The Eclectic and Ephemeral

Submitted by: Prodeepta

Instead of the “Chhota Lucknow” as I had expected to come across, what I found when I arrived at Garden Reach is a bedlam shops spilling into the main road. It is only when one walks a few meters into unassuming galis that vestiges of Wajid Ali Shah’s world reveal themselves – a pastiche of Calcutta and Awadhi architecture – buildings that don’t visually fit into the physical perceptions of mosques or imambaras. The Nawab’s microcosm, had lasted for a very short period of time. Now, only the religious buildings persevere, in different stages of dilapidation, subsumed within the throng of encroachments. Metiabruz is, at present, only a lingering shadow of its past.

The architecture of Awadh was by and large, an offshoot of mainstream Mughal architecture. Calcutta’s residential architecture, a much younger and diffident style, was itself an amalgamation of colonial and vernacular styles. Negotiating between them emerged this eclectic mixture. The architectural elements of the buildings form a motley crowd. The arcuated structures of [Islamic architecture] are replaced by trabeated buildings. The vaulted structures are traded for the Kori borga ceiling. The exposed facades of lakhori bricks of Lucknow become white-washed walls with pops of green, blue and yellow. Yet they do little to hide the palpable melancholy of the colonnades and courtyards. The opulence has been inured to the circumstances. They persist only in faint echoes of cusped arches and minars, ironically looking out of place in what are essentially Islamic religious buildings. Auspicious symbols of fishes and melons find their way into gates and balustrades.

The Shahi Masjid shows off thick fluted columns with flower-shaped capitals. In the Sultan Khana courtyard, Shah-Jahani scalloped arches frame green louvre windows. One cannot help but notice the uncanny resemblance the east façade of the prayer hall of the Sibtainabad Imambara bears to the thakurdalan of zamindar baris in North Calcutta.

The physical representatives of the two disparate worlds exist at some sort of a compromise, if not coming together. Such eclectic mixtures of architectural styles have happened across India time and again throughout history, wherever local artisans have been hired to work on non-native architectural styles. Yet, few are as whimsical and solemn as the one in Metiabruz.

The ruins remain as tangible traces of his longing for his homeland, physically manifesting the sense of placelessness he might have felt at finding his feet in foreign ground.

dar-o-dīvār pe hasrat se nazar karte haiñ
ḳhush raho ahl-e-vatan ham to safar karte haiñ



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The Eclectic and Ephemeral