For the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Shamim A. Aarzoo, a Lucknow-based journalist, reached out to political leaders, candidates and their party men. Quite normal, you might say, for any journalist reporting from the Hindi heartland. However, Aarzoo is not your typical political journalist. He edits a monthly online magazine Lucknow Observer that highlights the culture, cuisine, art and craft, and history of the Awadh region. “I was never interested in hard news. For me, the decaying heritage buildings, old temples with beautiful arches and intricate carvings in rural areas, culture, and even the lost flavour of kakori kebab, are more important,” says Aarzoo. So when other journalists field political questions to party candidates, Aarzoo asks them about the state of heritage buildings in their constituencies, their plan for conservation, and their stand on forgotten memorials. “Everyone highlights the insignia of the Rumi Gate while mentioning Lucknow, but no one cares about the crack that has appeared on it,” he adds.
Against UP’s highly charged political climate, there are few takers for Aarzoo’s dedication. “Usually parties and their candidates skip me once they understand the motive of my conversation. I know my line of questioning will not fetch them votes. But I try, and maybe someday this subject will be on the agenda of political parties,” says a hopeful Aarzoo, who often shows old pictures of monuments in their former glory to politicians in the hope their focus may shift to do something about the crumbling heritage.