April 21: Nawab Mir Jafar Abdullah entertains guests in the celebrated Awadhi style of his forefathers. The nawab (title of former rulers of princely states), hosts elaborate traditional dinners for foreign tourists at his grand palace called Sheeshmahal (glass palace), in Lucknow, in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Lucknow flourished in the 18th century as the capital of the nawabs of the principality of Awadh. It became an important cultural centre for art, music, crafts and etiquette based on the idea of graciousness that may seem excessively laidback today.
But it is a tradition that has admirers across the world even to this day. The famed Luckhnavi tradition of hospitality, in particular, is worth savouring again and again, they claim.
Nawab Abdullah’s guests will agree. The nawab takes them around his residence and shows them his collection of artefacts. Not just that. At the dinner table, he takes great pains to explain the origin of each gourmet delight served.
Of course, he is no longer the ruler of anything except maybe his home, but he does have royal blood coursing in his veins. And Sheesh Mahal was built by Asafudaulah Bahadur, the fourth nawab of Awadh.
The dream host, isn’t he? Yes, but like all good things, the nawab’s hospitality too, comes at a price. To be precise, Rs 850 or a little less than $20.
The gaggle of guests he regularly entertains comprises foreign tourists looking for an authentic ‘feel’ of India. So, what are a few dollars if, in return, they get to meet a royal descendent and wine and dine at his residence?
Actually, ‘Dinner with the Nawab’ is a package that the Lucknow branch of a tourist agency ?? is selling to foreign tourists. “We wanted tourists to actually come face to face with the nawabs and transport them to that era of yore,” explains an official of the travel agency in a report published by The Hindustan Times. Going by the enthusiastic response, the package is a sell-out.
Often, a little drama enacted by the nawab, too, is part of the package. While being shown around, a tourist sometimes expresses a desire to take home a little souvenir from among the nawab’s artefacts. The nawab refuses at first. When cajoled, he agrees to part with it for a ‘small consideration’.
The agency came up with the package to revive flagging tourist interest in Lucknow. The days of glory of this city are long over. Lucknow is today a crowded, dirty city with little infrastructure to enable it to take its pride of place in the present. Whether domestic or international, tourists usually avoid it.
Realising that the only thing that could sell Lucknow is its past, the agency began its hunt for a real nawab. The search ended with Nawab Mir Jafar Abdullah, whose grandmother belonged to the family of the sixth nawab, Saadat Ali Khan, who ruled Awadh in the early 19th century. It hired the nawab for a certain amount to play the host.
The investment has paid off, with the agency, the nawab and Lucknow tourism all making good money in the bargain. The agency’s order book for the package is sold out for this season and the next!
It appears that the agency has borrowed a leaf from the book of Rajasthani tourism. The state government of the desert state of Rajasthan, has ‘sold’ the state’s history, culture and splendid views (of forts against the spectacular desert backdrop), to groups of wide-eyed foreign tourists, very successfully.
While Lucknow lacks views, it does have enough history and culture to satisfy the craving for exotica of most foreigners.