books

Khushwant Singh: ‘The last Pakistani living on Indian soil’

12 April 2014

My tribute to KS (first published in DAWN on March 30)

IT is difficult to evaluate the legacy of writer, journalist and an icon of our times Khushwant Singh who passed away last week after leading a full life that many would dream of leading. Singh was immensely popular in Pakistan. For the past two decades I have spotted his books — legit and pirated — at almost all bookstores in every city. His writings had an impact and inspired generations to emulate his incomparable style. His larger than life stature in India was equally recognised in Pakistan.

Singh was born in Hadali village (now in Pakistan), lived in Lahore and until his last never disowned his roots. Such was his worldview that Partition and the ensuing bitterness did not change his empathy for Pakistan. This is why many Pakistanis were his friends and he gave them due attention, respect and time. A photograph of his best friend from pre-Partition days, Manzoor Qadir (jurist and Pakistan’s law minister under Ayub Khan) was displayed prominently in his living room.

It was Singh’s stature in the world of Indian journalism that is perhaps unprecedented for its influential relationship with readers. As a critic of the establishment, Singh guarded his intellectual independence. His proximity to Indira Gandhi and a brief period of closeness aside, he remained a fierce commentator on all things political and cultural. Singh for example returned the honours awarded to him after Gandhi’s operation at the Golden Temple in the 1980s. Over time, his column ‘With Malice Towards One and All’ became a regular window of refreshingly fresh and iconoclastic commentary. Singh’s attitude to Pakistan was always irksome for the rightwing Hindus and often he would get hate mail, which was a source of amusement to his expansive spirit. Of course Singh came from a privileged background and things were easier for him compared to a lot of writers and journalists across the region. But he did give up a career in law and diplomacy to become a writer. And a prolific one at that.

RAZAKHUSHWANT (more…)

In An Antique Land

28 March 2014

Another review on my book “Delhi By Heart” appeared in Outlook Magazine India.

By Venky Vembu

In his novel The Shadow Lines, Amitav Ghosh writes of the imagined cartographic lines that divide people in the Indian subcontinent and cleave their souls. Many of these “shadow lines” are etched in bitter, hand-me-down memories and imaginations, and for that reason are rather more indelible than lines on a map, which can perhaps be redrawn over time.Delhi By Heart: Impressions Of A Pakistani Traveller

Indians and Pakistanis may have shared a civilisational bhai-bhai bonhomie, but the horrors of Partition, compounded by decades of mutual mistrust at the political level, have served to  ensure that, outside of the world of the mom batti wallas at the Wagah border, there is little interest in knowing each other beyond a demonisation of ‘the other’.

As Pakistani writer and development professional Raza Rumi observes in this account of his travels to Delhi, although he himself is decidedly of the post-Partition generation, he was born into “textbook nationalism” and grew up in a milieu that conditioned him to resent India. But Rumi’s own family history is illustrative of the interwoven strands of subcontinental social history. His Hindu ancestors from Lahore were on a pilgrimage to Benares when their caravan was looted. They were offered shelter in the khanqah of a wandering Sufi dervish, and were drawn by his magnetism to embrace Islam.

Read full review on my blog “Delhi By Heart

Delighted!

Writing from the Heart

15 March 2014

What a Lovely Review on my book “Delhi by Heart” published  in South Asia Magazine!

By Tariq Bashir

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 delhi-by-heart-cover21.jpgfigures 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-ulAinHaider, Saadia Dehlvi, Khushwant Singh and many others.

Read full review on my blog “Delhi by Heart

Magnificent Delusions: The Ebb and Flow of Pak-US Relations

24 February 2014

Raza Rumi

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shakes hands with President Barack Obama during his October visit to US

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shakes hands with President Barack Obama during his October visit to US

Husain Haqqani’s new book Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding comes at a critical juncture of Pakistan-US relations as the two nations aim to work together during 2014 to facilitate a transition in Afghanistan.  The book offers us a historical view of a deeply troubled yet interdependent relationship and why the year 2014 is likely to be far from smooth. ‘Magnificent Delusions’ has Haqqani’s signature style: Sharply worded, accessible and at times ironical. The book right at the start gives us a flavor of what follows:

The willingness of my countrymen to believe the worst about their ambassador [Haqqani himself] reflects a deeper pathology. Instead of basing international relations on facts, Pakistanis have become accustomed to seeing the world through the prism of an Islamo-nationalist ideology…these self-defeating ideas makes little impact on the rest of the world; the gap is widening between how Pakistanis and the rest of the world view Pakistan.

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The first chapter of ‘Magnificent Delusions’ is an eye-opener for it provides the historic basis of a Pakistani worldview. In a tersely worded narrative, the chapter tells us how Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam in an interview given to Life magazine says: “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America” and that “Pakistan is the pivot of the world.” The country’s founder thus lays the framework for Pakistan’s foreign policy. Sixty seven years later, Pakistan’s sense of indispensability to the US strategic aims in South-West Asia continues as a delusion that has become a domestic reality. Pakistan’s geostrategic location since Cold War has been vital for West’s policies and perhaps this is why our ruling elites-  civil and military- have been able to extract favours and concessions for promises that Haqqani says “..we did not keep”. (more…)

Reviews on Delhi by Heart

17 December 2013

Fiction writer Intizar Hussain (DAWN)

“In his exuberance, Rumi started writing without planning beforehand, knowing not how his narrative will end. The narrative, however, came to an end by itself…”

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Asif Noorani (Daily Dawn)

“Raza Rumi’s Delhi by Heart is a research-based readable account of the city he fell in love with and its dwellers…”

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Yatin Gupta (Iyatingupta)

“Delhi By Heart was an eye opener for me in many ways and so much that I will definitely read it once more in future…”

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Dr Tariq Rehman (The News on Sunday)

“An authentic and readable social history of north Indian Muslim civilization…”

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Abdul Majeed Abid (The News on Sunday)

“A must read for prospective travelers to Delhi and fans of South Asian history”

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Madeeha Gauhar (Theatre Director/Activist)

“You cannot put Raza’s book into one genre, it’s a bit of everything, so beautifully organized that its a real delight…”

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Ishtiaq Ahmad (Daily Times)

“Delhi by Heart is a jolly good, multifaceted account penned by Raza Rumi of Lahore of his sojourns in the Indian capital, Delhi, over many years…”

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Shivani Mohan (The Khaleej Times)

“Breaking barriers: A Pakistani within the heart of Delhi…”

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Kabir Pundit (Flipkart)

“Raza has succinctly revealed the city’s past not just as a mere chronicle but also as the spiritual hub of Muslim Hindoostan. It came as pleasant surprise that Delhi was/is the Sufi Mecca of the East…”

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The Deccan Chronicle

“The book, a sensitively written account of Delhi’s “grand theatre of the past and present”, is sure to make many nostalgic about “the composite identity of India” that got lost in 1947…”

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The Reuters

Delhi by heart” is a kind of travelogue about a city that is the source of a shared heritage that spans hundreds of years…”

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The Indian Express

“Rumi calls this book Delhi by Heart and from the first page, you can make out that a large space in his heart is occupied by Dilli. The Delhis of the past and the present are as enmeshed in the book as they are in reality and that is its strength…”

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The Kashmir Walla

“Raza Rumi’s Delhi by Heart is an important addition to the literatures on Delhi…”

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The Express Tribune

“In candid tones, journalist and analyst Raza Rumi explores an Indian city, and indeed his own identity as a Muslim in the Subcontinent, in his first book, Delhi by Heart…”

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The Caravan Daily

“Raza Rumi’s in-depth research into Delhi’s abundant monuments and the forgotten, sepia-toned sagas attached to them, makes Delhi by Heart a compelling read.

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Amazon

“A sensitively written account of a Pakistani writer’s discovery of Delhi”

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Livemint

“Pakistani journalist and blogger Raza Rumi’s first book is an account of his travels in Delhi and his interactions with its people..”

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Tehelka

“Raza Rumi’s enthralling travelogue Delhi by Heart, is an attempt to rise above the hatred that has marred Indo-Pak relations…”

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The News

“A Lahori’s take on Delhi…”

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The Friday Times

Rumi’s book is not besmirched by preformed ideas or deeply ingrained prejudices, says Dr. Syed Amir

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An Indian Muslim

“It took me sometime before I could buy Raza Rumi’s ‘Delhi by Heart’. But the moment I got it, I just couldn’t put it down. I read the entire book within a day…”

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IBN Live

“The author has ensured that everything you read in this book stays with you for a long time..”

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DNA India          

“Raza Rumi’s recent book Delhi By Heart is a first — a long detailed account of Delhi of the past and the present from a traveler from across the border…”

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Time Out Bengalaru

“The book works on many levels – as a travelogue, or as a potted (and selected) history of a city, and a way of life…”

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Frontline

“While we are familiar with the traditional representations of Delhi, a new book, Delhi by Heart by the Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi, is creating a stir in literary circles…”

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The Tribune India

“This book by Raza Rumi is much more than the “impressions of a Pakistani traveler”. In searching Delhi, the author is trying to understand his as well as the identity of millions of other Muslims of the subcontinent…”

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Time Out Delhi

“The book works on many levels – as a travelogue, or as a potted (and selected) history of a city, and a way of life.”

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HarperCollins

“Rich with history and anecdote, and conversations with Dilliwalas known and unknown,Delhi By Heart offers an unusual perspective and unexpected insights into the political and cultural capital of India… ”

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Rana’s Blog

“It is rare that one comes across a book with a soul and this is a book which is all heart. It is an outpouring of love by a Pakistani based on his visits here…”

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Raza Rumi’s Interview with The Indian Express

“I found myself as a split individual, because my identity and nationalistic pride was with Pakistan, but my entire history, heritage and who I am, is linked to this place — whether it’s cuisine, history or heritage. Lahore and Delhi are like twins…”

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The Real Meena Kumari

8 November 2013

The soulfulness of India’s greatest tragedienne was born of an abiding love for reading and writing. 

Raza Rumi reviews a biography of the alluring star

The real Meena Kumari


Barri Bechari Hai
Meena Kumari
Jisko Lagi Hai

Dil ki Bimari Meena Kumari ruled the world of Indian cinema until her death in 1972 due to liver cirrhosis. Since her death her popular image has been that of a suffering tragic heroine who died of loneliness and excessive drinking. However, the story of Mahjabeen (Meena Kumari’s real name) is neither as simple nor stereotypical as painted by her panegyrists and detractors alike. I recall the days in my childhood when Meena Kumari’s last film Pakeeezah was scheduled to be shown on Doordarshan. The excitement was incredible and everyone I knew anticipated watching it via (illegal) TV signals from across the border. Such was her magic and appeal. And needless to state, sheer beauty.
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Harper Collins have republished well known Indian editor, Vinod Mehta’s biography of Meena Kumari authored in the 1970s (Meena Kumari: The Classic Biography). This is a fine introduction to a larger-than-life person and performer. By no means authoritative it does give a fairly detailed account of her life, achievements and travails. As Mehta mentions at the start of the book, in 1972 he was a struggling ad copywriter “going nowhere. With false bravado which comes easily to a person who has achieved little, I accepted the commission and duly delivered the finished manuscript” in a few months. Mehta was “embarrassed at the effort” because the subject of his biography was not available for interviews, and Dharmendra — “the man who had callously used and discarded her” never gave him the time to hold detailed interviews. Having said that, the biography is fairly well-researched and brings forth lesser known facets of this exceptionally talented woman who remains a bit of an enigma to date. (more…)

Book Review: South Asia 2060: Envisioning Regional Futures

5 November 2013

My review for The Friday Times

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South Asia 2060: Envisioning Regional Futures is a comprehensive volume of essays edited by Adil Najam and Moeed Yusuf. Given the importance of the South Asian region, this book attempts to fill in a huge gap that has existed for decades. Discourses on South Asia for reasons well known, have been obsessive about all things security and in recent times terrorism. The editors note that South Asia “sits atop a globally strategic location” and gladly move on to other important topics, which makes this volume a useful contemporary reference. The introduction notes the immense potential for energy trade as well as the significant regional security implications for the world at large. This is why the future of South Asia is not just important to those who live in the region; it is duly a global concern. The 37 papers authored by 44 experts, in the volume trace the multiple futures and mercifully avoid the common fallacy of reducing South Asia to India and Pakistan and their bitter rivalries.

The introduction summing up the book rightly identifies that the idea of South Asia is a contested one and its ownership – political and economic – would determine the future. Commenting on the term Southasia introduced by Nepal based Himal magazine, the editors state: “…the future of the geography we know as South Asia will depend, at least in part, on what happens to the idea of Southasia. We are not in a position to say what that will be just yet, but it is clear that the aspiration of Southasianness is entrenched more deeply in the South Asian mind than we had imagined. It is an idea that our regional politics has often rejected and fought against. But the resilience of the aspiration suggests regional politics may eventually have to embrace it.” Thus the emergence of Southasia, a regionalized identity, will be a political process and the book suggests that there is no one course or prediction to hold it.

In this context the paper, the paper by US based Pakistani historian Manan Ahmad Asif entitled “Future’s Past” contends that though the immediate history of Pakistan and India might broadly be cause for pessimism (such as the violent partitions of ’47 and ’71), there is nevertheless a greater, storied and shared history that can be recalled in order to realize how communities in South Asia can peacefully co-exist. (more…)

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