India’s capital city has always had a cosmopolitan culture and it is imperative to hold on to it, says renowned writer-scholar Rana Safvi, whose latest book, “The Forgotten Cities of Delhi”, provides an in-depth tour of Delhi’s archaeological history. But her book comes at a time when the demonisation of the Mughals, and perhaps of all histories associated with Muslim rulers, has become fashionable. Legislators holding significant portfolios have spewed venom time and again; roads and railway stations are being renamed in a brazen attempt at “re-writing Indian history”.
“If one goes by the fact that the first war of Indian independence was fought under the banner of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, it is very clear that religious divides had not taken root in India.
“In fact, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi and Nana Saheb fought under the Mughal banner — and not that of the Peshwas. The 1857 Hindu-Muslim unity shook the foundations of the British Empire. The systematic divide and rule resulted in many divisions and finally we had the partition of India,” Safvi, who has previously authored acclaimed books such as “Where Stones Speak: Historical Trails in Mehrauli”, told IANS in an interview.
She pointed to “wild rumours on WhatsApp of supposed atrocities by the Mughals and attempts to rewrite history to address those perceived wrongs” and contended that most of them are “baseless”.
What makes her so firm in her belief?
“A perusal of any book or novel written in Delhi and Lucknow in Urdu (the language used in those times) shows a very homogeneous and, by and large, content urban society. I write and translate from these Urdu sources and do as much as I can to bring out these stories of communal bonhomie and harmony.
“It is an uphill task as reading and believing a WhatsApp or fake video is easier, especially for a large number vulnerable Indians who don’t have access to fake news busters or genuine history,” she maintained.
Asked if it is the responsibility of scholars and researchers like herself to point out the historical facts and records to the government, she said she does her bit by speaking out on every platform that she has access to — social media, writings and TV appearances.
“I agree it is our responsibility and historians like Irfan Habib, Romila Thapar, Ramachandra Guha do speak out, but their voices are sought to be discredited on social media so that they lose credibility. Yet they continue undeterred. I am but a small fry in that ocean of voices, but I try and do my bit.
“I have never interacted directly with anyone in the government nor ever been invited to participate, though I would love to, in the interests of my country. I have no idea if my voice — for whatever it is worth — has ever been noticed or heard. I continue to do what I know best, which is to write, speak and stand by the truth as I have been taught.”
Elaborating, Safvi said of the 10 dynasties that ruled Delhi, eight professed the Muslim faith. They built capital cities that could rival the magnificent capitals of Central Asia.
“So apart from giving us many cities, monuments, a system of land revenue and administration, these Muslim kings also gave us a unique Indo-Islamic architectural style, reflected in many of our modern-day buildings. Names can be and are being changed but their history can’t be denied as long as these monuments remain standing,” she said.
And to conclude, she quoted the Bard’s words: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”