Wednesday, December 06, 2006

date palms and al-andalus 2


One of the recurrent motifs in the 15th century mosques of Ahmedabad were date palms with vines growing entwined around them. Given the astounding syncretism of the architecture of these mosques, it wasn't too hard for me to read the motif as a symbol of a larger syncretism, of an actively encouraged coming together of Hindu and Turak in the times of the Sultans of Gujarat.

Given what Gujarat was like the last time i visited (two years after the riots/pogroms of 2002, in March 2004), living with that historical imagination can cause actual physical pain.

The most famous of these motifs is, of course, the jaali of the Sidi Saiyyid Mosque, built in the last years of the Sultanate, just before the Mughals came. The terrible, overwhelming frenzied beauty of the vines, overshadwoing the date palms, seems be the anxieties of the Sultanate, about to be overwhelmed by Empire, rendered in stone. (And today you could read it as an ominous foreshadowing of so much else.)

I remember the date palms today because it's the 6th of December, and I'm far from home. It's been fourteen years today since the Babri Masjid was destroyed. And in so many ways, it hasn't stopped happening, especially in Gujarat. (the link has a chronology of events). It's still an occasion being used to generate political mileage.

I was twelve years old when the mosque was detsroyed. Why do I keep rememebering it?

Because though I know it is a fantasy, an idealization, I do remember the world being a better, less fraught place before that date. And though it never was, really, I can't help but feel the sense of having lost something. And now my entire (not quite) intellectual project, the reason I'm here doing a PhD, is because I am still mourning my own personal Al-Andalus...

The rather ‘unmonumental’ monuments of South Delhi seem both out of place, and out of time; and for those who, like this writer, read too much Tolkien as children, they have a powerful affect, an evocative sense of worlds and times irrevocably lost. Add Tolkien and the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992, both of which happened to me at age twelve, and you can perhaps understand why my relationship to the Islamicate remains of South Delhi has been a highly Benjaminian one, both ‘historical materialist’ and ethically and emotionally charged. To paraphrase Walter Benjamin quoting Flaubert, I know the sadness it takes to resuscitate Carthage.

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