Lucknow: excerpts from Halide Edib’s ‘Inside India’

This is an excerpt from Halide Edib’s book Inside India. Dalli Bagh was the house where Justice Haleem was born on Ist January 1925. This incidentally was also the home of Barrister Mohammad Wasim, where Lucknow showered its hospitality on Helide Edib during her stay in India, while she was living in self exile, after Kemal Atatturk’s purge.


On my way Lucknow I thought of Sarojini Naidu, when over she spoke or city, she shook her head, and exclaimed Ah, Begum of Lucknow, the Begums of Lucknow.”
“What are they like, Sarojini?”
“Haven’t you seen any?”
I had. One was Professor Mujib’s wife. A young person in her early twenties, but grave enough to be fifty. Handsome, stately, taciturn, with a face in perpetual repose were the Begums of Lucknow like her?

Then there was my little friend Shakira, Professor Mujib’s sister. One called her little, not because of her diminutive nature, but because of a way she had with her. A tiny brunette with eyes of fire, sparkling wit, and a joyousness which was contagious. Yet one knew that she had in extremely sensitive nature, and a capacity for suffering. However, to everyone the seemed always gay, and intensely alive to whatever was going on round her. Nothing used to happen in Delhi from palace to but which she did not know, and which he could not describe vividly, if one could call what she described gossip, one must also admit that she conferred elegance and style on it. And she had a laugh! Unlike any have ever heard, both in sound and quality, it was a warm and husky sound which same from her heart. The moment rang in one’s cars one laughed, whether one understood that she was saying or not, were the Begums of Lucknow like her? Whatever the looked like, their city I thought of a centre of fair Begums and artist; for Lucknow is the place of Mogul painting and art. Didn’t Sarojini Naidu say “In Lucknow and in Hyderabad you have Muslim culture in its essence.

The house where I was going to stay was called “Dalli-Bagh” (Dolly’s Garden), and was named after some far English woman of bygone days; and it belonged to Mujib’s brother, so he was coming with me. I started in a happy mood, and Mujib’s companionship was both valuable and enjoyable. I owe a great deal of my understanding (such as it is) of India to him. Further, he looks very much like one of my sons, so I have adopted him as my spiritual Indian son. But he was not enthusiastic about his city. “Ah! it is a sleepy old place,” he used to say; from which remark one could deduce that Lucknow was immune from the fever of the new life which throbs so disturbingly in every other Indian city.

Houses have the composite soul of their inhabitance. Show me the home of person and I will tell you the kind of person he is. That is why the houses where I have stayed seem to me like so many clues to Indian character: that is why I describe them at some length for my readers.

Dali-Bagh is built on spacious grounds. On one side is a typical English lawn, beautifully mown, and green, on the other side is a rose garden, an orchard; and, I believe, a vegetable garden behind the buildings. The house is built on the eastern side, opposite the rose garden. The entrance is under an arch, and stone steps lead up to the door. One enters a hall, which is both large and comfortably furnished. It is divided from the dining-room by a screen. One gets a sense of a numerous family of all ages living amicably and happily together. While it is not disorderly, one knows that it is a place where the inmates live freely, and can move furniture about to suit their own convenience. At the sides of this hall there are apartments opening on to verandahs.

From the left side of the hall a winding staircase. Something like that of a minaret, leads up to the third storey, which is the top storey as well. The suite of rooms I occupied was there. They opened on to a roof-garden, and to a verandah overlooking the rose garden. My favorite place was the roof-garden, where I could it and gaze at Lucknow. It is not only the city of winsome and fetching Begums, but also of lovely gardens and orchards, which girds the city like a luscious green belt.

As one goes round the house and gets acquainted with its inmates. One says “The west must have entered this house long, long ago. What it has left is no longer a borrowed habit, or a piece of meaningless furniture, but is blended with the East and has become a part of the whole.”

Some fifty people live in that house, people of three generations. The master or the house is Mr. Wasim, Mujib’s eldest brother. He has a great deal in common with his sister, Shakira. The same vital and human interest in people round him, the same ability to be amused and to amuse. He also has the same ringing , contagious laugh. Though an excellent lawyer and extremely able to business man, he is as simple and as affectionate as a child, in private life. One gets that from his manner and the tone of his vice; also in the way the youngsters treat him, lovingly and as if he were of the same age.

He has a father who lives in the same house. The old gentleman belongs to the oldest generation; but Mr. Wasim is the master, because his father has abrogated his right as the head of the family. When I say Mr.Wasim is the master, it is only to show, his official rank in the hierarchy of the family, which is numerous enough to be called a clan. Otherwise the master mistress of the house and of him as well, is Begum Wasim.

I knew of the father through Mujib, who was extremely devoted to him and spoke of him often. I knew that the old gentleman was keenly interested in young India, which he loved as passionately as any young patriot, and he believed in its future. He had read Catherine Mayo’s book on India; and, though it had shocked him, it had also made him see the necessity for change more fully.

Though he rarely left his room and did not appear in company often, he honored me by coming down and being photographed in a family group. He had the composure, the quiet dignity of the educated high-class Turk of forty years ago, a fragile person impeccable dressed in a European suit and a red fez. Neat, elegant and with the courtesy and gravity which mark the gentleman whether East or West. What struck me most in him was the way in which he had followed the march of time , and without bitterness accepted some of its verdicts, and with a sense of proportion which did not make the change look like cheep imitation, or a weakness for fashion. There was no doubt about the high respect in which he was held ; not only because of his age , which in itself is enough to command respect in the East, but because of his man was the only person whom Mr. Wasim did not dare to embrace in public, though he looked as if he would have liked to.

Begum Wasim’s mother was the old gentleman’s sister; everyone is everyone’s cousin, niece. Sister, aunt, uncle, etc, in that family. She is also of his generation, but not of his age; for she was, and will be to the end of her life, never older than fifteen. A slim willowy figure, as swift in movement as gay and quick in repartee as any of her grand-daughter. She used to wear loose white trousers and white chemises, and her head was enveloped in a white veil from under which wisps of grey hair flew about. Her face was small, with as wide forehead and the most delicate chin. Though her face was wrinkled all over, the youthful leanness of the contours of chin and cheeks made her look like a little girl who wrinkles her nose in order to looks funny, she had bright but-brown eyes, and was always on the go, skipping along from one side of the house to the other ; such a flitting vision of vitality and cheerfulness that young and old ran after her, embraced her, or at least smiled at her as one would to a winsome child.

“Mother.” Said her son-in-law, squeezing the little old face whenever he could catch her, and kissing her hands, “where is the Kavali today?” Kavali is religious Muslim music played and sung by a band of musicians. She loved it passionately, Music seemed to be in her blood; one could see it from the quick of her walk, and the rhythm of her whole slim person. She never missed a musical gathering, I was told

The next generation, consisting of the progeny of these tow attractive old people included Begum Wasim, her husband, and his brother and sister, But Begum Wasim besides her very marked personality, had brothers who must be introduced also; for the youthful old lady conferred either personality or a marked talent on everyone of them.

First Begum Wasim;
She and her father-in-law seemed to me the only grown-ups in that happy family, she was the motive power and the responsible director of all the affairs in that vast house hold. Though delicate in health, she continued doing her domestic as well as her social duties. She had immense love for everyone in the house and I often saw her smile at them indulgently and with secret amusement. She ran that house admirably, for I know that the more servants there are the harder it is to organize. Meals were regular, service excellent, and every one was looked after. Yet there seemed to be artistry as well as ability in Begum Wasim’s housekeeping, for one never sensed any deliberate effort about it all for one never sensed any deliberate effort about it all.

In person she was extremely good to look at, Tall, slender with a refined and slightly humorous face; and always in beautiful clothes. An excellent mother of six children, mostly boys, she did not need to train them beyond being an example and inspiration a deep affection and admiration in them all. Besides her own children, there were nephews, nieces, and their friends; quite a crowd of young people who were under her care, and lived most of their time in her house. In the East I have rarely seen this combination of camaraderie as well respect between mother and children.

As a hostess she was perfect. Her drawing-room was full in the afternoons, and every evening there were quite a number of guests of high society. She spoke perfect English and the grace with which she handled her guests or led the conversation made one wonder how a woman who was in Purdah so long could do it so naturally.

One of her brothers is a well-known painter of the classic Mogul school. He lives in a charming, old-fashioned house outside the city, but he is often Begum Wasim’s guest. He never talked, but from the samples of his work I have seen I could not doubt of his talent. His masterpiece, which he had not yet completed, was a “Kavali” gathering of Musicians and singers in a group. No wonder; it is what his mother loves best, and it dominates her son’s fertile imagination.

Another brother is Khaliq uz Zaman. I knew him in his extreme youth. When he came to Turkey as a young member of the Indian Red Crescent, after the Balkan War. He played important parts in both the Khilafat and the Nationalist movements. He stillness to me a man with a political future. He has both the mind and the character necessary for such a career.

Then there is the youngest brother, Dr. Salim uz Zaman. Shakira’s husband, who lives at Delhi. He is a first-rate chemist, I am told. But what interests me most is that he is an original and talented painter of the New School. Each time I visited his house at Delhi the sketches and the paintings on the walls of his bungalow fascinated me. They are utterly different from those of his brother. But he himself is being a fair representative of his contemporaries, filled with restlessness and discontent. One felt from his work the painful consciousness of confusion and contradictory problem which besets the world. The heads of his women had crooked mouths, distorted with the suffering and despair which take hold of people in a transitional age. The age was a blind beggar among them. The expression of the closed eyes with their sightless

The sketch was inspired by Rainer Marian Rilk’s Das Lied des Blinden:

I am blind: ye outside, it is a curse,
An abomination, a contradiction,
Something heavy, day after day
I put my hand on my woman’s arm,
My grayish hand on her grayish grey
And she leads me trough an endless empty way,

Anguish, the movement of his cane in search of direction, seemed to me a true symbol of the young generation. But his masterpiece was the portrait of his mother. It stood above the harassing symbols of the son’s confused time as a symbol of the wholesome and the natural which light the lives of the young.

The third generation consists of daughters, nieces, and little sons of Begum Wasim. They often came to my room: sometimes to ask me if I needed their help, some times to talk for a few minutes. They wear bright-colored trousers and blouses, their young heads always covered with some flimsy, hand-embroidered veil, their braids of long hair and the ends of the veil flying about as they came in and went out with the suddenness and swiftness which characterizes their graceful and youthful granny.

That is the family I am staying with. Besides the Begums of Lucknow represented in that household I have seen others, as guests or at meetings.

From larger groups one got still a better sense of their particular grace.

There was a big garden party on Begum Wasim’s clock-mown lawn. A few hundred of them moving about or sipping their tea. And another garden party of the clubs, where they sat and watched young girls dancing on a platform. And there was the meeting where I had to speak to women. It was in an old palace. A huge hall batched in light, and they sat, row upon row, in their hundred-cloured

You move and make way and think, you alone
Do not sound like stone on stone,
But you are wrong: I, only I
Live and lament and suffer.
In me there is an endless cry
And I do not know, is it my
Heart crying or my intestine.

Draperies all embroidered in gold or silver. A girl in black and white sat on a floor-cushion and played the sitar. Then there was my visit to the mother of the Rajah of Mahmudabad. He was among the friends of Mr. Wasim, and he had asked me after a dinner in his palace whether I would go and visit his mother who never left her residence. I did so with Begum Wasim; and in another big and beautiful palace lived the old lady of the oldest, almost extinct age. Her daughter-in-law and her waiting-women moved about under splendid chandeliers in their dazzling draperies, and brought in tea and refreshments; but they retired the moment their husbands waited until they had left the room before entering the old lady’s presence. It was the custom that no son could appear before his mother together with his wife. Going from Begum Wasim’s house to that strange palace gave one a curious confused sense of East and West, mingled according to the mentality of the inmates of each place. Yes. Lucknow was a city of fair Begums and the East of fairy stories still lingered. Yes that was not the only side of it.

There was the women’s college and the girls school. There was that assembly of professional women to whom I had to talk. I remember them as they sat ,Begum and Shrimati ( Hindu Mrs.and Miss ), simple and business-like, brows contracted with thought, all ready to go to some office after the talk. My association with that side of women’s life was through Shrimati, Lakshmi Menon , a youthful Hindu woman with the usual red mark on her bronzed forehead. Though she was in the turmoil of an active modern life, with its social service and professional activities, still she had her own feminine. Charm and character, not at all inferior to the fascinating, fairy-like Begums. And behind the façade of women’s assemblies and of men’s assemblies, too, at the Municipality Hall, I could see that Mujib was wrong in calling Lucknow a sleepy place. The feverish beat of new life with all its complications was throbbing there as disturbingly as it does elsewhere in India.


4 thoughts on “Lucknow: excerpts from Halide Edib’s ‘Inside India’

  1. hi, i think some one from justice haleem’s family. was wondering if it is possible to get a copy of this book or some photo’s of this house?

  2. Thank you for the comment. The book is available in India. As for the photographs of the house Dalibagh, I am getting these digitially processed to get the best possible view since these are very old and date back to pre-partiion days.

  3. Thanks. Look forward to receiving the photographs. On the book would you know of any bookstore in Delhi which sells it? I have looked all over but can not find it. Have scoured the net also but without any luck.

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