Jane Rankin-Reid, Tehelka, issue of November 11, 2006
The indolence enforced at the Lazies’ was both delightful and exacting, says Jane Rankin-Reid of a uniquely eccentric writers’ club
Without doubt, I’m one of India’s most indolent tourists. On a recent visit to Bhopal, with rain deluging sightseeing plans, I happily spent almost every waking hour in an old socialist café, the Indian Coffee House, in the middle of the city, listening to stories of Bhopal life beyond the dark legacy of the gas tragedy. In the 25-odd years since the Union Carbide leak, Madhya Pradesh’s state capital has seen waves of ambitious development, while thousands of Bhopali residents still suffer from the excruciating after-effects of noxious asphyxiants and contaminated groundwater. But, even as the battle for fair and equitable restitution continues, Bhopal’s proud 20th century cultural heritage is in danger of being drowned in the drama of the fatal catastrophe that has reshaped the city’s identity in international imagination.
As rains lashed the café windows with the fury of a spoilt child, my Bhopali companions warmed to a subject close to their hearts. Writer Nasir Kamaal’s beautifully-phrased weekly columns, “Bhopal Then and Now”, ran for almost a decade and they’re a rich resource of wacky literary nuggets about the city’s glorious days as the heartland of the great Indian ghazal. According to Kamaal, the legendary Lazies’ Club, the Daairat-ul-Kuhala, began in the late 1920s, partly in response to global strife which its founding members believed was happening because the world was in “too much of a hurry”. Bhopal’s extensive community of writers and poets responded to mounting external turmoil by elevating laziness to a socially desirable art form.
Widely recognised as a mid-century home to the elegant, heart-wrenching Urdu ghazal traditions, Bhopal’s literary legacy is inextricably coupled with the uniquely Indian phenomena of creative lethargy. Few of the poets, singers and ghazal lovers who flocked to the city for great evenings of poetry and song could escape the infamous Lazies’ Club which often hosted recitals by the famous Urdu poet, Jigar Moradabadi, who eventually became the Lazies’ president Joining the Lazies cost a pillow but membership rules were excruciatingly demanding. The club’s etiquette ranked members’ status by whether they were quite literally lying down, sprawled, seated or bolt upright. Anyone left standing paid for drinks and, after an evening of fetching and carrying for more senior idlers, newcomers learned never to stand on ceremony again. Traditionally members slumped to the floor immediately upon arrival. Word games and Hindi-Urdu alliterations were commonplace, as were bizarre clubbable ranks and titles. Such were the deliberate degrees of decadence at the Lazies’, that Moradabadi called it his second home on his frequent extended visits to the city — and he wrote more there than anywhere else in his extensive career. Bhopalis adored the wandering poet to the point of near extinction: a goon kidnapped him one afternoon for a private recital. He was also just as popular with the freedom fighters at the local Anjuman Khuddam-e-Waton office. Moradabadi’s extensive drinking habits were tolerated too, which was fortunate given his profession and the Lazies’ membership rules.