"kiyā tabāh to dillī ne bhī bahut 'bismil'
magar ḳhudā kī qasam lucknow ne luuT liyā
A city with a heartbeat made of love, a heart made of a makhmali zaayka, and warmth like an embrace in marmari mulmul - Lucknow, the city of poetry and life. When people say that there has been so much written about Lucknow that it is impossible to write something new, a poet graciously bows her head and begs to differ because Lucknow is a city of immeasurable experiences. Tajurbaat.
While architectural sites like the Bada Imambara and the delicacies of Lucknawi cuisine get the lion’s share of attention (and deservedly so) when it comes to culture and Lucknow, there is another side to the city that has been breathing freshness into our contemporary lives, the art of Chikan weaving, often called Chikankari.
Chikankari (चिकनकारी, چکن کاری), contrary to a lay person’s belief, has nothing related to the culinary treasure that is Lucknow. The word ‘Chikan’ refers to an exquisite motif that is woven or embroidered over a piece of fresh cloth. The motifs, generally, are ethereal flowers that are crafted with extreme precision, making them as haseen as the city itself. Sprawling over a vast territorial as well as historical space called Chowk in Lucknow, the Lucknawi Chikan is so widely adored that the palimpsest of its motif has left its marks from Dilli to Hyderabad. The ‘kari’ in Chikankari refers to the kala, the hand-art of the artisans (karigars).
Chikankari, as an art form, has many mothers. Some say that it was Nur Jahan, the wife of Badshah Jahangir who was interested in the art of weaving and embroidering that lead to the birth of Chikankari. Others believe that because the Mughal Era was largely shadowed by the significance of everything being crafted as per the whims and fancies of the Badshahs or Kings, they wanted the best in clothing as well as in food. It is because of the dire need to reinvent incessantly that the khanshaamas had come up with the world-famous Galawati Kebab and the Karigars with Chikankari. Whatever one believes in, the grandeur and the sheer hardwork that goes into weaving the thread and making a motif out of it has borne the brunt of time and emerges triumphant every time a man or a woman’s body adorns it. Nafaasat, a term we often use to describe the cooking prowess of this Nawabi city, can very easily fit into the mould motif of a booti or a flower that is made on a Chikankari kurti.
It is strange, how there is so much history that travels with us as time passes; in the clothes that adorn our bodies or with the niwala of food that sits on our tongues, every day.
It is strange how history ceases to be history, and we become a part of the act of making history. Everyday.