What motivates me to write? Lacking an appropriate label, a catchy boxed tag such as a historian or a sociologist, what is my locus standi?
By Raza Rumi
Writing about the textbook enemy, the 'other', is but a daunting task. Facing the grandiose Humayun's tomb on a chilly January morning this year, I decided to write a book on Delhi.
It was not before I had visited the ancient city that I knew what it symbolised. In Pakistan, we were influenced by the glories of Lahore, my beloved city. Reconstructed histories had kept Delhi invisible. The seat of the Sultans, Mughals and the Raj, precursor of the modern united India and originator of the Indo-Islamic civilization was a mere phantom, best ignored.
Over several visits to Delhi, I realised that invisibility was also a shared curse. A good number of Delhi wallahs I met, had no clue where they lived or crossed the streets. Erasure, blank spaces in textbooks had rendered their own city a mythical other-world existing only in erudite books, rare cultural soirees and among the fading memories of old-Delhi.
When I looked for the house where Urdu's legendary poet Mir Taqi Mir lived, no one knows it. Those living in Hauz Khas are unaware of what it was. There are thousands, perhaps more, who have never visited Nizamuddin Bastee let alone the dargah there. Tracing history through books resembles a two-dimensional vision. Lived histories add other dimensions to the inner kaleidoscope. But there are so few who can help me.
I am pained when I am taken to the tomb of India's first female ruler Razia Sultana (1236 - 1240). Only centuries later another woman Indira Gandhi was to rule the Centre. Razia's grave languishes on an abandoned, filthy cul-de-sac. Many don't care. I wonder, should I?
As I have ventured out to write, the enormity of Delhi -- the idea -- haunts me. Where do I start? The layered construction of Indian, and Muslim identities in the subcontinent emanate from the ridges and Hades of Delhi. The saints buried under its red-brown earth impacted the society and culture for times to come. Now viewed as a global 'problem', the Muslims augmented the diversity of an already wondrous India. What is known as the [north] Indian cuisine, albeit of the non-vegetarian variety, is a Muslim innovation and so are tunes of Hindustani, classical music, the strings of a sitar and the rhythms of tabla. Ten centuries of cultural hybridization resulted in Urdu and current day Hindustani the idiom for northern India and the much-celebrated Bollywood.
Delhi's history also underwrites the secular tradition. Save the unsavoury and brief spells of intolerance, governance was largely a secular feat. Whilst Europe was grappling with intra-Christianity fissures, Akbar was holding inter-faith dialogues and Dara Shikoh in his Delhi library was translating the Bible and the Upanishads in Persian.
What motivates me to write? Lacking an appropriate label, a catchy boxed tag such as a historian or a sociologist, what is my locus standi? Irritated, I ignore the little demons with a single sentence: Delhi belongs to me as well. As a 'Pakistani-South Asian' Muslim, I share Delhi's past and its present too. Visas and borders obfuscate my affinities; shared histories are challenged by communalists and extremists. And, I write a book to cross boundaries and tread zones that officialdom cannot appropriate.
Who said writing was not a liberating experience. What could be a better way to subvert the imposed hostilities and jingoisms -- just write?
Undaunted, I am still spinning my Delhi yarn.
(Raza Rumi blogs at razarumi.com. A version of this article was published in Outlook India.)
A world where I would not have to justify what I do every day
By Ammar Ali Jan
The Protestant work ethic as well as the religious moral code that governs our lives has limited the choices available to us. All our lives, we are expected to work hard and earn enough to sustain ourselves and in some instances support our families. Any action otherwise is deemed to be "immoral" as we would not be fulfilling our "natural" duty.
Also, throughout our lives, we are forced to follow norms and traditions imposed on us by society. We are never allowed to question the validity of these norms or else we will be excluded from the rest of the "civilized" society.
My utopia would be a world where the greatest worry for humans would not be to earn enough to afford bread and butter, nor would their freedoms be constrained by moral choices formulated by a select few. Only then will we be fully able to understand and enjoy the magnificent nature that surrounds us be in a better position to understand ourselves.
From the onset of the Industrial Revolution, we have been hearing the mantra of the "work" ethic. People were expected to work in order to sustain themselves. Anyone who chose not to accept the 15-hour work day that was imposed in England during the early part of the 19th century was deemed to be lazy and "not fit" for the modern society. Of course, that did not apply for the nobility which was representing God on Earth (anyone who asked for proof was considered blasphemous).
Hence, much like the old Slave States, some people worked so that others could remain idle. This remains true even today where millions live in misery so that a select few can enjoy all the luxuries of life.
The demand for an eight hour work day was seen by nobility as a corrupting influence as they felt that such idleness would lead the workers to alcoholism. Severe protests by the working class did force the industrialists to consider them humans, but far from equal.
This is precisely what I want to see change in my utopia. Why should all idleness, exotic travelling, expensive clothes, lavish dinners, happening parties etc, be a monopoly of the elite? Why can't a worker who works 12 hours a day in this heat in the slums of Kot lakhpat decide to take his family for a month long break to Hawaii? Surely, he/she has worked at least as hard as most of us who leave for Europe or other fancy destinations every summer to take a "break" from work, if not harder.
In an ideal world such people would also get the luxury of travelling with their families, go shopping or simply, have enough time to sit idle for a while and think. Bertrand Russell in his famous work.
In praise of Idleness proposes that the industrial world has reached a stage of production where even if everyone works for four hours, we would have enough to feed the world and hence, we could be free from the constraints of bread and butter. However, what is important is that everyone works and not just those who are thought to carry the burden of producing all the wealth for society.
The issue of making ends meet is not the only thing that acts as a hindrance in our liberty. The moral code that is prevalent in our society, and here I talk more specifically of Pakistan, is something that plays a major role in our lives without us having any control over it. Everyone seems extremely concerned about the morality of others, a concern that has become increasingly annoying for me.
For example, I had a female friend visiting me from the States. Initially, my parents were scandalised at the thought of having a female in a house where two "grown up" boys live. They also thought I would be setting a bad precedent for my younger sister. Then, my aunt heard about it and complained to my mom that such friendships are "haraam" in our religion.
Why do I have to constantly care about a morality that I may not be in agreement with, but has been imposed on me from childhood? Why should anyone give up one's dreams and desires in order to pacify the self-proclaimed champions of morality?
I dream of a world where I would not have to justify what I do every day when I am not harming anyone, where women would be able to exercise their independence without the fear of being judged by society, where each individual will be responsible for formulating his or her own morality without the constant lecturing of those who consider themselves the judge and jury on moral questions.
Hence, my utopia is a world where humans are free to do as they please. Neither are they constrained due to economic deprivation, nor due to other moral obligations. A world where philosophy is not the monopoly of slave-owners like Plato but everyone is allowed to think, where we all can afford to be adventurous and explore the world, where all of us can have leisure without the hardships of survival, most importantly, a world where we can truly be ourselves, which for me will be the epitome of human progress and freedom.