Author Rana Safvi talks to Medha Dutta about her new book The Forgotten Cities of Delhi—the second in the trilogy Where Stones Speak, based on Delhi.
Tell us about your book.
Many dynasties ruled Delhi and each of these dynasties either built a new capital city or expanded the existing one, giving Delhi a living history of over 1,500 years. Most of us don’t know about these cities as we see Delhi as just one contiguous whole.
What exactly is the ‘Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb’?
With around roughly 4,500 communities in India, a constant interaction between them gave impetus to a unique composite culture called ‘Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb’. The seeds were sown in ancient India with ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhava’, which literally means that all dharmas are equal. It is a continuous process of interchange, sharing and overlapping of cultural practices, without impinging or engulfing the other.
When did Rana, the scholar, become Rana, the writer?
Though I have been various things at various times, I was never a scholar. However, I have been a voracious reader since childhood and my knowledge base has helped me a great deal in my writing. I started writing by chance when Kunal Majumdar who was working for Tehelka in 2012 saw my tweets and invited me to write for them. There was no looking back after that.
You are not from Delhi originally, yet Delhi seems to be at the centre of your writings.
I had never ever imagined living here, let alone becoming its chronicler. Delhi kind of pulled me to it and I think the biggest hand in this is of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, the saint whose shrine is in Mehrauli. Now I can’t imagine being away from it. Now, I’ve become a proper Dilliwaali!
Are we doing enough to conserve our heritage?
Unfortunately, no. I travel all over India and visit heritage monuments and I find that not enough is being done. The Archaeological Survey of India does not have the resources or manpower to really maintain all the heritage sites.
Your views on the ‘adoption’ of the Red Fort.
While it’s wonderful that we are giving over the maintenance of the iconic Red Fort to a private corporation and the tourists will get clean toilets, drinking water and cafeterias, we need to remember that tourists don’t come for these facilities alone, they come to see the monument. We should also make some long-term plans for conservation.
There are attempts to modify history today. Your views.
Different people may analyse history differently but events and their outcome cannot and should not be altered. That is a deliberate attempt at distortion and is fair to no one, especially our young students.
Your advice to the woman of today.
Just be yourself, follow your heart and don’t let anything bring you down. Also please remember, it’s never too late to start. I started my writing career at the age of 55.
You call yourself a chef-at-heart. What’s your favourite comfort food?
My comfort food is a rice dish called tahiri. It’s rice cooked with vegetables and turmeric. I associate it with my childhood. Shaljam achar and chutneys would accompany it.
You are quite fond of poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Your favourite lines from his poetry?
Aur bhi dukh hain zamaane mein mohabbat ke siwa
Rahatein aur bhi hain wasl ki raahat ke siwa
Mujhse pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang
(More suffering in the world than love, exists
More joy than the joy of union, exist
My love, don’t ask me for that love we shared once).
The Forgotten Cities of Delhi
By: Rana Safvi
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Price: `799; Pages: 340