The pehlay aap culture is associated with Lucknow, the epitome of North Indian culture, the region most influenced by successive Muslim empires. Lucknow came into its own as a cultural centre with the decline of the Mughal Empire.

Here evolved the highest forms of poetry, tanz-o-zarafat [satiric] prose, music, dance, theatre, art, architecture, elegant fashion, refined pastimes, innovative cuisine, even intellectual courtesans. Tehzeeb [a cultured way of life] is often linked to tammadun [the art of living together]. Lucknow was known for its Ganga-Jamuni culture - the merging of the best of cultures, an entente cordiale [a friendly understanding].

It all came crashing down in 1856 when the East India Company annexed the state of Oudh and sent the Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah, into exile in Calcutta. Abdul Haleem Sharar wrote the ultimate elegy to the city in his book, Guzashta Lucknow, in 1926. Nevertheless, the Lucknow legacy set the bar for refined culture for generations to come. Many believe that even the Bollywood film industry developed because of its roots in the culture of Lucknow, its writers, singers and music composers.

The pehlay aap culture was a reflection of this refinement. The joys of life were for sharing, not competing for the spotlight. People described themselves as khaksaar [as humble as dust]. You were invited to their ghareeb khana [poor house]. Even the most lowly were addressed as aap, qibla or janaab. In great rage, a person would be called an ahmaq [foolish] or jaahil [illiterate].

This art of self-deprecation is also a hallmark of that other great culture - the Japanese, where Jigyaku-teki, or humility is intended to put a person at ease, create harmony and avoid conflict.

British self-deprecation, mostly seen in their humour, is a more complex art that sits comfortably with a nation that had the panache to conquer and rule countries many times their size. Nevertheless, it was deemed unseemly to brag or to be openly competitive.

According to Will Storr, author of Selfie: How We Became So Self-ObsessedandWhat It's Doing to Us, the genesis of the 'Me First' culture can be can be traced to Californian politician John Vasconcellos who, in 1986, instituted the The State Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility.

Seemingly, all of the ills of society could be cured by raising self-esteem, starting with...

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