There was a time when the historic city of Badaun (also spelt as Budaun and pronounced Badayun), in the heart of the Rohilkhand region, was known for three things: pirs, poets and peras. The 13th-century Sufi saint, Nizamuddin Auliya, was born here and the two prominent dargahs known as Chhote Sarkar and Bade Sarkar drew thousands from far and wide. The pera made here – especially those at Mamman Khan Halwai’s from sweetened milk, boiled till its golden-brown, somewhat grainy residue could be compressed into discs and dusted with powdery sugar – drew its fair share of admirers in a ‘pera belt’ girding the girth of western Uttar Pradesh. But it was the sufis, poets and men and women of letters, really, who had put this otherwise nondescript, dusty, little town on the map. It was once said, only partly in jest, that if you were to toss a pebble at a busy cross-section anywhere in this city, it would be sure to hit a poet – or two!
There was something about this little town beside the River Sot, a tributary of the Ganga that flows nearby, that sprouted ilm-o adab from its nooks and crannies. Ismat Chughtai, Jeelani Bano, Dilawar Figar, Ale Ahmad Suroor, Bekhud Badayuni, Ada Jafri, Fani Badayuni, Irfan Siddiqui, Shakeel Badayuni -- the list of writers born here is long and illustrious. Far away from his watan, Irfan Siddiqui had lamented the loss of his ancestral city thus: