This interview was meant to be published in an international magazine but it couldn't be. So, I am posting here on my BLOG. The interview was conducted just after the release of Raza Rumi's Book in India.
Raza (Ahmed) Rumi is a Pakistani columnist, writer, journalist, editor, and peace activist. He edits and regularly writes for The Friday Times, Express Tribune and The News on diverse topics such as politics, security, history, arts, literature and society. He is also associated with Aman Ki Asha which a joint initiative by The Jang Group, Pakistan and The Times of India, India to promote peace between India and Pakistan. Recently, he has published a book on Delhi which is getting rave reviews in the media. Here Raza Rumi talks to Abdullah Khan about his Book (Delhi by Heart) and the past and future of Indo-Pak relationship.
The Star: Delhi by Heart is being lapped up by the Indian readers. What are the responses of the Pakistani readers?
Raza Rumi:Quite surprisingly the Pakistani readers have given a great reception. All copies of the book which have come to Pakistan have been sold out. The literary festivals have celebrated it and almost all the Pakistani publications have carried rather favourable reviews. What more can a write ask for? To be honest I did not keep the audience in mind when I wrote the book. There is however a small group of people who have without reading the book criticised it for the fact that it is about Delhi – the enemy capital – and thus raised questions about my patriotism. This is the irony of our predicament: a book which celebrates history becomes a threat for some fragile, ill-informed nationalistic minds.
The Star: You have travelled to many great cities in your home country as well outside Pakistan. But you chose to write about Delhi. Why so?
Raza Rumi:I have explained this partly in the book. It was an accident as I intended to write about something else but visits to Delhi and exploring its past was most exciting and profound – almost as if I was exploring myself, my history and complex, centuries-old heritage.
The Star: How do you slot your book? Is it a travelogue? Or is it a book about the social and cultural history of Delhi? Or this is something else?
Raza Rumi: I know such definitions are important for the publishing industry. The book is pitched as a travel-memoir but as a very senior English professor said that DBH defies the necessity of a genre: it is a bit of many things much like my scattered personality – part history, part travel, reportage & commentary. This is why I chose ‘impressions’ in the byline to ensure that there is no overt label. A Pakistani linguist, historian Dr Tariq Rahman has also called it the social history of Muslims in North India, etc etc. However, I would like it to be read as a documentation of a personal journey.
The Star: What aspect of the city you liked the most?
Raza Rumi: As the book shows, Delhi’s past is most fascinating. Also the ability of the city to have withstood the vicissitudes of time.Even as a modern metropolis despite its problems of pollution, overcrowding and disconnectedness it is an intriguing mix of past and present. Its older cultures are apparently dying but in effect trasnmuting into diffterent shapes and sensisibilites.
The Star: During the book launch in Delhi, you said there are many similarities between Lahore and Delhi. Please elaborate. And what are the differences between these two cities?
Raza Rumi:I wrote in the book that initially the city reminded me of Lahore and hence was immediately familiar and accessible. But overtime I am revising my opinion. Lahore after 1947 turned into a provincial capital and was robbed of its diversity due to huge population transfers. The contemporary Lahore is well developed and thriving as a cutural centre yet it betrays a neglct of its history and heritage. Not too different from Delhi where the old seems to be an inconevenice of sorts.
The Star: You are among selected few South Asian intellectuals who have been striving to improve relationship between Pakistan and India? According to you what are the major hurdles in the way of the lasting peace between these two neighbours?
Raza Rumi: The baggage of history and the young, constructed nationalisms are the greatest barrier. The two states display myopia and utter disregard of public interest. Blame game is almost a policy tool. However, in Pakistan there is an unprecedented moment now – all political forces want normalisation of ties with India and are engaged in a struggle with civil-military bureaucracy to achieve that goal.
The Star: Do you think that the track II diplomacy and initiatives like‘Aman ki Asha’ will make any difference?
Raza Rumi:Track II process is a vital component of larger gamut of diplomacy. On its own it can’t achieve much unless Track I (formal channels) are active and vibrant. I have been and still am a part of many such initiaitves. They are useful but becoming a little repetitive and unimaginative. Aman ki Asha has a distinctive edge of being led by two corporate media houses. It has a huge spillover effect. There is a bit of a schizophrania as well. Media outlets sell jingoism as well whule advocatign peace.
The Star: Whenever we talk about the peace in South Asia, we only discuss the issues between India and Pakistan? Do you think Bangladesh has any role to play when it comes to the issues of peace between India and Pakistan?
Raza Rumi:I think Bangladesh is a very importan country of the region. Also, its creation, memory is central to the fears of Pakistani establishment. Pakistan cannot be at peace with itself until it recognises that it wronged the Bengalis. At the same time, Bangladesh has to be cognizant that Pakistan is not the same as 1971 – its has changed and evolved with generations oblivious of the past acrimony. Having said that, it does not have a direct role in ending Indo-Pak rivalry. The elites of India and Pakistan need to realise that they have been unfair to the people and in waging their power struggles have impoverished the subcontinent. Public opinion is important here but it is also hostage to elite manipulation.
The Star: Where do you see India and Pakistan in next 50 years? Do you believe that the things are going to change for the better?
Raza Rumi:There is no alternative for things to move in the right direction – of regional economic integration, bilateral trust building. The other option of continued conflict will be inimical and suicidal. I foresee a South Asian Union, a desi version of the European Union model in the decades to come. Hopefully before 50 years when I am most likely to be dead.
The Star: When are you going to write your next book?
Raza Rumi:I am already working on a book on Pakistan’s contemporary political events. Having worked as an active journalist since 2008 there is a story to relate. Let’s hope I finish it soon!
(Abdullah Khan is a Delhi (India) based writer and literary critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)