Writing about the textbook enemy, the ‘other’, is but a daunting task. Facing the grandiose Humayun’s tomb on a chilly January morning this year, I decided to write a book on Delhi.
It was not before I had visited the ancient city that I knew what it symbolised. In Pakistan, we were influenced by the glories of Lahore, my beloved city. Reconstructed histories had kept Delhi invisible. The seat of the Sultans, Mughals and the Raj, precursor of the modern united India and originator of the Indo-Islamic civilization was a mere phantom, best ignored.
Over several visits to Delhi, I realised that invisibility was also a shared curse. A good number of Delhi wallahs I met, had no clue where they lived or crossed the streets. Erasure, blank spaces in textbooks had rendered their own city a mythical other-world existing only in erudite books, rare cultural soirees and among the fading memories of old-Delhi.
When I looked for the house where Urdu’s legendary poet Mir Taqi Mir lived, no one knows it. Those living in Hauz Khas are unaware of what it was. There are thousands, perhaps more, who have never visited Nizamuddin Bastee let alone the dargah there. Tracing history through books resembles a two-dimensional vision. Lived histories add other dimensions to the inner kaleidoscope. But there are so few who can help me.
I am pained when I am taken to the tomb of India’s first female ruler Razia Sultana (1236 – 1240). Only centuries later another woman Indira Gandhi was to rule the Centre. Razia’s grave languishes on an abandoned, filthy cul-de-sac. Many don’t care. I wonder, should I?
As I have ventured out to write, the enormity of Delhi — the idea — haunts me. Where do I start? The layered construction of Indian, and Muslim identities in the subcontinent emanate from the ridges and Hades of Delhi. The saints buried under […]