Sunday, September 26, 2004


What interests me is how Islam chooses to remember the beginning of its history.

How its time starts ticking.

The Hijra calendar, the normative starting point of Islamic history, begins not with Mohammed’s birth or death, or even the revealation of the Quran.

It begins with a journey, and with flight. Muhammad leaving from Mecca for Medina.

All histories, even our own little insignificant ones, I think, do, or should, begin with journeys.

The passing of time cannot be marked without the passing through space.

Vector quantity in Physics. Displacement rather than Distance.


Displacement. The first hijra was a flight, a running away to find more hospitable territory.

That first displacement mapped the vectors down which world history would move.

The history of Independent India and Pakistan begins with the massive transfers of population from Punjab, Bengal and Sindh – the hijrat of the uprooted. Refugees, Musafirs, Sharaharthi.

I, a grandchild of refugees, am defined by the journeys I’ve made. Lucknow-Cochin, Delhi to Daulatabad, Amarkantak to Maheshvar, Dilli to Lahore…

Something I wrote, when writing about the Purana Qila, one of Delhi’s grandest and most forgotten monuments, which sheltered an even more forgotten refugee camps for sixteen years –

“Since its inclusion as an important element of the British plan for their new capital, the Purana Qila and its pasts have become vital to the narrative of the Empire and later, the Nation. Since then, there has always been an attempt to ignore, and to remove, the histories of the banal, the quotidian, the everyday, from ever having happened here. The Sound and Light show, which is as official a history of the Qila as you can get, has the Yamuna as its narrator, history as a river, flowing down the great events of the past of the nation, towards the sea of Independence. But as twentieth century histories around the Qila prove, it is the flotsam and jetsam left by that grand narrative current, the stories of migration, settlement and displacement that make the histories of a city, and give meaning to its monuments.”

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