Lucknow, Jan 23 (Agencies): Barely five months ago, when the idea of restoring the glory of Hazratganj was mooted on completion of 200 years of this historic city, no one was ready to believe that Lucknow's main shopping street would actually get a makeover.

But some residents of Lucknow, a city of two million people, succeeded in pleading the case of Hazratganj with the powers that be to make it happen and that too in an incredibly short span of time.

"I could not imagine even in my dreams that Hazratganj would ever look so beautiful," is the common refrain of the young and old. "I am coming to my city after a gap of just six months and just cannot believe my eyes," remarked 48-year-old Rashmi Tandon, who was born and brought up here.

The upmarket street, which has stores selling a range of goods, from clothes to electronics to food, has been made a no-hoarding and no-parking zone and overhanging cables have been sent into specially cast underground cement concrete ducts.

As a result, the grand old buildings along the wide street that were overshadowed with the giant hoardings and partially hidden behind dangling wires and cables are suddenly making their presence felt.
Fountains have spruced up the street. Polish on the facade outlined with pink arches and projections has brought back the original glow of the oriental architecture, while uniform signage in luminous black and white has given a modern blend to the original.

The construction of a multi-level parking lot in place of an old and dilapidated police station has made way for extending the corridors into well-aligned pebbled pathways, adorned with piazzas, green areas, wrought-iron benches and with beautifully crafted tall cast-iron lamp-posts, reminiscent of the Victorian era, flanking the two sides of the street.

A group of enlightened citizens had barely put their act together to moot the idea of celebrating the second centenary of the city's fashionable commercial hub, when Chief Minister Mayawati's most trusted lieutenant, Satish Chandra Misra, provided the much desired shot-in-the-arm. He promptly got Mayawati's nod to undertake what was considered impossible.

After drawing much flak for pumping in nearly Rs.6,000 crore towards memorials, statues and parks, Mayawati's concern for heritage of the state capital earned her bouquets even from quarters that earlier had brickbats for her.

Ask Chander Prakash, the suave owner of Universal Booksellers, Hazratganj's most popular bookstore, and he is all praise for Mayawati and Misra.

"But for the chief minister's express support, this restoration work could not have been accomplished. I am grateful to Satish Misra and the team of officials for taking our cause to the court of the chief minister, who readily gave her nod to go ahead," Chander, who also heads Lucknow Connect, the citizen's group that took up the cause of Hazratganj as a mission, said.

Mayawati, the chief minister of India's most populous state who is otherwise known for her obsession with memorials dedicated to her Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) icons and her own statues, took everyone by surprise when she responded favourably to the idea of taking up the makeover of Hazratganj.
Chander explains how the idea of refurbishing the market took seed.

"It was a visit to Scotland that re-kindled my passion for the city of my birth," recalls Chander. "It was my simple gesture of holding on to the door while waiting for an elderly Scottish gentleman to catch up, together with my remark, 'after you, sir', that prompted him to shoot back, 'young man, are you from Lucknow?'"
Completely floored, Chander asked him how on earth did he guess he was from Lucknow. Pat came the reply, "Well, there is no other place in the world where one says - after you (pehle aap)."

Ever since his return, Chander was keen to do something for his city. He mooted the idea of celebrating the city's bicentenary to some friends who promptly joined him to constitute the citizens group, which also roped in the Hazratganj Traders Association.

Twenty-one-year-old Deep Choudhari who moved out of this city to pursue college only two years ago is now concerned about ensuring the high-street is able to maintain its new look. "I hope they look after the place now," he said during a recent visit from Ahmedabad.

Perhaps that concern has led some local youths to pitch in.

"We propose to start a campaign to dissuade people from littering any more and that would be done through 'Gandhigiri' - offering flowers to those who attempt to dirty Hazratganj, which is doing us proud yet again," quipped Anil Agrawal, a college student.