MADE IN INDIA
Long known for its textile industry, the northern city of Lucknow is finding new ways to grow its economy, finds Akanksha Maker
A look at the northern city of Lucknow
The freeway linking Chaudhary Charan Singh International airport with the centre of Lucknow provides a snapshot of Uttar Pradesh’s capital. The modern road quickly gives way to the more congested streets of the city, where locals enjoy hot snacks against a backdrop of ancient monuments and modern construction sites jostling side by side.
Lucknow is definitely expanding. The North Indian city’s suburbs have developed considerably in recent years and its population is now about 4.5 million. Infrastructure is rushing to catch up. The Rs 70 billion (£700 million) Lucknow Metro Rail, scheduled to open by 2017, will help to ease the traffic, while the 302km-long Agra-Lucknow Expressway, estimated to cost Rs 105 billion (£1 billion), is being built to connect the two cities, cutting travel time in half.
The Lucknow Development Authority has a masterplan for the city leading up to 2031, which includes not only improving road and rail but housing and commercial development. The plan is for Lucknow to accommodate a 40-hectare IT city on Sultanpur Road (the road connecting Lucknow to the city of Sultanpur in the south of Uttar Pradesh), which will create 25,000 jobs. The project will be a Special Economic Zone developed under a public-private partnership model by Vamasundari Investments, an arm of HCL Technologies.
State-of-the-art construction has also been sanctioned in Gomti Nagar in eastern Lucknow, a settlement handled by the authority. One of India’s largest townships, the area is home to new-age Lucknow consisting of IT parks, corporate houses, malls, universities, banks and premium residences.
The emergence of this area threatens to replace Hazratganj, in central Lucknow, as the city’s commercial hub. Being the city’s busiest crossing, Hazratganj still remains Lucknow’s prime bazaar,
housing a number of shopping complexes, restaurants, hotels and cinemas.
Shifting from contemporary to traditional comes easy to Lucknow. Hazratganj and Gomti Nagar embody its new face, while areas such as Aminabad and Chowk in the Old City represent its rich antiquity. Fondly known as the “City of Nawabs”, Lucknow was the capital of the Avadh region during the 18th century, when Mughal emperors appointed governors, or nawabs, to look after the administration of the province.
It was during the reign of the Mughal dynasties that Lucknow flourished culturally in the fields of literature, music, poetry and dance. Walking through the bylanes near the Akbari Gate (located at Chowk, 20 minutes from Hazratganj), the bustle of bazaars transports you a few centuries back in time, with stores selling traditional Indian craftwork.
Uttar Pradesh has always been a significant manufacturer of handicrafts and, as the capital, Lucknow champions this to sustain skills such as carpet weaving, kite-making, embroidery and earthen pottery, which originated during the Mughal reign. It’s fascinating to see age-old art support an economy that helps to foster growth across the entire state.
While it generates sufficient employment for skilled artisans, it also provides a platform for female workers who are restricted from taking up corporate jobs. The crafts, especially embroidery, generate foreign exchange from exports and aids the city’s GDP through domestic trading.
India is renowned for its textile expertise, but Lucknow has its own specialisation. While stitch types such as Mukaish and Zardozi (in which thin strips of metallic wire are inserted into the fabric and twisted to create embroidery) are popular, it is Chikan embroidery that drives the city’s garment trade.
‘We are known for the Made in Lucknow stamp, not Made in China’
The practice is believed to have its roots in 17thcentury Lucknow, when Nur Jahan, wife of Mughal emperor Jehangir, encouraged the artform across the Avadh empire. Its technique requires thread to be carefully hand-embroidered on textiles such as cotton, muslin, chiffon and silk to follow patterns printed with blocks on the fabric.
Exporting these products is the challenge of companies such as MLK Exports, a manufacturer and wholesaler run by brothers Shishir and Sharad Kapoor. Their firm exports garments wrought with Chikan embroidery to 26 countries – working with companies such as Net-a-Porter – and adapts its styles to suit those markets.
“Our international clients love working with us not only because of the high quality of our garments but also because we understand the preferences of Western customers,” Kapoor says. This helped the company to grow by 25 per cent last year, he reports.
MLK also shares its success with its employees and the city. While most companies prefer to outsource the hand-work, this company opts for in-house production, employing about 200 women full-time.
Eminent figures in the Indian fashion world also use the stitch in many of their collections. Designer duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla’s Chikan gowns have been spotted on the likes of actress Judi Dench on the red carpet.
As Chikan gains visibility globally, commerce in the city faces challenges from the advent of Chinese machinery that manufactures high volumes with smoother finishes. Still, Kapoor is confident about his own product, and believes the market for Chinesemanufactured Chikan is very different from that for the homegrown hand-embroidered variety.
“We are known for the ‘Made in Lucknow’ stamp, not ‘Made in China’, ”he says. If it carries on the way it is, Lucknow will certainly make its stamp on the world.
Above: Chhota Imambara monument