The eclectic intellectual scene in Washington never ceases to surprise me! Within days of my return after a prolonged visit to Dhaka, I received an unusual invitation — a private book reading by Pakistani author Raza Rumi. Rumi’s book, Delhi by heart, is a riveting account of the political, cultural and social history of India’s capital. The narrative is part dialogue with knowledgeable residents and part research delving into the fascinating stories of the kings, royals, Sufi dervishes and common people who lived in the city over many centuries. Rumi’s imaginative wanderings travel as far back as Delhi’s ancient origins, Indraprastha (mentioned in the Mahabharata), and then to the evolution of political and mystical Islam.
In many ways the book is the author’s voyage of self-discovery, tracing his ancestral past to a “foreign” city that “feels like home!” But the quest proved to be costly. It resulted in a death threat followed by an armed attack by the Taliban, who labeled him as a liberal and a traitor.
Let me note that this is not a review of Rumi’s book, but an introspective piece on questions that often arise in my mind about our personal prejudices as South Asians despite our shared history. My reflections, however, have been inspired by Delhi by heart since it brings these questions into focus. It reiterates a much-discussed issue: “What is the common thread that connects people in the subcontinent — is it the architecture, the food, the music, the language, the history? Or is it all of the above?” Navigating through the book’s “labyrinths of history” one may even ask: “Why was it necessary to divide this common legacy into segments known as nations?” Since definitive answers to these questions are difficult to find, Rumi attempts to address them through his personal reflections on Delhi’s “multilayered” past. Continue reading