Review of Delhi by Heart by Aisha Sarwari
Underneath the fierce nationalism of some statesmen, a new narrative has emerged. It talks of the cultural repression of Muslim women, the drift towards bigotry and the wondrous architecture of buildings and language — this narrative says that the two neighbours, India and Pakistan, have more in common than the walls mounted after Partition allowed them to explore.
Raza Rumi’s Delhi By Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller dives deeper into the homes and hearts of Delhi-dwellers to tell stories that are, above all, incomplete. They are incomplete without an exposition on what united the people of this region for thousands of years and what makes them who they are today. The book glues the broken mosaic together. In the end, you see a whole motif.
Rumi’s book is tied in both the personal and the historical. His locus standi are his ancestral roots to the Sufis of the subcontinent. Islam came to India around the 10th century through the Sufis. It came with the message of inclusiveness, peace and tolerance. The core message was that God dwelled in the heart. It had a magnetism and force that only grew because it accepted everyone regardless of creed, class or gender. This vision inspired the greats like Rabindranath Tagore and Bulleh Shah. Among Rumi’s more poignant observations was that at the Sufi shrines in Delhi, Sikhs and Hindus were as regular of visitors as Muslims were. In contrast, the places of worship in Pakistan are highly stratified.
Rumi’s account journeys from visa woes to the construction of the Indo-Muslim identity with craft and poise. One gets an acute sense that a civilisation is lost as the book travelogues the author’s visits to the glorious shrines that pave Delhi. That loss is also evident in Rumi’s Pakistan as it struggles between two forces. The country reflects the divide represented by progressive Mughal leader Dara Shikoh and the bigotry of his brother, Aurangzeb. One feels that as time passes by and the legacy of those who are ours to edify blurs, we are falling into a darker abyss of a narrative which is led by extremists.
From the story of Anni Appa’s fading nobility to Farzana’s grim choices that led her to “a cramped space somewhere in the shade of the Jama Masjid”, Rumi has a measured share of women’s voices. They range from the old, strong and modern to those who got confined to the perpetuity of the zenana.
Pakistanis and Indians have nurtured stereotypes for decades about the other and soon after the talk of monsoons and saavans are over, the xenophobia emerges. Acknowledging a common heritage, a similar culture and the same bag of injustices does not negate the selfhood of either of these countries; it only gives it depth and perspective.
The post was originaly published at the Express Tribune: