I have always wanted to be an author. This, an unintended and unplanned book, is my first attempt at trying to be one. And while not unaccustomed to writing per se, I must confess I was quite unsure how the book would shape up until the publisher gave her approval to the initial draft.
Delhi by Heart was written between 2007 and 2009 as a testament to my discovery of Delhi and its multi-layered history. By no means is this venture an academic one, nor is it a journalist’s ‘contemporary’ account. It is in many ways an internalized dialogue with a bit of research and occasional interviews. In other ways, it is a great leap into the unknown.
As a Pakistani who was born into textbook nationalism, the process of viewing the ‘other’ and what separated us from British India in 1947 has been an arduous one. I grew up and lived in a milieu that conditioned me to resent India, especially its role in dismembering the Pakistani state in 1971. At the same time, I also lived in the semi-schizophrenic state of being part of the ‘enemy’ landscape. The cultural references, historical threads and many other bonds were far too strong. These bonds became stronger as I went abroad for my studies and befriended many Indians in a neutral territory. A Kashmiri Pandit, a Calcutta- based Punjabi and many a Dilli-wala humanized the vision that had been imposed on me. Unlearning was a rare gift that I am tremendously thankful for. I think my Indian friends must have gone through a similar process when we were twenty-somethings attempting to understand the world.
My second meeting with Indians took place when I worked in Kosovo as part of the UN peacekeeping mission during 2000– 02. As an officer of the administrative service, the Indian civil servants in Kosovo were my friends and there was far too much in common between us, given how we were all, at the end of the day, cogs in unwieldy post-colonial states to be ignored or wished away. My entry into the Asian Development Bank in 2002 again brought me in contact with dozens of Indian colleagues, their spouses and families, who represented another variant of India’s multitudinal reality.
It was during those days that I arrived in Delhi for work. There were frequent visits as a staffer of an international organization, and the work entailed interaction with different segments of Delhi society. This was also the time when I was fascinated by the city and that is when the idea of this book first took root. However, writing it as a full-time civil servant was not easy. In 2008, my life took another turn when I decided to treat myself to a well-deserved sabbatical, returned to Pakistan, and started a career in journalism and freelance policy work. I was free to travel and open to meeting more people; it was during this period that I discovered the countless, interconnected worlds that exist across the border.
Since then I have also been part of several peace initiatives, both on the Track II diplomacy side as well as cultural cooperation between the two countries. Therefore, the seeming chaos in the organization of this book and its occasionally rambling tone are reflective of diverse influences, scattered notes and raw memories. As I read the draft before it went to the publishers I could not help notice how awestruck I appeared in some of my initial reactions, especially in the early days, and instead of changing them I have let the original emotion remain.
Delhi has undergone several changes over the past few years. People and places have changed too. The book might seem a little dated at places but I would like to remind the readers that it was written more than four years ago. Updating it would have been a bit unfair to the spirit in which it was authored.
By no means is this an exhaustive travel guide. These are impressions of a foreigner—an ‘outsider’—who has obviously selected moments and histories of his liking and penned them down. In that sense, I admit its partiality and perhaps a sense of incompleteness. I do fervently hope that my views are appreciated as that of a faint voice that wants to transcend boundaries and borders and reject the ills of jingoism spun by nation- state narratives, which permeate our troubled consciousness. I hope, also, that it will be received by readers on both sides in its true spirit.