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Saints who ruled India

Book Review

The War that Wasn’t: The Sufi and the Sultan By Fatima Hussain Publisher: Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi Pages: 245

Last year I had a chance to meet Dr Fatima Hussain, a thoughtful and inspiring academic based in Delhi. We had all congregated in Agra for the SAARC writers’ summit and Hussain’s facility with subcontinental history, especially Sufism, was most impressive. This is when I found out that her book had just been published and my curiosity to read the book knew no bounds. The title of this book was even more intriguing: “The War that Wasn’t: The Sufi and the Sultan”. Essentially the title summarises a millennium of the societal resistance offered by the Sufis against state power as well as the embedded social relations in the Indian subcontinent.

Hussain teaches History at Delhi University and was educated at Lady Shri Ram College and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has also authored The Palestine Question: A Historical Perspective (2003) and several scholarly articles. An interesting volume that she edited – Sufism and Bhakti Movement: Contemporary Relevance (2008) – perhaps explains the relative fluency of her familiarity with the subject. After her marriage to Pakistan’s leading Punjabi writer and activist, Fakhar Zaman, she is now delving into documenting the history, culture and morphology of Lahore. […]

Capitulating Rajas: why Taliban might not be resisted

My new piece for The Friday Times

South Asian history is a tale of capitulation of local elites before external invaders. Be it the Aryans, the Mongols or East India Company officials, we have always relented, and sometimes quite painlessly. This is an area of history that remains less explored as it conflicts with the grand narratives of ‘resistance’ and nationalist myths we love to construct.S

A phrase locked into our cultural memory – Hunooz Dilli Door Ast (Delhi is as yet far away) explains this historical pattern. It has become a metaphor for the insularity of the elites and the powerlessness of the common people. The complacency that Delhi, the capital of the Islamic empire was not accessible to the hordes of invaders, was the tragic reaction by debauched kings, local Rajas and their henchmen who were either men of straw or active collaborators. […]