Where Stones Speak by Rana Safvi
Mehrauli is the oldest living city within the current city of Delhi. In my last stint in Delhi from 2009-11, I used to walk around streets of Mehrauli. And wrote my experiences as walking tours of Mehrauli. So when I heard about Rana Safvi writing about Mehrauli with a lovely picture on the cover page of this book Where Stones Speak. I requested her to send me a copy and she was kind enough to send it immediately. I knew reading this book would be re-living those walks and re-visiting those hidden stories in the lanes of Mehrauli. Rana Safvi is also a very popular twitter personality and is known for running a poetry network there – bringing in the much-needed respite from social media battles.
Now, the book ‘Where Stones Speak’ is classified as a history book and it is very good as a history book, almost like a textbook – giving details of each and every monument in Mehrauli, including Mehrauli archeological park. At times I almost felt that I am reading an ASI book with every detail like the vital statistics of the monuments, every bit of recorded history. I am going to use it as a reference book for my future writings on Mehrauli. It also gives detailed stories behind the monuments and takes you through the history of this city during the Sultanate period. The area though existed much before the outside dynasties came to rule from here.
There are one or two parts that I do not agree with the author – like her going ga-ga over the calligraphy on stone. Which overlooks the fact that the area was full of Hindu and Jain temples and each of them was intricately carved. The remains of the same can be seen in the corridors of Qutub complex as well as at the Museum in Purana Qila. For most parts, I think she has researched well to document the most historical part of Delhi that receives nothing but neglect.
All through the book, there is a generous sprinkling of poetry. I loved the one on the back cover of the book by Shahpur Rasool –
Hogi is dher imaarat ki kahani kuchh tau
Dhundh alfaaz ke malbe mein maa’ine kuchh tau
Surely a story hides behind these ruins, somewhere
Search the debris of words, the meaning is there, somewhere
Most of the other poetry also is as good, if not better. But I just could not relate the text and the poetry. Imagine you read about the dimensions of a monument that is as technical and boring as it can get. And then Rana Safvi suddenly presents you with a delicate piece of poetry from some era of Delhi or vice-versa. Poetry in itself is great, but it seems absolutely out of context. And in the process, you miss the Rasa that it provides to its connoisseurs. At one place the author gives a verse of Kabir only in English. As a student of Kabir, I am still trying to figure out which verse it is.
The book Where Stones Speak is structured around the monuments listed in it. The author moves from one monument to another without really establishing a link between them. So what I gather is a lot of information about each individual monument in Mehrauli and around. It is an impeccable work since not much information exists about this part of Delhi. I missed the storytelling, the painting that would bring alive the life of Mehrauli. Stories of how the people were building these buildings when the city was getting its character. I got lots of small pieces and individual stories e.g. mentioning about the saint with the Mazar. But the story is not as a part of a bigger narrative that Mehrauli could have been.
In the book Where Stones Speak, pictures are good, the best one is on the cover. There are many photography groups in Delhi who have much better pictures of all these places. I would have also preferred pictures in color. But I understand that the format of the book would not have allowed that. The book wears the hat of a travel guide. In the end, Rana Safvi suggests itineraries.
Take your Call.