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City Mores

Tahir Mahmood

Edited by Laurent Gayer and Christophe Jaffrelot
HarperCollins, Delhi, 2012, pp. 403, Rs. 499.00


I read this book from cover to cover in just three sittings. It was indeed enthralling as I have virtually been part of most of the stories it unfurls. Reading about Lucknow, culture capital of India and city of my birth, Aligarh, seat of the educational Taj Mahal where I studied and taught during 1961-66—and Ghalib’s Delhi where I have lived for forty-five years, made me nostalgic. The tales of Muslims in these and another eight cities, told by eleven different researchers, are enveloped into this book by its two French editors who have prefixed and suffixed it with an introduction and a conclusion. It was interesting for me to find them citing on one hand the instant reply in verse Delhi’s legendary Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir had given to curious questioners in Lucknow two centuries ago and, on the other hand, the just five-year old Ranganath Misra Commission Report on minorities in setting forth which I had played a key role.   The book peeps into the life of Muslims, not in the towns dominated or nearly dominated by Muslims which do exist in various parts of India, but the so-called Muslim ghettos in predominantly non-Muslim cities. It first takes readers into Mumbai and Ahmedabad—the uroos-ul-bilad (bride among cities) of Urdu literature and ‘land of prophets and saints’ in Islamic history, respectively, both now turned into ‘riot prone’ areas by votaries of communal politics. A Muslim-concentration area in Mumbai paradoxically named after Maratha warrior Shivaji from whom anti-Muslim elements take inspiration is the focus of research in the first chapter, while the second talks of similar localities in the capital of Gujarat, the state which gave birth to the Father of the Nation who lost his life trying to secure a respectable place for Muslims in post-Partition India.   The next halt of the book is Ramganj locality of the pink city, Jaipur, in Rajasthan which in the researcher’s finding is seen as a ‘communal neighbourhood’. From there it travels to Lucknow—the city of nawabs facing extinction of its Muslim culture and etiquette—and Aligarh where the Muslim University established by Sir Syed and his associates has in the post-Constitution era been facing judicial decisions denying its minority character. And then it is the turn of the two Muslim-grandeur States of the past, Bhopal and Hyderabad, where Muslims continue facing pangs of absorption into ...

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