Writ­ing from the Heart

Southasia - - BOOKS & REVIEWS - The writer is a La­hore-based lawyer.

Delhi by Heart is a pas­sion­ate ren­di­tion of a great city’s story steeped in his­tory and rich tra­di­tions of re­li­gion, lit­er­a­ture, mu­sic and cui­sine. By all stan­dards it fig­ures as an ex­cel­lent first book by Raza Rumi who seems im­mersed in, and equally per­turbed by, the vi­o­lence and mind­less mas­sacre of Par­ti­tion, as the book un­folds. His Apa’s un­ful­filled long­ing to roam the streets of her Am­rit­sar, and the charred re­mains of burnt houses in the Shah Alam area of La­hore when she re­turns af­ter the wave of ri­ots has sub­sided, paint a heart-wrench­ing scene be­fit­ting any good movie on 1947. Raza Rumi writes from the heart.

At times he sounds like a trau­ma­tized adult who is baf­fled and con­fused at the rai­son d’être that forcibly de­tached him from his his­tory, his cul­tural ‘half’ when he sets out to find many unan­swered ques­tions and does find some of them.

His quest starts from the dar­gah of Hazrat Niza­mud­din Auliya in Delhi where­from em­anates an ab­sorb­ing and highly read­able ac­count of Delhi. The drama­tis per­sonae of Rumi’s ex­cel­lent work in­clude his­tor­i­cal fig­ures like Amir Khus­rau, Niza­mud­din Auliya and Mirza Asadul­lah Khan Ghalib, to name but a few and the con­tem­po­rary char­ac­ters of Delhi like Qu­rat-ulAin Haider, Saa­dia Dehlvi, Khushwant Singh and many oth­ers.

Delhi, at times, comes across as an an­swer to the queries of Pak­ista­nis and In­di­ans of Rumi’s gen­er­a­tion about the ra­tio­nale of cre­at­ing an iron cur­tain of ha­tred and an­i­mos­ity on both sides of the Rad­cliffe Line. At other times, it feels as if the au­thor is urg­ing his read­ers not be con­sumed by the flames of gra­tu­itous ha­tred fanned on a minute’s no­tice by zealots, of which va­ri­ety there is no short­age in both Pak­istan and In­dia. He mir­rors Faiz Ah­mad Faiz’s yeh dagh dagh ujala... when he laments on be­ing per­son­ally shut out from what be­came the Union of In­dia in 1947 while al­most ru­ing his Hindu fore­fa­thers’ de­ci­sion to em­brace Is­lam six cen­turies ago at the hands of an as­cetic when the fam­ily was en route to Varanasi for a holy pil­grim­age.

Later in the book Rumi shakes off the bag­gage of Par­ti­tion and swiftly moves on to un­earth the dia­lec­tics of Su­fism through the in­flu­ence of Hazrat Niza­mud­din, and es­pe­cially Amir Khus­rau on Sufi Is­lam by way of mu­sic. Un­like the al­most uni­form mimetic phi­los­o­phy of Shia Is­lam in whichever so­ci­ety it ex­ists be it South Asia, Per­sia or the Arab world, Sufi Is­lam, es­pe­cially the Chishti Sil­sila, Rumi tells us, re­lies heav­ily on the co-min­gling of Is­lamic teach­ings with the in­dige­nous Hindu cus­toms, be­liefs and prac­tices. Thus a very tol­er­ant, non-vi­o­lent, hu­mane and al­most ro­man­tic creed is born.

Rumi’s vis­its to Balli Maran, the mo­halla where Mirza Ghalib used to re­side, are mov­ingly de­scribed in the book. The ge­nius of Ghalib is aptly de­scribed through his poetry but his let­ters in the af­ter­math of the Civil War of 1857 show the agony felt by the sen­si­tive Asadul­lah, shed­ding enough light on the de­struc­tion wreaked on Delhi by the Bri­tish.

One of my ar­gu­ments about the book be­ing a must read is mainly

based on the vast his­tor­i­cal, cul­tural and re­li­gious can­vas it paints so beau­ti­fully, mak­ing it one of the best con­tem­po­rary works on Delhi. It is not an episodic his­tory of the city but more of an in-depth and well-re­searched one with a keen eye but in­ter­spersed with the writer’s ob­ser­va­tions on his nu­mer­ous so­journs to Delhi. A bit like an A-grade doc­u­men­tary where, in or­der to cre­ate a pro­found and last­ing im­pact on the viewer, the pre­sen­ter fre­quently goes back into his­tory to recre­ate the events he is nar­rat­ing.

Apart from be­ing frus­trated at the rigid and de­struc­tive views of a large ma­jor­ity of Pak­ista­nis on In­dia who dis­mis­sively refuse to treat In­dia out­side the prism of the Kash­mir dis­pute, he seems equally per­turbed by sim­i­lar un­for­giv­ing and ‘brain­washed’ views held by In­dian Mus­lims in par­tic­u­lar. His ex­as­per­a­tion pal­pa­ble, he pleads that her­itage and cul­tures, lan­guages and civ­i­liza­tions can be shared be­yond na­tional bound­aries. Why is there an ex­clu­sivism and han­ker­ing af­ter fi­nal so­lu­tions when na­tion­alisms en­counter each other?

Rumi’s ex­as­per­a­tion with pu­ri­tan­i­cal pol­i­tics on both sides of­ten finds refuge in the Sufi dar­gahs of Hazrat Niza­mud­din of Delhi and Data Ali Ha­jvery of La­hore, how­ever dis­tant their mes­sage of love, tol­er­ance and in­clu­sion might seem in to­day’s pol­i­tics of nu­clear brinkman­ship. Stub­born de­nials of our Hindu past and the lat­est phe­nom­e­non of Hin­dutva in In­dia fran­ti­cally at­tempt­ing to erase from mem­ory any­thing sound­ing less ‘Hindu’ in­clud­ing the men­tion of beef eat­ing in re­li­gious scrip­tures and Muham­mad Ali Jin­nah’s ac­cep­tance of Cab­i­net Mis­sion pro­pos­als are a few ex­am­ples of the path of self­de­struc­tion both sides have trod­den for decades with hardly any vis­i­ble change in sight.

It is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict how much ice Rumi’s book will melt in the short to medium term as far as re­la­tions be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan are con­cerned. But his­tory tells us that sane voices al­ways get drowned out in the ca­coph­ony of na­tion­al­ist hyper­bole and hate-fu­elled gib­ber­ish. Hav­ing said that, al­though be­ing a drop of love and peace­ful co-ex­is­tence in an ocean of false na­tion­al­is­tic pride, voices like Rumi’s need to be cher­ished and lis­tened to in or­der to cel­e­brate and en­rich the shared cul­tural past of Pak­istan and In­dia.

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