When I introduced the Rifah-e-Aam Club as my first field discovery in Lucknow back in October, I briefly mentioned its significance for Lucknow Literati circles. It is high time, I feel, to follow-up by looking at two circles in particular - the Progressive Writers Association, which was founded in the Rifah-e-Aam in 1936,1 and the poetic project of the Club's contemporary inhabitant - Sri Cakrapani Pandit. One could add to that list the Jalsah-e-Tehzeeb as the first stage of the Club's relation with literature - but I shall save this for a later post...

Let me first turn to Zaheer's seminal Roshnai,2 in which he reflects upon the convention in which the movement for progressive literature was founded:

We put all our efforts into acquiring the Rifah-e-Aam Hall for our conference. This attractive building had been bequeathed to the nation to serve as a venue for public meetings and conferences, by an eccentric potentate of Lucknow. This progressive-minded gentleman had been dead for several years, and after his departure from the scene, city lawyers and barristers had appropriated the building and set up their club there. The hall now served as a biliard and bridge room and location for a bar (55)

I shall add that the very same bar room is still proudly shown to visitors like me - though nothing than memory reminds one that it had been a bar once. And the billiard table must have been an impressive one, too - all neighbours know of it, and its the first thing mentioned when asking about the Club. On goes Zaheer:

  • 1. Though my colleage and Lucknowi friend Emily Durham-Shapiro would undoubtedly have a lot more to say on this, since she writes her PhD about it...
  • 2. Zaheer, S. (2006). The light. Oxford: Univ. Press.

The two anthropological goats introduced last week continue to guide my work; today's post is about the place where they hang out: the former Rifah-e-Aam Club of Lucknow. Pictured to the right, in the Residency's backyard and a mere puddle (or rather goat) jump from my new home, it was initially little more than a pittoresque structure nearby and a fun place to hang out in the afternoon for kite-flying and cricketeering. But once I managed to track down the Manager-cum-Caretaker with the help of some local boys, read up a bit in the relevant books,1 and turned to the Blogosphere, fascinating new perspectives emerged.

The club was apparently a place of great historical importance, where - folklore has it - Gandhi and Nehru met for the first time, where nationalist demands began to flourish in Lucknow, and where the politics of class, caste and community all left their mark. Now being in utterly neglect as far as its existence as a Club is concerned, but recycled in many new and exciting ways, Rifah-e-Aam - the "public good"2 - also tells a lot about the changing face of Lucknow, UP and India. And since any club is, of course, at its core a game of belonging and non-belonging (even though the goats' membership remains unclear as of yet), this particular one forms a fascinating first nucleus for my quest into Lucknow's history and present, and into the diversity of relations of people with the city and with each other.