The Legacy of Shahjahanabad

Historian RANA SAFVI talks to Teresa Rehman about her new book, “Shahjahanabad: the living city of old Delhi” and her love for the city

1. What is about Dilli that fascinates you?
Rana: You know I haven’t been quite able to analyse what it is about Delhi that pulls my heart strings. But come to think of it, it’s probably the spiritual and historical heritage that has captured my heart.

2. Why did you decide to delve into the history of Delhi?
Rana: I felt that there was a lot of rich anecdotal and narrative material written in Urdu on Delhi which had never been translated. These stories tell the story of a Delhi that was mostly destroyed after 1857 and 1947 and portray a vivacious city with vibrant and pluralistic culture. I wanted to bring that for modern readers.

3. Do you feel that the Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb still exists? Do you think it will survive the ravages of time?
Rana: It does exist but is getting steadily eroded because pressures of social media, growing distances between people as people live in nuclear families and don’t interact with neighbours and so have no knowledge of each other’s culture. Also, the word Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb is sought to be tainted and treated almost like a falsehood. I don’t know if it can survive or not. I just know that I will keep trying to promote it, talk about it and tell people of what it was, is and can be.

4. What is the theme of your new book, Shahjahanabad: the living city of old Delhi? Do you think modernity has crept into old Delhi?
Rana: This book combines the historical aspect of a 400 year old city with its modern day life. I have tried to describe the past and show the present: the grandeur of the past and the hopes and aspirations of the present.
Modernity hasn’t come well for a city that was once so much ahead of its times in the medieval Era. It’s a city struggling to develop modern infrastructure on a medieval superstructure.

5. What is it about old Delhi that fascinates you?
Rana: This is a living city whereas my earlier books described forgotten and ruined cities. When one walks here, one walks in the footsteps of almost 4 centuries of tradition. That’s exciting for me.

6. Do you think Urdu is a dying language?
Rana: The script is dying though the spoken language is seeing a revival.
For any language to thrive both are needed.

7. You have written a book series on Delhi? What’s next?
Rana: I like keeping my future projects a surprise. Then the anticipation is  

Teresa Rehman

Teresa Rehman

Teresa Rehman is an award-winning journalist based in Northeast India. She had worked with India Today magazine, The Telegraph and Tehelka. She is now the Managing Editor of The Thumb Print. She has been awarded the WASH Media Awards 2009-2010. She had recieved the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for two consecutive years (2008-09 and 2009-10) for the category 'Reporting on J&K and the Northeast (Print). She received the Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitivity 2011, Sanskriti Award 2009 for Excellence in Journalism and the Seventh Sarojini Naidu Prize 2007 for Best Reporting on Panchayati Raj by The Hunger Project. She was also featured in the Power List of Femina magazine in 2012. Her two book are 'The Mothers of Manipur' (Zubaan Books) and Bulletproof (Penguin).