And so off to Lucknow for the long weekend (which for the non-working class begins every Monday). I’m there in my position as media grandee to speak at the launch of a book from all the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM), about which more later.

The most significant part of Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati’s infamous park is its name: Dr BR Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Prateek Sthal (the place of social change). The name is modest, it is appropriate and the place is magnificent. It is a pity that so few people come to it. There were not more than 50 or so the evening I went.

“It can be said of this memorial," the engraving on the walls reads, “that never in the history of independent India has a project of this historic significance and mammoth scale been attempted nor has any project fired the imagination of the people of this land and evoked within them such a deep sense of pride."

I must admit to being prejudiced by media reports about Mayawati statues before I saw the park. Her ego and her presence are incidental to the place. Not since Mughal emperor Shah Jahan have we produced something of this quality and scale.

The statuary is superb. In one enormous stupa, Ambedkar is enthroned like Abraham Lincoln. From the base, looking up at it, he’s massive and powerful, with huge hands and knees, memorialized as heroes should be.

The message written below, echoing M.K. Gandhi, reads: Mera jeevan sangharsh hi mera sandesh hai (My life’s struggle is my message).

I would disagree with that—he’s left behind very eloquent literature. It’s better to read what Ambedkar has written than divine messages from his biography.

Ambedkar Park in Lucknow. Photo: Ashok Dutta/Hindustan Times
Ambedkar Park in Lucknow. Photo: Ashok Dutta/Hindustan Times

I said there was no vandalism inside but on an outside corner of the monument, painted on the wall, is a message for the woman who built it: “Rule till death." We shall see.

The whole thing is a waste of money, yes, but then which monument isn’t? When that colossus is erected in Ahmedabad, of a man from a community that has always produced large but not particularly good-looking men, it will add nothing to the unity of this already united nation.

I think it will not be a patch on what Mayawati has reached for. I only hope the Samajik Parivartan Prateek Sthal survives the decades, if not the centuries, in as good a shape as it is today.

Shah Jahan was disinterested in the Taj Mahal after he built it.

The young Aurangzeb in one of his letters to Shah Jahan complains about the leaking roof of the Taj and the lack of maintenance. Having spent those years building the symbol of India, the emperor visited it exactly twice. Stories about Shah Jahan’s pining for it later in captivity are greatly exaggerated.

The great projects man of the Mughals had already moved on to his next scheme, designing Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi) and the Peacock Throne which, it will interest readers to know, cost more than the Taj Mahal.

Moving on, the Taj in Lucknow is a small palace-style hotel. On the first night, the room next door begins to thump out music at 3am with people shrieking in ecstasy as if they were bringing in the apocalypse. This continues till 6am.

I complain in the morning, and am told apologetically that it was a Haj airline crew. That explains it, then.

The hotel’s bar, Saqi, has its walls painted in beautiful, large Urdu calligraphy. I begin to read: Sharabkhane main kal... (Yesterday at the tavern...). A column on the wall interrupts the line, alas. Another begins as tantalizingly: Saqi apne husn ka sadqa... (Bartender, this offering of your beauty...—the thing to note here is that bartender, a perfectly acceptable substitute, carries nothing of the emotion of saqi).

And another, this time with the poet’s name: Angdai li to ye Maikash ne tod dali... (She stretched out to yawn and Maikash broke it...) What? How?

Anyway, I recognize the point is the calligraphy and not the poetry and I appreciate it.

The bill for the Lagavulins on ice is half of what it should be and I ask why. It turns out my credit card allows me some sort of membership that gets a happy hours (was anything better named?) discount. All right, pour me another in that case.

Off in the morning to see the saint of Musa Bagh. It’s Captain F. Wale who, his gravestone reads, “raised and commanded the first Sikh irregular cavalry. Killed in action at Lucknow 21 March 1858."

The British built a little tomb for him and for this reason, inevitably, Wale has become an Indian saint who needs a unique offering. Devotees light up cigarettes and stick them into the tomb, which “smokes" them. Quarters of whisky are also accepted as offering, but we’re carrying none. I blow across the slab so that Wale catches some of the Lagavulin.

I speak in the evening at the launch of a book, Small Big Bang, written by 26 IIM students from all 13 campuses who have interviewed entrepreneurs. At the function, the youngsters again interview their subjects briefly on stage and three of the entrepreneurs’ stories stay on my mind. One, a man who has invented one-rupee sanitary napkins for the poor. Another, a barber who made millions from leasing luxury cars, who returns to his salon every evening to cut hair. A third, an American who has invented an ECG monitor that uses smartphones to send data directly to doctors.

The event is packed and covered by all the Hindi papers widely, if sometimes inaccurately. One of them runs my photograph with a caption saying, incorrectly, that I am the author of the book.

That paper is inext, a mostly Hindi paper that uses some English headlines and text (“No more sex tapes for Kim" is one). Interesting idea but wrong execution, I think. They should use Roman Urdu (Hindi words in English script) as advertisers have begun doing across India.

The headline of the lead story, about Uttar Pradesh chief minister (CM) Akhilesh Yadav taking charge of the traffic police, is: “Lijiye... Ab checking bhi CM karayenge". Another lead headline a couple of days earlier from inext read: “Saat saal tak pyar, phir dhokha de saat samandar paar".

I have always thought Hindi headline writing to be better than English in India, being more relaxed and direct, flavoured with more opinion. The language stirs emotion in readers in a way words rooted in foreign etymology cannot.

Speaking of language, I was pleased to often hear in Lucknow the correct enunciation of the Urdu ain, ghain, khay, etc., something that has disappeared from upper-class India.

At the city’s All Saints Garrison Church in the cantonment, a century old, in great shape and almost totally deserted, the prayer books are in Devanagari. Written in 1826 by Reginald Heber, the first song is “Hamd-o-sana teri khuda, jalwa tera hum ko dikha—Aankhon mein aa, dil mein sama, maqdis tera dil ko bana (All praise to you lord, show us your glory—come to us, and make our heart your temple)". What a beautiful country. I doubt anyone reading those lines can tell what faith it speaks of with such elegance.

The English of Lucknow is not as good. The Hindi spelling of the word “point" in signage everywhere insists on using a half-p and a v, making it “pvoint".

Mullah ki daud masjid tak and we go to Ram Advani’s famous bookshop in Hazratganj. He is very old but alert and chatty and tells me a few things which I found interesting. He’s never travelled south of Nagpur. He umpired in 1943 for a match between Lawrence School, Sanawar, and Bishop Cotton School, Shimla. The other umpire was Douglas Jardine of “Bodyline" fame. I ask him what Jardine was like and he says, “Reticent. He wanted to know if there were any local cricket rules he should know about."

Advani is a Sindhi from Lahore and we talk about his old city from the 1940s, when he left it. On a whim I ask him if he knew of a Mrs Rallia Ram of Masson Road. Yes, he says, very well. She was from a Christian family.

The penny drops for me. I have always been puzzled by this woman, a regular correspondent of Muhammad Ali Jinnah whose letters are in the Jinnah papers, and who railed against the conspiracies of the “Hindu" Congress.

On 29 May 1946, she wrote to Jinnah saying that he should “not give up the demand for an equal sovereign state. The oppressed and disgraced of the Hindus must have a place to run to and take shelter. Pakistan will be a refuge for such people."

Advani says that the family left Pakistan after it was formed. This didn’t surprise me. Wonder what Mrs Rallia Ram would have made of Mayawati’s park.

Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns