Can Lucknow be Paris?


It was an early winter morning in 1858. A British soldier, engrossed in his thoughts, was taking a third lap of his morning walk at Alambagh (outside the city of Lucknow). “Can Lucknow be Paris?” he thought.  He was Robert Napier, the chief of the staff at Lucknow. He had to draw an outline for Lucknow, which would change the city forever !

Somewhere in his mind, maybe he had an influence of an engineer, who had rebuilt Paris – Baron Haussmann. Paris was not always a beautiful city. It was congested and unhygienic. Haussmann was commissioned by Napoleon III, in 1853 to instigate a program of planning reforms in Paris. Sweeping changes were made and the wide “boulevards” were created.

Haussmann’s work destroyed much of the medieval city of Paris. It is estimated that he transformed 60% of Paris’s buildings At one time, one-third of Paris was torn down. His restructuring of Paris gave the city its present form; its long, straight, wide boulevards with café and shops, which determined a new type of urban scenario and had a profound influence on the lives of its people.

One thing lay common in the project brief to both the engineers: Haussmann (Paris, 1853) and Napier (Lucknow, 1858). Both were instructed to make the city more effective for military policing. Under this intend, the wide thoroughfares were to be constructed to facilitate troop movements and prevent easy blocking of streets with barricades. The straightness allowed artillery to fire on rioting crowds and their barricades.

Robert Napier, apart from being a successful soldier, had a big reputation for developing the Ambala Cantonment. The Ambala Cantonment was established in 1843 after the British abandoned its cantonment at Saphera(Patiala), following the malaria epidemic of 1841–42. Napier had been on the vacation to England in the autumn of 1856, and possibly had heard of the Haussmann’s work in Paris, back in England.

 When he arrived at Calcutta in 1857, every British was talking about the mutiny and more so, about the experiences of Lucknow. Napier was sent to Lucknow along with James Outram, the chief commissioner of Oudh, to command the force for the relief of Lucknow. Napier was successful in the siege of the city and had now been assigned to make a “controllable” Lucknow.

The Nawabi city of Lucknow formed the administrative and cultural core of vast, rich hinterland and the centre of its voluminous grain trade. Workshops of artisans, craftsmen, jewellers, bankers and tradesmen sprang up around the court to supply its needs and Lucknow had become the locus for the largest complex of luxury industries in northern India. This city had then narrow lanes and was very populated (about 1,50,000 population). In terms of economy, it was only next to the three port towns of India.

The Nawab of Lucknow had constructed large palace-garden complexes, the major mosques and gateways, the imambaras, the chowk and major markets to form the core of the royal quarter of the city.

 Engrossed in his thoughts, Robert Napier went straight to the drawing board and laid the city map of Lucknow on his table. Was Paris on his mind? Nevertheless, what he did thereafter was similar to what had been done to Paris, five years ago.

Some of the key actions of Napier, which were to change the social and physical fabric of Lucknow forever, were:-  

  • Important buildings were identified and the area around was ruthlessly cleared and the building demolished.
  • The narrow streets of Lucknow made way for 50 meter wide roads. The diagonal streets in the picture above, were drawn on the city map. These broad roads cut through the dense city, razing all construction that came into the way.
  • The main diagonal axis of Lucknow city, from the imambara to the Karbala, was changed. The Karbala was shifted and so was the entire city orientation .
  • The cantonment which was earlier north of river Gomti (3 miles away) was brought closer to the town, in its South Eastern part .

The limelight of Lucknow was shifted to Kanpur, when the British shifted their regional headquarters. To add upon, the new rail line connecting Delhi and Calcutta purposely ignored Lucknow. When it finally came in 1875, it divided the city into an old town and the new town. The new markets around Hajratgunj, were to become the new city center.

While a lot was added in Paris post Hausmann, to become one of the most popular cities in the world, Lucknow lost its grandeur.

The evenings of Lucknow, were never to be the same again !

Source of the Maps and Data:

1. The Making of Colonial Lucknow, 1856-1877 Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press by Veena Talwar Oldenburg .

2. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Napier,_Robert_Cornelis_(DNB00)  

3. Photo: Lucknow IMAMBARA by maneesh_agni (http://www.trekearth.com/)

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30 responses to “Can Lucknow be Paris?

  1. While the British left their characteristic stamp on several cities, i.e. huge Gothic buildings, wide roads and detailed town planning with ample scope for future requirements, fortunately or unfortunately, Lucknow was deliberately left out as a sort of punishment for the events of 1857. The British shifted the capital of United Provinces to Allahabad, sometime in 1877 and Lucknow became a ghost town for the next half a century, whose only attraction was the Residency ruins and its stories, for gawking British tourists. Around 1920, Sir Harcourt Butler again shifted the capital from Allahabad to Lucknow, and some construction work was initiated.. e.g. the GPO, the Council House etc. But it was a case of too little, too late. Lucknow was deprived of its old charms (old Lucknow) and it also missed out typical British approaches to modern town planning. While we may get nostalgic about old Lucknow or old Delhi, it is also a sad truth that post-independence, the country has no city based on sound town planning, The result is haphazard development and traffic jams, and then the building of flyovers to get over these traffic jams. For our short-sighted planners, flyovers are the perennial solution to all woes of Indian cities. Nothing more, nothing else. It may be pointed put that central Calcutta, Lutyen’s Delhi or south Mumbai still do not require fly-overs, despite horrific traffic conditions. Sadly Lucknow’s nawabi architecture was diminished by the British, and it got negligible inputs of colonial architecture. Lucknow was a loser both ways. And it is still a loser in the hands of successive governments, which are preoccupied with personal agendas and personal edifices.

    I am an avid Lucknowphile, having being born and brought up in this wonderful but unfortunate city. I have been out of Lucknow for the last many decades, since I belong to an All-India Service, but I still keep in touch with Lucknow and its genteel people, and I still become depressed when I ponder at what could Lucknow have become.. but what it is ultimately becoming. Lucknow need not become a Paris. If it even becomes a poor cousin to Lutyen’s Delhi or Corbusier’s Chandigarh, it will be a huge achievement. Even it takes care of its monuments like Hyderabad, it will be a huge achievement.

    I can be contacted at: drpcsarkar@gmail.com. I would love to be a part of network of similar thinking folks.

    Best of luck in your endeavors.

    pcsarkar

  2. sandhya singh

    Good one and throughly researched.
    I have spent few years in the city of nawabs, but had no idea about this historical background.since you have working for the tourism planning, may add your own thoughts as eell.well done vikash.keep doing .all the best.

  3. Pingback: CAN LUCKNOW BE PARIS? | India Heritage Hub

  4. An interesting post on Lucknow . . . I also manage a blogsite on indian heritage . . . indiaheritagehub.wordpress.com

  5. Very interesting and insightful piece, I’ve learnt a lot. Visit us here also: http://wakanow.wordpress.com

  6. Interesting read!
    Very succintly written!

  7. Great historical informative article. Keep it up

  8. Dear Vikash. Very good writing for those who do not know much about lucknow. With new dynamic administration in place, why not you try to add some new flavors to lucknow becoming tourist attraction?

  9. Nice and informative post.

    • Thank you so much sir. Its an honour for me to find an appreciation from you. I really enjoyed the photographs taken by you and posted on your blog. Must say, you have a great eye and a good camera!

  10. Artiman Tripathi

    I remember our first meeting in Lucknow. we discussed at length about it. I am a permanent resident of Lucknow and I am supposed to know such facts about my city, the city we love, the city we are proud of, the city we adore, the city of nawabs, the city of culture. Still these information were quite astonishing for me. I could not believe that My Lucknow could have been so beautiful and so spacious with wide roads etc. I congratulate you for bringing these information for public. At the same time I would request you to give suggestions – your vision for beautification of this old city of pride for us.

  11. great insights!!…. lovely writting… was left wanting for more… keep up the good work!

  12. I love it, it is “politically correct” narration, but at the same time a great view into the brutal murder of a city, nae not merely a murder, but complete and total destruction of its izzat followed by murder. Of course deliberate.

    Goes to show my fav, point, art, architecture, science, all the human achievements and crafts are finally, bonded to geopolitics.

    It is that which decides the course, the root OS of men is the ideologies and the power play, everything follows.

  13. There is definitely something deep about this city. You present a beautiful picture of perhaphs what went into Napier’s mind that reshaped the city. I’m reminded of the famous verses of Mirza Yaas Yagana Changezi: “Shiddat-e-lucknow, arrey tauba, fir wohi hum, wohi ameenabad”, and the deep pain and attachment in Kaifi Aazmi’s lines “fizaon mein behte thae aansu, lahu to nahin, yeh koi aur sheher hoga, Lucknow to nahin…”

    • @ Neeraj… too good lines of Kaifi Aazmi… ! i am reminded of some lines i had heard in karachi… “Jo gale miloge tapak se, koi haath bhi na milyega, ye naye mizaaj ka sehar hai, yahan fasle se mila karo”

  14. wow…. what a great insight of Lucknow

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