Mosaic of Indian Muslim Culture

The last two essays explored Guru Nanak in poetry of legendary Urdu Scholars along with the literary review of Gita in Urdu & Persian from days of Faizi up to recent publication from India & Pakistan.

A readers Review: But You Don’t Look Like A Muslim

Cover page of the book

Chaman me ikhtilat-e-rang-o-bu se baat banti nahi
Hum hi hum hain to kya hum hain tum hi tum ho to kya tum ho

It is the intermingling of the color & fragrances that makes a garden
If there is only us there can be no us & there can be no you if there is only you.(Author’s translation)

(Sarshar Sailani)

But you don’t look like a Muslim, authored by Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil & published by Harper Collins, India in May 2019. This book is a collection of forty essays divided in four contextual sections or themes. The essays covered author’s memoirs, anecdotes, critical reflections & reviews on Urdu literature. Before the text commence you will find a contextual verse of Sailani with dedication note of the work by author to her late father, Dr. Abdul Jalil Sahab. The section “the politics of identities” started with the journey of her late father from the mufassil town of Tarai plains of Himalayas to Delhi in the backdrop of partition politics & demographic shift.

Moving from the collective memoirs focused on the identities, the book moved to the cultural essays, exploring the lesser known facets of Urdu from the days of Khusru to the recent past of golden days when “Jay Siya Ram” was a common greetings in a practicing Muslims. The mosaics of literature concluded on the essay on the facets of unfortunate event i.e., partition in Urdu. Here the narratives of Batwara vs Azadi were explored. The last theme “Rubric of Religion” composed of essays starting from Chand Raat, Muharram, Shabe Qadr to Janmashtami, Holi, Bada Din, & Diwali. The last two essays explored Guru Nanak in poetry of legendary Urdu Scholars along with the literary review of Gita in Urdu & Persian from days of Faizi up to recent publication from India & Pakistan. Collecting a diverse essays in one manuscript with such a contextual title define the sociocultural history of Indian Muslims. The separate themes connected with each other by key word of “Identity” with blend of Urdu poetry & its translations is a reflection of authors long writing journey as a foremost literary historians. In the days when we find the hate mongering is used as a tool for the majoritarian regime to assert the power, the book explores in depth the rich flavors of Urdu poetry centered around Krishna & Ram as an Imame Hind.

Maslak-i-ishq hai parastish-i-husn
Hum nahin jaante aazab-o-sawaab

Hasrat Mohani

The identity of Indian Muslims that was evolved as an outcome of centuries old syncretic fusion & cultural exchanges has been central to the manuscript. On the other hand when neo-puritan ideologies finds the larger space in elite Indian Muslims in recent days, the authors memoirs on Muharram, & Eid Maulid gave a rich overview to readers with its cultural context in Indian Subcontinent. The starting essay described the preference of her late father. Dr. Jalil, a young medical graduate from an esteemed medical school who had chosen India over the so called promised land of Muslims. His home town located in lap of Himalayas in fertile plains of Tarai faced bloody riots with changing demographic shift due to influx of Hindu immigrants from Punjab & Sindh. He preferred to raise his children’s in land of Nanak & Chishti instead of availing opportunities that were easily accessible to educated middle class Urdu speakers in the newly created state on line of religions.

New Capital of Imperial India

In the time when the government approved central vista redevelopment project for Lutyens Delhi, the book will serve as a rich guide & reference material for the upcoming heritage researchers in the changing landscapes of Imperial Capital.

Cover page of the book

Connaught Place & the making of New Delhi| Book Review by Rehan Asad

The book Connaught place & the making of New Delhi was authored by historian Swapna Liddle & published by speaking Tiger, 2018. Its a story of the new imperial capital of Colonial India.

It was a grand ceremonial coronation Durbar of George V held at Delhi (1911) from where commenced the idea of the new capital of British Raj. In 1931, the New Delhi was formally inaugurated as the capital of Colonial India. From the birth of the idea in (1911) to the post independent changing face of New Delhi, the authors presented a vivid perspectives on the making of new capital. The book gave a detailed narratives of the controversies echoed in the imperial corridors from the stakeholders who opposed the idea of shifting a capital from Calcutta. How the middle of the Raisina hills was chosen as the site after rejection of initial plans with an intense struggle between the ideas of Lutyens & Lanchester. From the role of Lanchester in final plans to the inclusion of Swinton Jacob & Herbert Baker, the account discussed how the syncretic Indo-Islamic architecture got the final approvals in the plan of new city. Then the author explicitly discussed challenges & the task done by the city planners to preserve the ruined remnants of its by gone monarchies. While going through the text , a reader can find many interesting narratives & facade of Delhi that existed in the form of ignored ruins. The book is not only about the making of new capital but also gave you an insight of dilapidated monuments of its grandiose past. The formation of the grand Imperial capital, an idea that commenced with coronation Durbar ceremony held in December 1911. Once the decision & site was finalized, the biggest challenge was about its mighty ruined monuments that existed on its flanks. A huge exercise of marking those monuments was done. The Archaeological society of India (ASI) listing (1912) served as a preliminary record for creating another collaborative document. One of the three foremost monument that was located on the last point of the newly planned city was 16th Century Old fort/Purana Qila. The historic old fort as we saw today was inhabited by the farmers & zamindars as a village Indarpat. In 1913, the fort was cleared of its population & enormous work was done for the conservation in collaboration with ASI. The subsequent chapter discussed how the stratified layers of Colonial India social fabric played a role in creating a different grades of accommodation in the new capital city. Here the readers will also came to know, how each of the lanes got their names from its old remnants to the bygone days monarchs & the Indian princes of the Raj.

Back cover of the book

As a reader I came to know about some microcosmic facts such as the establishment of the plant nursery in Jhorbagh to meet the plantation supply for the new city. Finally the project was completed with an unexpected high cost & overcoming the backlash of world war I on 12 February, 1931. In this chapter, the authors weave the entire ceremony in a vivid story telling style integrating the role of all stakeholders with its landmarks. From the generous participation of princely estates to the art work headed by Munshi Ghulam Hussain, every fine details of final touch of project has been unveiled in this chapter. The chapter “Connaught place” that also form the part of the manuscript title discussed the detailed plan of its formation, it connectivity with other sections of Delhi & its pioneer stores from the luxury watches to the culinary joints.

The role of Connaught place as the living pulse of the imperial capital was elaborated. The concluding chapter presented the changing face of the New Delhi & Connaught place with Indian partition, its demographic shift & growth pf the urban sprawls in expanding metropolis.

Inner circle of Connaught place, c 1950s by Harrison Forman Source: University of Wisconsin online archives

This is how, the authors initial journey as an project initiative (2015) for the UNESCO world heritage site recognition of New Delhi & Shahjahanabad was transformed in a rich & well reviewed manuscript. The authors rich experience ingrained with her heritage awareness walks of Indian National Trust for Art & cultural heritage is deeply reflected in the writing. The citation of archival illustrations, maps & wide range of the references gave an added research value to the work. In the time when the government approved central vista redevelopment project for Lutyens Delhi, the book will serve as a rich guide & reference material for the upcoming heritage researchers in the changing landscapes of Imperial Capital. Hope it will serve the objective of heritage awareness.

Gandhi’s Delhi: A vivid piece on Gandhi Ji ties with Delhi in a span of thirty-three years

A reader’s review

Coverpage of the book

Do you know when Mahatma Gandhi first visited Delhi? How many visits did, he made in all those years & how long he stayed there? On his first visit, he reached the Kashmiri gate by Tonga. His friend Hakim Ajmal Khan’s Sharif Manzil offered generous hospitality.
For all these answers & narratives do read Gandhi’s Delhi. An account that narrates all the lesser know connections of Gandhi Ji with Delhi from his first visit made on April 12, 1915, till January 30, 1948, when he was shot down at Birla House by Godse. Research & compilation by veteran Journalist Vivek Shukla & published by Anuuyga books in 2018. The book started from the first visit of Gandhiji & continued sequentially covering fine details, narratives & rare events of his seven hundred twenty days of stay in all those years. In between, he cited the interviews & narratives of the resource persons whom he explores & interviewed for this research. The first four chapters of the book provide in-depth insights into Bapu’s connection with Hakim Ajmal Khan, role in the building of Jamia & Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce. A succinct chapter articulates on Dr. Ansari as a champion of Hindu Muslim unity & one of the great admirers of Gandhi Ji in Delhi.

The book covered in detail event happened during his last 144 days stay in Delhi. It was during these days his presence played an important when the city was burning with communal riots. The tactics of Bapu’s always worked as one-man army. In the cold days of Delhi’s winter, the emissary of peace paid a visit to the shrine of Qutub Sahab that was surrounded by the small villages in those days. This was with an intent to console the Muslim families who were harassed due to recent demographic shifts following the partition. Viveks account talk in detail of his last fast, & visit to All India Radio, an attempt to quell the wave of Delhi’s communal heat. Heart-wrenching last hours & journey to the next world was discussed in detail by the author’s journalistic style of writing. A moment when the apostle of peace was laid down by the forebearers of hatred.
The concluding chapters provide a description of Gandhi Museum & dotting his murals in India’s capital. A glossary at the end gave a brief description of all personalities that came up in the book “Gandhi’s Delhi

Biswin Sadi: Vivid narratives of lost time

Cover page of book

A readers review by Rehan Asad

Biswin Sadi Memoirs, growing up in Delhi during the 1960s & 70s, authored by Jamil Urfi & published by Cinnamon teal. A must-read account for all those who want to recollect the lost time of Indian capital along with a few small cities of Uttarpradesh. The author, Abdul Jamil Urfi was born in 1960 at Aligarh as the eldest child of Dr. Abdul Jalil & Mrs. Mehajabeen Jalil. When he reached the age of seven, his family was relocated to Delhi (1967) in the upper-middle-class township of East Nizamuddin. In those days the locality was widely inhabited by the immigrant Punjabi community who came from Pakistan following the partition.

From the founder of the famous Urdu magazine “Biswin Sadi” Khustar Girami up to Andrews family, he provides a detailed description of the sociocultural dynamics of his diverse neighborhood. The narratives give insights on communal harmony , tolerance & cultural vibrancy of Nizamuddin East. A full chapter recollects authors nostalgia of the festivities celebrations, nikah ceremony of his sisters toy dolls, bhole bisre geet & ever popular BBC Urdu broadcasting.

The Urdu speakers are still sensitive with the Sheen Qaaf of language. The author has explained the feelings of Sheen Qaaf with hilarious real-life examples. While working in middle eastern country, I observed antipathy among Pakistani Punjabi colleagues against Urdu speaking community. One of the reasons might be linguistic chauvinism asserted by elite Urdu speaking bureaucrats during founding years.

The part of the book discussed the ancestral accounts of his family focusing on fine biographical details of late Prof. Ale Ahmad Suroor, a literary Urdu legend of modern ages & his late father Dr. Abdul Jalil. The chapter convented education reflects an upper-middle-class educational stratification that still echoes in our North Indian social fabric. In the early nineties, I would recall, the Minto- Circle (AMU) was filled by students from diverse North Indian schools in a race for availing internal quota of University. The big cities Anglo-Indian students tried to assert superiority over the public school while the poor chaps like me coming from small towns & cities convents filled the bottom of strata. While in the west, a major transformation happened in educational models in the last half-century. The educated middle-class mindset still affiliates success with certain so-called esteemed professions measuring it with yards of ranks & quantification of marks. The author gave a clear articulation of this mindset connecting it with his real-life accounts, precisely the notion of imposing career selection by father.

One of my ex Canadian colleague who was born as the son of Canadian minister had chosen physiotherapy as a profession in the early seventies. His British wife who was working as a nurse in Riyadh from the last twenty years was the daughter of Medical Professor & consultant of Pathology. Even forty years later, no one from a family of privilege medical fraternity in our stratified society would able to accept their children in these roles. Such discriminative mindset has evolved with our robust colonial education system & layered social orders. From the last two years, I saw twitter handle with name “90s kid” catching nostalgia by sharing of past ads, popular desi comics, Ghulam Ali Ghazals, & Jaspal Bhatti shows. Sometimes it catches lost days of Doordarshan.

Born at the end of the seventies, I could say that not much has changed then in eighties & nineties except the vanishing landscape of Urdu world. In the early 90s, two of my friends were disqualified in mintocircle entrance exam at AMU, Aligarh as they were not able to pass in elementary Urdu. The small cities convent school in those days don’t have Urdu as the third language. In early childhood, I saw old Madhoramji (The owner of city’s oldest Kirana shop at Pilibhit ) attired in Nehru topi, kurta & dhoti writing his customer’s orders in perfect Urdu. It was the biggest surprise for me at that tender age when in school, it was considered a Quranic language. Madhoram Ji passed in 2001 at the age of ninety-four & now his grandson sits on the same mat writing memos in Devanagari script.

Like other places, the author’s description of Pilibhit as one of the Mufassil towns has also been changed with time. The beautiful gateways of Drummond Ganj became ruins in the last forty years. The ornamental beauty of Bareilly Darwaza that existed much closer to his ancestors home has lost long ago. The naked lakhori bricks of Darwaza devoid of plaster are waiting for their sad demise. The much-revered Shahji Miyan was pir of my mother’s grandfather, Sheikh Haji Nisar Ahmad. A boorish middle-class village zamindar who paid a humble visit on every Thursday to his pir in the late 19th century when carts & horses covered countryside distances. Almost 125 yrs later many of his fourth & fifth generation descendants are in Karachi, Toronto, & other South Asian hubs of USA & Canada. During childhood Ammi proudly told us, it was a blessing of saint who once said, Nisar Ahamd “teri naslen puri duniya me phailengi”. Then I used to asked her : “what about those descendants who were struggling with poverty in village life after the abolition of zamindari”.

Bareilly Darwaza that stood close to authors grandfather home at Pilibhit. Pic by Rehan Asad

So Aligarh was Alma mater of mine & my father both. I stayed their for seventeen year & also listened stories from Abbu during childhood days. Just yesterday Abbu told me that in those days Shibli road was also residence of Prof. Mukhtar Uddin Arzu (Arabic), Rashid Ahmad Siddiqui & his provost Prof. Aulad Ahamd Siddiqui in addition to Prof. Ale Ahmad Suroor.
The authors eloquently written passages of by gone days connecting it with global political changes, usage of verbatim Urdu words, sandwiching of Bollywood accounts & poetic verses added a rigor to manuscript. A nicely written memoir touching multiple dimensions of a upper middle class Muslim boy who was privileged to be a grandson of literary parents & grandparents. In many ways, the account will fill you with nostalgia of by gone days that most of my generation had heard from our parents. As an educator himself he gave a critical & valuable insights that can be seen in many sections such as convented education & rites of passage.

The passages of bygone days connected with global political changes, usage of verbatim Urdu words, sandwiching of Bollywood accounts & poetic verses added rigor to the memoir. A nicely written memoir of an upper-middle-class Muslim boy who was privileged to be a grandson of literary parents & grandparents. In many ways, the account will fill you with the nostalgia of bygone days that most of my generation had heard from our parents. As an educator himself, he gave a critical & valuable insight that can be seen in many sections such as convented education & rites of passage.

Sadia’s Memoirs, Culture & Food of Delhi: A fascinating account

A reader’s review for “Jasmine & Jinns: Memories & Recipes of my Delhi” by Sadia Dehalvi, Harper Collins India publication, 2017

A two hundred eleven pages account on the culture of bygone days Shahjahanabad, author memoirs, & an encyclopedic collection of diverse recipes. The title “Jasmine & Jinns” came up from author’s childhood memories of her ancestral “Shama Kothi” at Sardar Patel Marg where both Jasmine Shrubs & Jinns shared the space in the capacious villa. The rich illustrations from food to monuments add the visual aura to the text. Starting with the first portrait of the author by blogger & columnist Mayank Austen Soofi, the manuscript adds a visual journey by photographs of Delhi’s Monuments, street food, culinary dishes & portraits of her family. The book commenced with the evolution of Delhi’s cuisine tracing its history from Turks, Mughals, British & finally the arrival of Punjabis after 1947. Then it discussed the sociocultural history of the Muslim Khatri tribe (Saudagran) who made Shahjahanabad as their home during the days of Mughal emperor, Shahjahan.  During childhood, I had heard a legendary story of Hazrat Shamsuddin Sabswari who brought Ganga for the Khatri caravan on the way to Haridwar from one of the father’s Punjabi (Shamsi) friend at hometown, Pilibhit. Majority of the Muslim Punjabi (Shamsi) community in small towns of western Uttarpradesh traced their origin from Punjabi Saudagran tribe of Shahjahanabad. Then in 2003, I read an article that came up in Hindu by columnist Vivek Shukla providing the glimpses of the history & the culture of Saudagran community. Sadia Dehalvi as a member of Old Delhi Punjabi gharana provided an in-depth narrative on culture & history of Punjabi Saudagran community. Back in Punjab, Pakistan, the Saraiki & Punjabi speaking Muslim Khatri’s were popular as Chinioti’s due to their ancestral affiliation with Chiniot. The chapter mystique of Shahjahanabad portrayed the vibrant culture & rich cuisine of the walled city starting with bygone days Urdu proverbs called out by street vendors like “ Lakad Hazam, Pathar Hazam/digest wood & stone” recited by traditional digestive tablet sellers. Hafiz Yusuf Dehalvi, the patriarch & founder of “Shama Magazine” brought the culture & cuisine of walled city from Haveli Habsh Khan to 11, Sardar Patel Marg. The traditional kitchen lined by Pindol in the lavish modern villa was designed by Sadia’s grandfather, Hafiz Yusuf Dehalvi to accommodate his generous hospitality.  His values were drawn on his belief of “Fi Sabilillah/For the sake of God” & Prophetic saying “The best among you are those who feed other”.

#Shama Magazine started by Hafiz Yusuf Dehalvi who belonged to Muslim Punjabi community of Old Delhi, Phatak Habsh Khan…

Gepostet von INDO ISLAMIC CULTURE am Sonntag, 7. Oktober 2018

A lady from Baghpat who wore a tent-shaped veil (Afghani Abaya) became a foster mother for author & her siblings. From storytelling to food cooking, she is the one who has a significant role in nurturing the hobbies of Sadia Dehalvi. With expanding urban sprawls & disappearing of traditional Taaqs, the Jinns of Delhi & their stories absconded from the homes of Delhi. Reading the chapters  “Halal World” &  “early lesson”  is a nostalgic recall of the lost time & values from traditional Muslim upbringing. The term “ Niaz/ Food offering” reverberate the eardrums as it has been lost somewhere in the changing face of Islam. The lost values of Niaz were connected with Islamic roots by an introductory picture from Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah Iftar & a Hadith of Prophet ( Peace be Upon him) on feeding.

From real herbs & spices, the culinary section of the book moved from all-time favourites to the seasonal dishes & finally concluded at Ramzan & Eid. The gustatory delights presented by the author supplemented with the portraits of her home cooked dishes will give a pleasurable journey to the readers.  “Some of all time favourites” discussed a wide variety of traditional dishes. From a Yakhani Pulao with Arqe Nana chutney to Shab Deg ( made up of Carrots, mutton pieces & Kofta), the chapter brought a diverse variety of traditional dishes. As mentioned by Author, the Nargisi Kofta enriched the dastarkhwan (tablecloth) on special occasions, a tradition common with Delhi Wallas was also prevalent in small towns of Western Uttar Pradesh. The traditional medicine (Unani) classifications of the food in taseers (effects/efficacy) like garam (hot) & dhandi (cold) divided the cuisine in alignment with seasons. The winter’s cuisine was introduced with Nihari, the pride of Delhiwallas. Once in Saudi, I received a parcel of Nihari cooked by the colleague mother in Karachi. The Nihari has an odour & taste specific of Shahjahanabad. On the food, I came to know that his ancestors belonged to Punjabi saudagran community of walled who migrated to Karachi during 1947. The delicacies of walled city & Punajbis was well preserved by his mother as the first generation of Delhi wallas in Karachi.

The summers in the book were greeted by a bygone days beverages (Sherbet) of Bel (Woodapple), Falsa, Sandal, Unab (Jujube), Gauzaban & fruits of the walled city (Shahtoot, Khirni, & Kaseru). This section discussed the amalgamation of diverse veggies with mutton. The recipes from flower buds (Kachnar) to bitter gourd stuffed with minced mutton (Qeema bhare Karele) with traditional desserts aam pulao (Mango rice) to Aannaas Pulao (Pineapple rice) will amaze the readers. The open spaces of the Mehrauli made it a favourite destination of forgotten Mughals especially the last one Zafar adored it during monsoon. The tradition continued in the walled city & author’s recalled her father visit using camel carriages from Lahori gate to Mehrauli. Pakoras with tea, pre-partition old Delhi wagons, & trams & story of a mango that travelled from “Rataul, United Province” to Punjab, Pakistan captivated the lost time of Delhi. Now after seven decades, the Ratual became the pride of the orchards of Punjab, Pakistan. The India, & Pakistan both are debating on the origin of the famous mango.

Kachalo (Fruit Chaat) was an essential of Ramzan Iftar what I recalled from the childhood days from my mofussil hometown located in the Terai plains of Himalayas. A variety of dishes prepared by vegetables & Gosht (Mutton) has been introduced here. In old days, this was the traditional Muslim style of adding veggies to their diet. The substitute of Haleem is the grainy version of lentils with meat pieces identified as Khicda in UP. Across the border on another side, the Haleem of both Lahore & Karachi is closer to Delhi walla style.  The Eid celebrations didn’t change much with time except “Eid Al Azha” has transited to “Eid Al Adha” with Arabization of Urdu in the present context. Even in these days, the long list of the feast preparation started with  “Kalegi/Liver“.  The usage of the verbatim traditional Urdu terms such as Ghotni (wooden Laddle), Salan (curries), tukhme rehan (basil seeds), tabaruk ( blessed), & baadi (difficult to digest) enriches the context for the local readers. The Jasmine & Jinns is not only about the recipes of the diverse cuisine, but it’s also about the context, traditional utensils, season & occasions that were reflected in depth by Sadia’s preparations. A must-read account for all those who are in love with food & culture of Delhi especially Shahjahanabad.


  1. Vivek Shukla, Death no leveller in Capital cemetery, The Hindu, 06th March 2003. Retrieved from:


Divine Mercy is for one and all

A readers review : “Song of Dervish: Nizamuddin Auliya, the saint of hope and tolerance”

Cover page of the “Song of the Dervish”

Background: In contemporary Islamic world, the mystic dimension of Islam was largely misinterpreted both by the followers & opponents. Core values of mystic Islam lies in Ihsan (favors, helping others),Ikhlas (Sincerity/purification), & adherence to the human values that stood above all the rituals, practices & institutions created in mystic world of Islam during last twelve centuries. From early figures such Owais Al Qarni up to the founding figures of Qadriya, Chishtia & Suharwadi orders down the centuries, they ruled the hearts of the masses inhabited in vast dominion of the Almighty God. It was due to high level of Ikhlas & Ihsan that was embedded as an innate trait in their souls. All these virtues were passed from one generation to other through the golden chain of spiritual successors  like a beads in a string connecting them finally with  Prophet ( Peace be Upon Him). During the eight & ninth centuries, the far off central Asian territories lying beyond the river Oxus up to the North African Berber provinces, the foot prints of mystic Dervishes can be found everywhere in vast dominion of Abbasid empire & also in remote Iberian peninsula ruled by Ummayads. It was from Trans-Oxonian branch of Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) family members, the blessed ancestors of Nizamuddin were born at Bukhara. Nizamuddin is the fourth generation successor of  Chishti Tariqa (Path) in Indian Subcontinent. The benevolent Nizamuddin made traits of Ihasan & Ikhlas as a part & parcel of his life that gave him a title of “Mehboob Ilahi/beloved of God“.

Book review: The “Song of Dervish: Nizamuddin Auliya, the saint of hope and tolerance” is a book authored by Meher Murshed & published by Bloomsbury, India in 2017. A preface is written by Dr. Bruce Lawrence, a professor of Islamic Studies, & scholar on Sufism who had translated a worthy account of Nizamuddin from Persian in English. His account gave vivid portrait of Mehboob Ilahi by connecting  real stories of twentieth  century  centered around the living saint with the historical accounts of thirteenth & fourteenth centuries.  The book started with a contemporary narratives of Nizamuddin followers who love & revere the saint as he was followed by his disciples during his life time. Sanjiv Malhotra, Kamwal Nain Sharma, Bauji ( Om Prakash Arora) & Dr Bruce Lawrence belonged to different faiths, background & enthicities. An explorative accounts of Murshed draws one common trait in all these human souls, the love & faith in Mehboob Ilahi.

Devote your life to God, serve the poor & the needy to realize the Maker” the life long learning of Nizamuddin from his master Baba Farid.  Murshed’s  account draws two contrast pictures from fourteenth century Delhi. At one end, the Palaces of Sultans showered extravagance on skank nobles who lauded the temperamental monarchs for their vices & virtues. On the other hand, the humble court of Nizamuddin at Ghyaspur offered robes to the disciples who offered food, love, service & devotion to the poor souls of Maker. The  integration of Nizamuddin biography with the contemporary accounts of his lover assimilates the belief “The saint never die”. The book presents an alluring amalgamate of the rare accounts on the predecessors & immediate successors of Nizamuddin. The stories from the life of the early jewels  of Chishti order were revisited. How the prayers of Nizamuddin & sugar from his bowl made his beloved disciple Khusro, a celebrated poet. Murshed’s account sketched the bipolar world of Khusro & his friend Amir Hasan Sijzi. Both of them finally submerged their souls in love of divine leaving behind rubies, & Gold. They find solace with Nizamuddin instead of worldly gifts from treasures of maniac sultans. The Dervish took the message of Prophet (Peace be Upon him): Divine mercy is for one & all. Lyons, Lawrence, Gita, & Rahman finds a common bond between them, the love for Nizamuddin. At the point of time when hatred & intolerance is on its height, the “Song Of Dervish” iterate the stories of love & compassion centered around Nizamuddin, a saint whose blessings crossed the lines of caste, creed, gender & religion. Poetic translations, simple language, citations of “Fawaid Al Fuad” & extensive research on real life narratives spoke of its rigour. The enchants of “Man Kunto Muala‘ that echoed on the ears of Murshed during childhood days became a prime stimuli to start a journey of “Song of Dervish“. A distinctive account on Nizamuddin, it will be a soul enriching experience for the readers who carried an interest in Mystical Islam & medieval history of Delhi. I would like to thanks Meher Murshed who blessed the lovers of Nizamuddin & motivated readers by offering “Song of Dervish“.

The Forgotten Cities of Delh: A reader’s review

Dil o Dilli dono’n agar hain Kharab

P’a kuch luft is ujde ghar mein bhi hain’

Both heart & Delhi may have been damaged

But some pleasures still remain in these ruins

The  Forgotten Cities Of Delhi” a treatise by a noted author & historian Rana Safvi, photographs by Syed Mohammad Qasim, and publication by HarperCollins India was launched at Amazon on 04 May/2018. I was among one of the early readers who booked it on the same day. The beautiful front cover has an endorsement of art historian Catherine Asher & abstract on the flap commenced with the lovely couplet of Mir Taqi Mir cited above. Chapter one started with the title  “Siri” covering twenty-four known & unknown monuments located in the premises of Sultan Alauddin Khilji late thirteenth and early fourteenth-century capital built to defend it from Mongols. Every section within the chapter started with the name of the monument, its picture and contextual poetic verse of Urdu/Hindustani & Persian with its English translation. With an architectural description, the text includes the succinct historical accounts, narratives from locals and descriptive citations from nineteenth-century sources “Asar Us Sanadid “& “Archeology and Monumental remains of Delhi”. More or less the similar pattern was followed for all the subsequent chapters in the book. From seventh century Suraj Kund up to the nineteenth century Mirza Ghalib tomb, the manuscript covered a diverse range of monuments located in the five cities of Delhi that came up after Mehrauli. A book two in the trilogy of “Where Stone Speaks“., it’s an outcome of hard work, research, exploration and passionate Journey of more than two years in form of historical trails conducted by author & fellow photographer. In the recent talk with Indian express, while telling tales of Sufi Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin & Sultan Ghyasuddin Tughlaq Shah at Tughlaqabad, she recalled her journey for the exploration of one hundred sixty-six monuments depicted in the account.

A book excerpt articulating mysteries and stories on the resting place of the 18th-century Persian poet and Sufi Saint Abdul Qadir Bedil published by the  @iamrana in @DailyO_.

Similarly, in one of the chapters, the author marked a location as “Mehdiyan” on the site of Maulana Azad Medical College where a fourteenth-century Nawab built an iconic structure to commemorate “Urs” of the Saint of Baghdad, Shiekh Abdul Qadir Gilani. In a similar manner, many unknown monuments and the stories built around it has been recollected in the book.

The last chapter historical trails are the great addon to the book. Its a reflective account of fifteen historical walks in a concise manner depicting the monuments in relation with important landmarks. It will serve as a guidebook for anyone who wants to reach the monuments described in the book. In the changing landscape of growing Delhi, the author also reflected the plight of many monuments ruined by encroachment, illegal human settlements and ignorance of civic authorities. Other than interested readers, the accounts in the book can be used as one reference for the bodies volunteering the monumental protection in addition to ASI. The serene and awesome pictures by Syed Mohammad Qasim (@EvolveLeadLove) gave an enlightenment from the visual perspective to the readers. Short accounts within the sections of the chapters, easy language, and integration of stories made it more interesting while the usage of standard oriental and English reference reflected its scholarly rigor. 

The Full Circle Bookstore, Cafe Turtle, and Harper Collins India organized a book launch for “The Forgotten Cities of Delhi” at Greater Kailash I, New Delhi on 22 June. I would like to deliver heartiest congratulations and thanks to Rana Safvi and Syed Mohammad Qasim for the great compilation and upcoming launch. 

Note: The translation of Mir Taqi Mir cited above is taken from the account of Rana Safvi “The Forgotten Cities of Delhi“.

My review for the “Where Stone Speak: The first City of Delhi“:







A rich historical account on Mughal city of “Shahjahanabad”

A reader’s reflective account on “Chandni Chowk: The Mughal city of Old Delhi” authored by Swapna Liddle

Front cover page of the book Chandni Chowk, The Mughal City of Old Delhi

The book “Chandni Chowk” was published by Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt Limited in collaboration with YES Institute in 2017. The  “Walled City/Old Delhi” located in the present urban landscape of National capital region was once a dream project of a monarch to establish it as a new capital for mighty Mughal empire. The oriental accounts referred the term “Old Delhi” for the thirteenth century Mamluk capital Mehrauli, the first city of Delhi.  Before the establishment Luytens Delhi, the walled city of Shahjahanabad has a privilege of the term “New Delhi” associated with it. The authors Swapna Liddle treatise on Mughal city of “Shahjahanabad” is a fascinating account articulating its formation, culture, rise & fall integrated with the history of its political transition & turmoil down the centuries. The book started with the story of its birth under Shahjahan, passing over to the puritan Aurangzeb, vulnerable days under forgotten Mughals, its cultural zenith, devastation during the mutiny, post-mutiny transition and its acclimatization with the twentieth century. The rich scholarly content with fine contextual details reflected in the manuscript is reflection of authors doctorate on eighteenth-century Delhi & her great experience of conducting heritage walks in Shahjahanabad. The description of the key events by citing accounts of the contemporaries such as narrations of Bernier and Mannuci in chapter one & two gave the reader an alluring engagement during the journey of exploring the book. The references were cited in the text as superscript in a continuous manner with the diverse range of references presented as notes at the end of the manuscript. This style facilitates the flow of the reading while maintaining the scholarly practice of in-text citation. Embedding heart-rending verses and their translation of contemporary poets like Sauda and Mir provided the readers to explore the plight faced by the citizens of Shahjahanabad during the days of turmoil. The creativity lies in outlining every sociocultural and religious transition of the nineteenth century in a succinct manner. For example, in a concise way schism created between grandson of Shah Waliullah Dehalvi and all the other traditional scholars of Zafar’s Delhi over basic beliefs of Islam were elaborated. It was the newly evolved puritan ideologues from the deserts of central Arabia imbibed by Ismail  Dehalvi. All the great scholars of Delhi including Sadaruddin Azurda and  Maulana Munawwaruddin, the maternal grandfather of Azad rejected it and they came to refute Ismail in a long debate held at Jama Masjid by Maulana Fazle Haqq in 1831. The chapter “The East India Company’s administration” also depicted vivid description of the cultural, and educational renaissance going on in 19th century Delhi. The chapter “The Revolt and Aftermath” is an account presenting the plight of Shahjahanabad and its citizen under the hands of mutineers and then by British forces after 14 September 1857. How the social order has been uprooted in the midst of the chaos and massacre, the author cited the heart-wrenched verses of “Zahur”.

Sada tanur Jhonke tha jo ladka nanbai ka

bhara hai iske sar me ab to Sauda Mirzai ka

The street cook’s lad, who did nothing but stoke the fire,

Now he fancies himself a Mirza

The last part of the same chapter articulated the response, growth and modifications happened in the plan of the Shahjahanabad during post-1857 era. The second last chapter sketched the transition happened in the city from Mughal capital to the British capital. The author focused on the modern infrastructural changes, upcoming civic bodies, coronation durbar, political winds of twentieth-century Delhi and demographic shift with the mass movement of immigrants from the newly created state of Pakistan. The book ended with the last chapter titled “Shahjahanabad Today”. This chapter is a wonderful connection of present vibrant, encroached and overcrowded “Purani Dilli” with its glorious past. The Chandni Chowk though no more left with a pool reflecting the moonlight but its eateries, culture, shops and worship places have the lot to offer for the visitors. The origin of the localities with its translated names like Katras (Commercial enclaves) and Kuchas ( lanes) is helpful for the English readers. The addition of nineteenth-century paintings with each chapter add the rich visual perspective to the text. For me as a reader, the “Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of Delhi” is a fascinating journey that also provided much insightful learning on the title. Its an account talking on culture, society, ethnic composition, literary & political environment intermingled with the historical timeline of Shahjahanabad from its birth up to present days.

Swapna Liddle account will provide you a wonderful journey to the days mesmerized by the 18th-century poet, Mir Taqi Mir.

Dilli jo ek Shahar tha aalam me mein inthikhab

rahte the muntakhab hi jahan rozgar ke

There was a city, famed throughout the world,

Where dwelt the chosen spirits of the age

Note: The English translation of the poetic verses has been taken from authors account.



Remnants of a Separation: A History of The Partition Through Material Memory by Aanchal Malhotra

Readers’ review by Rehan Asad| An unique approach to revisit the most important context of 20th century South Asian History, Indian partition

Introduction and background

The book titled “Remnants of a Separation” authored by Aanchal Malhotra and published by Harper Collins was released on 15/August/2017 at the completion of seventy years of Indian partition (Batwara). In last seventy years, the numerous books have been published on the event that created more than fourteen million homeless population and estimated death of approximately two million human souls. As born in Western Uttar Pradesh, I was brought up listening stories of partition from grandparents. The region was the part of United Provinces of Oudh and Agra in Colonial India that has the considerable support of league among the Muslims agrarian landowners. Some members of the Grandparents extended families had chosen the strange land on the other side of Radcliffe line. It was the illusion of chosen land created by the Jinnah among the elites landlords of United Province & Oudh that compelled them to leave their homelands. I had an opportunity during childhood days to interact with relatives from Karachi visiting their ancestor’s homeland far off in Uttarpradesh. During the Senior Secondary days in 1997, I had come across with my first non-fiction read up on partition “Freedom at Mid Night by Lary Collins & Dominique Lapierre (1975)” almost twenty years from now. Almost at same time, I was blessed to read the great Kushwant Singh masterpiece, “Train to Pakistan“, a fiction centered around the syncretic love story of Punjab in the backdrop of communal violence. From then onward, I tried to explore the context of partition by reading manuscripts and research articles as an inquisitive reader to explore it. As the topic filled with multiple historical reviews, & viewpoints, it seems to be contextual for third generation Indian and Pakistanis like me. During last month I got an opportunity to read the “Remnants of a separation: A history of the partition through material memory,” a book released on the eve of seventy years of Indian partition.

Reflections on the “Remnants of a separation”

The idea behind the book was commenced with the effort of a young researcher of Fine Arts who had chosen the stories moving around the artifacts and materials related to the context of Indian partition as the dissertation of her MFA (Masters in fine arts) programme at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. The author reflected in the introductory section, the significance of material memory crept in 2013 when the photojournalist and columnist Mayank Austen Soofi widely popular as Delhi Walla was exploring Vij Bhawan for his column. It was the gaz (feet) and ghara (metallic vessel), a pre-partitioned legacy of the Vij (Authors maternal grandparents) that appeared as prime stimuli of the research idea. The creativity lies in the author’s sense of integrating valuable artifacts (storehouse of the memories) carried by the immigrants on both sides of the Radcliffe lines during partition. The qualitative research is a standardized model for exploring anthropological and ethnographic context. Oral history collected by conducting in-depth interviews and artifacts used in congruence are tools of the qualitative research that has been used in this project. The titles of all nineteen chapter are connecting the link to memories and each of the chapters is meticulously selected case reflecting unique ethnic and social context about the event of the partition. Ingenuity lies in the exploration of beautiful memories by connecting with the tactile stimuli of materials and belongings of the past. Most of these memories were buried in the deep subconscious of these individuals behind the denial of the traumatic events that happened seventy years before. Other than citing standard references, and archives on Indian partition, the author embed herself as an explorative researcher to perceive the emotional context extracted from each interview. It gave us the deeper understanding of the geographical origins especially for the group of the population who left their native land under arduous circumstances. Each context presented in the book as chapters moved around the artifacts, heirlooms, objects as the connection with memories also provide the readers a broader historical context of the particular region/culture about the partition. I tried to reflect on some of those backgrounds that I perceived from my prerequisite understanding of Partition.

The rich narratives of Vij, Malhotra’s, and Bhag gave readers an understanding of shifting the level of acceptance especially in context with Punjabi immigrants within the layered social dynamics of 1950s Delhi. All three of them belonged to Author’s family but, as an explorative researcher when she interviewed them, a unique cultural context was extracted from their past. The Vij represented a thrifty urban Punjabis from Lahore who has been established themselves as the successful entrepreneurs from centuries. It was the bloody event of “Batwara” that cut the roots of this prosperous community from the native land. The ancestors of Bahris hails from the small historic town, Qadirabad located two hundred fourteen kilometers North-West of Lahore. They represented a middle-class zamindar section of the Punjabis who undertook modern education as the tool of better survival in changing colonial India. After leaving Malakwal, the nineteen years Balraj Bahri journey on the bumpy roads from the Kingsway camp up to the successful Bahri Sons booksellers is the reflection of hard work, and rectitude. Now the Bhag Malhotra who hails from the North-West Province, a land of tribal Pashtuns. Her reflection draws a vivid picture of the life of Punjabi Zamindars in Khyber Pakhtunwala. A beautiful haveli with separate apartments for the members of extended family. The separation in the quarters and living area for females. In those days, Purdah was not confined to any particular religion. It was a tradition practiced among the high socioeconomic class of rural North Indian society. The pearls of Azra Haq represent the class of bureaucratic white-collar pre-partitioned Punjabi Muslims that unfortunately lost the ground in the chosen land of Jinnah. The “Bagh” of Hansla represented the old culture where the daughters received homemade apparel from his mother. This sacred piece of cloth passed from generation to generation carrying clemence and efforts of ancestors interwoven with memories of each generation making it a priceless treasure. Mian Faiz Rabbani represented a sample of the agrarian tribe which formed the core of Muslim league & Unionist in Punjab Province. Finishing with Shams Manzil of Mian Faiz intermingled with memories of a stone plaque, the book moved to next unique context from Punjab. It’s a story of the family belonging to Ahlul Bait (the house of Prophet) from the small town Samana in the princely state of Patiala. The sanctity of the place was due to the direct descendants of the Prophet (Peace be Upon him), Sayyad Mashaad Ali buried here long before the advent of Ghurids & Mamluks in India. Nazeer Adhami from Hardoi, (Lucknow), Oudh and his memories of Aligarh Muslim Universities gave the readers an insight on elite Muslim Zamindars of United Provinces and their participation towards the league. Parting from the memories of Nazeer from Aligarh Muslim Universty, it moved to beautiful narrations of Nizamuddin Khan, a member of a working-class Muslim family of pre-partitioned Delhi. How beautiful his descriptions of syncretic Delhi before the partition? His reflective accounts of Gandhi Ji, Nehru & Jinnah was built over the years from his father side talks who was working at Viceroy house in Lutyens Delhi. Even circumstances forced them but, somehow managed to return to the land where their ancestors were buried. Now, one of the most interesting chapters for me came up during the read up. Here I was going to read the narratives coming directly from the tongue of an Emeritus Professor of art & culture history from the University of Sussex on his legacy, partition, and reaction of his family. Transcribed and written contextually, the chapter of Partha Mitter unfolded his more than one and half century old legacy represented as a sample of elite Bengali families that was the core of India first sociocultural and intellectual movement. In other terms what is defined in textbooks as a Bengal renaissance? From the great Tipen Mitter up to Partha Mitter, the family has produced legends who perceived the winds and tides of Colonial India. The legendary journalist, Maya Mirchandi Grandmother Savitri represented a context from the ancient land from where lies the roots of the historical names “Hind” and “Indus”. The family described an educated upper-middle-class Sindhis who lost their homeland due to the voluntary exodus of Urdu speaking community from United Provinces of Agra & Oudh, Bihar, Hyderabad ( Deccan), Rajasthan & Gujrat. The Dadi Leela version of three mothers, biological mother, linguistic mother and motherland (place of birth) articulate the significance of native language and birthplace in an individual life even in unfavorable circumstances. It’s an irony that even after seven decades of partition, the Urdu speaking community that immigrated with the dream of chosen land is still struggling to be absorbed in the Sindhi population & culture on the other side. Interestingly the subgroups within this broader linguistic identity titled as Muhajir (Oriental word for refugee) were identified with the places of their origin like Delhi Wale, Hyderabadi, Bihari, Lucknow wale and further smaller units of their native lands in United Provinces.

An outstanding distinctive research that explores the feelings, materials, context, and sociocultural background of the immigrants. The author’s inclusion of the verbatim transcription of the native’s words of Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and English extracted during interviews gave an additional uniqueness and sense of originality to the context. It’s interesting to find the shared Hindustani words like Taka, Anna, Lambardar, Khas Dan, Sarota, Deghcyian, and Hammam Dasta were commonly used in Punjab, United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, and Sindh provinces of Colonial India. I had heard these words in common usage of my grandparents and parents, but in today changing trends it seems to be archival. The presentation of the native words in their original accent, e.g., Jullundar instead of Jalandhar, Kalai (Qalai), Kabar (Qabar) as common in Punjabi accent is the reflection of applying core values of qualitative research.  An Englishman, John Gregor Taylor chanting Hindi songs and missing the odor of Geeli Mitti of India, a Punjabi Arain articulating his context by an example “the demise of the sapling once uprooted from its soil” reminds me the three mothers of Leela Dadi from Mirchandani accounts. When humanity was tarnished by the savagery, you will find Hansla Chaudhry grandfather receiving the offer of Luyten Delhi mansion from his Muslim friend. Prof. Mitter father risked his own life for saving Muslims around his home at Bhowanipur, Calcutta. A Praman Matro (Identity Proof) of Sunil Kumar connecting the family with bygone days memories. There is much more to talk about but, word count binds my review. The research of the Aanchal Malhotra is an effort in a direction to touch core human values of such an important context of modern Indian history by erasing all the bias of region, religion, and culture. This unique account is an excellent add-on to the social and ethnic context of Indian partition. It will also serve as a resource for future academic researchers.

“WHERE STONE SPEAK” articulates history of first city of Delhi by giving voice to its silent monuments

Rehan Asad |a reader review for the book “Where Stone Speak”

Background: During the late thirteenth century, the Delhi fell into the hands of Ghurids (Turko-Persian dynasty). The city of Chauhans became an administrative unit of Ghurids North Indian provinces. Qutubuddin Aibak (Turkish slave of Ghori) was appointed as an administrator of newly conquered provinces. With the death of Muhammad Ghori in 1206, the Turkish general Qutubuddin declared himself as a sultan of Indian provinces of Ghurid empire with its center at Delhi. “Mamluk” is an Arabic term that became synonymous for the Turkish slave’s soldiers who became the backbone of expanding Abbasid empire in eight century. By the tenth century, the Mamluks established themselves as kingmakers in decaying Abbasid Caliphate. For the coming centuries, the Mamluks emerged as the most powerful force to control disintegrated provinces of vast Saracenic empire in Central Asia, West Asia, and North Africa. The young Turkish slave Qutubuddin was sold by his master to Ghurid Sultan, Muhammad Ghori and later emerged as one of his successful army commandants. That’s why the first ruling Islamic dynasty of North India was known as Mamluk/Slave Dynasty. The enthronement of Qutubuddin in 1206 marked with a new era of the Delhi first city “Mehrauli” that was characterized by the growth of art, culture, and architecture. It was a unique blend of Indian, Persian and Saracenic civilization. Mamluks dynasty lasted for almost next eighty years when it was replaced by Khiljis. In the span of eighty years, they left behind a rich heritage of art and architecture especially at Mehrauli that was the center of power for Hindustan during their reign. The magnificent capital city of Mehrauli even received emissaries from West Asian monarchs during Mamluks reign. The grand construction of Mehrauli was comparable with its sister cities in Egypt, Asia Minor, Persia, and the Levant in those days. For the subsequent dynasties, the power center moved away from Mehrauli on some occasion even outside the Delhi. But the Mehrauli retained its unique distinctions as the first city of Delhi built on the ruins of Chauhans by Turkish Sultans.

WHERE STONE SPEAK Historical trail in Mehrauli, the First City of Delhi is a book authored by a noted historian & columnist, Rana Safvi and published by Harper elements in 2015. The book started with a brief introduction to the settlements of Delhi starting from 1450 BC right up to the grand Colonial construction of Sir Edwin Lutyens in early 20th century. After the introduction, each chapter is titled with main monumental sections of the Mehrauli starting from Qutub Complex and ends at Mehrauli archeological park. The chapters were integrated with the stories and traditions that were build up down the centuries in context with these monuments. For example, the historical origin of Sair e Gul Faroshan in the chapter titled “Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki” reflected the Hindu-Muslim harmony and cultural fusion of early 19th century Zafar’s Delhi. The syncretic culture was evolved down the centuries in the Indian subcontinent by fusion of Indian, Arabic and Persian traditions. Integration of Sufism with Indian culture and explanation of the appellations like “Maula” with an appropriate synonym for Caliph Ali carries a larger impact on contemporary Islamic teachings where many opponents consider it as a heresy. The last chapter titled ” Tomb of Sultan Ghari” was added although monument lies five km away from Mehrauli as the monument is closely knitted with the history of early Mamluks in India. The authors vivid description of the monuments from Lalkot/Qila Rai Pithaura (11th-century fort built by Anangpal II) to Zafar Mahal ( summer palace of last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar) gave readers a historical journey in the timeline of monuments. Every single monument of Mehrauli from Sanderson’s Sundial to Qutub Minar was explained with rich narrations and historical description. The beautiful description of spiritual monuments from Yogmaya temple to the Dargah of Aashiq Allah reflected the role of mystics and mendicants in the first city of Delhi. Even though, a frequent visitor to Mehrauli, I came to know the detailed background of Sheikh Shahabuddin alias Ashiq Allah from “Where Stone Speak”. Its a great effort in documenting the history of fading monuments of Mehrauli. The beautiful photographs by Syed Mohammad Qasim fit as visual data for the text that facilitate the in-depth understanding to the readers. The integration of poetic verses of Persian, Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi language with photographs of the monuments provide a contextual understanding to readers. This is the unique component of the book that reflects the in-depth understanding of the author in oriental languages and her creativity in integrating it with text. In an interview given to Swati Daftuar (published on 12th September 2015, The Hindu) before the release of the Book, the author told how she managed to collect a wide range of references from the archeological society of India (ASI) research and records to the early 20th-century oriental account of Bashiruudin Ahmad. Other than its esteemed readers, the book will serve as a reference for future researchers and travel writers. To my knowledge, other than Rana Safvi account, no other book has been published on the “Mehrauli: the first city of Delhi” documenting monumental history by applying the unique approach of integrating poetic verses and contextual stories. In last two years, multiple reviews of the experts have been published in magazines and newspaper. My review can be simply considered from a reader’s perspectives.