Shared History

In Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller,Raza Rumi draws parallels between the city and his hometown,Lahore. At the launch of his book,Rumi spoke about mutual misconceptions and his love for the city. Excerpts:

Written by Swetha Ramakrishnan | Published:August 7, 2013 3:43 am

Why a book on Delhi?

Around 2005,I was working for the Asian Development Bank,and I would frequent Delhi often. As a Pakistani Muslim,there were so many cultural and religious references I could identify with. I’d read history,but I could now visit Ghalib’s tomb,the old ruins in Mehrauli or the Jama Masjid. I started writing articles on Delhi for a paper I now edit,The Friday Times. I got tremendous feedback,so I wrote,read and researched further. It took two to three years,but by 2009,I had finished the first draft.

How is Delhi similar to Lahore?

I found myself as a split individual,because my identity and nationalistic pride was with Pakistan,but my entire history,heritage and who I am,is linked to this place — whether it’s cuisine,history or heritage. Lahore and Delhi are like twins. They’re old cities,and yet new and growing. Like in Lahore,you don’t have just one city but multiple cities in one: Old Delhi,New Delhi and the suburbs.

There’s a sense of how you’re not from here,but you belong here. Was that perspective conscious?

Not at all. I’m devoted to the Sufis. The tragedy now is that most of the Sufi shrines are located in India. There are always travel restrictions. However,the kind of vision that the Sufis had and propagated,which is of a composite,tolerant,moderate India,I found bits of that. But I’ve also seen intolerance here,and I’ve mentioned that in the book. There’s still so much in common,despite 65 years of Partition. The two countries still have a shared history.

Any incidents from your travels that you particularly remember?

Once,on my way from the railway station,I had a conversation with an auto driver in Punjabi. He was from Lahore but he had never been there,though his grandparents were from Pakistan. He spoke about Lahore with pure imagination,mostly about how great the city was. He then started blaming Pakistanis for driving his family out. When we reached our destination he asked me where I was from,and I told him. He was really embarrassed,he refused to take money and he apologised. I couldn’t stop thinking about this incident because instead of giving me hate talk,he was humane about it. It really touched my heart.

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