The title of the book is suggestive—Awadh from late eighteenth century to early twentieth century was an interlude. Lucknow was a nondescript city before Asaf-ud-Daula made it his capital, leaving Faizabad soon after he became the Nawab Wazir in 1775. The most prominent thing in Lucknow before 1775 was the haveli of Shaikh Abdur Rahim Bijnori who was deputed there by Akbar and who built the Machhi Bhawan and the Akbari Darwaza. The former, a famed building of the times, was demolished by the English in 1857. Akbari Darwaza (better known as Akbari Gate) remains, but shorn of its former glory. At the time of the death of Shaikh Abdur Rahim Bijnori, Lucknow was a middle-level provincial town and remained so for the next nearly two hundred years. Asaf-ud-Daula’s shift of his capital to Lucknow inaugurated an era of unparalleled prosperity, sophistication and cultural achievement. Within just ten years of the move to Lucknow, the city could boast to be the site, in the form of the Bara Imambara (or the Asafi Imambara), of a unique building. It is now widely acknowledged as one of the largest vaulted and beamless buildings in the world. Fifteen metres tall, with a length of fifty metres and a width of sixteen, it is still unsurpassed as one of the chief architectural wonders of India. Built in the Mughal style, and designed by Kifayatullah, an architect from Delhi, the building helped Lucknow declare its coming of age as a seat of Mughal or Indo-Islamic culture.
This is not just a book, it is a guide to a past that was vibrant and intellectually and imaginatively affluent. It is not about the Awadh of modern anecdotal lore where the culture of Awadh is denigrated, or scoffed, or ignored. All of us owe a debt to Aslam Mahmud. It is sad that he did not live to see the publication of this book, the fruit of a lifetime’s labour of love.