Book Review: Non-fiction/ Delhi by heart by Raza Rumi, Harper Collins, 322p; Rs399 (Paperback)
As Raza is Rumi, so ploy of narrower gratifications should normally evade his identity. Surprisingly (for conformity between author and editor), the cover of Delhi by heart presents this most impartial and genuine self-narration on the city Delhi as—‘Impressions of a Pakistani Traveler’. In actual, the author was never alien to this city—as like many of us, he too could see beyond the boundary without falling in guise of extreme limiting factors—such as nationality and uncomfortable equations among the two nieghbouring nations.
Like insiders of this city, his comfort level is more competent with the old parts of Delhi than its shining hotels and sprawling urban extensions, which tirelessly ostracize wisdom and release endless hallucination of modernism. Clearly, this can’t be confronted by wimps—praying to be separated from the load of past and oddness of present.
Still there is no dearth of alibis from the people and machinery that make the old urban structures, marginalised and dying slow death. Sadly, the pattern of certain kind of living too diminishes with the demise of symbols. Delhi is catching up that pattern blindly—so it’s naturally justified, if majority of its residents know Chirag Delhi by a nearby over-bridge than for its historic significance.
The days are not far when Nizamuddin Dargah would be better known as a landmark to reach Hotel Oberoi—and Kutub Minaar as picnic spot for absentee landlord type scholars from western part of the earth, living in the farmhouses of M.G.Road. This road ends Delhi, hence civilisation and brings Gurgaon—an anti-thesis of former. This book has no taste to travail any uncivilized roads.
Raza’s leaning with the northern India, as he confesses in writing—grown-up by listening the pre-partition stories from elders at home. That part of the land was once his home—he got that sense and also pain for not being able to see it freely. This happened with so many people, we have various accounts on that but those were from earlier generation. Author leads the debate here, as he represents those who didn’t see the trauma of partition though felt its darkness even after decades.
As he shares, his first visit took place to see his forefathers’ land—and in the course of the time, his bond of sharing developed with fellow Indian students in LSE during University days and later working in Multilateral Agencies, being part of Pakistan’s elite Civil Services.
Years back, he moved from the service to become primarily a writer, with free pen and conscience. That made him writing this meticulously researched and well involved book on Delhi—a city that was in want of authentic looking back on its fading edifices and cultural tradition.
As a columnist too, Raza has been writing about Delhi, its people, who are his friends. And on different side—he is the person, whose writing infuse hope from Pakistan. He can speak of his mind, for making the ills obvious, and thus less harmful. However, the establishment running Pakistan like a half-baked democracy has no intention to stop its slumbering for listening rational commentaries.
Raza likes Delhi—and this city reciprocates with him in same warm way. This book marks it better than any other additional attribute. He has remembered his Delhiwaala and they are reading this book and loving it. Even in conservative estimation, I see this book reaching in ‘essential reading list’ on Delhi. This solely based on the authenticity, the book upholds.
Delhi’s eternal characteristics defies partitioning views—so compilation of its good and bad can be sensibly done only by those not pursuing many goals at a time. That stands opposite with most of the historians, claiming to have expertise on this restless city. Raza Rumi’s Delhi by heart is an important addition to the literatures on Delhi and for delinking the concentration of history writing from royalty to people. In either or both ways—the book will command a wide readership, from across the sections.
If travelling can enrich entitlement with the places—its articulation could make history, simple to be remembered. We can believe it, if not overlooking a remarkable book like this one.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Walla on October23,2013)