With the retreating monsoons, the political firmament of the State started hotting up. As the assembly elections approached, the political parties began flexing their muscles. In a show of strength and to reassure itself, the party in power had organised an all-India rally in Lucknow that day.
To late risers like me, it seemed that the entire human race had descended on the city. Leave alone driving, even walking in the middle of the hired semi-urban hordes without being pushed or shoved, was a singular achievement. I don’t know about others but that day it took me a full one hour to reach the office, a route which would normally take me just 10 minutes.
With the rally on, obviously it was a hectic day for all of us – the reporters, desk, bureau, designers and the photographers. Even Nilofar’s Features Desk, which had its task cut out a week in advance, was busy preparing some soft stories on the rallies. I didn’t get time to talk to Shenaz that day. Finally, I caught up with her late evening when she was preparing to leave. All the main arterial routes were still packed with our country cousins on foot, trucks, buses and SUVs. “How will I ever reach home, Aditya?” Shenaz sounded worried even as she boarded her rickshaw. And quite understandably, she was apprehensive of wading through this unruly mob hell bent on creating ruckus on the city streets.
All she had to do was to look at me with her limpid eyes, her pretty brows knitted in worry and…. “I’m coming along,” I said and took charge, asking the rickshawallah to take the bandhey-wala route – a road that runs parallel to River Gomti, actually a thin silver stream, which bisects this City of Nawabs into two eras.
And just as I feared, even this usually deserted road was held to ransom by a huge traffic snarl. Like all other men, I was also told in my growing years, that men aren’t supposed to panic. More so, if they are accompanied by someone as lovely as Shenaz. So, by default I got into my Superman act, minus his cape and that bright red rag down under. I told her to chill, giving my best shot to a reassuring smile, without even knowing what my next course of action would be. But soon even I was quite impressed by myself as I held her hand and led her through the milling crowd across the road down the flight of stairs to the bank of the river.
Away from fumes, frayed tempers and the ceaseless cacophony of traffic crawling at a snail’s pace, I asked Shenaz in all earnestness if she would mind a boat ride to the Old City.
“Seems a good idea. Actually a damn good idea but I have to tell you that I don’t know how to swim,” said Shenaz, suddenly looking animated and vulnerable at the same time.
“Shenaz, I’ll never let you sink. Trust me! In any case, things won’t come to such a pass.”
The reluctant boatman lying half-asleep on the riverbank agreed to ferry us to the Pucca Pul after I happily doubled the incentive. “We’ll share the charge. Please Aditya,” pleaded Shenaz as we stumbled our way to the other end of the ramshackle boat, while she held on to my arm tightly.
It was one of the most picturesque settings in which I could have imagined myself with Shenaz. If you have ever seen a monsoon evening in Lucknow, you’ll know what I mean, especially when the mellow setting sun playing hide and seek with the clouds, paints the canvas of sky in a riot of exuberant colours and patterns, most of them beyond human imagination.
God must have been in love when he did that, I tell you.
(About the Guest Travel Journalist):
Rajnish Sharma is the Editor of Orbit. His articles, essays and columns have been published in newspapers, magazines and portals all over the world. Rajneesh has worked in all the top newspapers of India – The Times of India, Hindustan Times and Business Standard. The travel piece has been taken from his debut novel Flickering Flames. Rajnish Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org