”
“Ask me not why in sinful love I so much revel,
Even heaven without love will to me seem hell”
PS: Having read the English version of Umrao Jan Ada, I pine for the Urdu version. But given my ignorance of the beautiful language, I wouldn’t be able to make much out of it.
However, if any of you do plan to read it and are not bound by the constraints I face, do read the Urdu edition, as only in originality lies the true beauty