Back of the Book
Why, asks Raza Rumi, does the capital of another country feel like home? How is it that a man from Pakistan can cross the border into ‘hostile’ territory and yet not feel ‘foreign’? Is it the geography, the architecture, the food? Or is it the streets, the festival and the colours of the subcontinent, so familiar and yes, beloved…
As he takes in the sights, form the Sufi shrines in the south to the markets of Old Delhi, from Lutyens’s stately mansions to Ghalib’s crumbling abode, Raza uncovers the many layers of the city. He connects with the richness of the Urdu language, observes the syncretic evolution of mystical Islam in India and its deep connections with Hindustani classical music- so much a part of his own selfhood. And every so often, he returns to the refuge of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the twelfth-century pir whose dargah still reverberates with music and prayer every evening.
His wanderings through Delhi lead Raza back in time to recollections of a long-forgotten Hindu ancestry and to comparisons with his own city of Lahore – in many ways similar to Delhi. They also lead to reflections on the nature of the modern city, the inherent conflict between the native and the immigrant and, inevitably, to an inquiry into his own identity as a South Asian Muslim.
Rich with history and anecdote, and conversation with Dilli- walas known and unknown, Delhi by Heart offers an unusual perspective and unexpected insights into the political and cultural capital of India.
About the Author
Raza Rumi is a writer and development professional from Pakistani. Currently, he is affiliated with the Jinnah Institute, a public policy think tank in Islamabad. He also edits the Friday Times every week, writes columns for leading Pakistani newspapers and journals and is a well known commentator on politics and culture.
Earlier Raza worked as a governance expert for the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo and the Government of Pakistan. This is his first book.
I have always wanted to be an author. This, an unintended and unplanned book, is my first attempt at trying to be one. And while not unaccustomed to writing per se, I must confess I was quite unsure how the book would shape up unit the publisher gave her approval to the initial draft. Delhi by Heart was written between 2007 and 2009 as a testament to my discovery of Delhi and its multi-layered history. By no means is this venture an academic one, nor is it a journalist’s ‘contemporary’ account. It is in many ways an internalized dialogue with a bit of research and occasional interviews. In other ways, it is great leap into the unknown.
As a Pakistani who was born into textbook nationalism, the process of viewing the ‘other’ and what separated us from British India in 1947 has been an arduous one. I grew up and lived in a milieu that conditioned me to resent Indian, especially its role in dismembering the Pakistani states in 1971. At the same time, I also lived in the semi-schizophrenic state of the being part of the ‘enemy’ landscape. The cultural references, historical threads and many other bonds were far too strong. These bonds became stronger as I want abroad for my studies and befriended many Indians in a neutral territory. A Kashmiri Pandit, a Calcutta-based Punjabi and many a Dilli-wala humanized the vision that had been imposed on me. Unlearning was a rare gift that I am tremendously thankful for. I think my Indian friends must have gone through a similar process when we were twenty - somethings attempting to understand the world.
My second meeting with Indians took place when I worked in Kosove as part of the UN peacekeeping mission 200002. As an officer of the administrative service, the Indian civilservants in Kosovo were my friends and there was far too much in common between us, given how we were all, at the end of the day, cogs in unwieldy post-colonial states to be ignored or wished away. My entry into the Asian Development Bank in 2002 again brought me in contact with dozens of Indian colleagues, their spouses and families, who represented another variant of India’s multitudinal reality.
It was during those days that I arrived in Delhi for work. There were frequent visits as a staffer of an international organization, and the work entailed interaction with different segments of Delhi society. This was also the time when I was fascinated by the city and that is when the idea of this book first took root. However, writing this book as a full-time civil servent was not easy. In 2008, my took another turn when I decided to treat myself to a well-deserved sabbatical, returned to Pakistan, and started to a career in journalism and freelance policy work. I was free to travel and open to meeting more people; it was during this period that I discovered the countless, interconnected worlds that exist across the border.
Since then I have also been part of several peace initiatives, both on the Track II diplomacy side as well as cultural cooperation between the two countries. Therefore, the seeming chaos in the organization of this book and its occasionally rambling tone are reflective of diverse influences, scattered notes and raw memories. As I read the draft before it went to the publisher I could not help notice how awestruck I appeared in some of my initial reactions, especially in the early days, and instead of changing them I have let the original emotion remain.
Delhi has undergone several changes over the past few years. People and places have changed too. The book might seem a little dated in places but I would like to remind the readers that it was written four years ago. Updating it would have been a bit unfair to the spirit in which it was authored.
By no means is this an exhaustive travel guide. These are impressions of a foreigner – an ‘outsider’ – who has obviously selected moments and histories of his liking and penned them down. In that sense, I admit its partiality and perhaps a sense of incompleteness. I do fervently hope that my views are appreciated as that of a faint voice that wants to transcend boundaries and borders and reject the ills of jingoism spun by nation-state narratives, which permeate our troubled consciousness. I hope, also, that it will be received by readers on both sides in its true spirit.
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