Travel

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

Rumi’s Dilli

10 September 2013

Here is a wonderful review of my book in India’s Frontline magazine

 

The Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi is both an insider and an outsider as he explores the trail of Sufism to the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi. By SHUJAAT BUKHARI

DELHI has been explored by scores of authors, both Indian and foreign. A few prominent books such as Delhi: A Novel by Khushwant Singh (1990), Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity by Sam Miller (2008) and City of Djinns by William Dalrymple (2003) immediately come to mind. Being the political nerve centre of South Asia for centuries, Delhi has always had an attraction for foreigners. Its ups and downs, too, have a unique touch of beauty and now that it symbolises the unity in diversity of the world’s largest democracy, it must surely rank high as a destination.

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.

A book on Delhi by a Pakistani is “intriguing”, given the atmosphere of hostility has existed between India and Pakistan for over six decades now. Stereotypes have worked well to keep the citizens of the two countries apart, though until 65 years back, the people and places of India and Pakistan had a lot in common. Which is why, when one opens this 322-page book, it turns out to be exceptionally different because it not only takes a reader through the insights of someone from an “enemy” country but also helps us to rediscover Delhi and its glorious past.

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Walk with a Dehlvi

1 August 2013

Another review of my book, Delhi by heart, over at the Indian Express

One thing that can be said about Pakistani journalist Raza Rumi with a great amount of certainty is that he is a traveller. In recent years, he has travelled a lot between Lahore and Delhi, and, while in Delhi, between different parts of the city and Nizamuddin East. Many of these visits were to the Dargah Nizam-ud-Din Auliya located across the road from the house of his host.

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.

By his own admission, he has not planned the book. It follows its own logic, one thought leading to another, crossing man-made boundaries, sweeping across centuries and, suddenly, discovering a nugget of commonality, a strand of continuity, a shared shard of reality—and he shares that excitement with the reader.

Rumi finds common strands between Lahore and Delhi and Amritsar, he finds also that the image of the “other” that he carries is reciprocated on this side as well. He finds similar fanatics on both sides, the RSS here and the Jamaat-e-Islami and others of their ilk there. And yet, it is the commonalities of love, heritage, architecture and music that he foregrounds.

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Book review: Delhi of the past and the present

1 August 2013

Here is a lovely review of my book, written by the esteemed Intizar Husain

 

Raza Rumi tells us that he aspired to be an author. His visits to Delhi offered him this opportunity and he availed it. 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. When published under the title Delhi by Heart, we had a precious book authored by Rumi.

Delhi by Heart is a scholarly work but written in an unscholarly manner. Instead of posing as a scholar or researcher, Rumi likes to be seen as a stranger in a city hitherto unknown to him, a city enjoying the reputation of being the city of cities. Wonderstruck, Rumi wanders in the city, from posh areas of New Delhi to the narrow and dingy lanes of old Delhi. Walking about aimlessly, he enters a lane with shops on both sides selling roses and soon finds himself entering the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. To his amazement, Rumi is suddenly in a different city, traditionally known as Bais Khawaja ki Chaukhat, the threshold of 22 Sufis. Rumi feels that he is moving in a vast world which carries a touch of the divine, where the past and the present merge into each other and the Hindu-Muslim divide loses its edge.

How easy to jump from here and land in the city of the Salateen-i-Delhi, to touch the threshold of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s khanqah where he preached to his disciples, Muslims and Hindus, about the peaceful coexistence of different faiths. At this point, Rumi’s wanderings seem to be transformed into a journey of discovery. Roaming through the world of mysticism and bowing at the dargahs of Chishti mystics, he knows much about this tradition and about the city of Delhi which has been the cradle of this tradition. But at the same time, Rumi wants to keep abreast with the present and learn about the contemporary Delhi. So he is also seen in the company of the modern intellectuals of the city — Khushwant Singh, Professor Mushirul Hasan, Sadia Dehlvi, Rakhshanda Jalil. His narrative easily shifts from the present to the past and from past to the present. (more…)

The heart divided

27 June 2013

Here’s an excerpt from my book ‘Delhi, by heart’ that was featured in TFT

 

I am not sure how I met Bunty. It was perhaps through a reference from the office during one of my early work-related visits. Bunty Singh, brother of Sunny Singh and Goldie Singh, became my guide and companion. Sunny and Bunty have set up a mini empire of rental cars through investments made by Goldie who lives in Germany and is married to a “good” German girl. Bunty, a boisterous, internet-savvy young Sardar, found me to be somewhat like him. We spoke in Punjabi, often using lines that would quite miss those outside the ‘Punju’ realm. And we both were equally fascinated by each other-the thirty-something grandchildren of Partition.

So after an hour of awkward client-service interaction, Bunty decided to befriend me. It was just the right thing to have happened I guess. How else would I know a real Sardar? Most of my interactions with Sikhs took place when I was a student in the UK decades ago.

However, as soon as there was mention of Partition, there was a palpable unease. It was only after a day or two that he confided how half his family was butchered at a railway station.

To use Amrita Pritam’s words:

Who can guess

How difficult it is

To nurse barbarity in one’s belly

To consume the body and burn the bones?

I am the fruit of that season

When the berries of Independence came into blossom. (Translated from the Punjabi by Harbans Singh)

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That easy intimacy

15 October 2011
By Raza Rumi
A Pakistani re-discovers Bangladesh.
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Image: Carey L Biron

As a Pakistani, there is a part of you that reacts instantly to the word Bangladesh: guilt, remorse or, in some cases, nostalgia can suddenly take over. I am from the generation that was spared the horrors of Pakistan Army actions, of information blackouts on the massacre of Bengalis in the name of Pakistani nationalism. But what does it mean to be half a Pakistani, without East Bengal – especially when you know a bit of history and have managed to see through the falsities of the textbooks? It means nothing or it means a lot; it depends on which way you want to look at the other half, now a proud, vibrant country.

Working in international development is what took me to Bangladesh for the first time, nearly five years ago. Prior to that, I had been familiar with the country’s mythical music, rich poetry and tales of its golden sunsets and singing rivers, but had never touched its soil. Bengal’s magic is embedded in the Subcontinental imagination, and these images and literary references long shaped my view of the country. However, my romantic notions were severely jolted when I arrived in Dhaka – at first glance, an overcrowded concrete jungle typically lacking in urban planning. More of the same, I concluded: big cities, despite their buzz, can let you down.

Still, my disappointment did not last, as I soon undertook to seek out the city’s various corners, its hidden spaces of beauty and comfort; above all, what I found was an engaged citizenry marching on. Discovering the University of Dhaka and its surroundings came as a much-needed connection, though older parts of Dhaka are also quite mesmerising. The gulmohar (or krishnachura) trees, almost on fire, greet a visitor on nearly every street, as does a tremendous volume of rickshaws.

Then there is the Shaheed Minar, the monument marking Bengali resistance founded on linguistic identity. The physical monument is modern, and by itself is not particularly exciting. However, its significance is truly monumental, marking as it does Bengali nationalism from 1948 to 1971 under the misrule of West Pakistan elites. Given movements for ethnic, linguistic and provincial identities ongoing in today’s Pakistan, the Shaheed Minar is a powerful reminder of how centralised rule and marginalisation of cultural identities lead to festering problems.

A colleague who took me to see these sites was most polite with me. He was fervently nationalistic but chose his words carefully – at least until I asked him to drop the formalities and just say what he wanted. Then the floodgates opened, and out came his personal memories and renditions from Bengali oral histories. I even found myself apologising, though I then laughed at myself for such a delusional gesture – my few words of apology meant nothing against the horrors of Bengali suffering. Luckily, the charms of the place and the krishnachura trees came to my rescue. And so, I brushed the dark side of our shared histories under the proverbial carpet, just the way that Pakistan has done. For many people in Pakistan, 1971 is today an invisible event, a deliberately ignored footnote in our collective memory, despite being one that should remain understood as a moment of reckoning for the entire country. After all, majority provinces seldom secede; it is usually the other way around. (more…)

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