All posts by Sohail Hashmi

Supporter of Causes no longer fashionable in these days of globalisation, script writer on documentaries on above causes and a chronic optimist

Saving our heritage

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) received a letter from the Jamiat-ul Ulama-e-Hind. The letter wanted 31 protected mosques to be opened for prayers. “Although the commission was not very keen that heritage monuments should be opened for prayers, it decided to suggest a joint survey for ascertaining the condition of these mosques.” Officials from the NCM, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Wakf Board will carry out the joint inspection according to the suggestion made by the commission in its letter sent to the Ministry of Culture towards the end of July.

This reference made by the NCM needs to be looked at a little carefully, because the issue is not likely to remain restricted to these 31 mosques nor will it remain confined to Delhi. The reference impinges on questions of law and will eventually inform our attitude to the wider question of heritage protection. Continue reading Saving our heritage

India Gate vs. India

August 15 marked the 65 anniversary of India’s Independence from foreign rule and colonialism. September 21 will mark the 155 anniversary of the recapture of Delhi by the British and the end of the first valiant rebellion against foreign rule.

Between May 11, 1857 and May 21, 1857, Delhi was free of the British. The rebel soldiers had chosen Bahadur Shah Zafar as their leader and since the Red Fort was where he lived, the Lal Qila came to be seen as the centre of the First War of Independence. Delhi was seen as the heart of India and Lal Qila was the heart of Delhi and that is why once the British recaptured Delhi they wasted no time in arresting Bahadur Shah Zafar and quickly moving into the fort. Continue reading India Gate vs. India

Can we save the last natural forest in the vicinity of Delhi?

The road that leads to Faridabad from Gurgaon used to be a sleepy little one before it was expanded into a four lane expressway. The local villagers for some reason call it the ‘Relaynce’ (Reliance) Road, I am not writing this piece to speculate on their reasons, but because I want to take you off this road.

Get to Andheria Mod and ask for directions to the Gurgaon-Faridabad Road. Once on this road be on the lookout for the Gwal Pahari Campus of TERI (Tata Energy Research Institute). It would appear to your left, keep driving. A little while later if another structure looms into view, this time to your right and if simultaneously your senses are assailed by the stench of garbage you should feel assured that you have successfully stuck to the right path. Whoever said that the search for the divine is fraught with great challenges was not joking.

Why the search for the divine, because that is where I am leading you. Continue reading Can we save the last natural forest in the vicinity of Delhi?

Discordant notes: A review of Sadia Dehalvi’s “The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi”

The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi by Sadia Dehlvi; pp 252; Harper Collins Publishers, India, 2012

There is a sudden spurt of interest in Sufism among a section of our population that did not have such an interest a decade or two ago. Some were introduced to Sufism and its spiritual philosophical moorings through interactions with those who knew something about it, and realised that the ideas of Wahdat-ul-Wujood had parallels in the Adwait philosophy and it was this consonance that intrigued many to an extent that they got interested in exploring Sufism a little more. There were others who discovered Sufism through the west. Just as many had discovered Hindustani classical music when George Harrison began to learn the Sitar from Pandit Ravi Shankar in the ’60s, there are those who discovered Rumi when there was a spurt of interest in Jalal-ud-Din Rumi in the west, particularly in the US, with several translations appearing within a short span. Rumi has been known for centuries in our parts as Maulana Room; his poetry was quoted by Persian-knowing Indians till the 1950s and early 1960s, in conversations and writings, almost as often as Mir and Ghalib are quoted by the Urduwallas. An introduction to Rumi in the last decade or so has led eventually and inevitably to Sufism and a kindling of interest in our own indigenous Sufis. Continue reading Discordant notes: A review of Sadia Dehalvi’s “The Sufi Courtyard: Dargahs of Delhi”

The Myth of the Muslim Vote Bank

The recently concluded assembly elections in U.P were marked once again by an intensified debate on ‘Vote Bank Politics’. The debate was not provoked by the emergence of any new trends in political mobilization but was the standard fare that is dished out by so called commentators, experts, political analysts and people who not only think that they have inside information about how entire communities think and react, they also claim that there are agencies capable of engineering conditions that programme these communities to go and vote for this or that party.

The essential argument behind this discourse hinges on two presuppositions, one that particular religion or caste based communities can be mobilised and made to move in one pre-determined direction and two that this becomes possible because such communities react and behave as one individual and therefore all that is required is to catch hold of a handful of community leaders and you can as good as have the entire community in your pocket. Continue reading The Myth of the Muslim Vote Bank

Mangoes and me

My childhood memories are so deeply intertwined with mango eating that it is difficult to separate the two. One reason for this is probably because the season of mangoes and the summer breaks in school coincided. We took our last exam and the schools closed their doors, to reopen after two and a half months. Educationists had not yet discovered Holiday Homework, the Summer Break torture, For parents and children and the summer vacations were an unmitigated joy. Those days we stayed at Aligarh, and every year we travelled to Delhi to spend time with our aunts and uncles, all cousins of our father.

Continue reading Mangoes and me

Life and its suburbs

The writings of Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto, perhaps two of the finest writers of the short story in any language, have begun to attract a much larger audience thanks to the many translations in English and other languages and transliterations in Hindi that have become available in recent years. All the translations are not as good as they should be but Asaduddin’s work is top-of-the-shelf stuff.

The title chosen by Ismat for her autobiography—Kaghazi Hai Pairahan, literally robes of paper—is an allusion to petitioners appearing in court dressed in paper robes with their complaints inscribed upon them. The phrase is iconic, drawn as it is from the first ghazal from Ghalib’s anthology. Asaduddin’s translation of the title, A Life in Words: Memoirs, is a little extended perhaps, but translating Ghalib, with all the hidden, multi-layered nuances, is next to impossible. Everything else about the book is worth treasuring. You can’t possibly commend a translation more than this; if there are faults, they are faults carried over from the original, like the mixing up of Sheikh Chilli and Sheikh Saleem Chishti in ‘Conflict’ or perhaps a little printer’s devil that has turned Majaz’s sister Safia Siraj, who was to marry Jan Nisar Akhtar, into Sufia Siraj. Continue reading Life and its suburbs

Where have all the ghosts gone?

Two friends and I had gone to interview an old lady born 90 years ago in 1922. We had hoped to jog her memory about events that she had seen unfold, and events that she had heard her parents and grandparents talk about. We were hoping to get a slice of history going back a century and a quarter, but things did not work out as well as we had thought. Nevertheless, we got lucky through Saeed-ur-Rehman, her 72 year old son. He told us much about Delhi and about a real life encounter that his maternal grandfather and uncle had with the Jinn of Ferozeshah Kotla.

 This is how he related the encounter:

 “My Nana [maternal grandfather] was a great one for fishing and his favourite spot for fishing was the Firozeshah Kotla. In those days the Jamuna used to flow right next to the Kotla wall, and my Nana would go there often. He would carry his huqqa with him, cast the line and sit puffing away at and wait for the fish to take the bait. He would spend the better part of the day there and return with a bagful of fish in the evening. One afternoon he asked our Mamu [maternal uncle] to accompany him and this is what our Mamu told us about the events of the day. Continue reading Where have all the ghosts gone?

Delhi 1803-2012: A Brief Biography

Delhi, Or Dilli has been a city and a capital for a long time and even when it was not the capital, during the Lodi and early Mughal period, and later between 1858 and 1911, it continued to be an important city. We are of course talking of what is historically established and not of myths and legends. During this period there have been 7 major and several minor cities within the territories now identified as the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCR-Delhi). New Delhi is the eight city. This piece marking the hundred years of the shifting of the colonial capital to Delhi from Calcutta in 1912, will talk about both Shahjahanabad and New Delhi. We will see how  Shahjahanabad the once most powerful and rich city of its time and the last capital of the Mughals was gradually  ruined, plundered and virtually reduced to a slum  while next door arose, a new enclave of Imperial grandeur known now as New Delhi. Continue reading Delhi 1803-2012: A Brief Biography

My Days in Tihar Jail

Mrs Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, represented the Rai Bareli seat in the Lok Sabha. On 12th June 1975 she was unseated on charges of election fraud and misuse of state machinery in a landmark judgement by Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court.  Fakhr-ud-Din Ali Ahmad, the then President of India, declared internal emergency on the 25th of June,  on the recommendation of a pliable cabinet presided over by Mrs G. The people of India lost all civil liberties for a period of 21 months.

Trade unions were emasculated, political opponents were arrested, newspapers censored, the only place where a semblance of freedom survived, for a short while, were the universities, most were in turmoil and were being singled out for special attention. Students unions were being banned and activists were being picked up and thrown in jail.

Continue reading My Days in Tihar Jail

You can’t show light to those who have chosen darkness: The Case of Imam Bukhari

The Delhi Jama Masjid. Photo via Wikipedia.

The Imam of the Delhi Jama Masjid has issued a statement that calls upon the Muslim voters of Uttar Pradesh to vote for the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav. A whole lot of poll experts are going to rejig their forecasts to factor in this new and hitherto unexpected development.

We would be told that this call is going to alter the political equations in UP in a very profound manner. We will be told that the Muslim electorate is going to shift to the SP and that this shift will create serious problems for the Bahujan Samaj Party in its bid for a comeback and for the Congress that is making serious efforts to emerge as Number Two.

The assumption behind these two assertions is that Muslims who voted for these parties in the last election are going to desert them now because of the statement issued by the Imam of Jama Masjid of Delhi.

Before the psephologists get down to business with their abacuses, their TINA factor analysis, their complex equations dealing with social demographics, voter fatigue,  identity markers and what have you, it might be useful for them to contemplate three questions: Continue reading You can’t show light to those who have chosen darkness: The Case of Imam Bukhari

From Dehli to New Delhi, it wasn’t 1911

Amidst the cacophony of celebrating 100 years of Delhi, several details seem to have escaped the attention of our ever vigilant media, both print and electronic. This post is to draw your attention to a few of these ‘details’ in an attempt to place the celebrations in what appears to this author to be the correct perspective.

The 12th of December, 2011, can not by any stretch of imagination be described the centenary of Delhi, because there were at least 7 Dehlis before New Delhi came up, in fact 9 Dehlis if one were to add Kilokhri and Kotla Mubarakpurpur, Dehlis in their own right, to the generally accepted list of Qila Rai Pithora, Siri, Tughlaqabad, Jahan Panah, Firozeshah Kotla, Din Panah or Sher Garh or Purana Qila and Shahjahanabad. All of these came up at different times from the  11th century to the 17th century and all of these were more than a 100 years ago.

All that the 12th of December 2011 can claim to be the centenary of, therefore, is New Delhi. Let us look at even that claim a little more closely. What exactly transpired on the 12th of December 1911 that is causing so much excitement a 100 years later? Continue reading From Dehli to New Delhi, it wasn’t 1911

यहाँ से शहर को देखो…

(नई दिल्ली का सौवां साल शुरू होने पर हिंदी साप्ताहिक आऊटलुक  में यह लेख पहली बार प्रकाशित हुआ था.)

अब जबके हर तरफ यह एलान हो चुका है के दिल्ली १०० बरस की हो गयी है और चारों ओर नई दिल्ली के कुछ पुराने होने का ज़िक्र भी होने लगा है, इन दावों के साथ साथ के दिल्ली तो सदा जवान रहती है और देखिये ना अभी कामन वेल्थ खेलों के दौरान यह एक बार फिर दुल्हन बनी थी वगेरह वगेरह तो हमने सोचा के क्यों न इन सभी एलान नामों की सत्यता पर एक नजर डाल ली जाए, और इसी बहाने उस दिल्ली वाले से भी मिल लिया जाए जो इस अति प्राचीन/ मध्य कालीन/ आधनिक नगरी का नागरिक होते हुए भी वैशवीकरण के झांसे में इतना आ चुका है के वो अपने आप को २१वीं शताब्दी के पूर्वार्द्ध में आने वाले आर्थिक संकट को पछाड देने वाले चमचमाते भारत देश की राजधानी का शहरी  होने का भरम पाले हुए है. Continue reading यहाँ से शहर को देखो…

The unspeakable horrors of Delhi, 1947

In Freedom’s Shade, by Anis Kidwai; translated from Urdu by Ayesha Kidwai; Penguin Books India 2011, Pp 382, price Rs. 450

Anis Kidwai belonged to the illustrious Kidwai family of Barabanki. The family has made more than a signal contribution to the making of India. Not only in politics and governance but also in diverse fields of creative endeavour. This short piece, though, is not about her or about her family but her most remarkable record of the unfolding tragedy in the Capital of India and in its surroundings in the aftermath of independence and partition.

Anis Kidwai, though extremely politically aware with sharp and clear views on what she saw happening, was not a political activist and would have probably continued to lead a well settled, almost sedentary life in Mussoorie, had the unthinkable not happened. Her husband, Shafi Ahmad Kidwai, the administrator of the Municipality, who had almost single handedly tried to keep peace in Mussoorie when everyone else had either given up or joined the rioters, was murdered.

Continue reading The unspeakable horrors of Delhi, 1947

Fast Backward: Aijaz Zaka Syed

Guest post by AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

What a farce! What a farce of a fast! One doesn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry over this state of affairs in the world’s largest democracy. It is a sad day in a nation’s history when someone who presided over a state-sanctioned genocide goes on fast in the name of “peace and harmony” and media vultures and assorted politicians rush to canonize him as the apostle of peace. When it comes to political theatre, few can beat our politicians. They have no qualms in mimicking their more successful fellow travelers if it can get them a few more votes or push them a couple of notches up the popularity ladder.

Continue reading Fast Backward: Aijaz Zaka Syed

Where have the pilgrims gone?

The Journey is an integral part of any pilgrimage, the manner in which it is conducted is crucial to the successful conclusion of the endeavour. An edited version of this article first appeared in the travel and culture magazine Terrascape, published from Delhi. Photos: Himanshu Joshi/Curun Singh

Pilgrims at Puri, outside Jagannath Temple

There is a scene in Mughal-e-Azam, the early 1960s blockbuster of a movie by K Asif, where Akbar and his queen, the mother of his first son Jahangir (wrongly identified by K Asif and also by Ashutosh Gowarikar as Jodha Bai) stumble through the hot sands of Rajasthan under the mid-summer day sun that seemed intent on drying up and burning everything in sight. The two are on a pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was to fulfill a vow that Akbar had taken.

What I have to say in this piece can best be prefaced by narrating the story of that vow. Continue reading Where have the pilgrims gone?

Ten lessons of the fortnight that was: Jay Mazoomdar

Guest post by JAY MAZOOMDAAR

The 13-day blockbuster— peddled as the second freedom struggle, panned as irresponsible blackmailing, and a lot in between — is over. Anna Hazare accepted honeyed coconut water from two little girls, introduced to the crowd as a dalit and a Muslim, and went on to recuperate in one of India’s most expensive hospitals, one branded after Hindu spiritual literature at that.

News TV is still fighting the vacuum by flogging the debate – so much so that seasoned correspondents are chasing a rather dismissive Dr Naresh Trehan to unravel the mystery of Anna’s endurance. Biker gangs have gone into a sulk and roads at India Gate are looking safer for traffic and women (which is not saying much in Delhi). What is more, India has started taking note that too many Indians have meanwhile drowned in floods. Continue reading Ten lessons of the fortnight that was: Jay Mazoomdar

यहाँ से शहर को देखो …..

[यह लेख “बस्ती तो बसते बसती है” शीर्षक से आउटलुक हिंदी  के  स्वाधीनता विशेषांक में छपा है.]

अब जबके हर तरफ यह एलान हो चुका है के दिल्ली १०० बरस की हो गयी है और चारों ओर नई दिल्ली के कुछ पुराने होने का ज़िक्र भी होने लगा है, इन दावों के साथ साथ कि “दिल्ली तो सदा जवान रहती” है और “देखिये ना अभी कामनवेल्थ खेलों के दौरान यह एक बार फिर दुल्हन बनी थी”, वगेरह वगेरह, तो हमने सोचा के क्यों न इन सभी एलाननामों की सत्यता पर एक नजर डाल ली जाए, और इसी बहाने उस दिल्लीवाले से भी मिल लिया जाए जो इस अति प्राचीन/ मध्यकालीन/ आधुनिक नगरी का नागरिक होते हुए भी वैशवीकरण के झांसे में इतना आ चुका है के वो अपने आप को २१वीं शताब्दी के पूर्वार्द्ध में आने वाले आर्थिक संकट को पछाड देने वाले चमचमाते भारत देश की राजधानी का शहरी  होने का भरम पाले हुए है.

अब सब से पहले तो यह फैसला कर लिया जाए के नई दिल्ली है किस चिड़िया का नाम? पाकिस्तान के मशहूर व्यंग कार इब्न-ए–इंशा ने अपनी विख्यात पुस्तक उर्दू की आखरी किताब में एक अध्याय लाहौर के बारे में लिखा है.  इस अध्याय में इंशा कहते हैं “ किसी ज़माने में लाहौर का एक हुदूद-ए–अरबा (विस्तार) हुआ करता था अब तो लाहौर के चारों तरफ लाहौर ही लाहौर वाके (स्थित) है और हर दिन वाके-तर  हो रहा है”

एक फर्क है, इब्न-ए-इंशा के लाहौर में पुराना लाहौर और नया लाहौर दो अलग अलग चीज़ें नहीं हैं मगर दिल्ली के मामले में ऐसा नहीं है, एक समय था के नई दिल्ली में बाबू बसा करते थे और नई दिल्ली के पास शाहजहानाबाद था जो शहर था, अब नई दिल्ली वालों के हिसाब से पुराना शहर सिर्फ शादी के कार्ड, आचार मुरब्बे और हार्डवेअर खरीदने की जगह है, या उसे इस लिए बनाया गया है के उनकी पार्टियों के लिए बिरयानी, चाट, कुल्फी वगेरह मुहैया करवाए और जब उनके विदेशी मित्र या एन आर आई सम्बन्धी यहाँ आयें तो उन्हें इस जीते जागते संघ्राल्य के दर्शन करवा सकें. मुसलमान और सिख वहाँ धार्मिक कारणों से भी जाते हैं, मगर उनकी बात अलग है वो तो अल्प संख्यक हैं हम तो आम लोगों की बात कर रहे हैं.

Continue reading यहाँ से शहर को देखो …..

Five Long Weekends

Recently a whole lot of noise was made and reams of paper were covered in fine print to make us realize how unique this July 2011 has been. We have been told that this phenomenon of a month having 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays is a rare occurrence. Someone said that this has happened after 823 years and then someone else came along and disputed this figure. Newspapers not normally inclined to accept their mistakes did so with alacrity, and they had good reason to do so it was someone else’s mistake that they were foregrounding.

The 24X7 purveyors of nonsense have as usual gone to town, breaking all kinds of news and inviting all manner of soothsayers, numerologists, tarot-card readers, palmists, astrologists and other purveyors of superstition to respond to the breathless inanities of the perpetually excited anchors about the cataclysmic significance of these five long weekends coalescing at the peak of the Monsoon Season. Continue reading Five Long Weekends

Speaking of Synthesis

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Ask any first time visitor to Kashmir about their impressions and you will, in all likelihood, be inundated with superlatives about the landscape, the mountains, the greenery, the hospitality, the gardens, the lakes and what not, but there is one thing that both the first timer and the old Kashmir hand rarely talk about and that is the historical monuments of the valley. The mosques, shrines and ancient temples of the valley are rarely mentioned in all this recounting. I am as much guilty of this neglect as all the others that I have met, perhaps more guilty because I have been to Kashmir scores of times.

This piece is an attempt to make amends. The sites are far too many to cover in one article so I have decided to confine myself to a handful of structures and monuments that lie scattered in and around Srinagar. Hopefully there will be more occasions to write about the others soon. Before we commence this sight-seeing tour of Srinagar, let us start with a few words about the history of Srinagar and of Kashmir.

Continue reading Speaking of Synthesis