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A Scholars'Treat!

Sukrita Paul Kumar

By Amir Ahmad Alawi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 271, Rs. 650.00


Journey to the Holy Land is much more than just a day-to-day account of Hajj that was undertaken in1929. Neither is it merely a historical document, valuable though it would be even if it were to be just that; it brings alive the economics, politics, beliefs and the colonial temper of the times, around and through the journey undertaken to the Holy Land. Alongside the extremely readable English translation of Amir Ahmad Alawi’s Roznamcha, what is so impressive is the comprehensive, well-researched seventy-page long Introduction which provides a contemporary lens to view the well-recorded experiences of Alawi. The book is in effect two books between the covers of one; I mean, while the Introduction, entitled ‘Origins, Journeys and Return: Hajj in Colonial India’ offers an extensive context for the text of the ‘diary’ to follow, it also stands on its own in providing a very insightful critique of the diary in the macro backdrop of other Hajj narratives and history. With this book, Hajj ‘the quintessentially Muslim journey’ becomes accessible at various levels of comprehension even to readers outside the Islamic faith; the book achieves a significant ‘crossing over’ from one cultural context to another, from one language to another and indeed from one point of time in history to contemporary times. What comes across in the very initial pages of the book is the secular and liberal vision of the writers of the essay, Hasan and Jalil, who choose appropriate quotations from the well known Urdu poets, Mir Taqi Mir, Ghalib and Iqbal, to reflect on the tradition of evoking what they call symbols of ‘unity and common worship’ in India: What does it mean to me? Call me believer, call me infidel I seek His threshold, be it in the temple or the mosque. It is the power of His beauty that fills the world with light, Be it the Kaaba’s candle or the lamp that lights Somnath. With the above quotations from Mir (18th century) and the reference to Iqbal’s collection of poems, Bang-i-Dara (19th century) , what gets highlighted is the ‘unity and egalitarian ethos promoted by the sacred journey’. The ‘journey’ acquires a universal dimension and in that, before the reader gets to read the diary itself, there is a conscious laying out of the appropriate perspective, pertinent to Amir Ahmad Alawi’s own eclectic sensibility evolved in Kakori, a qasba near Lucknow. ...

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