Sunday, January 31, 2021

A short story about disrupted conversations online

Here's a short story I wrote about a year ago. It was inspired by Twitter fights. It was published in the Griffith Review's special edition 'The New Disruptors'.

Shah is no Muslim name. It comes from Sah. Mis-pronounced as Sha. Stop false propaganda @I.namdaar @Prof_Saab

Namdaar Joker
Shah was a title. Used in Iran. @Prof_Saab Correct me if I’m wrong, but   Gurkha regiment was earlier called Nasiri Gurkha regiment. Why?

In Kathmandu, Kashmiri Muslims were early settlers. 1400s. Some Kashmiris use Shah surname @I.namdaar @Prof_Saab @Shalin

Prof Saab
True. Gorkha regiment was initially called Nasiri. It means friendly in the local language @I.namdaar @Shalin

Namdaar Joker
And what’s your source for info? A five-second dip into the holy waters of Google? @Prof_Saab @Shalin

Read the whole story here:

Sunday, January 24, 2021

On Ghulam Yazdani and preserving that which was

Dr Ghulam Yazdani was the first to photograph Ajanta paintings, and to initiate the first serious conservation of Ajanta and Ellora. His work on the two sites was exhaustive and published in two volumes. He did much more, studying and helping conserve several Indian historical sites, including those in Warangal, Mandu and Bidar. His efforts and scholarship were enabled by the Nizam of Hyderabad. Please read this article for more information on his work. 

Here’s a smaller personal anecdote. In the summer of 2016, I was sent on assignment on the Deccan Odyssey. I wrote the magazine article without mentioning sadness and moments of unease, given the light sprinkling of Islamophobia encountered at various spots.

The trains stopped and allowed us to visit two wildlife reserves, Tadoba and Pench, and sites of artistic and historic significance in the Deccan such as Ajanta and Ellora. The architecture and art is exceptional. That is why people of all faiths come to visit, to admire and perhaps gain some knowledge. In most conversations, local guides tended to emphasize the role of the British in conserving Ajanta and Ellora, when actually this was territory controlled by the Nizam of the kingdom of Hyderabad and it was his administration that conserved and documented much of whatever still remains.  

Some of the guides also attempt to twist the history of Daulatabad. I was traveling with a book (Aurangabad with Daulatabad, Khuldabad and Ahmadnagar by Pushkar Sohoni, published by Jaico) and was able to note these discrepancies. Some people were mouthing the usual falsehoods, describing all medieval-era mosques as having been built on top of temples. The fact of architectural synthesis was twisted further in service of the narrative that Muslim rulers were antagonistic, when in fact, they were creative and very open to local cultural influences. 

I first heard of Dr Yazdani at Ellora. I had walked away from my own group and guide, and was walking past another group when their guide mentioned the Nizam’s role in the conservation of the temples. I stopped to listen and as the group began to walk further, I sidled up to their guide and asked: what were you saying about conservation? 

He told me about Ghulam Yazdani's enormous work and the state of Hyderabad preservation of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu sites. I expressed surprise because our guide had not mentioned this at all. The young man just smiled.

We had our respective jobs to do, so I thanked the younger guide and perfunctorily exchanged names. His was a Muslim name too. As he left, there was that smile again, rueful. I understood this time what it suggested: it is not so much that accredited guides don't know but that they want to forget, to discredit and to disengage from a better past. The positive role played by Indian Muslim scholars mattered to him. And it mattered to me. It mattered very little to most others. 

I have forgotten that guide’s name now, but I have not forgotten that look of pained understanding in his eyes, that rueful smile. And perhaps he read some recognition in the rueful smile I returned before turning away. 



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