Rana Safvi attempts to bring people closer to the city and its history.
The Delhi we know today is mostly about the posh roads, malls and the criss-crossing routes of the Metro. Underneath this surface, however, lies the national capital’s rich history that most of us have forgotten.
This is what Rana Safvi attempts to address with her new book, The Forgotten Cities of Delhi, the second in her Where Stones Speak trilogy. The book makes an attempt to bring people closer to the city and its history through the monuments and ruins that can be found scattered across the length and breadth of the city. There was a reason why famous Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib fell in love with the city, or why Delhi was the capital of all major kingdoms—from the Tomars in the 10th century to the British—to have ruled the country. Delhi resonated with culture and heritage, knowledge and trade, but sadly today, it is just revered as the power capital, the throne of the country.
Safvi’s book challenges that notion and tries to create a historical narrative that describes the city through the imprints of time gone by. She does this by not just focusing on the city’s many majestic monuments, but also its crumbling ruins.
Divided into 10 parts (based on the different dynasties that ruled), the book catalogues ruins and monuments hardly ever heard of before. The dargah of Bibi Zuleikha—the mother of great Sufi poet and saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya—in a quaint little corner of Adchini is a good example. Then there’s Hauz Khas Fort in the heart of south Delhi. Buzzing with college students and schoolgoers, flashes of selfies and unending laughter fill the ruins of what once used to be a renowned madrasa.
In the book, beautiful Urdu couplets precede the descriptions of monuments, taking readers back to old times. Pictures of ruins, especially monochrome ones, add a sombre touch to the history. Barring a few grammatical errors, the book is a delight to read. Most importantly, though, Safvi makes the reader want to venture out and explore these repositories of history themselves.