Long known for its textile in­dus­try, the north­ern city of Lucknow is find­ing new ways to grow its econ­omy, finds Akanksha Maker

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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

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