New Delhi: Seeing the parallel between his hometown Lahore and Delhi was perhaps the easiest point when Pakistan’s Raza Rumi embarked on his book writing journey “Delhi by heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller”.
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.
“Since I come from the so-called ‘enemy country’ I had to double, triple check facts and had to be as careful as possible,” he said, at the book release function which was chaired by renowned academic Prof Mushirul Hasan.
Rumi, a Pakistani civil servant-turned-development professional, launched his book in the city over the weekend.
The book is already a sell-out in Pakistan. “All the terrorists are reading my book,” he chuckled at the well-attended book launch.
Prof Hasan did not make it any easy for Rumi. “Is the two-nation theory wrong?”; “Why are Sufi shrines being bombed in Pakistan?”; “Why are Shias being killed in your country?”; “Is it time for an interfaith dialogue?”
Rumi dodged such loaded questions with what could have otherwise passed off as humour, but was unfortunately a sad commentary on his country.
“Mushir Sahab you are forgetting that I have to go back to Pakistan. I have no intention of seeking asylum here….” he said, as everyone laughed.
Rumi’s book is from the “heart” and hence the title. But many, like Prof Hasan, would not want to agree with the subtitle “Impressions of a Pakistani traveller” because it does not seem to come from an outsider.
“The book is my own discovery of the Other. Pakistani and Indian cultures are so interlinked, especially in northern India, that the idea of a nation state seems lost,” says Rumi.
“In view of 1000 years of deeply intertwined history, 65 years of history of separation mean nothing,” he said.
In a lighter vein Rumi said he found the similarities between the “babus” of the two countries and also South Asia “spooky”.
“They have the same mindsets. The same towels on their chairs. That is spooky!” he grinned.
That Rumi only takes in the beauty of what he calls “the grand theatre of the past and present Delhi” also came in for criticism.
“You only talk of the beauty of the city and not its ugly aspects. Delhi is deeply fragmented and polarised, I don’t understand the compositeness,” observed Prof Hasan.
Rumi said he did not touch upon those aspects because he did not want to lose focus.
“I have tried to be as objective as possible. I have also refrained from feeding the Pakistani mindsets – Indian Muslims are oppressed,” Rumi said.
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.