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Review by Mohammad Shehzad (Tehelka)

 by Heart is an account of a young man’s travels to the mysterious India – a man who, like most Pakistanis, has been brainwashed at school, at college and in the mosque to hate the neighbouring country.

He was taught that a Hindu can never be friends with a Muslim and that India 376353205828929is ’s eternal enemy and hell-bent on destroying it. Most of us are victims of this poisonous education that affects our soul and body like cancer. Raza Rumi, who uses ‘Rumi’ for his journalistic or literary work and ‘Ahmad’ for his development-related work, is one of the few Pakistanis who had the opportunity to mingle with Indians while pursuing higher studies abroad as well as to travel to India frequently in the last 20 years.

Published by HarperCollins India,  by Heart is a wonderful example of how interaction changes hatred into love. Hate-mongers like Hafiz Saeed, Munawar Hassan and Majid Nizami vilify the Hindus, cranking out article after article about the riots and massacres that took place during , to nurture permanent animosity towards India. Rumi’s travel experience suggests that the younger generation does not need their eyes to look at India. Rumi writes, “I hold no bitterness. My personal experience is not stained by blood-letting. I do not even remember the 1971 war and I condemned the Kargil adventure like several others in the subcontinent. I still feel that the connection can be restored and broken threads picked up where they were left off by my ancestors.”

Rumi is a journalist, writer and development professional who is a great admirer of Urdu literature and poetry. In  by Heart, he talks about various aspects of the Indian capital such as poetry, music, Sufism, the Urdu language, architecture, food and conversations with common people besides the greatest conundrum i.e. partition. It is almost as he had lost something that he has finally found in . “I am always excited, never tired of coming to ,” he writes.

The narrative is absorbing and Rumi’s description of Old , the Nizam Basti, the squalid streets around the Nizam settlement, the mausoleum of Ghalib, Amir Khusrau, Qawwali soirees at Hazrat Nizam’s dargah are picturesque. It’s almost as if one were sitting in a cinema house, watching the words come to life.

Rumi has great reverence for Sufis. His Hindu ancestors were brought to Islam’s fold by Shams Sabzwari, erroneously confused with Rumi’s master Shams Tabrez.

India was a fertile ground for the evolution of mystic practices, given that the people of India were already oriented towards mysticism. Sheikh Hamiduddin Nagauri, a distinguished disciple of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, did not permit his disciples to use the categories of kafir and momin as the basis of any social discrimination. Sheikh Abdul Quddus of Gangoh, a renowned Chishti saint of the sixteenth century, thus admonished his disciples in a letter: ‘Why this meaningless talk about the believer, the kafir, the obedient, the sinner, the rightly guided, the misguided, the Muslim, the pious, the infidel, the fire worshipper? All are like beads in a rosary. Sufism is a message of love and peace, the answer to religious intolerance and extreme behavior.’

The above truth is endorsed by the rising Salafism and Takfeerism that is spreading fast in  through petro-dollars. Today, every cleric has set up a ‘cottage-industry’ of fatwa that churns out edicts after edicts to declare followers of other sects as infidels. The Taliban are blasting shrines and carrying out suicide attacks against Barelvis who have great regard for Sufis. One of the strategies that could save is to promote Sufism instead of Salafism.

Commenting on the bemoaned state of the Urdu language, Rumi writes, “By all accounts, its status is turning into somewhat of a relic with declining number of Urdu readers and speakers. For decades, Bollywood had kept it alive by employing lyricists and scriptwriters who shaped a mainstream Urdu-esque idiom for cinema. I found that the Hindustani now spoken and understood stands somewhere between classical Urdu and a ‘pure’ Hindi influenced by Sanskrit. Bollywood, possibly the last flag-bearer of Urdu, now uses urban street lingo in its songs. It has jettisoned poetry and more and more lyricists use slang so that songs can appeal to young people…. Dard-e-Disco!”

There is a thought-provoking paragraph about  in the book: “The brutal political divisions in South Asia during the twentieth-century have not been accorded due importance as a psychological phenomenon. People affected by  in India,, and especially Bangladesh have not undergone the much-needed healing process. Truth and reconciliation of the South African kind still remains a vague dream yet to be realized. Conversely, the postcolonial culture of closed-door secretive commissions exacerbates the grief and means nothing to people. The rewriting of history by victors is routine. In this case, there are no victors, yet the rewriting of history continues apace.”

 by Heart is highly recommended to everyone, particularly the youth, for its captivating storytelling and important message.

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